Chris Tavare March 21, 2010

Piece de resistance

An Englishman who made an art out of obduracy

Some years ago I adjourned with a friend to a nearby schoolyard net for a recreational hit. On the way, we exchanged philosophies of cricket, and a few personal partialities. What, my friend asked, did I consider my favourite shot? "Easy," I replied ingenuously. "Back-foot defensive stroke."

My friend did a double take and demanded a serious response. When I informed him he'd had one, he scoffed: "You'll be telling me that Chris Tavaré's your favourite player next." My guilty hesitation gave me away. "You Poms!" he protested. "You all stick together!"

Nearly 30 years since his only tour of Australia, mention of Tavaré still occasions winces and groans. Despite its continental lilt, his name translates into Australian as a very British brand of obduracy, that Trevor Baileyesque quality of making every ditch a last one. He's an unconventional adoption as a favourite cricketer, I'll admit - yet all the more reason to make him a personal choice.

Tavaré played 30 Tests for England between 1980 and 1984, adding a final cap five years later. He filled for much of that period the role of opening batsman, even though the bulk of his first-class career was spent at Nos. 3 and 4. He was, in that sense, a typical selection in a period of chronic English indecision and improvisation, filling a hole rather than commanding a place. But he tried - how he tried. Ranji once spoke of players who "went grey in the service of the game"; Tavaré, slim, round-shouldered, with a feint moustache, looked careworn and world-weary from the moment he graduated to international cricket.

His name translates into Australian as a very British brand of obduracy, that Trevor Baileyesque quality of making every ditch a last one

In his second Test he existed almost five hours for 42; in his third, his 69 and 78 spanned nearly 12 hours. At the other end for not quite an hour-and-a-half of the last was Ian Botham, who ransacked 118 while Tavaré pickpocketed 28. As an ersatz opening batsman, Tavaré did not so much score runs as smuggle them out by stealth. In the Madras Test at the start of 1981-82, he eked out 35 in nearly a day; in the Perth Test at the end of 1982, he endured almost eight hours for 89. At one stage of the latter innings, he did not score for more than an hour. Watching on my television in the east of Australia, I was simultaneously aching for his next run and spellbound by Tavaré's trance-like absorption in his task. First came his pad, gingerly, hesitantly; then came the bat, laid alongside it, almost as furtively; with the completion of each prod would commence a circular perambulation to leg to marshal his thoughts and his strength for the next challenge.

That tour, I learned later, had been a peculiarly tough one for Tavaré. An uxorious man, he had brought to Australia his wife Vanessa, despite her phobia about flying. Bob Willis, his captain, wrote in his diary: "He clearly lives every moment with her on a plane and comes off the flight exhausted. Add to that the fact that he finds Test cricket a great mental strain and his state of mind can be readily imagined." You didn't have to imagine it; you could watch him bat it out of his system.

Tavaré could probably have done with a psychiatrist that summer; so could have I. Our parallels were obvious in a cricket sense: I was a dour opening batsman, willing enough, but who also thought longingly of the freedoms available down the list. But I - born in England, growing up in Australia, and destined to not feel quite at home in either place - also felt a curious personal kinship. I saw us both as aliens - maligned, misunderstood - doing our best in a harsh and sometimes hostile environment. The disdain my peers expressed for "the boring Pommie" only toughened my allegiance; it hardened to unbreakability after his 89 in Melbourne.

Batting, for once, in his accustomed slot at No. 3, Tavaré took his usual session to get settled, but after lunch opened out boldly. He manhandled Bruce Yardley, who'd hitherto bowled his offbreaks with impunity. He coolly asserted himself against the pace bowlers, who'd elsewhere given him such hurry. I've often hoped on behalf of cricketers, though never with such intensity as on that day, and never afterwards have I felt so validated. Even his failure to reach a hundred was somehow right: life, I was learning, never quite delivered all the goods. But occasionally - just occasionally - it offered something to keep you interested.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steve on March 24, 2010, 6:54 GMT

    One can only hope that his "only tour to Australia" was due to some fine work by the Australian Department of Immigration who refused him entry to the country. Otherwise we would have had to sit through another tedious series. @kim_sanders_world_music - nice one but I doubt he would be that many!

