Cheltenham, August 13, 1965
Worcestershire 253 (D'Oliveira 81, Allen 5-79) and 131 for 3 (Graveney 59*, D'Oliveira 55*) beat Gloucestershire 210 (Nicholls 99, Coldwell 4-59) and 173 (D'Oliveira 4-53, Gifford 3-50) by seven wickets
Bournemouth, August 27, 1965
Worcestershire 363 for 9 dec (Headley 123, Graveney 104, Shackleton 4-66) and 0 for 0 dec beat Hampshire 217 for 6 dec (Caple 66, Reed 55, Coldwell 4-66) and 31 (Flavell 5-9, Coldwell 5-22) by 115 runs
For well over a decade Tom Graveney's name ended a rich debate and prompted instead some fond remembrance. A few Englishmen have been heavier scorers, others tougher to get out, but when followers of domestic cricket were asked who they would most like to watch bat for an hour most of them settled for Tom. And first-name terms were not resented by Graveney, neither when they were used by fans of Gloucestershire, for whom he played 296 first-class games, nor by supporters of Worcestershire, where he spent that long, abundant, gorgeous autumn of his career. He understood the vulnerable affection of the man who turns up at a ground hoping to watch a favourite make a hundred and sees his dream splintered in a moment. So he relished applause all the more keenly when he played his cover drive or that top-handed ease through midwicket. Such awareness also informed the pleasure he felt when he helped Worcestershire win their first title in 1964 and then become the first county outside the Big Six to retain the Championship at Hove a year later.
Graveney's colleagues at New Road never doubted his value but statistics reinforced their opinion. His 3985 runs in the two title-winning seasons included nine centuries and a host of vital fifties on sporting pitches against fine attacks. Then as now, professionals gauged not simply the runs a man piled up but the circumstances of their making. "People say the bowlers won us the Championship in 1964 and 1965," Worcestershire seamer Len Coldwell said in a conversation recorded in Andrew Murtagh's fine biography of Graveney. "No, we didn't. That bloke over there won it for us." And he gestured across a room at Tom. The recipient of Coldwell's praise would surely have been flattered and a little embarrassed by the comment. But he would also be aware that it was not terribly fair. Worcestershire's titles, especially the second of them, were richer than even Graveney's contributions might suggest and Coldwell knew that the bowlers did their share of work. "World is crazier and more of it than we think," wrote Louis MacNeice. Step forward, Jack Flavell; step forward, Doug Slade.
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Yet even quite late in the 1965 season the idea that Don Kenyon might skipper his side to a second successive Championship seemed fanciful. It was a wet summer and six different counties had led the table by July 23 when a sodden draw at Northampton left Worcestershire with three wins from their first 17 games. The most encouraging cricket of the year had been played by a 32-year-old South African who had claimed to be three years younger when he joined the county. This was Basil D'Oliveira's first full summer on the county circuit and he was determined to make the most of a chance he had thought would never come. And D'Oliveira reached his goal partly because he strengthened his natural rapport with Graveney. In itself this was not so surprising; the pair had batted together in what is now Zimbabwe and again when on tour with a Commonwealth XI in Pakistan. But maintaining such concord against county bowlers in a damp English spring was different. That was why their partnerships of 183 and 83 in the opening match of the season against Essex were a portent of more substantial achievement.
Most counties would suffer to some degree. "When we played Worcestershire we always felt that if we didn't shift Tom and Basil then we were in trouble," Warwickshire skipper, Mike Smith, said. "They had another couple of good batsmen, of course, but you always thought that if you removed those two you had a chance."
But over two months were to pass after that Essex game before Kenyon's cricketers recovered the form which had seen them win the title by 41 points the previous summer. With the simple points system then in operation - 10 for the win, two for first innings lead - Worcestershire's margin had reflected their dominance in 1964. However, no county had opened a comparable gap by the time stand-in skipper Graveney and his players returned from Northampton to begin the game against Kent at Dudley the following morning. In the next 39 days they were to win 10 of their 11 three-day matches.
Graveney was in the middle of his second three-year exile from the England side; D'Oliveira's international class had not yet been fully appreciated. By the next summer both would be playing Test cricket but Worcestershire supporters were cheerily untroubled by such considerations as they saw the pair put on 131 for the fourth wicket against Kent. Then their spinners exploited the eccentricities of an outground pitch on which D'Oliveira had made a century. Indeed, five of those last ten wins were to be achieved away from the home county's headquarters, often on wickets which exposed a batsman's technical limitations. That was why, in future seasons, Worcestershire's cricketers still talked about Graveney and D'Oliveira's batting at Cheltenham.
The game on the College Ground in August was dominated by spinners. Worcestershire earned a 43-run first-innings lead and needed only 131 to complete what would have been their sixth successive victory. But by then the top had gone on the wicket, leaving conditions in which David Allen and John Mortimore needed to do little more than pitch the ball on a length and watch the fun. Worcestershire were 19 for 3 when D'Oliveira joined Graveney. "I can't play in this, I'm charging," he was told. Yet while Graveney went down the pitch to the spinners D'Oliveira relied on his back-foot technique. "The fascination was in the contrast," wrote Peter Oborne in his biography of D'Oliveira. "Graveney the artist, a classical front-foot player, grand, gentlemanly and imperious; D'Oliveira the craftsman, happier drawing back into his stumps, no back-lift, the master of the short-armed jab."
