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Tribute is paid here to five personalities who have recently given up English first-class cricket: Godfrey Evans, Cyril Washbrook, Dennis Brookes, George Tribe, and Jim Laker. We would remind our readers that Mr. Cardus devoted a whole article to Laker in the 1957 edition of Wisden.
Godfrey Evans must be counted amongst the very few cricketers of his period who did not possess a birth and residential qualification to play and become a life member of the Anonymities C.C. When he was on the field he was unmistakably a character expressing himself without reserves.
A wicket-keeper, of course, is so placed that the eyes of the spectators are drawn to him; he occupies a main centre of attraction. But there have been wicket-keepers -- and quite good ones -- who have seemed not much more than accessories to the bowlers' violence and craftiness. They have caught the catches obviously coming to them, and they have kept the byes down to a reasonable minimum.
Godfrey did not just wait for chances which any competent keeper could take. He was creative. With abnormal anticipation and agility he could turn a brilliant leg-glance a certain four most times, into a batsman's fatal error.
Three marvellous catches by Evans remain in my memory; and I imagine that Neil Harvey cannot forget them either -- for in each case he was the astonished batsman. At Brisbane in December 1950, he turned Bedser beautifully to leg, a swift low glance perfectly timed, and he was then 74. Evans apparently saw the stroke even as Harvey was positioning himself to perform it. So rapid was the sideway swoop of Evans that he made the catch look easy.
Then at Melbourne in January 1955 when Australia wanted 165 to win with eight wickets left, Harvey flicked the seventh ball of the morning (from Tyson) round the corner and this time Evans dived full length to the right, clutching the ball in his out-stretched glove. Many people were of the opinion that the destination of the Ashes -- won by Len Hutton's team -- hung on that catch for England went on to win the match by 128 runs.
Likewise at Lord's, in June 1956, he flung the whole of himself at another lightning glance, this time off Bailey, and changed an artistic stroke into an impulsive error on Harvey's part. Three truly sinful catches. Evans was constantly bringing off catches which caused even the bowler to question his own eyesight and credulity.
Such a wicket-keeper is a positive force in the attack. With Evans behind the stumps, the greatest batsmen hesitate to attempt strokes which, with stumpers of average ability behind them, they would have put into execution confidently. Alec Bedser would be the first to give evidence on behalf of Evans's sure and avaricious opportunism.
By the way, it was only compensatory justice that in the Old Trafford Test of 1953, Harvey when 52 not out, sensationally missed by Evans off Bailey, after which cornucopia of luck Harvey proceeded to score 122.
Evans was not a 'keeper in the classic style, not all quiet balanced outlines, like Bertie Oldfield, who used to catch or stump in a flash and yet appear the embodiment of politeness and almost obsequious deportment, as though saying to his victim: "Awfully sorry, but it is my painful duty -- Law 42, you know".
Evans was modern in the almost surrealistic patterns achieved by his motions. He seemed to get to the ball by leaving out physical shapings and adjustments which ordinary human anatomies have to observe. He was a boneless wonder.
Did he play to the gallery? If he did so the quicksilver snap-dragon leapings, dartings and flickerings of him were second nature. Nobody could pose with Evans's accuracy and get away with it.
An old master stumper of the 1900's once told me that Evans broke the rules of the wicket-keepers' technique, that his preliminary position could be classically questioned. I could not follow his pedantic arguments; but I replied to the effect that genius usually walks according to its own laws.
Evans belonged to the present age in his genius for a sort of jazz or swing of the traditional procedure of his calling. Basically he was sound, scientifically prepared for the right and rapid movements to which he added his own mental and muscular conjurations. He was perky, jaunty, in a way a comic, with method in his cavortings. It is no surprise to learn that he was not a man of Kent by birth but of Finchley; he was in fact the Cockney keeper in excelsis. Nobody ever saw Godfrey Evans look bored or uninterested on the field or off it. At the end of the longest day he remained alive in every nerve. And his flesh, apparently, was inexhaustible. It was a vitality of spirit, reinforced by humour.
The crowd hailed him with glee as he walked out to bat. He won the usual and easy laughs by darting in and out of his crease, pretending to go for unsafe runs. As a fact, he could be a very dangerous and even a beautiful driver, as the West Indies discovered at Old Trafford in 1950, when he came to the crease in England's first innings with the score 88 for five.
While Bailey defended, he attacked and scored his maiden Test century of 104 out of 161 put on for the sixth wicket. As proof that Evans is not all fun and games but a true cricketer, we can point to his wonderful adaption and self-discipline at Adelaide in January 1947.
In England's second innings England had lost eight wickets for 255, Compton not out. Evans actually did not score a run until he had driven Bradman and the Australian attack almost to desperate measures for ninety-five minutes. In all, Evans obstructed for two hours and a quarter. He and Compton scored 85 together and, without being separated, saved the match, Evans not out 10, made from seven of the 98 balls he received.
The innings was evidence of the serious side of Evans who, as with every born and skilful man of comedy, knew, and still knows, how to time a laugh.
