Left, too soon!

January 17, 2021

The sudden deaths that shook the cricket fraternity

They say, ‘Death is inevitable!’ While the sudden death of the 59-year-old World Cup winning Aussie cricketer-turned-coach and commentator, Dean Jones, is still fresh in our minds who recently passed away after a heart attack in Mumbai, the unexpected demise of much loved Pakistan’s national cricket team’s foreign coach Bob Woolmer during the forgettable 2007 World Cup campaign in Jamaica was equally saddening and haunted the Pakistani dressing room for long.

Both of these deaths came as an unanticipated horror. Sudden death of an otherwise healthy individual, let alone a healthy sportsman, without any prior sickness and not showing any significant health concerns, is always shocking. It is, however, the accidental death of young cricketers that left their followers in tears. Here we recall some of the accidental deaths of cricketers and deaths that occurred for on-field reasons that shook the cricket fraternity and the cricket lovers alike.

The most recent such death was of Afghanistan’s promising, aggressive opening batsman, the 29-year-old Najeeb Tarakai who succumbed to death after being critically injured in a car accident on Friday, October 2nd, 2020. He was a top-order cricketer representing Afghanistan at the highest level and played his last innings in the Shpageeza Cricket League for Mis Ainak Knights a month earlier.

The news of the death of young Najeeb Tarakai refreshed the unfortunate accidental death, under almost the same circumstances, of Ben Hollioake a couple of decades back in 2002. The Englishman, brother of the skipper of England cricket team Adam Hollioake, was part of a newly-built English team with an exciting, aggressive attitude that broke away from the slow and traditional gentlemanly cricket of England, especially in One-day International matches. Born in Australia, Ben played as bits and pieces cricketer, an average all-rounder who represented England in relatively few international matches, under his brother’s captaincy. He had the potential to become a star for the Englishmen, but instead proved to be the youngest casualty among the English Test cricketers when he died following a car accident in Australia at the tender age of 24 years.

The youngest cricketer ever to score centuries in both innings of a Test match and the first Australian to score an ODI century on debut, Phil Hughes was a promising opening batsman for the Kangaroos. During a Sheffield Shield match at Sydney in 2014 while representing South Australia, he was unfortunately hit on his neck by a bouncer, while missing a hook shot, from Sean Abbott of New South Wales. The injury proved to be fatal claiming his life just three days before his 26th birthday. The match was immediately abandoned and the other matches being played in the tournament were also abandoned at the day’s end.

The high-profile death of all-rounder Hansie Cronje, one of the most decent South African cricketers to play the game, was as tragic as the end of his career. When South Africa got back to the international cricket stadium in 1991-92 after the apartheid, Hansie Cronje was assisting Kepler Wessels. Later, Cronje took over the reins of captaincy from Wessels and continued to flourish while becoming the highest run getter for his country. His last innings was against Pakistan in the Sharjah Cup 1999-2000 in March 2000, in which he scored 79 runs.

Cronje’s glittering career, however, was overshadowed by the match-fixing allegations. Following match-fixing allegations he was handed a life ban from cricketing activities. He challenged the ban but his appeal was dismissed in October 2001. At the age of 32, Cronje died in an aircraft crash that occurred in June 2002. Many rumours cropped up. Some claimed that Cronje was killed to cover up the international betting racket, but none of those could be proved.

The image of a visibly destroyed Cronje admitting to the allegations and listening to the declaration remain etched in the hearts of his lovers and followers, who at some level accepted his apology to be genuine and forgave him. Such was the respect he commanded that even after being accused of match-fixing by Delhi police in April 2000, and later admitting to it, he was voted the 11th greatest South African in a 2004 poll for the ‘100 greatest South Africans’ conducted by the South African Broadcasting Corporation!

Wasim Hasan Raja, the dashing left-handed batsman renowned for his spectacular strokeplay, played for Pakistan’s national team till 1980s. The older brother of Rameez Raja, Wasim was considered a competent batsman, especially due to his accomplishments against the mighty West Indies team of that era. He suffered a massive, fatal heart attack during an over-50s cricket match in Buckinghamshire in 2006.

There are a number of deaths that occurred on the cricket field, including those of 25-year- old Namibian Raymond van Shoor in 2015, 32-year- old South African Darryn Randall in 2013, Pakistan’s 22-year-old Zulfiqar Bhatti in 2013, 18-year-old Abdul Aziz in 1959, Raman Lamba of India, England’s Richard Beaumont in 2012, Alcwyn Jenkins in 2009, Ian Folley in 1993, Wilf Slack in 1989 and Michael Ainsworth in 1978 who all departed.

The writer is a physician, healthcare leader, traveller and YouTuber. He tweets @Ali_Shahid82

Left, too soon!