Clean bowling superstar Indian opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar at any time is a fair claim to fame, as Broken Hill quick Bill Slee found out 38 years ago. Powerful paceman Slee cleaned up Gavaskar - the first player to reach 10,000 Test runs - for a duck playing for South Australian Country against India at Whyalla in 1980-81.
But there can’t be too many bowlers who are able to say they’ve shattered Gavaskar’s stumps twice in one game. Or taken his wicket to claim a hat-trick.
Former South Australian pace bowler Andrew Sincock can.
The Sheffield Shield-winning swing bowler had his greatest moment on the cricket field for South Australia against India on Adelaide Oval in November 1977.
SA lost the three-day clash by six wickets but not before Sincock had skittled the Indians for just 168 in their first innings, snaring 7/40 from 11.5 eight-ball overs.
And, remarkably, the story got even better after that for the likeable swing bowler.
Sincock, now 67, still is instantly recognisable for his pop star-style hair that caused SA cricket legend David Hookes to dub him “the lost Bee Gee”. These days he’s regularly mistaken for ’70s pop superstar Rod Stewart. The television cameras couldn’t get enough of him when he sat among celebrities at Lord’s watching an Ashes Test. Who was the mystery woman with Rod Stewart, a commentator asked. It was Sincock’a wife Yvonne, with him. His phone “almost exploded” with messages and photos from the telecast.
While “people sing songs to me all around the world”, Sincock is stepping out of the limelight. He has finally taken a back seat after a remarkable involvement in cricket at grassroots level and in first-class ranks as player and coach and 16 years on the SACA Board, including three years as vice-president and a stint as chairman of the championship-winning Adelaide Strikers, who he helped transform into possibly the most recognised and admired of all South Australian sporting sides.
He couldn’t have dreamed what was ahead in his cricket journey as he ran in to bowl against India at the ground that has become his second home for the best part of four decades.
“I had played a few games three seasons before then but the two seasons after that I was banished because I hadn’t done anything that special,” Sincock recalled of the summer of 1977-78. “Then World Series Cricket began, so a couple of players were missing from SA in the fast bowling department - one was Wayne Prior - and I was selected to play against India in their first tour game.”
Sincock came on as first change after express paceman Rod Hogg and left-armer Geoff Attenborough had opened and “things went really well,” he says in quite an understatement. “I had 5/40 and thought ‘this can’t be too bad’, coming back into the State side,” he recalled. “Then there were a couple of wonderful batsmen to come,” he said with a sparkle in his eye. The No. 10 batsman was India’s captain Bishan Bedi, an outstanding left-arm spinner who claimed 266 Test wickets but averaged less than nine with the bat, who Sincock caught-and-bowled for a duck. Then came the No. 11 - if ever there was a cricketer who deserved the No. 11 batting slot this was him - sensational leg-spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. Chandra was just about impossible to pick bowling leggies, wrong’uns and top-spinners at quick speed, snaring 242 Test scaps. But, as a batsman, with a Test average of just four and with 23 ducks in his 41 dismissals, 16 of them golden, he was reasonably easy to pick. So, first ball “he nicked an outswinger through to (wicketkeeper) Trevor Robertson and that was that”.
“Then we went into bat and Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna absolutely destroyed us,” said Sincock, recalling SA’s first-innings lead of 55 soon didn’t amount to much. Prasanna was a master spinner, like Bedi and Chandra, who claimed 189 Test victims. “I remember Prasanna bowling and the ball drifting away and I thought it had stopped in the air - he was just a magician. And there was Bishan Bedi, the rubber man, coming in with his coloured turbans.” Bedi snared 5/19 from 16 overs in the second innings as SA crashed for 117. And Prasanna finished with seven wickets for the match.
Sincock tells a good story and this one is building to its climax. “Second innings. Ashley Woodcock was captain. Shrewdly, although I had taken 7/40, he gave the ball to Hogg and Attenborough,” he says with a mischievous smile, having caught up for a coffee with good mate Woodcock the previous day. “They bowled away for a little while and I don’t think anything much happened, best I remember. Then it was my turn from the cathedral end. That’s where I had bowled in the first innings and my mark was still there. I ran in and bowled and funnily enough it was an outswinger (Sincock’s stock ball over many summers).
“To the best of my memory it pitched sort of middle-and-leg and hit off.” Gavaskar was gone for 14. In the first innings the Little Master had given SA cricket fans a taste of his talents in making 52. But the scorebook showed it had ended the same way - bowled Sincock.
