The other side of Mike Denness

Denness had to return home and former South Africa wicketkeeper Denis Lindsay took his place for the third and final Test at Centurion.

Denness (72) lost his long battle with cancer on Friday

Mike Denness and Sunil Gavaskar
Mike Denness protects centurion Sunil Gavaskar from an over-enthusiastic crowd in the 1974 Manchester Test. Pic Courtesy: Sunil Gavaskar by Dom Moraes (Macmillan)

In 2003, then Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president Jagmohan Dalmiya reportedly agreed to ‘forget’ about the Denness issue on humanitarian grounds since the former England captain had undergone heart surgery. Indeed, Dalmiya would be happy he did that.¬†

Sunil Gavaskar will remember Denness for his ‘deed’ when he completed his wondrous century in the most difficult of weather conditions in the Manchester Test of the ill-fated 1974 series where England under Denness whitewashed India 3-0.

Gavaskar wrote in Sunny Days (published by Rupa & Co): “I got my century off a ball from (Derek) Underwood, which I lost sight of as it left his hand. I only saw it at the last minute pitching short outside the off-stump.

I cut it away past (Bob) Willis for three to get my century. It was a great moment and very satisfying to get a century under such difficult circumstances. I was engulfed by a large number of Indian spectators who swarmed on to the field.

One of them put his scarf around my neck and, if my Mike Denness had not put his hand through, I may have been strangled. My elation had turned to shock. Abid came and drove the crowd away.”

Bishan Singh Bedi, who played against Denness at the international and county level, called him a, “very committed professional,” who excelled for England, Kent and Essex.

“He had his limitations, but he played within them,” said Bedi on Saturday.¬†Denness will also be remembered as the captain who dropped himself after a string of failures during the first three Tests of the 1974-75 Ashes.

In his book I Declare (published by Arthur Barker Ltd), he wrote: “The main point was that I had been failing with the bat whereas Keith Fletcher looked in good form, although he had not scored a great many runs. It was imperative to select the best side to try and win that fourth Test. I made the decision without consulting anyone else at all.”

Dropping himself...
England under John Edrich still lost the Sydney Test and when it came to the fifth Test at Adelaide, the new captain couldn’t be part of it because of two cracked ribs courtesy Dennis Lillee in the previous Test. Denness scored 51 and 14, but hit up 188 which helped England to a solace victory in the sixth Test at Melbourne.

When Denness lost the England captaincy in 1975, he received a letter from John Inverarity, Australia’s current chief of selectors, who wrote: “At this moment I am thinking of you, for I admire your attitude to cricket and life. You may or may not know that I am a secondary school teacher.

I was asked last February by some students what I considered to be the highlight of the recent England-Australia clash. I was expected to give one of the following as an answer — the speed of Lillee or Thomson, the aggression of these two bowlers, the crushing defeat of the ‘Poms’, etc. I gave my answer - the conduct, demeanour and example of Mike Denness.” RIP.

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