Metamorphosis (n.): a complete change of character, appearance, etc.; a transformation from one type of thing to another.
Cinderella at the ball. Madonna perpetually ‘re-inventing’ herself. The humble caterpillar, bane of lettuce growers everywhere, snuggling up inside a chrysalis and, in nature’s own Stars in Their Eyes-type moment, emerging later as a butterfly, adored by all. And what do we do with butterflies? We catch them, pin them to a board, and stick a big label on them.
As with butterflies, so too with cricketers. Here is a list of XI cricketing caterpillars that became butterflies. Or, if you prefer, XI butterflies who evaded the pins and labels of categorisation – XI cricketers who underwent a metamorphosis.
Picked on first-class debut to bowl left-arm spin and bat at 10,
Richardson soon succumbed to a bout of the yips. Over the course of the next decade, he developed himself into a nailed-on opening batting selection for the Black Caps, averaging a respectable 44.77 in his 38 Tests. Sticking unrepentantly to a stonewalling, low-risk method (with typical wry self-deprecation he described his game as “the straight drive, the forward defensive and 27 variations on the leave”), he also accumulated 9994 first-class runs, a decimal point from the Don’s iconic numbers. Richardson became a cult hero for NZ’s self-styled ‘Beige Brigade’ on account of his ritual end-of-series slowest runner head-to-heads – ‘Sprint of the Snails’, resplendent in beige lycra bodysuit – with defeats to Ashley Giles and Neil McKenzie offset by victories over Danish Kaneria and Darren Lehmann.
Unusual not only for being the sole double-barrelled recipient of the hallowed baggy green, Fleetwood-Smith also underwent a remarkable transformation early in his cricketing life when a fractured right arm caused him to take up bowling with the opposite arm and he went on to become one of the earliest notable purveyors of ‘chinamen’. Despite the presence of such luminaries as Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly, he was able to play 10 Tests between the wars, taking 42 wickets, although his final analysis of 1-298 (still an unwanted record) augured badly for life after retirement, when alcoholism led to vagrancy, destitution and arrest for theft, before the intervention of ex-PM Sir Robert Menzies brought a brief peace to his final days.
Klusener’s first incarnation was as a decidedly brisk, wide-of-the-crease deck-hitter who brought bags of aggression to an attack fronted by the rapier of Pollock and the sabre of Donald. Over time, however, his batting developed to such an extent that – extraordinarily, and despite that hare-brained run – he won Man of the Tournament at the 1999 World Cup due to his willow-wielding exploits. And all from number 8! In the process, ‘Zulu’ invented a niche ODI role that SA have not quite managed to replicate with the likes of Justin Kemp and Albie Morkel. His bowling wilted under the strain of ankle injuries until he found himself picked to bat at number 5 in the Test team, before carving out a cricketing autumn in the shires as a specialist batsman.
ME Sanuth is hardly a household name even within his own four walls, but the twirler from
Trivandrum on the southern tip of India is at the cutting edge of a trend predicted by ex-Australian coach and renowned innovator John Buchanan: ambidextrous players. The metamorphosis came about by observing, then emulating, the left-arm spin of Kerala bowler P Prasanth, since when Sanuth’s ability to bowl controlled spin with both arms led to him being picked up on a four-year deal for the academy of the Kolkata Knight Riders (head coach: Buchanan). With a single appearance in both List A and first-class cricket, the 21-year-old’s career is yet to ignite, but with a visit to the National Academy seeing Indian spin-bowling legends Bedi and Prasanna invite him to concentrate on one arm or the other, it may be that he settles for orthodoxy.
It is now well known that Pietersen started his cricketing life as a promising off-spinner, impressing Nasser Hussain in a tour game in December 1999. The following summer the still shy, gangly lad from Pietermaritzburg arrived in
Cannock for a stint of Birmingham League cricket under the tutelage of former Kent and Leicestershire spinner, Laurie Potter. Legend has it that, after three or four games of mixed results, Potter sat his fellow spinner and then Number 9 batsman down for a tête-à-tête: “Kapes, listen. I’ve got to tell you – I don’t rate your bowling much but you’re one hell of a f****** batsman. You’re going up to Number 4.” Cannock won the league, while Pietersen, forced by circumstances to develop his batting, won a contract at Notts. The metamorphosis was complete and the rest is history…
Through several seasons of steady yet unspectacular achievement in State cricket, Colin ‘Funky’ Miller forged a reputation as a resourceful and clever medium-fast bowler and nuggety tailender. However, it was an ankle injury in a club game in
Hobart that saw him bowl off-spin with enough success that he would thereafter mix both styles. This hybrid approach served as the catalyst for a late-career flourish in which he broke records for most wickets in a Shield season and best match figures for Tasmania, propelling the sometime blue-, pink- and peroxide-haired Victorian to an unlikely Test debut and, remarkably, the 2001 Australian Test player of the year award.