Cricket is the poorer for his retirement at the early age of 39. Most of us had thought that time would toil and pant after him in vain.
Cyril Washbrook, at the age of 18, scored 152 in his second match for Lancashire at Old Trafford in June 1933. But before he had scored as many as 20 it was clear that we were watching an England batsman in the making; and I did not think I was being prophetic but merely anticipatory when that day I wrote of him in the Manchester Guardian as a boy destined for the highest honours.
I fancy that I warned him against his tendency to risk lbw by hitting across the line of the ball to the on. He has in his career fallen a victim to obstruction as frequently as any other cricketer of his period. But Cyril was never willing to deny himself a brilliant hook or a swinging on-drive simply because the ball might be well on the way to the stumps when it collided with his pads.
At Nottingham against Australia, in June 1948, he was caught at long-leg from a hook off Lindwall and his score was half-a-dozen when he took his liberty. In the same rubber, at Manchester, he was twice dropped at long-leg by Hassett, who then borrowed a hat from a spectator.
Washbrook learned his first-class cricket in a period when Old Trafford was in the inevitable slump which usually follows a lengthy victorious sequence, though losing only one match, in 1933. Washbrook for the season made 518, average 28.77.
Next year, 1934, Lancashire won the County Championship again but Washbrook, for all his promise, was allowed to play in only six games. In 1935 Lancashire receded to fourth place in the tournament but Washbrook totalled 1,724 runs, average 45.36.
Yet in the season of 1936 I was obliged to make a protest in my newspaper because he was left out of the Lancashire team at Trent Bridge. It will be understood, then, that Washbrook was brought up in hard school. Makepeace, though no longer dourly opening the Lancashire innings, was the brain centre at Old Trafford. If a young player was clean bowled by an off-break Makepeace would meet him in the dressing-room and scornfully ask, "Where was your legs?"
Washbrook had not celebrated his 25th birthday when war broke out in 1939, taking from him years of opportunity in the game just as he was arriving at mastery. With the return to peace, he asserted himself in unmistakable fashion by scoring 2,400 runs in the season, averaging 68.57. Naturally he went to Australia in 1946-47. And now began the Hutton- Washbrook first-wicket partnership for England -- and such was the bad luck of both of them -- they had to face the very hot music of Lindwall and Miller.
I doubt if any cricketer -- Hobbs, Sutcliffe, MacLaren, Hayward, Trumper or Duff -- faced an opening attack more menacing, more challenging to eyesight, nerve, skill and breastbone than Lindwall's and Miller's, with Lindwall's subtlety and the modern use of the new ball thrown in.
We often forget, when we are trying to estimate a batsman's quality, the power of the bowling he has been called on to face. Twice did Washbrook get a hundred in the face of the Lindwall- Miller barrage; and at Old Trafford in 1948 his 85 not out was cut and hooked from Lindwall and Miller at their most desperately short and fast.
In all, Washbrook played 66 innings for England for 2,569 runs, average 42.81. Perhaps of all of them he most gratefully remembers his 98, played with an autumnal serenity at Leeds in 1956, when at the age of 41 and a few months he was recalled to the England XI.
Three England wickets had fallen to Archer for 17 in an hour when Washbrook came in. Peter May was in dire trouble. Washbrook, nearly lbw straight away, calmly piloted the innings through the storm. In five hours and a half he scored 98.
At his best he was a batsman of panache. He always looked the born cricketer, whether at the wicket or in the field, where at cover-point he was brilliant, yet somehow relaxed as he stood there while the bowler walked to his starting place; Washbrook had about him a casual wandering sort of air, even if indifferent, until the moment came for action; then he was as galvanic as graceful.
I liked the way he wore his cap; no cricket cap looked so jaunty of peak as Washbrook's. His shoulders were the true cricketer's shoulders. At the wicket he would thrust out his chest reminiscent of a pouter pigeon. Whenever he clamped his right foot on the crease, those who knew him well -- Lancastrians, of course -- knew that he was about to put the bowlers to the sword. He could, in the mood, cut an attack to ribbons.
On other days strangely passive moods came over him. He could seem almost strokeless and unsmiling. At Lord's in 1950, against the West Indies, he reached a century at close of play and next morning made not another run from Ramadhin and Valentine in half an hour.
Sometimes I think he was unlucky to come into cricket when he did -- in the epoch of MacLaren and J.T. Tyldesley his swordlike stroke-play would have been encouraged; for in his uninhibited form he could have stood comparison even with MacLaren and Tyldesley. I have seen Washbrook bat with a really majestical command and contempt. He had on his day the grand manner and who -- since Wally Hammond -- has shared the imperial secret?
Dennis Brookers is one of the finest in all that splendid company of cricketers who somehow have not played for England as frequently as they were entitled to by reason of first-class gifts of skill and of character.
In a period in which our Selection Committee have looked far and wide for batsmen accustomed to facing the new ball at the opening of an innings, Brookes has been passed by, though in fairness to the said Selection Committee, the fact must be pointed out that Brookes was nearing his fortieth year when the Hutton-Washbrook combination came to an end. He was also far too long neglected by Lord's in the Gentlemen v. Players match.
