May memories conjured up by Edgbaston
Edgbaston 1997 - exactly 40 years since Test matches resumed at Warwickshire`s headquarters after a pre-1957 gap of 28 years. As England and Australia prepare for what all must hope will be the closest series since Shakin` Stevens was a power in the land, nearly all of the precontest reminiscence has naturally been of past Ashes battles. There are still, however, many for whom the word Edgbaston rekindles thoughts above all others of May and Cowdrey versus the West Indians.
The first Test 40 years ago was one of the most remarkable in history. England were on the ropes at 113 for 3 in their second innings, still 175 behind the West Indies with the best part of two days to go. Sonny Ramadhin had taken nine wickets in the match (seven in the first innings for 49 on a good wicket) and looked set to put his own sensational performances against England in 1950 into the shade. When Peter May, the England captain, was joined by Colin Cowdrey early on the fourth day there seemed no hope whatsoever that even these two marvellous players could do much but delay the inevitable.
Time passes slowly in childhood and the stupendous partnership between the great amateur pair that followed was beyond all sane ex- pectation in the eyes of this 12-year-old. It seemed that May and Cowdrey had been batting most of the summer term when finally Colin tired of striking fours, essayed a six, and holed out to a substitute in the deep.
Trevor Bailey had been padded up for more than two days but when the wicket fell Godfrey Evans was sent in to rattle up a few quick runs as Peter moved majestically on to within striking distance of Len Hutton`s 364. However, May declared with just 285 against his name and we in form 2a were a little disappointed that our contemporary hero was not having a tilt at the previous generation`s master. He had just beaten Superman and Elvis Presley in the form`s "who would you most like to be" poll.
West Indies were reduced to 72 for seven in their second innings with the result that May actually picked up some criticism for not declaring earlier! But as England`s premier all-rounder pointed out in Trevor Bailey`s Book Of Cricket (Frederick Muller, 1959, 128pp, 10/6d): "Peter just could not afford to dangle the bait of 85 runs an hour before the opposition`s very powerful and fast-moving batsmen. You don`t take such gambles in Test cricket."
Ramadhin had been destroyed as a force and the West Indies were never close to a dominant position in any of the subsequent Tests of 1957: another example of the importance of the first battle of any series, of which England are all too aware in 1997.
The first England-Australia game at Edgbaston after the return of the ground to the Test circuit was in 1961, and followed a strangely similar pattern to the remarkable events of 1957. England, un- der Colin Cowdrey, were dismissed for 195 then laboured for the best part of two days as their opponents piled on 516 (West Indies had made 474 in `57). This time, Ted Dexter, with a superb exhibition of strokeplay, scored 180 and Raman Subba Row filled the Cowdrey role with a sturdy 112 in support, England finishing the match at 401 for four.
Warwickshire must be hoping for a return to these kind of scores after the all-too-brief encounters of recent years. I am hoping for Australia 150 (Taylor 125 not out) and 90 (Taylor 60); England 550 for four declared.
Writing of Trevor Bailey, I must put in a word for his wonderful Fifties tour movies that popped up at odd moments during Sky`s winter coverage of England`s travels. His probing movie camera has created a terrific social document as we see the then household names representing England on and off the fields and beaches of Australia and the West Indies.
Trevor`s delight, as he introduced his archive footage, in reliving those days was inspirational, as was his appreciation of his good fortune in being a part of such an enjoyable sporting exis- tence. These films should be commercially released as soon as possible.