January 2006

Middlesex cult heroes

Rob Steen
Rob Steen on the cult heroes produced by Middlesex



Albert Trott 'had "no more right to play for Middlesex," spat one opponent, "than Stalin has to lead the Guards Brigade"' © Getty Images

Albert Trott (Middlesex career 1898-1910) 'Alberto' was part-swinger, part-spinner, half-Flintoff, half-Falstaff. Starring for Australia, then - when bafflingly ditched - England, he assembled the most resplendent Test figures (8 for 43) by any debutant and, wielding an early 3lb willow, became the only batsman to biff one over the Lord's pavilion. He was also one of the first sportsmen to lend his name to a newspaper column, infuriating MCC by damning a match where "the beer gave out at lunch". It was not a selfless complaint. Omitted, to public outcry, from Australia's 1896 Ashes squad, he paid his own passage, sailed over with the party and joined the Lord's groundstaff. The transition was not without controversy. He had "no more right to play for Middlesex," spat one opponent, "than Stalin has to lead the Guards Brigade". After he finished off his own benefit match with a hat-trick his health waned along with his bank balance, culminating in suicide. All his worldly possessions - four quid and a wardrobe - were left to his landlady. Truly he was a one-off.

John Price (1961-75) Revving up between deepish extra-cover and longish-off, he curved round the bend, gathered pace in the straight, then changed gear again before breasting the line in a flurry of wrists, forearms and elbows. In the 1960s the only difference between watching a grand prix and John Sidney Ernest Price (from Harrow - the town not the boater show - and the second most unlikely owner of three initials behind PCR Tufnell) was the absence of Murray Walker. As rapid as any spearchucker England turned to while Trueman and Statham were fading, Price was set apart by that inimitable action: impossibly elaborate yet Bentley smooth. Nureyev would have killed for such elegant precision. Injury, small wonder, was seldom a stranger. A few summers back I finally met him, dimpled chin tilted proudly, back still beefeater straight. "So," I blurted, "why did you bowl like that?" Back, with a vague hint of a smirk, came an unanswerable yorker: "I wanted to be different."

Harry Latchman (1965-73) "Jamaica?" "No, she came of her own accord." Thus ran what passed for humour in Swingin' Sixties London. But Amritt Harrichand Latchman was popular enough to overcome the shock of the new. Born in George Headley's Kingston, schooled at a Shepherd's Bush comp, he marched to a more leisurely beat than the Caribbean cricketing gods, even Lance Gibbs. For those entranced by tales of Sonny Ramadhin but too young to have seen his artistry in the flesh, here was a suitably roly-polyish substitute. To a nine-year-old, legspin seemed the most exotic form of athletic alchemy, and in the Summer of Love it was almost as rare as a head unadorned by flowers. Still, Middlesex fielded Latchman, just 24, in all but one of their 1967 Championship fixtures: I'd picked the right county after all. Middlesex's `Jackson Five' were still a decade away; with his wiles and Thames-wide smile, Latchman helped dig the foundations for them and other Anglo-West Indians.



Chad Keegan, a graduate of the Samson school of hairdressing © Getty Images
Chad Keegan (2001-) Think of him as a Ted Dexter for the noughties. Keegan loves the smell of burning rubber in the morning. In an age of fitness regimes and conformity, here is the shires' reigning maverick-in-chief. "Don't think a 750 would go down too well," he said when asked if he'd been a mite conservative in buying a Honda 125cc motorbike. "But I might get a 600. I live in south London and the North Circular gives me a bit of room." Back problems have arrested a promising career but, brisk bowler first, field-splitter second, he is nothing if not true to himself. A graduate of the Samson school of hairdressing, and reportedly the first Championship cricketer to wear an Alice band, he greeted one chilly April with a ponytail sprouting from a ski hat. "Sure I get teased, by everyone. I think I am a bit different. I'm not trying to be different, I just am."

Vintcent van der Bijl (1980-81) With all due deference to Don Shepherd and Clive Rice, van der Bijl, the cloud-brushing seamer from Cape Town, was probably the best bowler never to play a Test. In 1980, at the fag end of a prolific career frustrated by South Africa's isolation, he came to England ostensibly for business reasons and spent one sumptuous summer in NW8 (followed by a single game in 1981). Middlesex pulled off county cricket's first Championship-Gillette Cup double as he hoovered up 85 three-day victims at 14.72 - a haul of 49 bowleds and lbws testimony to his suffocating accuracy. Belting sixes that often threatened the ozone layer and looking like a cross between TV's Frasier Crane and the captain of a monastery basketball team, he stuck longer in the memory than most comets.