Charlie McLeod was deaf.
A steady bat, perhaps a tad too cautious, and a decent medium pacer, if not unusually effective, he was a handyman to have in the team. But he was ‘deaf as a stump’.
And he was batting at Sydney during the first Test of the 1897-98 series. In the first innings he had come low in the order at No 9 and had battled one and three-quarter hours to hit an unbeaten 50. As Australia, bowled out for 237 in reply to the mammoth 531 amassed by England, followed on, McLeod was promoted to No 3. So, in he trotted as Frank Iredale was bowled by Johnny Briggs, and helped Joe darling put together a resilient partnership for the second wicket.
They ended the day at 126 for 1, things looking distinctly brighter the second time. Darling was on 80, McLeod 20.
The following day started with the two adding 9 more as McLeod pushed his own score to 26. And then honest Tom Richardson, the bowler with gypsy blood, curly dark hair and a great heart, pounded in and bowled a full pitch.
“No-ball,” called the umpire and his arm was already moving to signal so as the ball struck the stumps of McLeod. And the poor man, pitifully hard of hearing, had no clue about the umpire’s call.
Seeing his stumps in a disarray, off he walked. The ball ricocheted to slip where it was smartly fielded and returned to wicketkeeper Bill Storer. Even as Darling screamed, “Look Out” from the other end, McLeod was already way down the pitch, heading towards the pavilion. His blissful deaf ears were as immune to his partner’s warning as to the umpire’s call. Seeing McLeod was out of his ground, Storer pulled up the stumps and appealed for run-out.
The umpire had no option but to rule against the batsman. Thus, McLeod was run out for 26. Of course, the decision was hotly debated as Australia lost the Test by 9 wickets. As often happens in cricket, more than the technicalities, it was the ethics that came under scrutiny. Remember that the year was 1897. No, as we have repeatedly said in these pages, players were not angels sprouting wings in those days. They were as full of gamesmanship and as desperate to win as the cricketers of modern times.
However, it did not take McLeod long to get his revenge. In the following Test at Melbourne, he was sent in to open and scored 112. At Adelaide, in the third Test, he captured 5 for 65 in the second innings. When the series returned to Melbourne for the fourth Test, he hit an unbeaten 64 alongside picking up two crucial wickets. And in the final Test at Sydney, he hit 64 again.
Australia won the series 4-1.