Case Study: 'I would have played for England more - people put politics before careers'

Harold Rhodes' battle with himself
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The Independent Online

In December 1968, after eight years on Death Row, Harold Rhodes was finally cleared. Absolution came too late. By then, his career as a serious fast bowler was as good as done.

During the period when his considerable pace might have brought a mountain of Test wickets, Rhodes was trying to prove his innocence. He was allowed to ply his trade for Derbyshire - 1,073 first-class wickets at 19.7 runs each tell how good he was - but a fearful establishment was ever ready to slip on the noose.

Throughout his most dynamic seasons, Rhodes never escaped the suspicion that he was a chucker. At key moments, new, possibly rigged charges were brought, appeals were lodged and upheld. But another allegation, another investigation, another report always lurked at the end of his run-up. He remains as testimony to what being called for throwing can do.

"I'm not bitter in that I hate the game," he said. "I love it, I still coach at nearly 70 and mentally I'm fine. But at the time I had problems. I got down and my wife and the lads at the club had to lift me up.

"I've spoken at hundreds of dinners, never hidden away, because I know I didn't throw. But there's a stigma and the trouble is that people in other parts of the country remember you as a thrower, not as a bowler, and throwing is cheating.

"You still regret missed opportunities. I certainly would have played for England more and that was lost because people put politics before careers."

His greatest misfortune was to be in his pomp when illegal actions were besmirching the game. Australians, South Africans, West Indians, Englishmen were all accused. Rhodes remains convinced that he was offered up as appeasement.

The trouble was caused by hyperextension, that mysterious but now proven quirk of the arm that allows the elbow to be bent backwards and looks deeply suspicious.

Rhodes, who played for England in 1959, had his life changed forever on 7 May 1960. The umpire Paul Gibb no-balled him six times for throwing (imagine that now). "Until then, it had never crossed my mind. But that started it all off." The next year, he was reported after one match and called by Gibb again in another.

For four years, he went about his business. Not normally, perhaps, because normality would never intrude into his career again and England never glanced in his direction.

But in 1965, he could not stop taking wickets and was top of the averages (where he stayed). A whispering campaign began and then, five days before the team was to be announced for the third Test of the summer, with immense pressure on the selectors, Rhodes was again no-balled for throwing, this time by Sid Buller against the South African tourists. Buller needed a police escort off the field.

To this day, Rhodes thinks Buller was put up to it. At best it seems to have been beyond coincidence. "In the late Eighties I went for tea with Gubby Allen, who really ran the game for years. There were problems, devious goings on. He wouldn't admit it but I could tell there was a lot on his mind."