More than a cricketer of monumental achievement, 1969

T. E. Bailey — resolute and impenitent

John Woodcock


Trevor Bailey was more than an all-round cricketer of monumental achievement. He also possessed one of the game's most analytical minds over a period of many years. The matches he won were relatively few; those that he saved were legion, and of these the most famous was against Australia at Lord's in 1953.

By the standards of Hutton or Compton or May, Bailey was not greatly endowed with natural ability. He had to work at his game. Yet his forward defence -- bat and pad together, head over the ball, the blade immaculately straight -- became, like Churchill's victory sign, a symbol of defiance. It was the rock on which bowlers foundered. From this one stroke could be told the character of the man. It was resolute and impenitent.

I think Bailey preferred the rearguard action to anything else. He was entirely happy when drawing on his extraordinary reserves of concentration to deny the opponents of Essex the one last victory they needed to clinch the Championship; or when frustrating, with length and line, a batsman bent upon attack. That innings at Lord's, when he and Willie Watson of Yorkshire saved a seemingly hopeless cause, was the prototype of countless others.

Later in the same series, when Australia threatened to beat the clock in the Fourth Test match at Leeds, Hutton, who was England's captain, turned to Bailey for advice on how best to stem the flow of runs. Bailey took the ball himself and brought the Australians to a standstill by bowling wide of the leg stump. Though not tactics which appealed to everyone, they were totally effective.

Bailey's long approach to the wicket culminated in a good action, and in his bowling there was plenty of variety in design. On unhelpful pitches he would wage with the batsmen a battle of attrition. On green ones he was a fine exponent of cut and swing. Few bowlers have given less away, and not even Alec Bedser bowled better to left-handers than Bailey.

As a fielder, too, Bailey could turn a game. He held some marvellous catches close to the wicket, and if I pick out two of them it is only because they were unforgettable. One was at Melbourne in 1950-51, when, fielding close up in the gully to Freddie Brown, he threw himself far to his left to catch Lindsay Hassett.

This was a staggering catch, taken in a sun hat. Yet it was no better than the one he held on the Saturday afternoon of the Lord's Test match in 1956. Neil Harvey, the victim, saw Bailey at leg slip catch an authentic glance off Trueman, right handed and with a full dive. That was an electric moment, often recalled by those who were there.

There was something faintly improbable about Bailey's appearance when first he came on the scene. His hair was almost too curly; his gestures were elaborately histrionic; his run-up seemed unnecessarily long; his approach was fastidiously anatomical.

Yet his record soon spoke for itself. As a boy at Dulwich he captained the Public Schools. As an undergraduate at Cambridge he took five South African wickets for 70 in his third match and scored 106 against Yorkshire in his fourth.

By 1949, at the age of 25, he was playing for England against New Zealand. When his Test career ended ten years later he had become only the second Englishman to score 2,000 runs and take 100 wickets in Test cricket. He took six for 118 in the first innings of his first Test match and made 94 in his second. Thereafter he was an integral part of the England side.

Of his five series against Australia, England won three, and in all of these Bailey held the portfolio of tactical adviser to the captain. When Hutton was searching round for an opening batsman in Sydney in 1954-55, Bailey filled the bill, though without success. When May was doing the same four years later he, too, turned to Bailey.

In West Indies, in 1953-54, England lost the first two Tests, won the third and drew the fourth. The decider, at Kingston, was virtually settled on the first day by Bailey, who took seven for 34 after West Indies had won the toss. Here again Hutton took Bailey in with him to open the England innings.

At his best Bailey was the linchpin of many a scheme. At his worst he could be an irritant even to his own side. Occasionally, in one of his more stubborn moods, he would surrender an initiative on a glorious afternoon before a large and expectant crowd.

At times his obstinacy was an asset. At others it drove even his admirers to distraction, as at Brisbane in 1958-59, when he took over seven and a half hours to make 68. The more he was barracked the slower and more wilful he became.

In 1954 at Brisbane, in a match which England also lost, Bailey of all people reaped the reward of £100 offered to the first Englishman to hit a six. Though, when well set, an advocate of the pulled drive, it was not in Bailey's nature to put bat to ball.

It was his business sense which won him the money in Brisbane, rather than a latent desire to attack. Bailey had a horror of throwing away his wicket, and he did so only with pain and grief upon his face.

The custom of topping 100 wickets in a season and passing 1,000 runs began in 1949. Eight times he achieved it, and in 1959 he scored 2,011 runs, besides collecting 100 wickets. Once, against Lancashire at Clacton in 1949, he took all ten wickets in an innings. All told he made 28,642 runs and took 2,082 wickets.

Nine times he headed the Essex bowling averages, seven times the batting. He was their secretary from 1954 until 1965, and their captain from 1961 until 1966. To the young cricketers of Essex he was guide, philosopher and friend. To the powers-that-be he tended to seem too cynical. He was kind yet intolerant, thoughtful yet outspoken, cautious yet successful, precise yet amusing, aloof yet companionable.

If you had asked the county players of the sixties who was the best of the first-class captains, they would have replied, almost to a man, "Give me Trevor." It was his shrewdness they respected, as well, of course, as his record.

© John Wisden & Co