Stars from some surprising places

Wimbledon champion Jaroslav Drobny (also an international ice hockey player) tells the most fascinating story of a Czech-born sportsman when that country was falling behind the iron curtain.

Czech-born Jaroslav Drobny, when he played his first Wimbledon, was marked as a player from “Bohemia-Moravia”. Ten years later, he defected to the West, and as he wrote in his excellent autobiography 'Champion in Exile,' he “did not mind giving up his material assets” as his country’s top sportsman, and found tennis “the only antidote to loneliness.”   -  The Hindu Photo Library

The Australian cricketer Will Pucovski’s father is of Czech origin, but the son is Australia-born, and on the fringes of what could be a memorable career. I am happy to be corrected, but I don’t think anyone born in the Czech Republic has played international cricket. Another Australian, the off-spinner Jason Krejza, who once took 12 wickets in a Test in Nagpur, had a Czech father and a Polish mother, but he was born in New South Wales.

The Wimbledon champion Jaroslav Drobny (also an international ice hockey player) tells the most fascinating story of a Czech-born sportsman when that country was falling behind the Iron Curtain. At his first Wimbledon, he was marked as a player from “Bohemia-Moravia”. Ten years later, he defected to the West, and as he wrote in his excellent autobiography Champion in Exile, he “did not mind giving up his material assets” as his country’s top sportsman, and found tennis “the only antidote to loneliness.”

Commentary on a loop  

He left his country with a couple of shirts, a toothbrush and fifty dollars in his pocket. He played the 1950 Wimbledon under the banner of Egypt. In 1959 he was granted British citizenship, and played his final Wimbledon in 1960 as a British player.

Cricket does not have a story quite as romantic, although there have been those born in non-cricketing regions of the game playing it at the international level. Wicketkeeper Geraint Jones who was born to Welsh parents in Papua New Guinea and lived in Australia till he was 22, played 34 Tests for England. Yes, Test cricketers have emerged from some surprising places.

Cricket in Australia, a not-to-be-missed experience  

John Traicos was a promising off-spinner when he first played for South Africa in 1969-70, their last series before the isolation. Twenty-two years later, at 45, he was still good enough to play Test cricket, this time for Zimbabwe. Traicos was born in Zagazig, Egypt, possibly the only international player born there.

At least three England captains were born outside the Commonwealth. Freddie Brown, a natural left-hander who, following parental interference, batted and bowled right-handed, was born in Lima, Peru. Donald Carr, captain when England lost its first Test against India, was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, while for Ted Dexter it was Milan in Italy.

The only international born in Rio de Janeiro is Ashok Gandotra, a left-hander who played two Tests for India, and the Ranji Trophy for Delhi and Bengal.

Of sporting heroes and living their dream, again  

Lusaka, in Zambia, gave us Henry Olonga and Phil Edmonds while Panama produced the West Indian great George Headley. Even Norway has produced an international. This is Eiulf ‘Buster’ Nupen who captained South Africa. That sentence doesn’t hint at the drama behind his career. Nupen was an off-spinner considered by Jack Hobbs and Walter Hammond as the “most dangerous” in the world. At seven, he lost an eye, and at 20 was shot through both his knees. A recent piece in The Guardian called him “the finest one-eyed Scandinavian cricketer who ever lived.” Wonderful!