February 11, 2011

England's steely lynchpin

Alan Hill
Trevor Bailey may have been known for his stonewalling batting but it was as a match-winning bowler that he demanded attention

The sobriquet of "Barnacle" was fitting for Trevor Bailey, a cricketer who thrived in adversity. It brought about a typically droll touch of self-deprecating banter. "That suited me," said Bailey "as I enjoyed batting more when the pressure was on. Having found myself cast as a born stonewaller, I eventually began to believe it - it appealed to my sense of humour."

Cricket for Bailey, who has died in tragic circumstances at the age of 87, was always characterised by a Churchillian-style steel, playing to win whenever possible but defiant against the odds when defeat threatened. He was England's lynchpin throughout the glory days of the 1950s. Doug Insole, a close friend and colleague since their days together at Cambridge and a long-standing observer of the game, ranks Bailey second only to Ian Botham as the best English allrounder since the Second World War.

Bailey played in five series against Australia and was three times on the winning side - in the 1953, 1954-55 and 1956 series. Bailey had woven his dreams of England versus Australia, with Larwood and Bradman as his heroes, in garden cricket at his home in Westcliff. When a little older, he cycled to Southend as a boy to watch the Australians in 1938. Ten years later he was a member of the Essex side that bowled the Australians out in a day, also at Southend, but conceded 700 runs in a riot of big hitting. It was salutary lesson that Bailey never forgot, either as a bowler or batsman, in the hostile cauldron of Ashes cricket.

In his sporting infancy Bailey moved lightly on the stepping stones to a distinguished career. He was prolific as a schoolboy cricketer at Dulwich College and captained the Public Schools. At 14, his talents were so evident that his first cricket mentor and preparatory school headmaster, Denys Wilcox, considered that he had the ability to become a first-class cricketer.

At Cambridge, Bailey won blues at both cricket and soccer. His talents as a right-winger in the winter game earned him an FA Amateur Cup winners' medal with Walthamstow in 1951-52. The 2-1 victory at Wembley was gained over local rivals Leyton. It was watched by a crowd of 100,000, and as Bailey said: "I always thrived on the big occasion and they don't come much bigger than that."

At the heart of his story is the fighting spirit of a loyalist, which served England - and his home county, Essex - so well in a crisis. Peter Richardson, a former England partner, considers that his friend was the rock around which the dashers could more freely entertain. Bailey was at his greatest when the tensions ran high, notably in one of the most celebrated of rearguard actions with another footballer-cricketer, Willie Watson, as his ally against Australia at Lord's in the Coronation Year of 1953. Bailey's influence on the series in which England regained the Ashes was acknowledged when he headed the list of players that summer in a poll of readers organised by a national newspaper. In later years his Australian rivals testified to the frustrations they endured against a bat as completely locked as a safe deposit box.

It was as a bowler that Bailey demanded attention as a match-winner. He strode into the Test arena in 1949, his first full season with Essex. He was selected for all four Tests against New Zealand. He was the first amateur for many years to reach the double in that season, and took all 10 wickets in an innings against Lancashire at Clacton. In one recollection of his bowling that summer Bailey said: "I was fast-medium - not fast in the Lindwall-Miller sense - but sharp enough to send down a reasonable bouncer, to obtain the odd wicket through pace alone, and to make a tailender slightly apprehensive." It was all a legacy of the early teachings of his elder brother Basil in day-long practice on Sundays on the mudflats on the beach at Westcliff.

Bailey's arrival on the Test scene in 1949 to win the first of his 61 caps at last relieved the great Alec Bedser of the immense burden he carried as England's standard-bearer in the threadbare post-war years. Bailey was always the model team man. With the coming of the express men, Tyson, Statham and Trueman, Bailey assumed a key role in support of the spearheads. Neville Cardus, in one witty description, said that when Bailey released the ball it was as strenuous and determined as the leap of a man at a bus that is nearly leaving him behind.

England - and their first professional captain, Len Hutton - owed much to Bailey as they embarked on a victorious reign in the 1950s. Their association, with the Essex man as vice-captain, prospered in the West Indies in 1953-54. At Sabina Park in Jamaica, Bailey, deputising for the unfit Statham, was in inspired mood as a bowler. He took seven wickets for 34 runs in 16 overs. It was an astonishing coup against one of the most powerful batting line-ups in world cricket. Within these ranks were a feared trio - the three Ws, as they were known, of Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott. The dismissal of Weekes was, Bailey considered, the best ball he bowled in the innings. It nipped back sharply off the seam and uprooted the off stump. West Indies, on a good wicket, were in almost complete disarray. They recovered slightly from 13 for 4 but were bowled out for 139. It was a bowling performance generally considered to be the best of Bailey's career.

The downfall of the vaunted England team led by Peter May in Australia in 1958-59 brought repercussions in its wake. Bailey was one of those ousted by the selectors in 1959. Ironically the summer of his rejection coincided with a golden year for the veteran. He hit five centuries in scoring 2011 runs and also took 100 wickets, and is the only player since the Second World War to record a notable double. On his retirement in 1967, Bailey had achieved the allrounder's double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets eight times, a post-war record he shares with former Middlesex allrounder Fred Titmus.

The cricket acumen of Trevor Bailey brought him to the attention of another, listening, public as a broadcaster on the BBC's Test Match Special programme. Young and old alike warmed to his avuncular style behind the microphone, and were held rapt by his shrewd and quicksilver analysis and tactical awareness. These were skills that might earlier have fostered his claims to the England captaincy. Somewhere along the way he could have ruffled a few feathers in the establishment.

He was always his own man in cricket matters but, if truth is told, he was probably happier and more suited to the role of counsellor. To be regarded as his friend was a special privilege because he never suffered fools gladly.