World Cup mavericks: John Snow, the rebel poet

From tackling Gavaskar to writing verse, he was hero and villain in equal measure

50-John-Snow Illustration: Job P.K.

There once was a son of a vicar;

a fast bowler known to bicker;

a rebel with or without a cause;

he was once pelted with cans of liquor

Perhaps some creative liberty was taken in this verse, but the poet inside the pacer would pardon the transgression. John Snow, not the one from Game of Thrones, was a lanky English pacer who had once sent Sunil Gavaskar tumbling to the ground with a shoulder tackle. He also refused to bowl in a county game saying he was being overworked; his captain, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, had to report him to Sussex officials.

That was Snow to a tee―hero and villain in equal measure. He would stand up to anyone he thought was in the wrong, be it an opponent, the umpire or even his captain.

But that worked to his detriment, too, as authorities would wait in anticipation for the day he failed with the ball or, as with the Gavaskar incident, brought the game into disrepute.

The Terry Jenner episode was even more notorious. Snow bumped the helmet-less, lower-order batter, who crumpled onto the pitch holding his head. Such was the anger from the Australian crowd that later, when Snow was fielding in the deep, a passionate gentleman―with probably a few pints in―grabbed the Englishman by the shirt. He wanted to give Snow a piece of his mind, and fist. Ray Illingworth, the English captain, asked his men to vacate the field; play resumed only after the crowd had calmed down.

Snow was known to evoke such emotion in others, be it for his bowling prowess or his devil-may-care attitude. And it was perhaps this urge to defy authority that led him into Kerry Packer’s cigar-perfumed embrace. Snow was one of Packer’s early converts. He played World Series Cricket for a couple of seasons, before returning to England in 1980.

No wonder, then, that his autobiography, out in 1976, was called Cricket Rebel.

A year earlier, he had been part of the inaugural World Cup, at home. And in that tournament, he took six wickets at an average of 10.83, including both Chappell brothers in a game. He was also on the field to witness one of the most bizarre innings of all time: Gavaskar’s 36* off 174 balls.

But Snow was more than cricket―he set up a travel agency after retirement―and he knew life was more than cricket. Just try to get your hands on Contrasts, and Moments and Thoughts, his anthologies of verse. Or if you are not that way inclined, this snippet from the Wisden Almanack illustrates the same point: “At the England team’s Harrogate hotel during the fourth Test at Leeds last July, Basil D’Oliveira in an animated dinner-table conversation said to him ‘The ultimate thing in life is to play for England.’ Snow replied quietly ‘The ultimate thing in life is death.’”