  • Michael on March 23, 2010, 16:23 GMT

    What a player!! The only batsman to make Boycott seem interesting. If he were in Tests today the crowds would riot!! Staggering player.

  • Jeff on March 23, 2010, 12:12 GMT

    @ mickwsmith - absolutely spot on. Numerous England colleagues of Tavare's have confirmed that he was specifically asked to play the anchor rule in that England team. And he followed those instructions to the letter. Part of his genius was that he was able to curb his naturally quite attacking game and yet still succeed as a test batsman. Not many players could make the changes he made and still prosper. The fact that he was (and still is) criticised for playing that way, is a great shame. Ask Botham or Willis or Gower about Tavare and they have nothing but the utmost admiration for him - both Gower and Botham were given the freedom to play their own natural game by the sacrifices that Tavare made. I enjoyed reading this article very much - thank you Gideon!

  • Michael on March 23, 2010, 8:58 GMT

    Tavare went grey in the service of England is absolutely accurate. For Kent, at a time when we had numerous attacking batsman, he was the most scintilating of them all and was a brilliantly fast scorer in the one-day game. He did what he was asked to do for England and was lambasted for it by idiots who didnt know what they were talking about.;

  • Vikas on March 22, 2010, 16:37 GMT

    Well...well. Now we know why Gideon has been slamming IPL on regular basis!

  • Anthony on March 22, 2010, 12:57 GMT

    I was very fond of Tavare too. His little walk after every ball seemed to intensify his concentration for each delivery. He seemed to be able to switch off completely between deliveries. I believe when he was batting with Botham at Old Trafford, patting back medium pace half volleys down the pitch, Botham approached him and said, "Look Tav, this tosh has got to go!". But Tavare didn't change his "scoring" rate at all. Obviously that was Botham's job. Good to see Jonathan Trott, another middle order strokeplayer at county level, adopting the Tavare style yesterday.

  • kevin on March 22, 2010, 11:05 GMT

    Ersatz? Uxorious? Gideon you missed one - Fawlty-esque. I mean just look at that photo. AND there's the thing about needing a psychiatrist after a few hours on a plane with his wife...

  • Muthusamy on March 22, 2010, 10:12 GMT

    Ooops ....Now I know why you hate T20 and IPL ......!!!!

  • Bis on March 22, 2010, 9:59 GMT

    gideon is being deliberately and unconvincingly provocative here, merely for the sake of it and without the research to back up his case. Any well rounded perspctive on Tavare would look at the historical and specific context of his time - namely, that Tavare used to be a thrillingly attacking batsman for Kent until he started to play test cricket and that he changed his stance to a defensive bottom handed one. It was the presence of the West Indian fast bowling machine which instilled dread into the English batting line up and forced people like Tavare (and others like Amiss and Gooch) to drastically transform their batting styles to survive in this new and hostile environment. In the process of doing so, Tavare completely relinquished any responsibility one might expect of a normal human being towards the watching and paying public and the next generation of cricket players and lovers. There was something sado-massochistic about the way he tortured everyone (including himself).

  • Alok on March 22, 2010, 6:33 GMT

    Nicely written article, Gideon. I can think of an instance when Chris Tavare was more than just a defensive batsman! The Delhi test match of India v/s England series of 1981-2 was made special by a long, yawning partnership between Geoff Boycott and Chris Tavare! Tavare scored 149 odd in the first innings (contrary to his inclination for sedate batting, this innings was compiled at a scorching pace; SR of 49)! He was named man of the match of the boring test match, and, if my memory serves me right, newspaper the next day carried a picture of the run machine with a mean machine (his prize for the speedy knock was some form of transportation facilitating machine)!

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