The extraordinary life of Bob Crisp

Crisp (right) in June 1935On The Guardian, Andy Bull recounts the riveting life story of Bob Crisp, former South Africa pace bowler and a British army man:

Crisp was a fast bowler, who had the knack of making the ball bounce steeply and, when the weather suited, swing both ways. His 20 Test match wickets cost 37 runs each. The best of them were the five for 99 he took against England at Old Trafford, including Wally Hammond, clean bowled when well-set on 29. Admirable but unremarkable figures those. A few more: Crisp took 276 first class wickets at under 20 runs each, twice took four wickets in four balls, and once took nine for 64 for Western Province against Natal. Impressive as those numbers are, they still seem scant justification for the description of Crisp Wisden gives in his obituary: "One of the most extraordinary men ever to play Test cricket." But then, as the big yellow book puts it, "statistics are absurd for such a man."

Wisden is right, the traditional measures aren't much use. A few other numbers, the kind even Wisden's statisticians don't tally, may help make his case. The first would be two, which was the number of times Crisp climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. The next would be three, which is both the number of books he wrote, and the number of occasions on which he was busted down in rank and then re-promoted while he was serving in the British Army. Then there are six, which is the total number of tanks he had shot out or blown up underneath him while serving in North Africa, and 29, which is the number of days in which all those tanks were lost; 24 is the number of years he lived after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. And finally, most appropriately for a cricketer, comes 100, which is, well …

In 1992 Crisp, then 81, was in Australia to watch the 1992 World Cup. One of his two sons, Jonathan, had flown him there as a treat. At the MCG, Jonathan bumped into the old England wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans, who he knew through Evans's work as a PR for Ladbrokes. "Godfrey said to me, 'Your father is here? Oh God, I've got to meet him, he's my hero," Jonathan Crisp says. "I said 'Come off it Godfrey, you were a proper cricketer, how can he be your hero?'" Evans replied that Bob Crisp was the first man make a 100 on tour. "I said 'What? How can he be? Plenty of people have made 100s.' And Godfrey said, "No, no, not runs, women, 100 women."


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