Cow Catcher

Buster Nupen, cricket's great survivor who bewitched Hobbs and Hammond


The Spin


Norway-born spinner lost an eye, was shot in both knees and had a bitty career, but on his day could master the greats

South Africa’s Buster Nupen: ‘The most dangerous bowler the world has ever seen,’ Jack Hobbs once said.
 South Africa’s Buster Nupen: ‘The most dangerous bowler the world has ever seen,’ Jack Hobbs once said. Photograph: PA

Simon Burnton

“My father never once talked about his cricket career,” Christopher Nupen, the Bafta award-winning documentary-maker, tells me. Which is a particular tragedy because his father had one of the most extraordinary of all cricketing careers. Nupen Junior – if that is an appropriate way to refer to someone who recently celebrated his 86th birthday – became perhaps the foremost producer of documentaries about classical music, best known for those capturing his friend Jacqueline Du Pré. His father, Eiulf Peter Nupen – popularly known as Buster – was born in Norway, lost an eye in a childhood hammer-bashing accident and was shot through both knees aged 20. Any one of those three things would normally destroy any chances of a cricketing career, but Buster went on to represent South Africa, on and off, for 15 years.

Christopher once accompanied his father to Lord’s, where they bumped into a couple of well-known former England internationals. “Jack Hobbs said to me, ‘Your father was the most dangerous off-spin bowler the world has ever seen,’” he recalls. “And Wally Hammond, who was sitting six feet away, said: ‘I’ll second that.’” Herbert Sutcliffe once said that Nupen “made me look like a novice”; Eric Rowan, who played 26 Tests for South Africa, said that when facing Nupen “the ball would whip across your legs like a scalded cat”. Louis Duffus, who became South Africa’s foremost cricket writer, said that Nupen was so destructive that when they both turned out for Old Edwardians he used to bring along his golf clubs, in the hope there would be time for a quick round in the afternoon.


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