Monday 16 June 1997

Graveney in highest class as a gentle persuader

Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

TOM Graveney is 70 today. All opinions are subjective, but in his long career, 1948 to 1972, I believe truly that there was no more elegant nor charming batsman

If anyone reading this is too young to remember him, watching Mark Waugh will give you some idea of the grace with which he bat- ted. He deals even more in boundaries than Tom, who worked the ball into leg-side gaps quite as often as he leaned his long frame to- wards the point where it was pitching and stroked it through extra cover to a distant white fence; but the air of masterful ease is much the same. The Lord Cowdrey had it too.

No two players are quite alike, of course, but every genera- tion has someone like Tom. In Edwardian days, Neville Cardus`s Lancas- trian hero Reggie Spooner `handled his bat as a lady would handle a fan`. Australians of old waxed lyrical about Archie Jackson or what Ray Robinson called the `moonshine beauty` of Alan Kippax`s bat- ting. Of the left-handers, old men of Kent talk reverently of Frank Woolley and even hard-bitten children of the Thatcher years are inclined to become poets when David Gower`s batting is recalled.

West Indians think first, perhaps of Frank Worrell; or, more recently, of Jeff Dujon, though it is unusual for a small batsman to give an impression of grace. Perhaps tallness, and the ability to give the impression of merely caressing the ball when in fact it has been dealt a fairly severe smack, are the common denominators. The dis- tinction between a brutal hitter and a gentle persuader is real enough, however, and the ears can distinguish between the two quite as much as the eyes: it is the same difference in volume and sharpness which golfers can discern when one champion is playing with a hard- covered ball, another with a balata.

Not many of these batsmen who are beautiful to watch are util- itarian as well. But Tom Graveney scored 122 first-class hundreds and his nephew David would not mind having him in his prime in the England side now, even though it is beginning to look as though we have a side of real Test batsmen again.

Come to think of it, John Crawley has much in common with T W G, though his game is based on the back foot, whereas Graveney, in- creasingly, hit his shots off the front, even some of his hooks and steers.

He never had much luck against Australia, who often seemed to win the psychological war; but he was wonderfully successful against the West Indies and it was his 258 in 1957 at Trent Bridge which estab- lished him as a Test player (and, inciden- tally, as my principal schoolboy hero). They were the oppo- nents again when he returned in 1966 as a Worcestershire rather than a Gloucestershire player, and five of his 11 Test hundreds were against the West Indies, two each at Trent Bridge and the Oval, the last at Port of Spain when he was past 40.

PERHAPS no couple in cricket have been closer than Tom and his wife Jacquie and there will have been family celebrations in Chel- tenham over the weekend for sure. He had his low points, inevitably, in a long career and the split with Gloucestershire hurt, but he is Worcestershire`s president now and he has al- ways looked as though he was enjoying the game. Alas, it is not like that for every player.

Witness Jonathan Longley: a brilliant attacking batsman at his school, Tonbridge, he scored freely for Durham University. He was on the Kent staff for five years from 1989; and when he moved to Durham, fondly recalling his student days and the lure of that ancient castle and cathedral, he scored a century in his very first championship match for his new county: 100 not out against Derbyshire at Chester- field, three seasons ago.

But the visions of glory faded and this is what he has to say in Graham Cowdrey`s excellent benefit brochure under the painful- ly apt title Dark Side of the Moon:

"It is a desperate feeling. You are gathered with the first XI squad at the start of a championship match. It is now 10.30am and everyone has finished an uninspiring, but predictable, pre- match prac- tice . . . You wonder why you had to arrive at the ground for 9.15am when you really could have concentrated the `practice` into about five minutes . . . More worrying, though, is that you have seen that every- one has been passed fit (you originally had to turn up to cover for a dodgy knee, back, groin and stomach) and since no one has told you that you are play- ing, you will soon be in a car travelling to a slight- ly less glamorous match for the second team.

"It hits you hard that you still have not bridged that gap be- tween success and failure and you are returning to where you began your career as a promising 17-year-old . . . It is becoming hard to fight a growing apathy . . . You hate the travelling . . . the hotels . . . You are forced to share a room with another player despite huge age gaps . . . You know in your head that it is time to get out, but it is a hard thing to give up on a dream even if it becomes a night- mare."

All success and failure is relative, but those now deciding the future structure of county cricket must ask how the second XI game, an essential step for the young perhaps, has too often become a lingering purgatory for older players who never quite make the first team.

Source :: The Electronic Telegraph (