"That late August boundary of Tom's, in the twilight of his career, remains the single most sublime, beautiful cricket stroke I have ever seen" Mike Selvey on being hit for four by Tom Graveney
The pair put on an unbroken 112 for the fourth wicket. It was their second hundred partnership of the match and D'Oliveira's two fifties could be added to his five wickets and three catches in Gloucestershire's two innings. It was easy to see why Worcestershire's players began to believe the title could be theirs after all.
But the schedule remained unrelenting, some might say savage. The following morning Worcestershire's players were at Kidderminster where Flavell's 13 wickets in the game against Somerset allowed his side to recover from a conceding a 39-run first-innings lead. In a low-scoring match, Kenyon's 77 took Worcestershire to the verge of a nine-wicket victory which was achieved with a precious day to spare. Perhaps no one appreciated the brief rest more than 36-year-old Flavell, who would finish the season with 132 Championship scalps to his credit having taken ten wickets in a match on four occasions. Rather more remarkably, he missed none of Worcestershire's 28 matches. "Another time," wrote Harold Pinter.
Two days later Flavell was back at New Road where he took 4 for 47 in 24 overs against Northamptonshire, who harboured their own fond hopes of the title. But Worcestershire's seven-wicket victory owed more to the work of the spinners, Slade and Norman Gifford, who shared eight wickets as the visitors were put out for 130 in their second innings. Graveney and D'Oliveira shared a stand of 61 to see their team home.
"Another day, another match" as Brian Brain's fine chronicle of the 1980 season put it. Brain took 33 wickets during 1965, which was a season typical of its era. Different demands were placed on a player's fitness than would be expected today; the ability to keep buggering on was highly prized. And it was certainly true that playing two three-day games a week from May to August allowed momentum to be maintained, even when exhaustion beckoned. The day after beating Northants, Kenyon's players pitched up at New Road where Coldwell's eight wickets in the first innings and Gifford's six in the second were enough to overwhelm Surrey by an innings.
It was August 24. Northamptonshire had finished their season with a rain-affected draw against Gloucestershire. (Septembers in that era were devoted to festival cricket and, if pressed, the Gillette Cup Final.) Worcestershire embarked on their southern tour to Bournemouth and Hove needing two wins to prevent Keith Andrew's team winning their first title. Unsurprisingly, given that Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie was involved, the game at Dean Park was one of the most bizarre of the season.
Yet there was nothing unusual about an opening day on which Graveney and Ron Headley scored centuries in Worcestershire's 363 for 9 declared. But rain always encouraged Ingleby-Mackenzie's gambling instincts and the loss of much of the second day spurred Hampshire's skipper to declare 146 runs behind on the final morning. Kenyon was even keener to force a win and closed his own side's innings after one ball. There was little reason to suppose that the home batsmen would find scoring 147 to 160 minutes especially onerous until a warm late-summer sun got to work on a wet wicket. Hampshire were bowled out for 31; their innings lasted 16.3 overs. Having returned figures of 5 for 9 at Dean Park, Flavell dismissed another seven batsmen the following morning at Hove where Sussex were skittled for only 72 in less than a session. But despite conceding a 94-run lead, the home side recovered in the second innings to leave Worcestershire to score 132 in over two sessions to win the title. That task was made more ticklish when the 23-year-old John Snow removed the first four batsmen with 36 runs on the board. But Dick Richardson's patient 31 not out and Roy Booth's 38 secured a title which was celebrated with the usual Worcestershire gusto. "My goodness, we were a thirsty lot," Graveney admitted.
Perhaps there are no golden ages; perhaps there is merely our youth, a time when every good thing is burnished by first acquaintance. Yet Tom Graveney's batting had a similar effect on spectators of any age. Some might have thought it merely a natural accomplishment and forget that his skill was maintained by a daily net before play began; others might fail to note that only seven players in the game's history have scored more first-class runs and only one of those played all his cricket after 1945.
But no one missed the style, certainly not Mike Selvey, who first bowled to the 41-year-old Graveney in 1968 when he was a 20-year-old playing his fifth first-class match. Over four decades later Selvey shared the moment in a memorable Guardian piece. "I knew nothing" he admits. Then this:
"I bowled to Graveney and was primary witness to a single stroke that defined everything that has followed for me since. The delivery, such as it was, contained no particular merit. It was on a length, lively enough in pace from a whippy youngster and not badly directed at around middle-and-off. At least it deserved respect. What followed is as clear as day.
"Tom eased himself forward and his bat came down straight. Then, without hitting around his front pad, which had remained inside the line of the ball, he turned his top hand (not the bottom hand shovel that so many use now) and caressed the ball away to the leg side. There was no crack of leather on willow, no explosion from the blade. The ball was eased with precision to the left of the fellow at midwicket and to the right of mid-on…
"In the four decades since…I have witnessed every great batsman, from Sobers and Graeme Pollock…through to Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kalllis. And all the aesthetes too: Gower, Mark Waugh, Mohammad Azharuddin, VVS Laxman, a host of them. But that late August boundary of Tom's, 42 years ago and in the twilight of his career, remains the single most sublime, beautiful cricket stroke I have ever seen."
There are still plenty of Worcestershire supporters who remember that 1965 team. They recall the thousand runs scored by the opener Headley; the all-round talents of D'Oliveira who still stares out from the 1966 Wisden sporting a thin moustache of which Robert Donat would have been proud; then there was the tirelessness of Flavell; the keeping of Booth. But above all, they remember Graveney, batting as if put on earth for the purpose. And anyway, they will tell you, it was always Tom.
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