Obituary: Tom Graveney, 1927-2015 November 3, 2015

Tom Graveney dies at the age of 88

Tom Graveney 1927-2015 © Getty Images

Tom Graveney, the former England batsman, has died aged 88 after a long fight against Parkinson's disease.

Graveney gained a reputation as one of the most elegant batsmen in world cricket in the post-war years. But he proved there was substance behind his style in becoming the 15th of the 25 men to reach 100 first-class centuries - he was the first to do so since the Second World War - with 11 of them coming in his 79-Test career. 21 times he made 1,000 runs in a season - twice on tour - six times he passed 2,000 and four times he made a century in each innings of a match. 4,882 Test runs at an average of 44.38 tell their own story.

He was almost lost to the game. He had decided upon a life in the military - he had been an army captain at the age of just 20 - but was introduced to Gloucestershire while on leave by his brother ("I can't get one past him," the swing-bowling Ken told the club by way of recommendation), who was already in the team, and went on to enjoy a quarter-of-a-century in the county game.

While he was initially seen, at Gloucestershire at least, as a replacement for Wally Hammond, Graveney was never going to be to be that sort of player. He was more artist than accountant - ironic as accountancy had been his targeted profession while at grammar school - and too easy natured and full of fun to compare with the man he rated as the best batsman - Bradman included - on all types of wickets he ever saw.

For a while the reputation - a largely unfair reputation - as something of a dilettante counted against him. He was viewed, by the England selectors at least, as somewhat brittle under pressure and it is true that his front foot technique - "I even hooked off the front foot," he said, "I don't know how I wasn't killed," - did not always look ideal on the quickest pitches. Only one of his Test centuries - a two-hour innings of 111 at Sydney in 1954 as makeshift opener - came in or against Australia.

But against other opposition - including the fast bowlers of the West Indies (Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith) - he proved his class and his determination. He recovered from a serious bout of dysentery - he spent a week in hospital - to register his maiden Test century in his second Test - and his first overseas - in Bombay in 1951.

The affable manner hid an inner steel. Dropped for the tour of South Africa despite enjoying a prolific 1956 season - he scored well over 2,000 runs - he made his point in eloquent style by stroking a sublime 258 in his second game back, against West Indies at Trent Bridge in 1957, and followed it with 164 in the next Test at The Oval.

Then, after an absence of almost three years, he was recalled by England in 1962 to face Pakistan, against whom he made scores of 97, 153, 37 and 114 in consecutive Tests.

He captained Gloucestershire in 1959 and 1960 but, after losing the captaincy, he decided to leave the club. Having turned down Leicestershire - he said he suffered splinters from the dilapidated pavilion every time he had a shower - he signed for Worcestershire and, having served the necessary qualification period - proved himself as good a batsman as any in the land. Twice (in 1964 and 1965) the club won the County Championship - the first time they had so in their existence - and Graveney was recalled to the England team, aged 39, in 1966. 24 more Tests - and four more centuries - ensued.

"I was the best batsman in the country between 1963 and 1966," he later said. "I just didn't get picked. And then to be brought back after my 39th birthday was a bit ridiculous."

He captained England once. With Colin Cowdrey injured, Graveney took charge for the Ashes Test at Leeds in 1968 which ended in a draw, but he was rarely a favourite of the England hierarchy.

He could at times be a forceful personality, a fact not always welcomed - and ce complained bitterly about safety on a tour of Pakistan in 1969. The previous year he lobbied hard for the inclusion of Basil D'Oliveira for the 1968 tour of South Africa, expressing his fury when D'Oliveira, a Cape Coloured, was initially omitted because of pressure from the apartheid regime.

Eventually he went too far. He disobeyed the orders of the chairman of selectors, Alec Bedser, and travelled to Luton on the rest day of the Manchester Test to take part in a game organised as part of his benefit season. The match raised £1,000 - a huge sum to a man who complained that players were treated like "serfs" at the time and who later revealed he was earning £850 a year from Worcestershire at the time - and Graveney later admitted he had no real choice but to take part in it. His final two Test innings had brought scores of 105 and 75 but, hit with a three-Test ban at the age of 42, there was no way back.

He briefly played and then coached Queensland before returning to England. For a while he ran a pub in Cheltenham - a natural home for a fellow with a friendly smile for all and who once remarked that beer was his "staple diet" during his playing days - but he then became a regular commentator with the BBC and was appointed MCC president - the first professional cricketer appointed to the position - in 2004.

He would often bemoan the increase in the weight of bats, believing it reduced the ability to stroke the ball in the stylish way he had demonstrated, and he never accepted the end of the days of 'walking' when edging the ball ("In my day," he said, "there were five people who didn't walk and everyone knew who they were. Now there are only five who walk), but he was not out of touch. He celebrated the birth of T20 cricket and improved remuneration for players. He never fell out of love with the game.

Instilled with a love of sport by a father who died when he was just six, he also retained a love of golf to the end - he used to say he had a single figure handicap for 57 years - and with a once beat a pair including Nick Faldo in a televised pro-celebrity event at Turnberry with a round of two under.

"I count myself privileged to have seen Tom Graveney bat," ECB Chairman Colin Graves said. "He was one of the game's great stylists; a batsman whose name became synonymous with elegance and whose perfectly executed cover drive will live long in the memory of those who saw it.

"He was also a true gentleman; someone who served our county game with distinction and who, later in life, gave back much to the game he so dearly loved by becoming MCC President."

Worcestershire chief executive David Leatherdale said: "Tom has been a major figure in Worcestershire's history and everyone at the club is saddened by today's news and our thoughts go out to the Graveney family at this sad time.

"He was one of the stalwarts of our first two Championship triumphs and will be hugely missed by everyone at Worcestershire CCC and by cricket as a whole."

Tom's brother, Ken Graveney, who also captained Gloucestershire and later became the club's chairman and president, died aged 90 on October 26.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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