Thursday, February 29, 2024

Eddie Paynter runs away from hospital to become Ashes legend

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Captain Jardine was said to visit the hospital and would mention in his book “In the Quest of the Ashes” that Paynter agreed with his skipper that he had to play on crutches if needed to win the game

The 1932-33 Ashes series is largely remembered for Douglas Jardine’s bodyline tactics, which not only helped England regain the urn but also put the visiting team in a poor light for their unsportsmanlike tactics. In truth, the brutal Australian summer wasn’t kind to the English team at all, which demanded physical forbearance and grit to execute their plan well.

The prime example of that was Eddie Paynter. With England leading the series 2-1, the middle-order hard-hitter was far from being probable in the visitor’s playing eleven, but insubordination by Iftikhar Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, saw skipper and a hard taskmaster Douglas Jardine pick Paynter in the last minutes for the Adelaide Test.

The Nawab of Pataudi Sr had scored a century in the first Test and replacing him with an untested batter was a risk, but Jardine had argued England desperately needed a left-hander to see off Australian spinners Bill O’Reilly, Clarrie Grimmett as well as Bert Ironmonger. While the move made sense, Paynter’s on-field misfortune didn’t make it easy.

With Australia’s unbearable heat unsuitable for playing cricket by all means, Paynter’s pre-existing condition of tonsillitis only aggravated. What started with a serious sore throat saw Paynter coming off the ground with a temperature of 102 and eventually getting hospitalized with a serious case of tonsillitis.

After Australia ended on 251/3, captain Jardine was said to visit the hospital and would mention in his book “In the Quest of the Ashes” that Paynter agreed with his skipper that he had to play on crutches if needed to win the game. However, in EW Swanton’s book “Gubby Allen — A Man of Cricket”, Jardine was displeased when Paynter was announced unfit to continue and even drew analogies from Lord Roberts and his 10,000 British troops, who had made a 320-mile dangerous trek in Kandahar during a war.

It was evident how Jardine saw the Ashes rivalry and to what distance he would have gone to win it. However, no one expected Paynter to leapfrog his skipper in ambition and leave his hospital bed to bat for England.

With Australia wrapped up at 340 and England struggling at 198/5, a seriously sick Paynter entered the dressing room in pajamas and started wearing his armour. When Gubby Allen was dismissed with England’s 215/6, a pale and trembling Paynter entered the field with a big hat to keep the sun away.

With hardly any strength to play his strokes, Paynter stood his ground firmly for 75 minutes as wickets kept falling at the other end. England returned with 271/8 at the end of that day as Paynter returned to hospital for the much-needed rest.

With much better health the next morning, Paynter returned to bat with his pockets full of tablets and gargle mixture. The game had to stop twice for Paynter’s medication as he ended his innings at 83 runs and England at 356. The day was, however not over as he had to field for a certain time before returning to the hospital.

His heroic effort was applauded by Australian players and fans alike with the organisers of the Telephone and Telegraph Exhibition in Manchester setting up an intercontinental telephone call between Paynter and his wife. His name even came at the House of Commons the next day as Paynter became England’s sporting legend.

It was only fair that England’s winning runs came from Paynter’s six in the second innings. The Lancashire lad, however, could play only 20 Tests in his career, scoring 1540 runs with an average of 59.23 and tallying four centuries. He was also known to be a great fielder despite losing the tops of two fingers on his right hand in childhood.

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