Only once has he played for England -- in the West Indies in 1948 when he chipped a bone in a finger in the opening Test and was out of the game for the tour, with a century to his credit v. Barbados.
He was born in Yorkshire, ten miles from Leeds, yet the County inexplicably never heard of the schoolboy, though he scored 145 not out for his local team. Northamptonshire got to hear of him and gave him his chance in 1934 when he was not yet 18.
Against the county of his birth -- his first match -- the boy shaped promisingly enough, scoring 19 not out in a Northamptonshire total of 100 against Bowes and Verity in good form. But not until 1937 did he impinge on the critical eye; that season he scored 1,285 runs, average 26.77. The war sadly interrupted his cricket, as with many other young hopefuls, after he had headed the Northamptonshire players in the first-class batting list -- 1,531, average 36.45.
In a county not until recently blessed with confidence, Brookes has perhaps enjoyed a position which could be envied by many of his colleagues who are always in the limelight. He soon proved himself not only a sound and cultured craftsman with the bat, but better still, he became known and admired as a man of modesty and conscience. His appointment to the Northamptonshire County C.C.'s captaincy in 1954, succeeding F. R. Brown, had the approval of all his friends.
Brookes never sought honours, but when last season he was chosen for the first time to represent the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord's, and had the honour of captaining the side, he was obviously a proud man.
In his career Dennis Brookes scored 30,874 runs, average 36.10, with 71 centuries. And only one Test match -- and none in England! It is sometimes a mad, unjust world. He took his toll of runs from the touring sides -- 93 off the West Indies (including Constantine and Martindale) in 1939, and a brilliant 144 not out against the Australians in 1957.
He was never a batsman trying to catch the uneducated popular eye; but for the connoisseur he was always good to look at, in control of a technique firmly based on first principles, with modest touches of grace added. Few cricketers have served their counties and the game more faithfully than Dennis Brookes -- or have got as much pleasure, a reason for pride, from it.
George Edward Tribe, like Bruce Dooland, found opportunities to display his skill in English county cricket after Australia, apparently, had turned a blind eye to it. He was born in Melbourne, learned the fundamentals there and actually played for Australia in three Tests during the rubber of 1946-47, when W.R. Hammond's team were the opponents.
I saw him bowl in the Tests at Brisbane and Sydney, and though he took only the wickets of Ikin and Voce in six innings for 330 runs, the discerning watcher had reason to write optimistically of his future as a left-hand wrist spinner, in the style of the erratic but on his day inspired Fleetwood-Smith.
After successes in Lancashire League cricket, he qualified for Northamptonshire; and he accomplished the double in his first season of 1952 -- in all matches. For Northamptonshire he scored 969 runs, average 29.36, and took 116 wickets, average 25.46. In all he achieved this all-round performance in seven of his eight summers in English cricket.
Like all bowlers who flick the ball from the back of the hand, Tribe was constantly fascinating to watch. When the wrist-spinner is bowling tosh he is worth watching as closely as when he is on the spot. At any moment he might send along the unplayable ball that leaves the batsman standing.
Tribe on his day was extremely difficult to play, though maybe his wrong-'un was not as deceptive as Fleetwood-Smith's. But day by day he was the more accurate of the two -- I compare him with Fleetwood-Smith because of his left-handed action. He could, of course, lose pitch and direction at times, and become a batsman's gift from heaven. All wrist-spinners must pay this price. It is much easier to rub a new ball on your thighs and let the seam and shine bowl for you.
Tribe was not only a great wicket-taker and a batsman of sound defence and strong stroke-play; he was a cricketer who enhanced the charm and variety of a game which seemingly is, more and more, developing into a routine standardised efficiency. Not only will he be missed by the county of his adoption, his retirement from the English scene at the early age of 39 is premature; and deprives the game of skill, entertainment value and genuine sportsmanship, whether luck was smiling at him or frowning
The passing from first-class cricket of Jim Laker must be regarded as truly historical. For long The Oval will look rather empty in his absence; the England XI is already feeling the pinch, for lack of his off-spin.
He was not only a craftsman in a great tradition; also he had his obvious character, his personal touch. Never did he appear to hurry; not always did he seem eager to bowl. When he was at his best and batsmen were hopping around the crease as though on hot bricks, he went about his destructive work casually, as though it were all in the day's work and the sooner the day was over the better.
His performance of taking 19 wickets in a Test match is not likely ever to be equalled. Almost miraculous circumstances are needed to arrange for the taking of so many wickets in the same match. The fortunate bowler has to be at his very best throughout the game; and all the other bowlers -- Test match bowlers, mind you -- have all the time to be at their most helpless.
O Lucky Jim! -- but only skill of the rarest order ever wins the approval and aid of the invisible good fairies! Laker goes down in the history of cricket as a classic exponent of off-spin -- the most classic of all kinds of bowling.