Monday, January 23, 2012

My Favourite Cricketer: Chris Pringle by Mykuhl of Cricketgeek

We've scoured the web for the best cricket writers and bloggers to contribute to our series "My Favourite Cricketer".  Today, Mykuhl from the splendid Cricketgeek tells us why he thinks of Kiwi spearhead Chris Pringle most fondly.

As a child I enjoyed playing cricket, and to a lesser degree watching cricket.  I think what I enjoyed most about watching cricket was that normally it was something I did with my dad.  There were a few incidents as I was growing up that made me fall in love with the game.  Firstly when Hadlee dominated Dean Jones in Australia – I remember standing outside, watching through the window as all my older cousins, my father, my uncles and my grandfather crowded around the TV at my grandfathers house. The electricity in the air was contagious.

The next incident was the 1992-93 world cup. When Martin Crowe chose to open the bowling with Dipak Patel against Australia, and it actually worked, and when I was allowed to go to one of the games at Eden Park and saw Mark Greatbatch hit a six onto the roof.  Both of these really captured my attention.

But the ultimate incident that did it for me was in the next season. 1993-1994 the World Series Cup – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa.  My family were on holiday at Mt Maunganui, and in the little sun room at the front where I was sleeping there was a television.  This was still in the days where sports was broadcast free-to-air, and almost every night there was cricket on.  The performance of one player was a big part of why I still love cricket today.

Chris Pringle took at least one wicket in every match in that tournament.  He actually managed this in 26 matches in a row from March 1993 until October 1994, in the process playing against every Test-playing nation of the time. I believe that the whole story of Pringle is one of the greatest in cricket.

Image courtesy:
The start

 He started off his international career after only playing 3 first class games.  New Zealand were touring England, and he was over there playing some minor league cricket.  He decided to turn up to the game to see if he could get some free tickets off some of the Auckland players that he knew. He got more than he was expecting. At first they asked him if he could help them out by bowling in the nets.  Then Martin Snedden got injured, and Pringle got told that he was playing. 

After 27 overs New Zealand were in trouble. Gooch and Smith had put together a big partnership, for the 2nd wicket, and England were 118/1. Pringle was watching Gooch bat and thought he saw a weakness. He asked the captain for the ball, and got him with a slower ball straight away. He ended with figures of 2/45 (Hadlee got 2/45).

It is a Boys Own tale – just out of school, turns up to the ground, gets to play for his country and outperforms (probably) the greatest bowler his country has ever produced.

The skills

Despite being only just over medium pace, and not really doing much with the ball, he managed to have career ODI stats very similar to Waqar Younis (Avg, rpo, sr; Pringle 23.87, 4.45, 32.1; Waqar 23.84, 4.68, 30.5) . He did it by finding weakness in batsmen’s techniques and then exploiting them.

He was not built like a fast bowler, he looked like the guy that comes to fix your telephone. In fact, the first time he ever set foot inside a gym was after he had already been picked for Auckland. He had to get some of the other players to show him how to use the equipment. And perhaps this was why he was such a good bowler. He couldn’t rely on physical ability so he had to learn to think.

One of the most memorable moments was in 1991 where Australia needed 2 runs to win off the final over. Bruce Reid was batting, and all he needed was a single to tie the score. Pringle had the ball. He bowled the over of his life to the bewildered Reid, who eventually tried to sneak a single off the last ball, and was run out for his trouble, giving Pringle a final over maiden and New Zealand a win by 1 run. Pringle’s figures of 1/34 off 10 hardly told the story of his excellent performance.

On the way to a ground in Australia he noticed that there were billboards for the movie Predator outside the ground. They featured Arnold Schwarzenegger with camouflage paint on his face, looking like a warrior. Pringle got some zinc and painted similar marks on his face before coming out to bowl. Anything for an advantage.

His approach worked, and he became the most reliable wicket taker in One Day internationals in history. Here is the table of the top 10 most reliable wicket takers:
Innings bowled
Innings with at least 1 wkt
Hit rate
C. Pringle
B. Lee
P. Patterson
S. Bond
K. Mills
M. Muralitharan
A. Donald
T. Alderman
M. Ntini
M. Sami

The controversies

Over the 5 years of his tragically short career he was involved in more incidents than most players are in 15 years. Before long he was just too much of a public relations disaster, and NZ Cricket couldn’t cope any more.

There were sex scandals, concern about his weight and fitness, fall outs with coaches and captains, ball tampering and even a drugs scandal. He made Flintoff, Ryder and Cronje look like beginners.

Even his cricket brain got him in trouble. He figured out that something was going wrong while he was on tour to Pakistan in 1990. The balls seemed to have some strange marks on them. Martin Crowe and him decided to fight fire with fire.  They got a bucket full of balls and experimented with ways of tampering with them.  They devised a method of scratching the balls using a bottle top, to make them swing like crazy. They tried it out in the third match, and much to their surprise, the umpires didn’t care. One of them even commented to him that at least both teams are cheating equally now. Pringle took 7 wickets, but his place in the record books will forever have an asterisk, due to being the “bottletop bandit” test.

He was also involved in the marijuana scandal in South Africa in 1994. He says that he was only in the room telling the others not to smoke it. I heard from a number of sources that he was blamed by the management for it, and his reputation never recovered.  A good friend of mine was a net partner to one of the players involved, and he has privately confirmed Pringles story, saying that there were no players from outside Northern Districts except Stephen Fleming involved. In a way it was nicer to believe that he was involved, and that his success was in spite of such excesses.

There were also rumours of a number of sex scandals, none of which are worth repeating, but Pringle comments on a couple of them in his book.

Overall his story is one of a great talent that was only realised briefly. One of the best thinking bowlers of all time, was also one of the greatest wasted talents. He thrilled us, but like some other potentially great players like Rodney Redmond or Vinod Kambli, he did so too briefly. It would be interesting to see if he would have kept succeeding if he had managed more than 62 matches. Would the batsmen figure him out, or would he keep finding ways to break batsmen down. This intrigue is part of the reason that Pringle is my favourite cricketer.

(Ed: There is now an English cricket team named for the portly Kiwi, who won the England Champions' League in Last Man Stands Cricket).

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