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When two nights out on the town cost Bill Edrich three years of his Test career
November 8, 2008
Anyone listening to old-timers talk about the modern game might give the impression that it was not uncommon for players to turn up at the ground after an all-night party, stride to the middle, hit a hundred and return to the dressing room to snooze. In fairness a few, perhaps most notably Denis Compton and Colin Ingleby-MacKenzie, did, but they were the exceptions. What hasn't changed is that the authorities took a dim view of it even then... but only when it suited them.
At the start of the 1950 season, Bill Edrich was an England regular. He was a talented batsman, and until an injury in 1947 reduced his effectiveness, a good enough fast bowler in short bursts to open the attack for England. With Compton he formed one of the game's most successful partnerships, for both county and country. In 1947 both passed 3500 runs in the summer, and continued to score heavily at all levels.
Edrich had a more faltering start to the 1950 season but in the first Test at Old Trafford he made 71 in England's second innings as they won by 202 runs. Retained for the Lord's Test, he made 8 in both innings as England crashed to a famous 326-run defeat. Changes were demanded, and Edrich's was one of the heads to roll, although a factor was that he was also carrying an injury.
He failed to regain his place, despite England's increasingly dismal performances, but he was widely considered a virtual certainty for that winter's Ashes tour. When the squad was announced at the end of August, his name was absent. The selectors had gambled and named possible the most surprising group in post-war history, including some with almost no experience or pedigree. In the event, the move backfired spectacularly and England were thrashed.
Only in later years did the truth behind Edrich's omission come out.
On the Saturday at Old Trafford, Godfrey Evans made his maiden Test hundred at a time England were struggling, turning the course of the match around. That night the pair of them went out to celebrate, safe in the knowledge that the Sunday was a rest day. The next morning Edrich was at breakfast on time, but was still dressed in his dinner jacket, having only just returned to the hotel.
He would probably have got away with that, but on the Sunday night he decided more celebrations were in order and he again went out on the town. This time he did make it back in the early hours, but was in such a drunken state that he had to be helped to his room by the night porter, making such a row on the way that he woke most of the residents. While Edrich admitted to being "rather noisy", he added "it wouldn't have mattered had not the chairman of selectors, Bob Wyatt, been occupying the next room".
That day Edrich scored his 71, but Wyatt was not prepared to forget the incident. A hearing at Lord's was arranged. Adding to the embarrassment, Edrich was captain of Middlesex, so Lord's was his home patch.
Edrich's lifestyle was not one that the powers-that-be approved of. His drinking exploits were legendary; he compounded that with a string of divorces; and he found it hard to hold his tongue when dealing with the authorities - still an unforgivable trait at the time. All this combined certainly cost him any chance of the England captaincy, but friends and players found him fun and good company.
What's more, he was a professional who had become an amateur shortly after a war in which he had excelled as a fighter pilot. Despite his amateur status, many of those who mattered could not help but continue to think of him as a worker rather than a gentleman.
Expecting a dressing down, Edrich was instead faced with Pelham Warner, a pillar of the cricket world, a man who was used to run-ins with awkward players. Twenty-seven years earlier, when chairman of selectors, Warner had been assaulted in a lift by a furious Charlie Parker.
Edrich, whose antics were tolerated as long as he performed, was taken aback when Warner bluntly asked: "Would you like to withdraw your name from the list of possibles for the tour of Australia?" Edrich vehemently refused, but it was clear he would not be in the reckoning. The appointment of Freddie Brown, who had little time for Edrich, as captain sealed his fate. "I've enough on my plate without taking him," Brown reportedly said, although to Edrich's face late in the summer he told him quite the opposite.
As the date for the naming of the squad drew close, rumours were doing the rounds that he might miss out. "If Edrich is passed over," Crawford White of the Daily Mail wrote, "English cricket will want to know why, as there are some players [going] who are not within a mile of his class."
The Australia tour was a cricketing disaster on every front. England lost 1-4. Shortly after the team returned, Warner was at a dinner in London when he was asked by the novelist CP Snow about Brown's captaincy. "He made one very costly error by refusing to allow the selectors to take Edrich," Warner said. "He would probably have tilted the series in our favour."
"It was nothing serious," Evans said of the incident in Manchester. "He was a little foolish. The penalty of suspension for a couple of Tests would have been sufficient punishment." As it was, despite Warner's public utterances, the ban lasted three seasons, and Edrich was not recalled until midway through the 1953 Ashes series.
Bill Edrich by Alan Hill (Andre Deutsch Limited, 1994)
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