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Westbury column: Sibling rivalry not just confined to the home in cricket

(Photo: Getty Images)

By Isabelle Westbury

Many single children long for another sibling, to act as a playmate, a competitor, or simply someone else to shoulder the blame for any juvenile mishaps. If they are sporty, the need for A.N. Other only increases because they then become someone to bowl to, to hit at or, if they’re really useless, simply to collect the balls.

No wonder then the recent rise of siblings surfacing in both international and domestic cricket. Nineteen-year-old Sam Curran’s call-up last week into the England T20 squad, in place of a rested Joe Root (or court-bound Ben Stokes), means that he will join his brother, Tom, three years his senior, on international duty. After some impressive performances for Surrey over the last few years, many have predicted long international futures for the duo.

Less fresh-faced but also enjoying a period of favourable headlines are the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, whose twin tons at the SCG earlier this year saw them become the fifth set of brothers to both score tons in the same innings. We’ve also seen one Overton twin claim his first Test scalp, with his brother no doubt likely to follow suit. Only last week as well, the phrase ‘Agar to Agar’ featured for the first time in the over-by-over coverage of professional cricket, as 20-year-old Wes, playing for the Adelaide Strikers, sent down a couple of deliveries to his older brother Ashton, now a mainstay of the Perth Scorchers.

Ashton, Tom, and Shaun are all fine cricketers, with Test caps, runs and wickets to their names, but all have started, and for Shaun endured, their careers with whispers abound that quietly, just quietly, their younger brothers might be a little bit better.

A difficult notion, perhaps even a little harsh when you’ve just picked up a fresh five-for against the Aussies, but with the benefits of sibling rivalry come the uncomfortable truth that probably, one will prevail over the other. We await the stump mic for a re-enactment of that sledge, “…at least I’m the best player in my family”.

Some siblings find a solution to the inevitable comparison; I persuaded my promising sister to pursue another sport entirely. The hard-hitting Queensland opener Grace Harris thought that she had managed something similar, her sister Rachel established as captain of a semi-professional football team, before she found her on the opposing side in a recent WBBL match.

One half of the Harrises: Grace Harris of the Heat hits a boundary in the WBBL (photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The South African-born Myburgh brothers, Johann and Stephan, found a novel way to carve their own paths, Stephan turning to international cricket for his adopted home, the Netherlands, while Johann turned to New Zealand, before settling to play for Somerset with his British-born wife.

David Hussey, having to endure the tag of Mr Cricket’s younger brother, tried making a different format his own. He pipped Michael, who finished with 79 Test caps, to one more T20 international cap, despite never making the Australian Test side.

Father-son appearances are for another discussion, but any siblings might take a leaf or two out of Arjun Tendulkar’s book, son of he who you are thinking of, now carving his own cricket career as a tall, strapping, seamer – a stark contrast to the compact, dominating batsman that his father was. Austin Waugh, son of Steve, however, has no such qualms; the elegant teenage batsman the very model of his father’s former style.

Still, one sibling will likely dominate. Be it Joe Root swatting his brother, Billy, for six in the T20 Blast, or Nathan McCullum retiring only to see Brendon do likewise, only in the latter’s case to worldwide acclaim. Even Anna Lanning must don the green of the Melbourne Stars knowing that most will associate the name Lanning with a different green, lining gold, and in the name of her sister, Meg.

If you’re really unlucky, there won’t be just one better sibling, either. Mohinder Amarnath, his father already a Test cricketer before him, became the “Frank Sinatra” of Indian cricket, enjoying a vibrant career which included 69 Test caps, while his older brother Surinder mustered just 10 and Rajinder, six years younger, not even one, despite a handful of first-class appearances.

Trevor Chappell at least did play international cricket, but while his brothers Ian and Greg are hailed as perhaps one of the best sibling cricketers of all time, scoring centuries together in three Test innings, Trevor’s name has become notorious for that underarm delivery, against New Zealand in the 1981 World Series Cup.

As for Raees Mohammad (who?), his feat of becoming 12th man for Pakistan was overshadowed by not one, but four of his brothers, Wazir (20 Tests), Sadiq (41), Mushtaq (57) and Hanif (55), the latter dubbed the ‘first star of Pakistan cricket’.

In bloom: Zimbabwe duo Andy and Grant Flower (photo: Getty Images)

Sometimes, parity, or near enough, can be achieved. Andy and Grant Flower, aka ‘Flower Power’, both represented Zimbabwe for more than a decade together, each finishing with 60-odd Test caps and more than 200 ODI appearances to their name. Ireland’s Kevin and Niall O’Brien experienced similar parity throughout their careers, if not to the same acclaim.

Sibling dominance on the sports field is not necessarily confined to one gender alone. The Joyce family perhaps go the most way to fielding a full cricket team from the family dinner table – sisters Cecilia and Isobel having played for a number of years for Ireland women, while their brothers Dominic, Gus and Ed have all represented the men, the latter also playing for England, making him one of the few cricketers to have played for two different countries in successive World Cups.

Widen the net a little further and you’ll find all manner of cousins achieving fine things too. The Pakistan-born Australian leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed is the cousin of Pakistan’s Yasir Shah, also a leg-spinner, having grown up in the same Northern Pakistani town. Something in the water, perhaps?

Some siblings’ exploits even transcend the confines of the boundary. In 1996, sisters Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan founded the Pakistan women’s team, overcoming cultural, financial and political hurdles in order for women to represent their country in its national sport. Last year the team played India in front of a sold out crowd chanting “Pakistan zindabad” in Derby – much is owed to Pakistan’s pair of pioneers.

Sibling cricketing dominance, it would appear, is more prevalent than a first glance suggests. There is however one conspicuous absence, alluded to by the England wicket-keeper herself; if you look hard enough, you’ll find that Sarah Taylor is, in fact, the long lost ‘sister’ of Quinton de Kock. Something about the eyes. And their supernatural wicket-keeping abilities. It’s all in the genes.

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