'Underrated' Irvine praised

2014-03-09 13:40
Lee Irvine (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - Lee Irvine was never given the recognition he deserved as a batsman, says his friend and former team-mate Ali Bacher.

Irvine, former Transvaal and South African cricketer, celebrated his 70th birthday on Sunday.

He will be remembered for his neat hands behind the stumps and his fluid style with the bat.

Cricket commentator and former English cricketer Mark Nicholas compared him with Australia's Adam Gilchrist while Bacher said Irvine had a natural talent like AB de Villiers.

"In my experience Lee was probably the most underrated batsman in this country," Bacher said.

"He seemed always to live in the shadows of Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock.

"What I saw of him during the five-year period we played together, he was certainly in their league."

Born in Durban, Irvine started playing first-class cricket at the age of 18 when he turned out for Western Province in one match.

He became a regular in the Natal side in 1965 and signed for Essex in 1968.

He was a punishing left-hander, scoring 1439 runs and hitting 26 sixes in his first season in county cricket.

He moved to Johannesburg in 1969 and, before Bacher retired in 1974, they played together for club, province and country.

During the years their careers coincided, Bacher said he watched every single knock Irvine played.

"There was no question he was a world class batsman.

"He was light on his feet, had terrific footwork and he was a beautiful timer of the ball - very similar to AB de Villiers."

Playing their club cricket at Balfour Park and provincial cricket for Transvaal, Irvine played under Bacher in only one Test series before his international career was cut short.

In what was to be South Africa's last international series for 22 years, the 1969-70 Test side which beat Australia 4-0 has become the stuff of legends.

Contributing 353 runs, at an average of 50.42, Irvine certainly played his part. He scored 102 in the fourth Test in Port Elizabeth to accompany his two fifties (79 and 73) at the Wanderers in the third Test.

In Currie Cup cricket during that five-year period, Richards was in sublime form with a batting average of 75, having hit 14 hundreds and 15 fifties.

Irvine though was second on the list, averaging 56 with the bat, scoring 10 centuries and 10 half-centuries, while Pollock was third.

Bacher said he had the pleasure of witnessing Irvine's centuries against a number of world-class bowlers.

"I saw him score hundreds against the best - Peter Pollock and Mike Procter.

"At club level against Don Mackey-Coghill and, in 1970, his hundred against the Aussies in the fourth Test," Bacher said.

"In the 70s, playing Currie Cup cricket was as competitive as playing Test cricket.

"Every provincial team had outstanding bowlers although some of them, like Vince van der Bijl, Don Mackey-Coghill and Denys Hobson for example, never played for South Africa.

"But because South Africa could not play Test cricket, the top players were always available for their provinces, making the Currie Cup very tough and competitive."

Club cricket also thrived during the isolation years and the Currie Cup was played with the ferociousness of Test cricket as it remained the ultimate test of skills in South Africa.

The rivalry between Transvaal and Western Province could be likened to any hard-fought battle in Test cricket today.

Irvine kept for Transvaal, was a brilliant fielder at slips or in the covers, and could also bowl a few overs with his slow/medium in and away swingers.

He played 157 first-class matches scoring 9919 runs and captained Transvaal for two seasons before he retired in 1977.

"Very much like AB, he was just a gifted sportsman, a terrific athlete, a great fielder and he could hit a golf ball for miles."

Irvine will spend his birthday with his immediate family and host a luncheon for a few close friends.

Read more on:    ali bacher  |  johannesburg  |  cricket

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