The game is not short of promising leg-spinners to have forsaken the art for the safer waters of top-order batting – ask Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain – and one of Kenya’s most famous cricketing sons, Collins Obuya, was also affected by its unique set of rigours and perils. It was his 5/24 in the 2003 World Cup victory over
Sri Lanka during the Kenyans’ remarkable progression to the semi-final that caught the eye of Warwickshire, who offered the leggie and part-time tomato vendor a one-year deal. He played just two Championship games (taking 3/180) and was unceremoniously discarded, only to reappear in the spotlight for Kenya some eight years later, now having re-invented himself as a frontline batsman to such an extent that he could take 98* off the Aussies, 52 from Sri Lanka, and 47 against Pakistan.
Later in life Chief Executive of the Test and County Cricket Board, forerunner of the ECB, the former Oxford University, Warwickshire and England wicket-keeper Alan Smith was, during his playing days, one of the more versatile glovemen around in that he took 131 first-class wickets bowling attritional medium-pacers off the wrong foot. Smith’s metamorphosis happened both episodically (during matches in which he was originally selected to keep wicket, even taking a hat-trick against
Essex in 1965), and definitively, with the arrival of Deryck Murray at Edgbaston late in his career, leading to his selection by the Bears as a frontline seamer. Given that he skippered the side for a decade, succeeding namesake MJK, one is tempted to ask whether the frustration of trying to dislodge Jim Parks in the Test team led him to indulge his first love.
The quintessential poacher-turned-gamekeeper, Chris Broad was hardly a ticking time bomb but certainly more prone than most to red mist-shrouded fury (whence Stuart Broad’s moxie, perhaps). Good enough to be International Cricketer of the Year in 1985, a couple of years later he was at the epicentre of the simmering fractiousness that embroiled the tour to Pakistan (which culminated in the infamous Shakoor Rana–Mike Gatting stand-off), refusing to leave the field for over a minute having been given out. Later that winter he kicked out his middle stump out in the Bicentennial Test in
Sydney. Post-retirement, however, Broad became one of the ICC’s firmest match referees – showing instinctive courageousness when caught up in the Lahore terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in March 2009 – thus completing a transformation from tempestuous anti-establishment figure to custodian of the spirit of the game.
With a footballing knee injury having prevented his somewhat mediocre right-arm medium-pacers from gracing first-class cricket while up at
Oxford, Douglas Ward Carr then played club cricket for Maidstone until, at the ripe old age of 36, he took the decision to experiment with a googly and develop his slow bowling. The transformation in his fortunes was remarkable: the following year, 1909, he trialled successfully with his native Kent, took a 5-fer against his old University on debut and finished the season playing his one and only Test against Australia. The summer after he was among Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, but this most unlikely end-of-career metamorphosis was ended by the Great War, by which time he had 334 first-class wickets at 16.7 apiece.
To have to remodel your action once is ordeal enough, but twice – that’s enough to make Hercules himself shrink. Yet such was the fate of niggardly
Yorkshire off-spinner Geoff Cope, whose first recalibration came in 1972, at the age of twenty-five, and required 18 months of daily 200-mile round trips to see Johnny Wardle for remedial work. However, he bounced back well enough to gain selection for England’s tour of Pakistan in 1977-78, almost taking a hat-trick on debut (Mike Brearley recalled the third ‘victim’, unsure as to the legitimacy of his catch), but was once more suspended later that year. Again he fought back, yet, without ever having been no-balled for throwing, the rumours re-surfaced and in 1980 this twice metamorphosed tweaker was put out to pasture, 686 wickets to the good.
Sri Lanka gave a Test debut in Hamilton to a young all-rounder from the southern – equal parts left-arm spinner and middle-order batsman. Half-a-decade later, Jayasuriya’s Popeye-forearms and liquid reflexes had transformed him into a pinch-hitting opening batsman in the Lankans’ World Cup-winning side and a true cricketing pioneer, scything short balls over backward-point for six, or pulling them brutally to the opposite square boundary. He also took this approach to opening the batting into the Test arena, where he continued to purvey his tweakers, more often than not in a defensive capacity. But the day job had most definitely become being his team’s first line of defence. Or rather, attack. port of Matara