Razor Lindwall and other untold stories
Five niche cricket anecdotes of mine
01 September 2019
The following snippets from my personal cricket history never come up in conversation, so I'm recording them here just in case somebody is ever researching Ray Lindwall, the history of Duckworth Lewis, The Opta Index et al....
(1) A little known back-street nickname: "Razor" Lindwall
I inherited my love of cricket from my Australian father, Jack Eastaway. He grew up in the south of Sydney, and as a child in the early 1930s he would play cricket in the streets with other local boys. One boy he played with in those street games was Ray Lindwall, who went on to become an Australian bowling legend. The boys were in awe of Lindwall's sharp pace, and gave him a nickname: "Razor Lindwall".
(2) Bill O'Reilly, Bill Alley & St George
Before he left for England after the War, dad played for a club called St George in south Sydney. Jack was a leg spinner, and played most of his matches in the second XI. He was (in part) kept out of the first team by former Australian player Bill O'Reilly who was - by a country mile - the first choice leg spinner for the club. Dad did however get to play one match for the first XI (maybe O'Reilly was sick that day), and he retold the story to me many times. His first ball was to the NSW batsman Bill Alley. It was a googly, which Alley misread and decided to leave. In my father's version of the story, the ball missed the stumps by an inch. It was Alley's only mistake, and he proceeded to smash dad out of the attack, and end any hopes he might have had of further first XI cricket. Not long ago I came across the St George CC website. They had recently published a list of every player who ever played in their first XI, in the order in which they played for the club. Thanks to his single appearance in the team Jack Eastaway is there, at number 140. Bill O'Reilly is number 84. And higher up In the column, at no.49, is none other than Sir Donald Bradman.
(3) The unlikely origins of Opta Sports
I tell the story elsewhere about how in 1987 Gordon Vince, Ted Dexter and I came to devise what were originally called the Deloittes Ratings of Test cricketers. One of my colleagues at Deloittes was an IT consultant called David Honey. David left Deloittes to become an entrepreneur. He was always intrigued by the cricket ratings, and in the early 1990s he thought he would attempt something similar in football. He set up a company called Opta, and created a ranking of footballers called the 'Opta Index'. The Opta Index was a bit of a flop, but in creating it, David had needed data about how each player had contributed to the game, including passing and 'assists'. The football clubs were much more interested in this data than in the player rankings. At around this time, David invited me to lunch and he asked me if I'd like to work with him on developing the Opta business, given my experience in analysing sports statistics. I'm not a huge football fan and my heart wasn't in the project, so I said no. I watched over the years as Opta Sports grew to become an international company employing hundreds of analysts. In 2013 the company was bought by Perform Sports....for £40 million. Do I have any regrets about not being a part of it? Not at all. But I find it amusing that the origins of this mega business can partly be traced back to my dabblings in computerised cricket matches in the 1980s.
(4) Duckworth, Lewis and Johnny Ball
In 1993, two statisticians - Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis - devised a fair(er) method of deciding how to adjust targets in cricket matches after rain interruptions. Duckworth & Lewis knew all about the earlier mathematical modelling work that Gordon Vince and I had done in cricket, and over the years, I met with them a few times for a beer to swap experiences of dealing with cricket journalists who didn't want to hear about the maths. (In fact on one occasion, I went for a drink with Frank Duckworth and maths legend Johnny Ball - the two of them were old friends from Liverpool days, where they'd been lodgers at John Lennon's aunt's house. That is surely one of the most geekily niche celebrity stories of all time.) Buried towards the end of Duckworth & Lewis' quirky joint 'autobiography', you will find an anecdote about the day I embarrassingly forgot to go to a meeting that I'd arranged with Frank and Tony in a pub in Camberwell. They sat waiting for me for an hour before leaving, understandably cheesed off. The story is true, but of almost no relevance to anything, and I've no idea why they included it in the book.
(5) Stuck in the airport lounge with Ed Smith
For several years, PwC (successors to Deloittes and Coopers & Lybrand) hosted cricket dinners in Jersey. The format was always the same: Ted Dexter plus a celebrity cricketer and me would be flown out for two days, to do two evening events. After dinner, Ted would say some opening words, then I would do a cameo talk about the rankings, and then the guest cricketer would do his after-dinner piece. Thanks to these Jersey events, I got to have relaxed breakfast chats with some great cricketers over the years: Alec Stewart, Mark Ramprakash, Graham Thorpe, Angus Fraser and Derek Randall. The last Jersey dinner was in 2004. Ted Dexter wasn't available, and the organisers were struggling to find a cricket speaker. I suggested young Ed Smith, who had debuted for England the previous summer. PwC said yes, and Ed was happy to be invited. Ed and I met at Gatwick, only to discover our flight to Jersey was delayed, so I spent an unplanned four hours with him in the terminal talking about cricket tactics, baseball, maths and Wagner (the musician, not the cricketer). If I was ever going to be trapped in an airport with a professional cricketer, I had probably picked the right person.