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The Barnacle on his unwarranted tag of stonewaller, the worst batsman he bowled to, his football triumphs, and more
Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry
January 10, 2011
As a child I used to play cricket and soccer on the family lawn. In garden cricket you were automatically out if you hit over the fence. Perhaps this early compulsion played a role in my later habit of keeping the ball on the ground. I was a bad loser from an early age. That also played its part in my becoming a defensive batsman: I hated to lose my wicket.
Lord's has always been my favourite ground - captivating atmosphere.
I was lucky that when I joined the Alleyn Court High School at the age of seven, Denys Wilcox had just become the joint headmaster. He was not only passionate about cricket and soccer but also technically correct. He taught me regularly at nets, and by the age of 13 I could play all the strokes except the hook.
Fred Trueman was the greatest bowler of my era. For a fast bowler, he played so long, more than any other during that period. Not only physically very fit, he was also a very sensible bowler - a complete paceman.
I was inducted into the Royal Marines during the Second World War at 18. I became a Second Lieutenant. Fortunately I didn't see any action as the Nazis surrendered before we arrived in Germany. I always detested bloodshed. The only "action" I saw was while conducting a few court martials as a defence lawyer, including one concerning a clock stolen by our soldiers from the Germans.
When Cambridge were playing Somerset, DB Dutta, an Indian, was our slow left-arm bowler. He was of the same height and build as me, and with the dark complexion and black wavy hair. Some Somerset spectators took us to be the same person and wondered: "He first opened the attack as a fast right-arm and then came on first change as slow left-arm."
My fingers have always been too small and delicate. I broke them quite a few times while fielding. The worst was in the 1953-54 Barbados Test. While trying to stop a thunderous drive by Clyde Walcott [who made 220] off my own bowling, my right hand's ring finger was chipped. I continued bowling but the finger is out of shape even today.
I played in three side games in 1948 against the touring Invincible Australians and was thrashed by their batsmen in all the games. But that was great for my bowling as I realised I was not good enough. I made many adjustments: I cut one whirl from my action, making it more smooth, angled my approach closer to the stumps to attain more accuracy, and increased my repertoire by varying the pace, angle and place of delivery. The very next year I was opening the bowling for my country.
Essex has always been a part of my life. I have spent almost all my life within a radius of a quarter mile. I was born here, I lived here, went to a school here. My wife's home before marriage was here, and we now live in a retirement home here.
|"During my early Essex days, I scored a century before lunch. Still the tag of 'Barnacle'!"|
Though I came to be known as an ultra-defensive batsman, I was among the pioneers of one-day cricket. In the mid-60s I regularly appeared for the International Cavaliers, a team of players from different countries, who played a different county every Sunday.
During my early Essex days I also scored a century before lunch. Still the tag of "Barnacle"!
I did more modelling than any other cricketer of my time. I was not only one of the Brylcreem boys, I also appeared in a number of other ads for breakfast cereal, Shredded Wheat, etc. In the Lucozade energy drink ad, I appeared along with my wife and the eldest son, Kim. I also had a sponsored Ford car.
I led Essex from 1961 to 1966 but I was denied the captaincy of the country. I didn't think much about it at that time as I was doing enough for England: opening the bowling, and batting in the top order. But in retrospect it hurt.
I had my own movie camera, a rarity those days. I carried it on tours and made films of the matches myself or asked others to do that for me. I handed all this to Sky a few years back.
My most cherished cricketing feat was the innings against Australia in 1953 at Lord's because it proved decisive in the final outcome of the series.
My most valuable contribution to Essex as secretary was to arrange an interest-free loan from Warwickshire in 1965, which enabled us to buy the Chelmsford ground for the county. It has been the Essex headquarters since.
After doing my bachelors from Cambridge, I taught English and history at my former school. But I left after only three years to become Essex County Cricket Club secretary. That job remained my main source of income for the next 13 years. Afterwards, it was journalism, writing, broadcasting on radio and television, public relations, the toy business, helping to run the Ilford indoor cricket school and so on.
My earliest cricketing heroes were Harold Larwood (I wanted to bowl like him) and Don Bradman (I wanted to bat like him). Later I admired Keith Miller and Garry Sobers.
In Brisbane, in 1954-55, I stepped in with England on 25 for 4, chasing Australia's 601. I stonewalled for 38 in 160 minutes. That evening I came to know that an Australian businessman had placed a $100 bet on the first Englishman to clear the fence. The next morning I duly hit Ian Johnson for only the second six of my Test career, and immediately returned to my shell. I spent the money throwing a party at the hotel, which somewhat lessened the pain of a heavy defeat.
The 1950 touring West Indian team included perhaps the worst batsman I ever saw: Lance Pierre, whose tour average was less than 1. In the match against Essex, when he came to bat at No. 11, our bowler Ray Smith was just one short of 100 wickets for the season. I wanted him to take that last wicket but had to complete my over first. I intentionally bowled very wide outside his off stump, yet he stretched fully and managed to tickle the ball to the keeper, almost rupturing himself in the process.