“I had bowled Gavakar in the first innings with one that had come back at him. I think when it was going towards leg (in the second innings) he had thought well that’s what I do but it swung the other way and the stumps had fallen over,” Sincock said. “I thought ‘that’s pretty good’ but nothing clicked … I had no idea. Not a clue.”
It was then much-loved SA Test cricket and SANFL football grand final umpire Max O’Connell delivered some special news. “Max was the umpire at my end … I had run through, I was pretty happy with myself and he said to me, ‘Got a hat-trick’. I turned around, the boys had gathered around, it came over the loudspeaker, yes, I had just taken a hat-trick.”
There was bedlam on and off the oval, as you might expect, considering there have been just 10 hat-tricks taken for SA in well over a century of first-class cricket. The first hat-trick taken since Sincock’s was by swing bowler Chadd Sayers in 2014-15 in a Sheffield Shield match against Queensland, also at Adelaide Oval. Sayers and Sincock, then a member of the SACA board, proudly stood out on the Oval to record the occasion. Sincock may not have played Test cricket like Sayers but there’s no doubt he deserved his moment in the limelight.
As Gavaskar walked off Adelaide Oval he passed Hogg, who was fielding at square-leg. “It must have been a good ball,” Hogg said. Gavaskar answered: “You can’t play those, that will get me any time.” “I rather treasure the comment by Gavaskar,” says Sincock, hardly surprisingly considering Gavaskar’s defence had been found all but impenetrable by bowlers world-wide, setting him on the way to 34 Test centuries.
But everyone’s memories are different after all this time. Umpire O’Connell was talking to Sincock at a sporting function and told him the ball that dismissed Gavaskar was “one of the best balls I have ever seen”. Then he dropped his bombshell. “Gavaskar was beautifully in position, it pitched and cut back and bowled him,” O’Connell said. “Well, that’s not what I saw,” says Sincock.
“After the day’s play in the dressing room there were a few pictures and a reporter and Bedi came in with a nice colorful turban and said, ‘I need to see the young man who took the hat-trick’ and then he sat down with me and had a little chat. I thought, well that was pretty good too.” Sincock can’t recall much about what Bedi said, apart from, “‘Congratulations young fella’ … and I reckon I was 26.”
Sincock hasn’t been allowed to forget his magic moment over the years. And Bedi hasn’t forgotten it, either.
“Bedi came out with the Indian team a decade ago when they were on a tour and I was a board director, he was beautifully dressed and he saw me and all those years later I was 57 and he came up to me, put his arm around me and said, ‘you’re the young man who took the hat-trick and I was in it’. I thought that was great.”
And there is another reminder of that summer. “I reckon I was No. 37 of 66 (his memory is spot-on here) Scanlens bubble gum cards. I still get people every year ... I get them sent from all around this country and from England and from India. I’ve signed two this year. People will say, ‘I read you took a hat-trick against India’.”
There have been plenty of ups and downs along the way for Sincock. His first-class career was hampered by the difficulty of trying to juggle employment, bringing up a family and the minimal money you could make in Sheffield Shield cricket. He recalled getting $7.50 a day to play for SA - and if you went interstate and won a four-day game in three days, you would be rewarded with three days’ pay!
He stepped out of State cricket briefly before returning for the climax to SA’s delightfully unexpected Shield triumph of 1981-82. The Croweaters had to win the last two games of the summer against WA and Victoria at Adelaide Oval to win the title and they did. Sincock claimed 5/56 in the second innings against WA, Test century-maker Craig Serjeant bowled by what he described as “absolute peach” and Hookes describing a Sincock spell as “some of the best old-ball swing he had seen”. Sincock then snared 4/85 in the first innings against the Vics.
In 39 first-class matches Sincock claimed 98 wickets at 38.9 and scored 625 runs at 20.8. And in a highly-decorated grade career he won Bradman Medals as the competition’s outstanding player a decade apart - with Teachers College in 1973-74 and Adelaide in 1983-84. He played 30 years of grade cricket before retiring in 1995, having taken a remarkable 762 wickets at 20.7 and compiled 2954 runs at a tick under 20 with Kensington, Teachers College, East Torrens, Adelaide and West Torrens.
Just as he kept trundling away as a medium-pacer over many years, he worked hard for years leading the way at the SACA, helping transform Twenty20 cricket from something “people just didn’t get” into a 52,000-plus crowd for a Strikers semi-final in January 2015. He couldn’t believe it - domestic cricket had set a record at the developed Adelaide Oval. Sincock won’t forget the sea of blue walking across the River Torrens bridge to the game.
There will be plenty of blue in the crowd at Adelaide Oval this week, with the Indians in town. You can bet that will spark more memories.