Tony Lock: Aggressive Master of Spin September 7, 2008

Tony's tale

Why Lock was more than just a support act to Laker

In an age where we manufacture characters out of the blandest of individuals, Tony Lock would have needed no embellishment.

A fiery, brilliant left-armer who reinvented his action twice during a long career, a truly great close fielder, and an inspirational captain, Lock was a lynchpin in the all-conquering Surrey side of the 1950s, and then in his twilight years an inspirational captain for Western Australia. That he only played 49 Tests for England can be put down to his - rightly - being labelled a chucker, and then, when he returned as a canny, imaginative and quite legitimate spinner, the ignorance of the selectors.

It was Lock's lot that he was overshadowed by the feats of his Surrey team-mate Jim Laker, most notably at Old Trafford in the Ashes Test of 1956, when he took 1 for 106 as Laker grabbed 19 for 90 at the other end. Alan Hill reveals in this book that the pair didn't speak for some time after the match, although they later became good friends.

Lock was much more than a back-up. He lived for the game, putting his body, willingly, through agonies. To even get on the field he often needed heavy strapping, and Hill's description of Lock spinning his fingers raw helps explain why bowlers of that era reputedly got far more rip than their modern counterparts.

Through the 1950s, Lock, who for almost all the decade bowled at virtual medium pace, was regarded as virtually unplayable in the right conditions. It was widely accepted that he threw his faster ball - leading Doug Insole to once ask the umpire if he had been bowled or run-out after having his stumps smashed by Lock's quicker one - but it was only when Lock saw his action on film in 1959 that, flabbergasted, he went back to the drawing board at a time of life almost anyone else would have packed it in.

In 1962-63 he received an offer to play for Western Australia, heralding a most successful and rewarding final third of his playing career. He led them to the Sheffield Shield in 1967-68, and back in England, left Surrey and captained Leicestershire to unexpected new heights.

Lock had the temperament of a fast bowler but, despite a reputation for being difficult, stories of his generosity, especially regarding young players, abound. Much of his perceived prickliness seems to have stemmed from insecurity. He found contentment in Australia, and it was unfortunate that his life ended in sadness and under a cloud, which appears to have been quite undeserved.

Hill's book is sympathetic to Lock but does not gloss over his failings. Had he been less sensitive to his social background, and in modern thinking, more media savvy, then he might be regarded today as the great cricketer he undoubtedly was. As it is, he is destined to be remembered, in England at least, as the man who deprived Laker of all 20 at Manchester. And yet, he was so much more.

Tony Lock; Aggressive Master of Spin
by Alan Hill
The History Press, £18.99

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo