The first time I set my sight on a portly cricketer was in the form of a picture of a rotund Colin Milburn essaying what seemed to be a fierce pull shot. This image was from a magazine which I was accidentally perusing. For some unfathomable reason, the picture left an indelible impression on me. From that very day onwards whenever I either heard any expert placing extraordinary emphasis on fitness or I happened to read an article eulogizing the virtues of being lean, lithe and mean, a derisive Colin Milburn used to instantaneously appear in my mind’s eye and it was almost as if he was commanding me to dismiss such views as mere fatuousness.
So is a portly cricketer a square peg in a round hole or is he as integral a part of the game as his extraordinarily fit and unbelievably athletic counterparts? The answer can be emphatically found by just perusing the roster of a few good, round men to have graced the game, and that too with great distinction and panache! However as the present day cricket has evolved beyond imagination to suit the commercial as well as cultural needs of the supporters of the game, this peculiar breed of cricketers is fast fading into oblivion. It would be a matter of great pity so see the extinction of a burly cricketer hitching up his trousers in the field, displaying an element of alacrity and alertness that is the sole prerogative of beings of his kind. For instance there is something about a Samit Patel or a Romesh Powar chasing a fast traversing ball on stubby legs and only succeeding in escorting the ball beyond the boundary!
I for one firmly believe that the era of the fat men is not over by any stretch of imagination and it ought not to be over as well. These cricketers can lay equal claim to being entertainers, evolvers and eminent personalities along with a majority of their in-shape and toned contemporaries as well as counterparts. So amongst this pantheon of a not too crowded hall-of-fame, if yours truly were to choose the top 5, who would be the chosen ones? After much racking of the brains and painstaking rejigs of a not so prodigious memory, the following was the output. I know I might have omitted a few more prestigious and ‘weighty’ candidates, but such an omission is merely a result of my personal preferences and prejudices and not, by any stretch of imagination a reflection of their capabilities or performances:
5. Mervyn Gregory Hughes
Although not a personal favourite, this burly Australian cricketer undoubtedly created an impact with both his on-field cricketing performances and non-cricketing antiques. Sporting a majestic handlebar mustache and a virulent temper, which at times was not amenable to be handled, Big Merv was a true character of the game. Running/ambling/trotting/jogging in to bowl, he was a sight to behold and a persona to reckon with. Whether it be having a go at many a bemused batsman, or engaging them in verbal histrionics, Merv was always in the game and a typical in-your-face cricketer. Legend has it that once on an extended follow-through he violently broke wind and challenged an astonished batsman to try and whack it for half a dozen. Whilst I personally have a genuine doubt regarding the veracity of this tale, every time I recollect it, I find myself to be in splits! Also his famous altercation with another stocky cricketer Robin Smith, wherein Robin apparently got the better of Merv both with the willow and his tongue (a real shocker), is one which needs to be read and savoured. All in all, here was a cricketer, who was an entertainer par excellence in his own right and a torch bearer for burly fast men of his ilk!
Without a semblance of doubt, “Inzi” has been one of the greatest batsmen the cricketing world has ever produced and the most sublime amongst the ones having a veritable bulge in the waist. Having the speed of a confused camel, and the gait of a ponderous elephant, this phenomenally talented batsman was all style and grace once in his elements. He also could easily claim to be a master orchestrator in perpetrating run-outs involving his own team mates. In fact he could easily be an opposition’s dream when negotiating with his not so amused partners for a run or two. The unbelievable sight of a sprightly and almost preternaturally talented Jonty Rhodes flinging himself upon a set of stumps with a white ball in hand to run a perplexed Inzi out, has been one of the lasting images left behind by the World Cup of 1992. Inzi though had the last laugh in the competition by playing what Captain Haddock would have termed “Two blistering barnacles of knocks”. But one indelible image which Inzi has stamped forever in yours truly’s cricketing memory is that of a bizarre dismissal in Headingly. Trying to pull a short one from Monty Panesar, Inzy after positioning himself for the shot loses his balance and in an awkward manner tumbles over the stumps dislodging the bails in the process, much to the delight of the English and the chagrin of a bewildered Bob Woolmer. There is no doubting the fact that such an ungainly dismissal could have been effected only with the presence of Inzi at the crease.
3. David Clarence Boon
A person, who has an untarnished record of downing the maximum number of beers enroute to England from Australia, better be on the heavier side! David Boon, the holder of this formidable record was by all accounts burly. One of the most competent and stylish opening batsmen, his glorious partnerships with Geoff Marsh was the scourge of bowlers the world over. The cocking of the wrists at the last minute before executing a stroke and the unmistakable movement across the stumps all added to embellish the talents of this cricketer with an ample belly. But what endeared ‘Boonie’ to me were his impeccable reflex abilities whilst crouching at forward short leg. Almost picking the pockets of a batsman, Boon has to his credit some magnificent catches almost snapped out of thin air. As one of my colleagues from Australia and a keen cricketing fanatic remarked only half in jest, Boonie was made to field at a close in position as he would be exposed if positioned anywhere else on the cricketing field. All in all David Boon was a candid and unapologetic torch bearer for the bulging bellies of the cricketing world and a spectacularly fine one at that!
2. Arjuna Ranatunga
A breathtakingly brilliant strategist, a cricketing craftsman, a team man to the core and a masterly manipulator of the single, the former Sri Lankan World Cup winning captain can as well stake his claim to be the most famous bulging belly ever to have graced the game of cricket. A perennial favourite of yours truly, he is a lasting inspiration for me never to set foot inside a gymnasium and subject myself to tortures of untold and grisly types! An epitome of calmness and possessing a rock solid confidence, he has been the primordial reason behind many a success story carved out by the Islanders on a cricketing field. His astute leadership and enviable tutelage has ensured that cricketers possessing multifarious talents have not only captivated the imagination of millions of lovers of the game, but have also ensured that Sri Lanka as a cricketing nation is a force to reckon with. Walking his singles with great composure and fielding at close in positions with the ubiquitous towel hanging out at the hip from his trousers, this gentle but tough cricketer has never failed to capture my imagination. Whether it be engaging the boisterous Aussies in their own sledging game, or taking on the might of the ICC with respect to the contentious issue pertaining to the controversy raked by the bowling action of Muttiah Muralidharan, this searing cricketing brain has always been a step head in thoughts, action and deed. This truly splendid and marvelous cricketer with arguably the broadest waistline to have either held a blade or hurled the cherry is to say the least one of a most respectable breed.
1. Colin Milburn
I have neither seen this great wield the willow nor stoop to stop a speeding ball or position himself to hold a steepler. All my knowledge about this talented cricketer has been gleamed from the writings of that veritable doyen of cricket writing E.W.Swanton, and most importantly the one single picture which has blazed itself into a scar in my cricketing brain. Colin Milburn swiveling on his ample hips and executing a perfect horizontal shot, I am sure would have instilled hope, inspiration and encouragement into the hearts of many an aspiring and obese cricketer, in the same manner as it has instilled the firm belief in me that to be rotund and round in figure is also a kind of being in fine shape and fettle!
After all on a cricketing field it is not essential that only the ball which is being firmly clasped by the bowler needs to be circular in shape!