The word that characterised Derek Randall is ‘sparkling’. His career progressed like a sequence of brilliantly formed colourful bubbles, a large number of which perhaps remained short-lived, but none of which ever failed to delight.
He turned incredible cartwheels executed to perfection between deliveries as he stood at cover, performed impish moments of mimicry when the severe authority of the Indian policeman patrolling the boundary finished helpless against the titters of laughter.
And he took time off for more serious pursuits. Such as that magical innings during the Centenary Test at Melbourne. He scored 174 in defiance of the supreme Australian bowlers, was struck on the head by a Dennis Lillee bouncer but continued to bat, and doffed his hat when Lillee bounced again.
However, perhaps the career of Randall can be summarised with a description of his feats at Melbourne in January 1979.
In the first innings, Randall had perished to a hook shot essayed off the second ball. England, facing a deficit of 142 runs, started the second innings disastrously. Geoff Boycott fell first ball. David Gower, Bob Willis and Ian Botham were variously ill or injured. And Randall picked up his 2 lb 7 oz bat with its extra layer of rubber on the handle, murmuring, “Come on, Rags, England needs you.”
He stayed at the wicket for the little short of 10 hours, continuously chattering to himself. “Wake up, Rags, concentrate. Get stuck in. You idiot, Rags. Concentrate, Rags, come on, come on. Come on England.” He batted with a technique of his own, underlined by his famed shuffle, sometimes moving across to hide all three stumps. He hardly played two balls the same way. And he made 150, prevailing over the Australian bowlers and the Sydney temperatures of 105 degrees. England won by 93 runs and effectively secured the Ashes. It was incredibly the slowest century in the history of cricket between the two countries.
He was mostly a buoyant character on the cricket ground, but when the situation demanded he could sometimes turn hard as nails . Unfortunately, that did not happen too often, but when it did, even the stiffest upper lips would spread into delighted smiles. He could make the severest spectator delight in the luminous joys of the game.
Derek Randall was born on February 24, 1951
Text: Arunabha Sengupta