July 06, 1931, Bramley, Leeds, Yorkshire
February 10, 2006, Chelmsford, Essex, (aged 74y 219d)
Right hand bat
Right arm medium
During his long career with Essex, Gordon Barker was said to be one of the finest county batsmen never to play for England. As a coach, his vocation after retirement, there was no such ambiguity. He was simply without peer.
It is a big claim, I know, but I was one of the fortunate recipients of Gordon's inimitable way of making sense of this complex game. Without his wise nurturing at Felsted School, I doubt I would have played cricket for England, a claim Nick Knight and John Stephenson, two more Test players from the Barker-Felsted stable, would also echo.
His death sees the passing of a great character who had an unquenchable passion for the game. A net session with `Barks' could border on the mystical, as he set his alchemy to work, but it was always good fun. He knew what he was talking about too, especially when it came to batting, and both Knight and Stephenson would often return to Felsted to seek his counsel long after they had made their England debuts.
Unlike today's coaches with their clipboards and computers, he trusted his eye and instinct, which were unfailing in their assessment of his own side as well as the opposition. His good-cop, bad-cop mix of encouragement and gentle cajoling meant he tended to get the best from plodders as well as his star players.
Being a Yorkshireman, he had a story, usually involving himself, to illustrate every point. If his drinking chums down the Chequers (the Felsted village pub now run by son Graham and his wife Wendy) had heard them all before, we never tired of his tales involving the great and good of county cricket. With Barks in full flow, Illingworth, Statham, Trueman and Sobers were made flesh.
I never saw him play for Essex but those who shared a dressing room with him recall a fine technical batsman with a forthright view on most subjects. His obsession with the game though was ingrained even then and Keith Fletcher remembers how Gordon had Essex spinner Ray East bowling down a Birmingham hotel corridor at midnight, in an attempt to stop Easty undercutting the ball.
He was never offered a place on the staff of his beloved Yorkshire, but came to Essex when his commanding officer, during a stint of National Service, got him a trial with the county. It was against Canada in 1954 and Barks, or Albert as he came to be known by his new team-mates, made an unbeaten hundred, the first of 30 over a 17-year career.
He enjoyed a drink, mostly ale, and it was in the Chequers that some brave soul moved to inform him he had probably taken more than his fill for the evening. "I know when have I've had enough," he spluttered, choosing the exact same moment to fall off his barstool and spit his dentures into a pint pot on the bar.
Although never what you would call an expansive batsman (he played his county cricket on uncovered pitches), he had little time for blockers when umpiring school matches. Anyone playing for a draw too early, especially among the opposition, was swiftly dispatched lbw, at the earliest opportunity.
His sense of mischief gave him the whiff of rebellion (a much-admired trait among public schoolboys of a certain age) and he instilled a devotion that many might find hard to explain. When his captain at Essex, Brian `Tonker' Taylor, told me Gordon was in a bad way, I immediately phoned Knight and Stephenson to inform them of his plight.
Knight, who was on his way
to a dinner in Wales pulled
over immediately, cancelled his
engagement, and then drove 150
miles to be by Bark's bedside in
Broomfield hospital. He arrived
just in time to say his farewells.
An hour later, Gordon was gone,
bowled, not for the first time, by a
"bloody unplayable ball".
Derek Pringle, The Wisden Cricketer
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