Strange dismissals made him famous

IT is ironic that despite all his skills and achievements the richly gifted William Russell Endean, who passed away on June 30 in England, is remembered only for his direct involvement in two strange dismissals.


William Russell Endean was an integral part of South African cricket.-Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

IT is ironic that despite all his skills and achievements the richly gifted William Russell Endean, who passed away on June 30 in England, is remembered only for his direct involvement in two strange dismissals. One of them occurred on his Test debut itself — at The Oval against England in 1951.

It was the most famous obstruction dismissal as Len Hutton, who generally looked on a dismissal as a personal assault, became the only man to be given out `obstructing the field'. Chasing a modest target of 163 runs to beat South Africa, England was going steady with two Yorkshiremen, Hutton and Frank Lowson, showing no hurry and taking no undue risk.

But at 53 for no loss, a bizarre incident occurred. Off-spinner Athol Rowan pitched a ball just outside the leg-stump. It turned an inch or so. Hutton, then on 27, snicked it on to his pad in such a way as to send the ball rising over his shoulder. Afraid that it might fall near the stumps, Hutton instinctively knocked the ball aside with his bat.

Endean, the wicketkeeper, was at the same time planning to catch the ball, and was thwarted when the ball was brushed aside. An appeal was made, and after a pause the bowler's end umpire Dai Davies gave Hutton out, with the approval of the square-leg umpire, Frank Chester. It was some time before the spectators realised what had happened. Chester had to go over to the scorers to tell them what the decision was.

"This all turned on the word `wilful': there is no doubt that Hutton's action in striking the ball away was wilful, i.e. not accidental, but though he cannot be convicted of deliberately intending to prevent the wicketkeeper from making a catch, he did impede him by a wilful action. That was why he was ruled out: if Endean had been standing back and had been out of reach of the ball, Hutton's action would have caused no objection, and he was perfectly justified in trying to defend his wicket. The term `wilful' has certain moral overtones. Consider the quotation from an early code of Law which shows that the guarding of the wicket was quite legal: `If a striker nips a ball up just before him, he may fall before his wicket, or pop down his bat before he comes to it, to save it.' Hutton unfortunately forgot that the wicketkeeper was also popping about," wrote Gerald Brodribb in his book titled Next Man In. This episode kept the British newspapers in particular busy for days.

Incidentally, while Hutton remains the only batsman to be dismissed `obstructing the field' in Test cricket, two batsmen have lost their wickets in a similar fashion in One-Day Internationals — Pakistan's Rameez Raja (99) against England at Karachi in November 1987 and India's Mohinder Amarnath against Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad in October 1989.

Raja (then 98), after facing the last delivery of the match, set off for the two runs he needed for his century. But while completing his second run he intentionally stopped the cherry with his willow, preventing wicketkeeper Bruce French, who had rolled the ball in an attempt to break the wicket at the bowler's end, from running him out. Amarnath, after playing defensively to quickie Kapila Wijegunawardene, stepped out of the crease to steal a single but seeing the bowler charge down the track, kicked the ball in order to prevent the bowler from running him out. The Indian was thus given out.

By a quirk of fate, Russell again made history when he palmed down a delivery from the England off-spinner Jim Laker, at Cape Town in 1956-57, that was spinning back towards his stumps. He thus became the first Test batsman to be given out `handled the ball'.

Since then six more players have joined this exclusive club featuring `handled the ball' victims: Andrew Hilditch — Australia v Pakistan, Perth, 1978; Mohsin Khan — Pakistan v Australia, Karachi, 1982; Desmond Haynes — West Indies v India, Mumbai, 1983; Graham Gooch — England v Australia, Old Trafford, 1993; Steve Waugh — Australia v India, Chennai, 2001; Michael Vaughan, England v India, Bangalore, 2001.

Born in Johannesburg on May 31, 1924, Russell was a technically sound and mentally strong batsman. He was fondly called "Endless Endean" for his steely resolve and high concentration powers which enabled him to be the sheet anchor of many a South African innings. Though neither flamboyant nor fluent, Russell's defence, judgement, timing and placement were impeccable. He was one of the finest batsmen of fast bowling who relished batting on bad pitches as well as under pressure.

Agile, athletic and blessed with a brilliant eye and quick reflexes, Russell was an outstanding allround fielder. It might not have been quite a sight for the cognoscenti to see Russell bat but it was a treat to watch him field. He was a safe, reliable wicketkeeper, too, but being a contemporary of the great John Waite he did not get too many opportunities to prove his prowess behind the stumps.

It was, however, as a wicketkeeper and opening batsman that Russell played his maiden Test match. But his debut is remembered more for his hand in Hutton's freak dismissal. It was the only time that he kept wickets for his country. He had no other option but to zero in on his batting as Waite's superiority with the gloves became apparent.

He was only moderately successful on his first tour of England. But on his second, in 1955, he scored 1242 runs at 34.50. As always, he was simply breathtaking in the field and often rescued South Africa with his gutsy batting, both in Tests and first-class matches. In the Headingley Test, his 41 (at No. 8) and 116 not out (at No. 6) went a long way towards South Africa recording a 224-run triumph.

He was at his best in the Antipodes in 1952-53, scoring 438 runs at 48.66 in five Tests against Australia, including a career-best, match-winning 162 not out at Melbourne. South Africa's batting depended a lot on him and he was the man responsible for the Proteas securing a 2-2 share of the rubber. It was the first time that the South Africans had avoided defeat by the Australians in eight series.

In New Zealand, he essayed a fine 116 at Auckland. Russell not only headed the batting for the twin tour with 1496 runs at 55.40; he also held 29 catches, some of them simply incredible, fielding at different positions.

Russell, who played three series at home, against New Zealand in 1953-54, England in 1956-57 and Australia in 1957-58, averaged 50.50 for Transvaal. In a first-class career spanning 1945 to 1964, Russell scored 7757 runs at 37.83, including 15 centuries, his highest being 247 against Eastern Province at Johannesburg in 1955-56. His 171 dismissals included 158 catches and 13 stumpings. In 28 Tests, he made 1630 runs at 33.95, hit 3 hundreds (all abroad) and took 41 catches.

In addition to being a gifted cricketer, the soft-spoken, immensely popular Russell Endean was a hockey international, too. After his retirement he had settled down in England for good and paraded his talents in League cricket. He captained Malden Wanderers Cricket Club and endeared himself to his new fans and friends alike.

"Russell had such a huge heart. He was a complete cricketer and played an integral part in South African cricket in the 1950s," said former South African batsman and Russell's teammate Roy McLean. "He was part of a wonderful era when South Africa was a major force in Test cricket," said Eric Simons, the current South African coach.

Endean, whose wife Muriel died two years ago, is survived by his brother Howard, a daughter and two sons as well as three grandchildren.