I really detested the distinction made between professionals and amateurs during the early years of my cricketing career. There were separate dressing rooms, different hotels during the away matches, and sometimes even different entrances to the ground.
The hospitality provided to us during my only tour of South Africa in 1956-57 was easily the best I have received anywhere in the world. In the West Indies, whites supported the touring MCC, while in South Africa blacks and coloured people supported us. No rocket science involved to know the reason.
We went to the last Test of the 1953-54 series against the West Indies 1-2 down. The Sabina Park pitch appeared to be a batting heaven. The groundsman told our captain, Len Hutton, "If you bat first, 700 should be the target." We lost the toss. I had my best Test figures of 7 for 34, which enabled us to level the series. It was just one of those days when everything went right: the ball moved beyond expectations, every shot played in the air went to a fielder, who made no mistake.
When frustrated, I occasionally resorted to Malinga-like round-arm slingers. I once delivered one of those to Denis Compton in a county game when he was on his way to a century before lunch. To the astonishment of both of us, he was bowled round his legs. That was my first and last wicket with that particular delivery.
As Essex secretary, three times I signed a boy in his mid-teens fully certain that not only would he play for Essex but also gain Test selection: Barry Knight, Keith Fletcher and Keith Boyce.
|"When frustrated, I occasionally resorted to Malinga-like round-arm slingers. I once delivered one of those to Denis Compton in a county game when he was on his way to a century before lunch. To the astonishment of both of us, he was bowled round his legs"|
The West Indies tour of 1953-54, when I was vice-captain to Len Hutton, was the hardest, most unpleasant and full of controversies, for a number of reasons. Starting from the composition of the team: a player-manager, a captain who had never led a side abroad, and an inexperienced vice-captain. England's pace battery tended to target the bodies of the opposing batsmen. That made us unpopular not only with the other team but also their supporters. As it had happened in the past, the touring MCC side showed arrogance and complained about arrangements, especially the accommodation.
In the mid-1960s I began my journalism career with the Financial Times and remained their cricket and football correspondent for over 25 years.
I rate my 41 out of 110 in the first innings of the 1956-57 Port Elizabeth Test as my best. The wicket had no pace, so the shooters not only kept low but shot straight along the ground. It was the highest for England in a match where the highest innings total was 164.
I only read newspaper reports of matches I did well in. Otherwise I knew better than the writers when I had fared poorly.
The 1958-59 Ashes was my last tour to Australia and also my most disappointing. On paper, we were the favourites but we were given a mauling by the Aussies. Dissensions and cliques had killed our team spirit. In my opinion, a few Australian bowlers chucked, but we could not complain as our Tony Lock and Peter Loader also had suspect actions. I personally think Lock had an illegitimate delivery action.
The 1972 Olympics was my most demanding and most enjoyable assignment as a journalist. In two weeks, I wrote on as many as 10 sports, ranging from soccer to fencing. I also covered the horrendous massacre.
I played soccer as an amateur for two Essex clubs: Leytonstone and Walthamstow. I played as centre half, inside right and also on the wing. Those were great days for amateur soccer. We never had a crowd of less than 5000 for our home ties. My greatest soccer glory came with Walthamstow in 1952-53, when we reached the fourth round of the FA Cup, where we held the mighty Manchester United 1-1 at Old Trafford, a fantastic achievement for an amateur side. The replay took place at Highbury as our home ground had a capacity of just 12,000. In front of 55,000 people we lost 5-2.
In 1951-52, I achieved the dream of every amateur footballer: winning the final of the FA Amateur Cup (with Walthamstow), at Wembley in front of a crowd of 100,000.
Brian Johnston was not only my first co-commentator on the TMS team but also my favourite, especially for his great sense of humour. However, John Arlott was the master in describing the action in a lucid manner that only he could achieve. Norman Yardley's excellent technical knowledge made him a wonderful summariser of all the on-field occurrences.
During Dennis Lillee's first appearance in England in 1972, I made a passing mention that though he appeared to be a complete fast bowler his extra-long run up was worrisome. Kids trying to imitate him might become long-distance runners instead of fast bowlers. Within a few days I received a postcard from a "worried grandma", reading: "You were right. My three-year-old grandson has started running from 17 yards before releasing the ball from just three yards in front of me."
I received a really interesting cable from a close Australian friend during the Oval Test of 1981. It informed me that Australian television would be using Test Match Special's ball-by-ball commentary along with television pictures. Perhaps the TV channel had noticed that so many people watched television with the volume turned off and listened to our broadcasts instead.
On a few occasions schedules of major events in cricket and football clashed for me as a broadcaster. I always managed to attend both but it involved hectic travelling. The most memorable incident of covering both sports happened in 1974, when Germany was staging the football World Cup while England hosted India for a Test series. I moved between the two countries several times and was always rushing to airports.
I wrote 11 books. Writing the biography of my favourite cricketer, Garry Sobers, was a real pleasure. I visited Barbados to research it and Sobers and his wife really looked after me there.
Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit www.sportscorrespondent.infoFeeds: Ijaz Chaudhry
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