Some roses come with thorns. John Snow, the tall wiry pace bowler of the 60s and 70s was the inspiration behind many an English win, but was also often caught in the eye of a storm. To some he was a hero, to others a villain. Yes, some roses do come with thorns. Snow's unpredictability was his most predictable feature.
He was a man of many moods. At times he looked casual and disinterested. But when in mood, he was, to put it in simple terms, dangerous. Leave alone the batsmen, even the captain had to handle him with care, for he could explode at the slightest provocation. Perhaps only Raymond Illingworth got the best out of this stormy petrel of English cricket. He was fiercely competitive, an attitude that was often mistaken for arrogance.
He was clearly a man for the big stage and playing against the best only stoked his competitive instinct. He was all fire and brimstone on two very difficult tours ; West Indies in 1970 and Australia in 1970-71. Mind you the line-ups included Sobers, Kanhai and Lloyd and Redpath, the Chappell brothers and Walters. And yes, he is the only bowler to get Sobers out twice in successive Tests with his first ball. Well, it's only the men who come through the ordeal of fire, that Test cricket definitely is, with their head. held high, who get to be respected.
And respect from fellow Test cricketers was what Snow got in plenty. The great Lillee once asked him for tips on how to bowl the leg cutter better. And Snow was only too willing to help. This incident also brought out the other side of Snow ; one not averse to pass on his wisdom to even his adversary.
Controversies followed Snow like his own shadow. He was accused of deliberately knocking down Gavaskar when the latter was going for a quick single at Lord's in 1971. Then in the 1970-71 series in Australia, the crowd got violent when a Snow bouncer struck Terry Jenner on the head in Sydney.
There was always a rebellious streak in Snow. He was one of the first to join the Packer circus. Appropriately his autobiography is called the Cricket Rebel. After retirement Snow has built a successful travel agency business. Snow was in Madras recently with a group of English tourists to watch the Test match. He then spoke to The Sportstar. His hair may have turned grey, but during the
interview. Snow showed he had lost none of his old spark.
Question: Who Inspired you to take to fast bowling?
Answer: I used to watch a lot of cricket then. Brian Statham was my hero. I admired his accuracy and control. Keith Miller was great too both in batting and bowling. In the early days I fancied myself as a batsman too. In fact (jokingly) I have won more than a match for England with my batting. I learnt a lot from just watching these greats.
You made your Test debut at Lord's in 1965. It must have been a great feeling...
It was a very intense experience. My first wicket was that of John Reid, the New Zealand skipper. I picked up a few wickets in both the innings. And it was at Lord's. You can't ask for more.
Then came the West Indian tour of 1967. You enjoyed a great deal of success on that tour.
Well, I enjoyed bowling on the hard wickets in the Caribbean. It was a great challenge. The West Indians were always aggressive. Very few blockers. You bowl a bad ball and you get hit. Gary Sobers and Kanhai were brilliant strokemakers. You've got very little margin for error, especially on the small grounds there. Doing well on those wickets was just great.
You are the only bowler to get Gary Sobers out first ball in successive Tests. How did that happen?
Yes. It doesn't happen very often. Well, on the first occasion at The Oval, it was a planned manoeuvre. Gary tried to hook a short ball, edged it and Brian Close caught it bat-pad at short leg. The second time at Kingston I had a bit of luck. Gary got struck by one that kept low. Not many have done that to Gary I suppose.
What about your reputation of being a tough guy to handle. Only Illingworth it is believed got the best out of you?
Ray was a good captain, a shrewd one. I think if you are the skipper you have to command the respect of the players. Ray understood me. He would want me to get on with the game. On the 1970-71 tour of Australia we played a warm-up match against South Australia at Adelaide. There was nothing exciting happening on the field. Barry Richards was trying to get to his 200 and I was sleeping around a bit. Ray told me to wake up, said if you had to get to the Test team, you have got to liven up your fielding a bit. It was a fine enough comment.
And he did get the best out of you in that series...
Yes, that Australian tour was the highlight of my career. I finally accomplished what I had dreamed of. The Ashes is the series every Englishman or an Australian wants to see, the ultimate battle. It is always referred to as being the classic, isn't it? I bowled very well at Sydney and Brisbane. At Sydney I ended up with seven wickets in the Australian second innings. The atmosphere was electric. In the final Test at Sydney I banged my finger against the fence while trying to stop a four. Anyway, it was great playing a part in the Ashes win.
What about the Terry Jenner incident?
Well, it was the final Test at Sydney. Jenner was hanging around for a while. It was really Jenner's fault, which he later admitted. It was a shortish ball outside the off-stump which he ducked into. The ball hit him on the back of the head. Had he been in his stance position, the ball would have been just about waist high. The fact that he ducked into the ball is what caused all the problem. He was injured, the crowd started throwing bottles and cans. We had to get off to a safer place. The decision to lead us out was a right one by Illingworth. The crowd was pretty nasty.
How do you view the experimental ICC rule of one bouncer per over?
The umpires in the first place should have done their job, judge whether it was intimidation or not. If they had done their job initially this problem wouldn't have arisen at all. But now if you bowl one bouncer, the batsman knows he is not going to get another one. It does make life easier for the batsman. It destroys what you are trying to do on the psychological side. It's hard on fast bowlers.
Soon after the 1970-71 Australian tour came the Gavaskar incident....
