CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1986

Philip Bainbridge

In 1985 PHILIP BAINBRIDGE scored 1,644 runs at an average of 56.68. It was indisputably his best season and he must have come under close consideration for a place on one of England's winter tours. His runs were scored with some style. He is neat and mostly orthodox, having got an earlier penchant for whipping the ball through mid-wicket out of his system, and he can play off the back foot better than most of his contemporaries.

His captain, David Graveney, values him for the way he compiles his runs when they matter most. He has the analytical approach to be expected from an erstwhile schoolteacher (he still lectures on PE to students at Brunel Technical College, Bristol, during the winter months). When he discerns the early signs of a technical flaw, he works tirelessly to eradicate it. In the early days of his county cricket, he used regularly to be ensnared by Eddie Hemmings, off bat and pad. The solution was something Bains puzzled out for himself.

Graveney calls him a well-organised batsman. Most players - teammates and opponents - call him competitive. The phlegmatic exterior reveals that he does not like giving his wicket away. Nor does he relish batting down the order. In 1985 he was number four and he knows how greatly he benefited from that, although he was not sure where he would end up when Brian Davison arrived on the Gloucestershire staff. Bainbridge was on the point of leaving Gloucestershire when, not so long ago, he seemed destined for permanent middle-order status.

But with a wise, psychological touch, the county made him vice-captain for 1985. "It was good for me. I thrive on responsibility." He became a wise counsellor, though still only 27, when the tactical triumvirate of Graveney, Davison and himself huddled pensively on the edge of the square. "Bainbridge has many sound qualities as a player, quite apart from the driving will to win. He is a thinker, strong on the exploitation of an opponent's Achilles' heel. He is also a loyal team man with an ability and willingness, if necessary, to improvise.

"Furthermore he is ambitious, and, while realistically accepting the standard of the competition among similarly talented batsmen, strives each season to add a refinement to his batting or an extra wile to his seam bowling in the pursuit of Test recognition. There were four centuries and eleven half-centuries from him last season, following a successful tour to Zimbabwe with the English Counties XI. He shows a high level of concentration and doesn't from inclination ease off when he reaches his hundred," said Graveney.

As a medium-paced bowler he has diligently practised to move the ball away from the bat; he had no high regard for what used to be his natural in-swing. There were fewer wickets for him in 1985; fewer overs, too. That was because the county had three strike bowlers ahead of him - Lawrence, Walsh and Curran. But he feels he still took important wickets. So he did - seven in the match against Worcestershire, and Cowdrey's and Benson's against Kent at Tunbridge Wells.

Bainbridge is smallish in stature, sharp and agile. Not too much gets past him in the covers. He has always wanted to be involved in every aspect of the game. Born at Stoke-on-Trent on April 16, 1958, he took early to cricket. At school he liked to open the batting and the bowling. His first hundred came when he was fourteen. He played for his school (Hanley HS), his county and Young England (against Australia in 1977) at schoolboy level. After leaving the Sixth Form College at Stoke, he had trials with four Second XIs: Derbyshire and Northamptonshire offered him a contract, in addition to Gloucestershire.

As a young soccer player he briefly appeared in the same side as Garth Crooks. Even more briefly he played scrum-half for one of Clifton's less prestigious XVs. But his winter sport is now confined to romantic nostalgia. As a result of breaking his wrist playing football, he batted in a special splint last season. Then, against Leicestershire at Cheltenham, he suffered a broken finger. "That's six to date. I'm going for the full set," he said, a smile creasing that slightly doleful expression. Even by his standards, he had quite an injury-prone summer. He fractured his cheekbone against Lancashire, while fielding at slip, and was concussed and carried off on a stretcher after losing sight of a ball from Surrey's Graham Monkhouse at The Oval.

Bainbridge is fundamentally a private person, though less so than he used to be. He likes a drink but is unlikely to dominate the post-match bar in gregarious bonhomie. At home with his wife, a qualified teacher, and their two young children, he conscientiously takes his photographs, does the husband's obligatory amount of DIY and says that he is starting out on golf. He claims to be a frustrated businessman; and he looks it as he turns up at the county ground, complete with executive case, in his new role of part-time marketing man.

With his unostentatious skills, Phil Bainbridge made a vital contribution to Gloucestershire's climb up the Championship table in 1985, thus strengthening the view held at Bristol, Gloucester and Cheltenham that he may well be his county's next captain.

© John Wisden & Co