Gavin Larsen: The postman who always delivered
Cricket has seen a lot of fads over the years. The current craze is Twenty20: 40 overs of pure excitement with shorter boundaries, powerful hits and innovative strokes that has made life difficult for bowlers.
However, with the advent of batting-friendly tracks all over the world, there is a growing fear that the bowling – the yin to batting’s yang – stocks around the world are slowly becoming one-dimensional, despite the depth in variety that exponents of this art possess. It simply kills the excitement that the game has generated since coloured uniforms made their appearance to distinguish ODI cricket from Test matches.
If it was pace that ruled the roost in the late seventies and early eighties, the subsequent decade belonged to a set of bowlers who neither set the stage on fire with contorted facial expressions, nor did they turn the ball as wickedly as the spinners. But these players were phenomenally accurate, sending down a mixture of off-cutters, leg-cutters, slower ones and straighter deliveries that made life tough for batsmen.
These bowlers made their presence felt in the cold climes of New Zealand. On slow decks in the late eighties and much of the nineties, exponents of this art refined their skills in order to give the national side more viable options. Little did anyone fathom how effective they would be.
‘Dibbly dobbly’ was the moniker attached to this motley crew. In terms of cricketing semantics, it sounds somewhat derogatory. While former all-rounder Chris Harris prefers not to be associated with that tag, there was one Kiwi great, who regarded it as a mark of respect and honour, and earned much glory for his nation as well as himself.
Gavin Rolf Larsen – for long the nemesis of many world-class exponents of the willow – was a natural at choking the flow of runs and checking the aggressive approach of batsmen. The grey-haired bowler was a regular feature in the ODI side, and with him in the ranks, New Zealand would dominate much of the ODI arena for most of the 1990s.
Born on September 27, 1962, Larsen made his first-class debut for Wellington in the 1984 season; he would go on to serve them with distinction for fifteen years. He earned a reputation as a useful lower-order batsman and an economical bowler, helped in large part due to the slow pitches on offer at the time.
There Larsen perfected his skills, focusing on a stump-to-stump line and rarely offering much room to the batsman to free his arms. Invariably, it would result in the willow-wielder getting so frustrated that he would lose his head and play a needless shot at the cost of his wicket.
His phenomenal success led to his first taste of international cricket against the visiting Indian team in 1990 during the Rothmans Cup tri-series. Though Larsen couldn’t do much with the ball in subsequent games against Australia, he returned to the grind of domestic cricket and worked harder on being as accurate as possible.
The 1992 World Cup was when a host of innovations and new strategies were utilised by skipper Martin Crowe. Larsen, Rodney Latham, Willie Watson and Chris Harris were New Zealand’s WMCs (Weapons of Mass Containment). In particular, Larsen couldn’t be hit all over the park by most of the world’s leading batsmen at the time, such was his accuracy.
His heroics with the ball led his teammates to nickname him ‘the Postman’ – always the consummate professional that he was. In crunch situations, Larsen was Crowe’s go-to man, and he always delivered. It was a mark of respect for his abilities in the one-day arena that he was chosen to step in as captain for three matches during the Austral-Asian Cup in Sharjah in 1994 after Crowe was sidelined due to his recurrent back injuries.