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Substitute fielders are as old as cricket itself.
by Gulu Ezekiel
Sep 12, 2005
The controversy over the use of substitute fielders by England in the Ashes series is nothing new. In fact, it goes back 75 years.

England are in fact the only Test playing nation which name a 12th man who is then often released back to his county side as first-class cricket goes on full steam even during a Test series. And counties resent some of their big names cooling their heels in the England team pavilion while their sides are engaged in crucial matches.

England then are forced to call on young members of the ground staff who are apprentices with the county where the Test match is being played. Often these youngsters have never played first-class cricket before pulling on an English shirt and sweater in their temporary roles.

Ponting’s argument at Trent Bridge was that England’s fast bowlers were constantly going off the field for a quick break between spells. They would be temporarily replaced by fit, young men.

It was at this same ground exactly 75 years that a young man on the Notts ground staff by the name of Sydney Herbert Copley took a magnificent catch as a substitute that turned the tide of the Test match.

According to the book Bradman: The Illustrated Biography by Michael Page, Australia were battling to save the first Test after being set a target of 429 runs on the final day.

“Harold Larwood was suffering from some passing indisposition and did not feel well enough to field. Normally, of course, he would have been replaced by the selected twelfth man. Instead, the English captain APF Chapman asked Australian captain Bill Woodfull’s agreement to replacing him with a member of the Notts ground staff, named Copley. In Australia, such a procedure would have been unheard of. “

But Woodfull agreed and it transpired that Copley was a much more athletic character than England’s twelfth man. At mid-on he took a fantastic diving catch, low down, as he rolled over, to dismiss Stan McCabe. Certainly Woodfull had consented to Copley fielding, but the incident raised something of a storm about the English custom of not rigidly adhering to the originally accepted twelve men.”

McCabe was out for 49, Australia were all out for 335 and lost the match by 93 runs. They however won the series 2-1.

Copley was never heard of again. He played just one first-class match in his career and died in 1986, at the age of 81.

Page’s version of the incident is however disputed by Anglo-Australian author and cricket historian David Frith.

According to Frith, Copley was in fact the 13th man. The 12th man was Duleepsinhji who was already on the field, substituting for the injured Herbert Sutcliffe. Other substitute fielders down the years have more than played their part in Test matches.

India'’s Gursharan Singh played just one Test and one ODI in his career, both in New Zealand in 1990.

However, it was seven years earlier that he had created a bit of cricket history by taking four catches while substituting for the injured Roger Binny in the third Test against the West Indies at Ahmedabad in November 1983. Three of those came off the bowling off Kapil Dev in the second innings in which the Indian captain captured 9 for 83. India were beaten by 138 runs.

That record was equaled in August 2001 by Pakistan’s Younis Khan against Bangladesh in the Asian Test championship match at Multan. All came in the second innings and all off leg spinner Danish Kaneria.

New Zealand'’s John Bracewell holds the record for ODIs, also four vs. Australia at Adelaide in 1980.
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