‘Sport no longer impacts community’

  • Rohit Bhaskar, Hindustan Times, Cardiff
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  • Updated: Jun 05, 2013 12:24 IST

There are many cricketers who are instantly recognizable because of their physical features. Mark Taylor's protruding belly earned him the apt nickname Tubby, Joel Garner's 6'9 frame led to another fitting moniker, Big Bird. But, if there's one cricketer who's hard to miss owing to his physique it's England pacer from the 1980s and early 90s Gladstone Small, yes him of no-neck fame.

The Barbados-born Small suffers from a rare congenital disease, Klippel-Feil syndrome, which can be identified by shortness of the neck. There are some archaeologists who claim that Egyptian ruler King Tutankhamun also suffered from the same condition. Small, then, is in rich company.

Stoney, as he was nicknamed, was also one of the many members of the Black community that formed the backbone of the England bowling line-up in the 1990s, alongside the likes of Devon Malcolm, Phil DeFreitas and Chris Lewis. However, since the turn of the century, black cricketers have been a rarity in the Three Lions setup, a fact that Small bemoans.

HT spoke to the 51-year-old veteran of 17 Tests and 53 ODIs. Excerpts from the interview.

You were part of a great crop of Black fast bowlers who played for England. Since the retirement of Mark Butcher and the end of Dean Headley and Alex Tudor's international days, Black cricketers have become a rarity. What do you put that down to?
Me and many other Black cricketers of my era, were first generation immigrants and our parents grew up in the West Indies of the 1950s and 60s, when cricket was more than just a game and defined not just the social attitudes but transcended all barriers. I came to England when I was 14 and it was my parents' love for the game that heightened my interest. I think now, the sport doesn't have the same impact on the community. It's actually quite sad, because I travel to ECB-organised junior camps, I just don't see any young black cricketers. I see a lot of interest from the Asian (Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) community, but don't see young black cricketers.

The 1987 World Cup semifinal against India was a great moment for English cricket. Your memories from the match?
It was one of the great moments of my career. The crowd in Mumbai (Wankhede Stadium) was electric. Over 30,000 Indian fans had packed the venue (A teenaged Sachin Tendulkar was ball boy at the stadium on that day). Back then there were no fielding restrictions and India's ploy was to use a 6-3 field and have their left-arm spinners operating (Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh). Goochie (Graham Gooch) knew what to expect and the day before the match he worked extensively on his sweep shots, both conventional and reverse, on a left-arm nets bowler. He practised the shot over and over till he perfected. In the match he was magnificent and got a great ton (115).

You played a great role in England's Ashes winning Test at the MCG in 1986…
I wasn't expecting to play in the match. I was doing my usual job, making drinks for the team. 30 minutes before the match Mike Gatting, the captain, came up to me and said, 'Stoney, what are you doing with the drinks? You're playing, (Graham) Dilley failed a fitness Test'. I was pumped up, it was Boxing Day and me and Beefy (Ian Botham) ended up with five wickets each. I had experience of bowling in Australia as I had played for South Australia in the Sheffield Shield the previous season. The Australian pitches also suited my type of bowling. It was a great to help the team win the Ashes (England wouldn't win another Ashes for close to 20 years).

 

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