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Alison Mitchell column – Sledging ain’t all that heavy, he’s my brother

“What strange creatures brothers are!”
When Jane Austen put those words into the mouth of her Mansfield Park character Mary Crawford, she was observing that, that in her experience, male siblings tended to build relationships more through actions than through words. One wonders, then, how she would have interpreted Joe Root smashing little brother Billy mercilessly for six to win the One-Day Cup match for Yorkshire against Nottinghamshire last week.

Root the elder did go on to offer some words of advice to his sibling after the game – not that their relationship needed repairing – but he helpfully suggested that Billy ought to bowl fewer half trackers next time.

Cricket has a long and distinguished history of brothers – and sisters – playing alongside each other both at domestic and international level. One needs to think no further than the Bedser twins, the Waugh twins, the Chappell brothers, Peter and Graeme Pollock, Andy and Grant Flower, Ben and Adam Hollioake, and more recently Shaun and Mitch Marsh for Australia and WA, Niall and Kevin O’Brien for Ireland and Leicestershire, Sam and Tom Curran for Surrey, and Jamie and Craig Overton for Somerset to name but a few.

Dip into the women’s game and Aussie twins Alex and Kate Blackwell played alongside each other in 37 internationals including Australia’s successful World Cup campaign of 2005; twins Cecelia and Isobel Joyce have turned out together in 49 ODIs and 31 T20s for Ireland; and the West Indian twins Kycia and Kyshona Knight have won 31 international caps in the same team. Former England captain Jane Powell and her twin sister Jill both played for Yorkshire together, with Jill captaining Jane before both moved on to different counties and Jane’s career led her towards the England captaincy.

It is much less common to find cricketing siblings who have played against each other, especially at international level. In Tests it is believed to have happened only once. This was back in 1892 in a Test match between England and South Africa in Cape Town.

The England team featured Alec and George Hearne – both batsmen for Kent. Their middle brother Frank was in the South African side, having settled in the country after touring there with England in 1889. Frank played two Tests for the land of his birth in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town before turning out for the opposition just three years later.

Frank managed to pick up a couple of wickets in the 1892 Test but none of the brothers dismissed each other.

In the England innings, George and Alec failed to get beyond double figures, with George out for a duck. It didn’t unduly affect the outcome, though, as England only needed to bat once. South Africa were rolled for just 97 and 83 and England won by an innings and 128 runs.

There is also only one instance of brothers playing against each other in ODIs. In 2006, Middlesex’s Irish-born batsman Ed Joyce had qualified for England and made his ODI debut in Belfast. His brother Dom opened the batting for Ireland – also on ODI debut – but he didn’t have a great day as he was bowled by Steve Harmison for a three-ball duck. Older brother Ed made 10, and England won by 38 runs.

Dom went on to play two more ODIs in 2007 before his brief international career came to an end. Ed earned another 16 ODI caps for England, before returning to Irish colours for the 2011 World Cup, where he took part in Ireland’s memorable three-wicket win over England in Bangalore – a match defined by Kevin O’Brien (playing alongside brother Niall) smashing a famous 113 off just 63 balls.

The Ed versus Dom match surely means that after Isobel and Cecelia, the Joyce family have the honour of being the only cricketing family with a set of both brothers and sisters to have played against or with each other in international cricket.

At domestic level there are a number of notable instances of siblings playing against each other. Australian brothers Dave and Mike Hussey faced off in the final of the Big Bash in 2016 when Dave was captain of the Melbourne Stars and Mike, in his last game before retirement, was captain of Sydney Thunder.

In a fairytale closing chapter for Mike, his team won, but it didn’t stop Dave referring to him as the “the old boy” throughout. The pre-match build up was peppered with friendly jibes as to which team their mother would be supporting.

In India, the Ranji Trophy Final has seen at least five occasions when brothers have been on opposing sides. 1996 saw Krishnaraj Srinath and Krishnaraj Sriram compete against each other for Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively – teams with a rivalry as intense as India-Pakistan. The elder brother, Srinath, opened for Tamil Nadu and top scored with 85 with his brother standing at silly point, being urged by Javagal Srinath to sledge.

But it was Karnataka who prevailed after amassing a sizeable first innings lead. The brothers prepared for the encounter by having a quiet lunch together the day before.

In the 1961 and ’62 finals, Indian leg-spinner Subhash ‘Fergie’ Gupte played for Rajasthan against his younger brother Baloo, who played for Bombay. 1946 and ’47 saw legendary batsman Bhausaheb ‘BB’ Nimbalkar of Holkar, take on his wicketkeeping brother Raosaheb, of Baroda. The 1947 final was won by Baroda after they racked up an astonishing 784 in their first innings to win by an innings and 409 runs.

This was sweet revenge for the previous year, when Holkar won by 56 runs. That final provided a nice quirk for the statisticians, though, as Raosaheb dismissed his own brother, stumped in the first innings for just one.

The sibling dismissal is not such a rare feat at domestic level around the world but it is highly unusual for two brothers to have a hand in the dismissal of each other in the same match.

That was the case in a one day county game at Old Trafford in June 2004, when Graeme Swann was playing for Northamptonshire against older brother Alec, who was playing his last first-team match for Lancashire.

Lancashire batted first and Alec, batting at five, reached 22 whereupon he square cut off-spinner Jason Brown to the right of Graeme who was fielding at backward point. When the younger sibling was asked by this column to recall the moment, he claimed to have, “dived, one-handed to my right. It was one of the best catches I’ve ever taken.” Lancashire were dismissed for 176.

Graeme then opened the batting in the chase and made merry, creaming 78 off 59 balls. “I was in line for my first ever one day hundred,” he bemoans. “Then I went for a big six and he (Alec) caught me down at long off.”

Graeme had the last laugh though as Northants cruised home to win by seven wickets. The pair relished the contest but there was no brotherly sledging, just a respectful handshake at the end and a beer in the Old Trafford pavilion. Maybe actions do speak louder than words.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, May 5 2017

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