"I could have caught Bradman but I wanted to see him bat"

Mahinda Wijesinghe
Ladislaw (‘Laddie’) Outschoorn (1918 - 1994) has the distinction being the first Ceylonese - as we were then known - to have played English county cricket as a professional. Described as a stylish early order right-hand batsman and a part-time medium pace bowler he represented Worcestershire in 341 games during the period 1946 to 1959. ‘Laddie’, as he was popularly known, was a character. The short cigar-smoking former prisoner-of-war got into the game rather late in life so he made a detailed study of the sport. Not being talented for instance as the Leicestershire professional duo of Stanley Jayasinghe and Clive Inman who played in the county circuit after ‘Laddie’ retired, he had to. So he did. These were the times when there was no TV, and certainly money in the game was not the astronomical sums that are being paid to players today. That era was comparatively laid-back and cricket was played as a sport. For instance, bowlers did not jump in the air and shout obscenities when a wicket falls. If a batsman is in doubt of a catch - whether the fielder took it clean or not - he will first look at the fielder for confirmation and not towards the umpire. When an opposing batsman reaches a milestone, such as a century, the opposing players join in the applause. If two batsmen are involved in a partnership and the game stops for a break, the tired but applauding fielders allow the batsmen to walk off the field first. There was an unwritten code among the players. The youngsters of today, who are on an overdose of international cricket on TV maybe wondering whether I am describing cricket as it was - and meant to be - played or some other sport!

Having had a couple of brief encounters with ‘Laddie’ Outschoorn, when he was the national coach in Sri Lanka I found him a fountain of knowledge on cricket. But, it takes a while for him to open up and when he does it sure is worth listening to. He was not a man who simply put bat to ball. No, he made it his job to make a detailed analysis of the art of batsmanship. Not in the manner that an intellectual such as C. B. Fry did. Laddie’s approach was more ‘hands-on’. For instance, he would intone in his characteristically husky voice: "You see Mahinda, to score 1000 runs in a season of county cricket is an achievement no doubt, but you’ve got to be a hell of a good batsman to score 750 runs in your next season." Now, ‘Laddie’ will not go any further, he expects you to unravel what his statement meant. What it means is of course that the opposition would have had a good look at the batsman, noted his strong and weak points and in the next season would be better prepared.

In fact, that is just what happened to Clive Inman when he played for Leicestershire. Here’s what the Wisden Almanack ( 1964) recorded at the end of the 1963 season: "Leicestershire drew inspiration from the introduction to Championship cricket of Clive Inman, a talented left-hand batsman from Ceylon. A model of consistency, Inman came third in the main averages with 1,708 runs at 42.78 per innings and he alone of the side appeared in every match. Moreover, Inman, despite lack of support, always played attractively." I vividly remember that at certain stages of the county championship Inman was leading the entire English county batting averages and we, who had only the newspapers to follow the progress, were hoping that our man would eventually top the table. Alas, it was not to be. The important point here is that Inman - as ‘Laddie’ pointed out - was a new boy on the block and surprised the opposition. After having ended the 1963 season triumphantly it took him another five years (1968 season) for him to be even featured in the first twenty batsmen in the championship! He eventually ended at slot No. 20 in 1968 with an average of 36.9. That was his best effort and though he did score 1000 runs in a season eight times, Inman never did scale the heights of 1963.

On another occasion I asked ‘Laddie’ about Don Bradman. "You played against The Don in 1948 and it was the only occasion he did not score a double century against Worcestershire, what are your impressions of him since you watched him from the field itself" I asked. His eyes took on a faraway expression as he took his mind back to that blustery cold match in April, a game they duly lost by an innings and 17 runs to the rampaging Invincibles as they are now known. He did not mention that against an attack comprising Lindwall, Miller, McCool, Toshack and Johnson, he top-scored (54) the second innings during which he "excelled in off-driving" as the Wisden Almanack (1949) reported. No, he spoke in almost reverential tones, or a tone better described as sepulchral. He took his half-lit cigar from the mouth and began: "You know, I could have caught Bradman in the slips when he had scored around 30 or 40 runs, but I let it go because I wanted to see this man bat." Selfish (or Boycottish?!) maybe, after all he was not playing for his side - though this game did not count for the championship - but that is what the man said. And he continued: "Bradman’s footwork was what stunned me. He was so quick and remember, he was 40 years old. He could have easily got a double hundred that day but obviously he wanted the younger players to get acclimatized and threw his hand away after reaching a hundred. Yes, his foot work you know, if you put a cat and Bradman on a table and ask both to jump, that short b___ will beat the cat by a full second."

That was the opinion of Bradman by a man who had learned and played the game in the hard school of professional cricket in England for 14 years when ‘foreign’ players were the exception rather than the rule.