A feature of the early English season right through until the 1970s was
the Test trial. It was generally unloved by the players, but the idea
was that the first-choice England side took on the best of the rest, to
allow the selectors to watch all those in the frame for the national
side. The reality was that matches achieved little and meant even less
to those taking part. Perhaps one of the most remarkable games - and
certainly the most unhelpful as far as the selectors were concerned -
came in May 1950 at Bradford's Park Avenue ground
Although Jim Laker - he of the 19 for 90 fame - is remembered as a
Surrey offspinner, he was in fact Yorkshire-born, and Bradford was the
home town where ten years earlier he had started work as a bank clerk.
Park Avenue was a daunting place to play. "It was called the bullring,"
he recalled. "Once you'd descended the three steps and gone onto the
field, you saw brick walls all around and a circle of intent Yorkshire
folk watching you."
On a damp pitch with the sun poking through the clouds, Norman Yardley,
England's captain, won the toss - and without hesitation asked The Rest
to bat. Trevor Bailey and Alec Bedser opened the attack in conditions
suited to their styles - there was also a biting wind sweeping across
the ground - and Bailey soon trapped David Sheppard leg-before for 4.
Don Kenyon and Hubert Doggart survived, but did little more as the score
crawled to 10 for 1 in 12 overs. The bowlers were very much on top and
it was, therefore, a surprise when Yardley replaced Bailey (6-4-3-1)
Laker, bowling slightly faster than usual on a spiteful surface
, struck twice in his first over - Doggart and Peter May both caught in the short-leg trap - and then removed Donald Carr in the same fashion in his next over. "I was able to drop the ball on a length from the very
first," he explained, "and I could see the ball turn and lift immediately."
Eric Bedser, Alec's brother and Laker's Surrey team-mate, came in at No.
6, and received a gentle leg-side full-toss - "I was obliged to honour
an agreement made earlier on the train," Laker admitted - and he played
it up to his brother who had retreated deeper at mid-on to allow the
The key wicket, that of the experienced Kenyon, who had been playing the turning ball superbly, fell to a brilliant catch from Godfrey Evans, the wicketkeeper. Kenyon had taken to playing back and, with soft hands,
dropping the ball dead at his feet. "Evans had been watching Kenyon's
method closely," smiled Laker. "With a superb piece of anticipation he
moved like lightning, and the batsman stared in disbelief as the ball
dropped cosily into that big red glove waiting by the batsman's feet."
Laker had 4 for 1, and that became 7 for 1 as he pinned Eric Bedser
leg-before for that one-off-the-mark single and bowled Dick Spooner
Bob Berry, both for 0.
That brought in Fred Trueman, 19 years old and in only his 14th
first-class match. He lunged at the first delivery from Laker and found
an inside edge. Laker and Bailey started towards the ball, hesitated,
and the batsmen scrambled a single.
Godfrey Evans dives to catch Don Kenyon
© The Sphere/WCM|
Trueman's stay was brief - he was superbly stumped down the leg side by
Evans off Alec Bedser in the next over - and Laker's figures could have
been wrecked had he not instinctively stuck out a hand to stop a fierce
drive from Les Jackson.
But Laker wrapped up the innings ten minutes before lunch when Jackson
again tried to blast the ball back past him, and he held an excellent
caught-and-bowled chance. The Rest were dismissed for 27
and Laker finished with the amazing figures of 14-12-2-8.
The Cricketer was less than impressed, commenting that it was a
"first-class county side in conflict with a scratch Saturday afternoon
XI". Bruce Harris observed in the Evening Standard that "the
ball, twisting and hopping all over the place, needed a fly-swatter
rather than a bat to control it".
The general consensus was that only the most experienced and talented of
batsmen would have coped with Laker on that day. It was notable that
when England batted one such player, Len Hutton, hammered 85 in two
hours, admittedly against a far less daunting attack. Others suggested
that the survive-at-all-costs approach employed were to blame. "I did
decide to have a swish," Carr told Alan Hill. "The trouble was the ball
went straight up in the air and I was caught."
Even Laker admitted that it was a fairly pointless exercise. "It was
destined to go down as one of the most remarkable matches ever recorded.
As a Test trial it was a complete waste of time. Eight of those selected
were mostly forgotten forever."
The match was over before lunch on the second day. England, thanks to
Hutton's efforts, made 229, and then bowled The Rest out for 113. Second
time around Laker only managed 2 for 44: this time the damage was done
by the legspin of Eric Hollies, the man who had brought the curtain down
on Don Bradman's Test career two seasons earlier.
The small crowd which had braved the elements watched Laker with a
mixture of emotions - pleasure at an England spinner at his best, regret
that Yorkshire had allowed such a talent through their fingers.
"There was nothing really special about it," Laker told a reporter a few
days later. "It was just one of those days."
Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.
Jim Laker: A Biography - Alan Hill (Andre Deutsche, 1998)
Wisden Cricket Monthly October 1983
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1951