Another collision and the pain of them all

What’s it with these Aussie fast bowlers colliding with fieldsmen, I wondered as I frantically searched the news wires for more on Moises Henriques’ collision with Surrey teammate Rory Burns in a county match against Sussex on Sunday night.

That the authorities abandoned the game at Arundel was not good news and one’s thoughts gravitated to the Phillip Hughes incident in November last year. Will the players suffer the same fate as Hughes, was a fair question especially after Surrey tweeted about it being “horrible”. Fortunately, Henriques and Burns survived.

Jeff Thomson flexes his injured right shoulder in 1977. Pic/Getty Images
Jeff Thomson flexes his injured right shoulder in 1977. Pic/Getty Images

In less than 40 years, Henriques became the fifth Australian in memory to be involved in a collision in a Test. The first being Jeff Thomson and Alan Turner at the Adelaide Oval in 1976, and then in 1999, Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie ran into each other at Kandy.

To some cricket followers, the Waugh-Gillespie incident will be remembered the most when it comes to Test cricket. And while the most tragic of all collisions will have to be the fatal one which took the life of Bengal’s Ankit Keshri (20) after he collided with teammate Sourabh Mondal during a club match in April, the most famous of collisions across all eras will have to be the one involving Thomson and Turner.

Alan Turner (above) collided with Thomson on Christmas Eve of 1976, the opening day of the Australia vs Pakistan series. Pic/ Australia: Story of a Cricket Country (by Christian Ryan)
Alan Turner (above) collided with Thomson on Christmas Eve of 1976, the opening day of the Australia vs Pakistan series. Picture courtesy Australia: Story of a Cricket Country (by Christian Ryan)

It happened on Christmas Eve of 1976, the opening day of the Australia vs Pakistan series. Thomson was all geared up for his third Australian summer as a terrorising fast bowler. Now, it was the turn of the Pakistanis to face up to him.

Thomson told former Australia off-spinner-turned-journalist Ashley Mallett in Thommo Speaks Out that he was bowling “a million miles an hour” in that Adelaide opener and wicketkeeper Rod Marsh and the slip fielders were “standing miles back.” He claimed two of the three wickets to fall for less than 100.

Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad came out after lunch in the hope of a revival. Zaheer in particular was looking to thrive at the Adelaide Oval, the best batting strip in Australia.

In came Thomson, slinging action and all, bowled at full pace for Zaheer to top edge it for Turner at mid-wicket to head for the catch. But Thomson didn’t trust him enough and ran for it himself to complete a possible caught and bowled. Their meeting resulted in sickening blows to both. Turner’s body weight had a huge impact on Thomson’s right shoulder which was more than just dislocated as Turner lay on the ground. In Thomson’s words, Turner looked “as dead as a maggot.”

Ian Chappell, who had retired from Test cricket only the previous season, was following his first post-retirement ‘home’ Test. He told me the other day: “Apparently, Thommo said as he was sitting there holding his shoulder; ‘I’ll kill him… if I ever f***in’ bowl again.’ The Australian players weren’t sure whether he meant Turner or Zaheer. When both Thommo and Turner went down after the collision, Kerry O’Keeffe called out: ‘Leave the dead, attend to the wounded.’ ”

Zaheer on Monday recalled playing the shot and how bad the injury was to Thomson. “The thing I remember most is that it put Thomson out of action for the remainder of the season.” Zaheer prospered to get 85 and 101 in the drawn game.

Thomson couldn’t lift his arm. “My arm was just hanging off the shoulder. We got into the dressing room and a bloke had to cut my shirt off,” Thomson told Mallett. He preserved the cut shirt as a souvenir. All he wanted to do was to get back on the field. He was that kind of a cricketer.

An interesting conversation unfolded between him and Dr Adrian Munyard:

Thomson: “Get me a doctor to put this thing back in and I’ll go back to the action. And anyway, who are you?

Dr Adrian Munyard: I am the doctor and I will be the surgeon operating on your shoulder.

Turner recovered to bat in the Test while Thommo wore his country’s colours six months later in the 1977 Ashes in England.

Several pundits reckon Thomson was not the same lethal bowler after the shoulder injury at Adelaide. Zaheer disagreed: “I faced Thomson later (in World Series Cricket and Test cricket) and he was still quick.” The bespectacled batsman should know. Before the 1981-82 Test series, a Thomson delivery crashed into Zaheer’s ribs and kept him out of the opening Test at Perth.

Ian Chappell doesn’t believe his former pace star lost out on pace after Adelaide 1976: “It wasn’t so much his pace was down — every now and again he could still bowl at top pace — but his ability to get the ball to lift steeply off a length was never quite there after his collision with Alan.

“Those who were there said his spell at Barbados in 1977-78 late one evening was the fastest they’d ever seen. He had (Gordon) Greenidge dropped (I think by Bruce Yardley in the gully) and he just let fly after that and had the batsmen ducking for cover. They reckon even Viv (Richards) was struggling to cope and was almost happy to go when he got him late in the evening. That spell was after he busted his

Thomson went on to take 200 Test wickets while Turner played his last Test in 1977.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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