It was very painful. Very annoying. I did not deliberately do it. It's a bit of a long story trying to explain. Gavaskar played straight. I was trying to get to the ball first to run Sunny out. I was expecting Sunny to run over the top of the ball. In order to get to the ball, I made a desperate
effort. We got into a tangle, and ended up in a big heap. But we were both okay. During the lunchtime, one or two persons came into the dressing room and aggravated the situation. Not only me, but also skipper Ray Illingworth was upset. Alee Bedser came into the dressing room and asked me to apologise to Sunny straightaway. I said 'okay,' I would get my shirt changed and then speak to Sunny. Then a couple of persons came into the dressing room and vitiated the atmosphere. Their words made me very angry. With the result, I did not apologise to Sunny during the lunch break. Anyway, I spoke to Sunny after the break. He was at the non-striker's end and I was at mid-on. I asked, 'Okay'? He said 'Okay' and we had a drink in the evening.
How do you approach fast bowling?
When you are bowling to somebody, it is a head-to-head contest. You got to have the desire to get the upper hand. You can't allow him to dominate too much. You got to put in a bit of psychology, put the batsman under pressure and not worry about being hit. You got to try a whole lot of things and understand what you are trying to do. Bowl at the right place and see how the batsman plays the ball. If he plays well, you have to work him out. Above all you have to control your reactions.
What would your reaction be if the batsman hooks your bouncer for a four? Will you bowl another bouncer?
Well, it depends on how well he's hooked the bouncer and also depends on what you think he is really capable of. If it is a slow wicket and you've been hooked for a four, there is no point in bowling another bouncer. If the batsman mishooks slightly, then you've got a chance. You weigh up the odds. He could be looking for the bouncer again. You could bowl one a couple of overs later. I would also try to get my leg cutter working. I had a good outswinger too but lost it midway.
Talking about leg-cutters, tell us what really transpired between you and Dennis Lillee?
Dennis was on his first tour against us in 1971. We chatted over lunch, during the first Test. We discussed seam bowling, just like two batsmen discussing their trade. Basically I told him how I aimed to bowl at a batsman. He told me how he bowled it (leg cutter) and I told him my method. But even then he had to work on it. Even if someone tells you something you have to practice it.
How did you adjust between bowling on the soft English wickets and the rather hard wickets in Australia or the West Indies?
You can seam the ball more on the English wickets, I suppose, but I really didn't enjoy bowling on them because they were soft, not quick and bouncy. I think you really get a top-class batsman more through bounce than anything else. Bounce with seam can be lethal. If the ball bounces more than the batsman expects it to, then you've got a very good chance. It's the same with spin bowling. It was the bounce that I enjoyed in Australia and West Indies. In England, I concentrated more on the swing, but that did not mean I cut down my pace. There's nothing like a hard, bouncy wicket for a fast bowler at Test level. It can make all the difference.
How did you prepare for a Test?
First of all you got to ensure that you don't get injured on the eve of a Test match. You got to mentally prepare yourself for the match, not let the pressure get to you. It's only you and the batsman, nothing in between. As simple as that.
In the pressure cooker atmosphere of Test cricket, how does one survive?
You got to be strong mentally. I remember Ian Chappell. I got him early a couple of times in the 1971 series. He went back, worked on his weakness, learnt how to play the fast bowling and came back a much better player. There was a huge improvement in his technique. He had worked his way out. Nothing goes smoothly in one's career. You've got some ups, some downs. You have to learn to fight your way back. If you can't, you got a problem.
How do you rate the present crop of fast bowlers?
Curtly Ambrose had a bit of a flat period. But he has come back a much better bowler. The great thing about him is that he times his effort. He knows what he's got. to do on the big occasion, Ian Bishop has also come back after a very bad injury. A capable bowler. McDermott of Australia, Donald of South Africa. They are all there.
What do you think about the 'ball-tampering' controversy in England last summer? Can you shed some light on the reverse swing?
I don't know how Waqar and Wasim did it. All I know is, I think it is strange, that the number of wickets they took with the new ball pales in comparison with the ones they took when the ball was old. This looked very strange indeed, the opposite way around from normal. I don't understand this reverse swing business. 1 had never done it.
Do the present England pace bowlers have the ability?
We've got a young bunch. We are looking for someone to become the lynchpin. Unfortunately, we lost Angus Eraser, just when he looked our main bowler. He bowled sensibly and the young guys worked around him. We now need Paul Jarvis to develop a bit. But above all, we need a couple of genuine quicks to come along.
You played in an era when there were great fast bowlers. Who were the ones who impressed you the most?
Michael Holding had a beautiful run-up and action. Dennis Lille was a truly great bowler. They were all good. But let's not make any comparisons here. I hate the term 'best' or 'fastest' or whatever else. How would you compare Michael Holding with Dennis Lillee or Imran Khan with Richard Hadlee? You just can't do it. They were all top class seam and swing bowlers. Kapil is not very quick but is a great bowler in his own sphere. But just tell me, who is the better bowler between Dennis Lillee and Richard Hadlee? Is Hadlee the better bowler because he has more wickets? Or is Dennis a better quickie than Fred Trueman, who got his wickets in a quicker time-frame than many others? You can get a lot of wickets if you play in a lot of Tests. You can get a lot of runs too if you play in a lot of Tests. That is not necessarily any sort of judgment. The better way would be to put the number of wickets against the number of Tests played. Every dog has its day. You also can't judge any player after only a few good performances.
( This article was first published in Sportstar on March 6, 1993 )
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