For a period of nearly ten years, 1946-54, Alec Bedser stood virtually alone as the main spearhead of attack for England as well as for Surrey. During his career he took 1,924 wickets in first-class matches, including 236 in his 51 Tests. No other bowler in the world can claim as many Test victims. Wisden paid tribute to Alec Bedser in 1947 when he was one of the Five Cricketers of the Year and again in 1953. Now he himself looks back on his playing days.
Only those who have had to make the big decision to retire from first-class cricket can possibly know what a wrench it is. Since I bade farewell to Surrey as a player, many people have asked me if I could not have carried on a little longer as my brother has decided to do, but I really felt that I had stayed long enough.
The task of an opening bowler calls for much more exertion than that of any other type of cricketer. I have had a jolly good innings and the time has arrived for someone else to provide fodder for the batsman to enjoy himself, but I would like to say this: If I had my life over again, I would definitely choose cricket as a career.
It is something I always wanted to do and my judgment may be swayed a little by the fact that it can be said that I tasted success. I would take one precaution: I would learn a trade before going into the profession as a buffer against failure.
For my part, the risk -- and it was a risk at the time -- was worth it, but it may be the reason why fewer people are taking up cricket professionally these days. The rewards are not very great and, with advanced education and highest wages, there are safer and definitely more attractive prospects for the average youngster outside the game. No one knows whether or not he is going to reach the top. Naturally we all try, but I have seen many who have failed and their whole lives have been affected.
I got tremendous pleasure out of all the cricket I played, whether for county or country, but the games I enjoyed most were the Tests between England and Australia, for these provided the greatest thrill.
Meetings with Australia produce more tension than those with any other country. That, no doubt, is because Australia and England were the first international opponents.
I shall never forget the first Test I played in at Melbourne. The 80,000 crowd were making a terrific din as I walked back to bowl the first ball of the match. As I turned to commence my run-up you could have heard a pin drop, but immediately after the ball had been played there came another terrific roar. I found this most inspiring. Another thrill was on the same ground in 1951 when England beat Australia for the first time since the war.
Naturally I got a big kick out of my first Test appearance, against India in 1946 --especially as I took eleven wickets in the match. Other events which will always live in my memory were the winning of the Test with South Africa at Durban with the last ball of the match and, from my own personal point of view, the Test series in 1953, my benefit year. I had a great match at Nottingham and England finally won the Ashes at The Oval.
There have been suggestions from time to time that tours should be curtailed, especially in Australia. I think it was a big mistake not to go up-country on the last tour, for it is in the out of the way places that many cricketers are developed and where the keenest interest in the game is shown.
The modern tendency, probably for financial reasons, seems to be to shorten tours, but I feel that air-travel has made these trips more tiring. I found train journeys more relaxing between games.
I have either opposed or played with most of the great batsmen of the post-war era. When conditions were ideal for batting all were difficult to get out. The technique of each individual varied, due largely to the conditions in which he learned his cricket. Batsmen brought up in England were obviously more used to playing on wet turning pitches than those developed on the firmer pitches abroad.
With such great personalities as Bradman, Barnes, Morris, Harvey, Worrell, Weekes, Walcott, Donnelly, Compton, Hutton, May and so on, it is difficult to decide who should take pride of place but there is no doubt that Bradman was the greatest run-getter. His record remains unsurpassed and I cannot think I will live to see it broken.
In my career I was fortunate enough to dismiss Bradman twice for 0 in Test matches. At one time there were five consecutive dismissals under the name of Bedser -- the last Test at Sydney in 1947, and the four innings of the first two Test matches in 1948 in England.
Some people will remember that on three consecutive occasions Bradman was caught Hutton (at backward short leg), bowled Bedser. At the time it was written by many that at last there had been discovered a chink in Bradman's armour.
This was a very rash statement and for myself I would hardly like to repeat it as it must be remembered that Don Bradman was, by that time, almost in the twilight of his career. Whether or not this method of dismissal would have been effective in his younger days no one can say, but one thing is certain, it was not tried pre-war.
I am often asked what really happened and why was Don Bradman caught at short leg. Briefly, the ball -- an in-swinger -- was pitched on or just outside the off-stump, moving in late in its flight, which meant it was essential that it should be played and Don naturally played this with the swing in the direction of mid-on but, as the amount of swing in the last yard or two cannot be gauged, it happened that the ball found the inside edge of the bat, and, of course, went to short leg.
I felt that Bradman might have considered he should play at more deliveries of this nature than perhaps he might have done off a normal in-swing bowler, because the first dismissal at Adelaide was an in-swinger pitched on middle and leg. It more than straightened and hit the middle and off stumps.
Because Bradman was aware of my ability to make the ball straighten after pitching, I feel that he was forced probably to play at more in-swingers say pitching on middle and leg than perhaps he would have done had he been absolutely sure that the ball would carry on in its flight and pass the leg stump.
In spite of these upsets, Bradman got hundreds of runs and his greatest asset was that he was always able to keep the score-board moving by well-played singles, twos, and quick running between the wickets. Even at the end of his career he would run his first run as fast as possible -- a lesson which could be taken by many young players today.
Bradman's record on wet wickets was not good but I am sure if he had had to master these conditions he would have done so.
Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey were two fine left-handers, Arthur particularly in 1946-47 and 1948. Neil developed into a great natural attacking player, but like most left-handers both were susceptible if one could make the ball go back into them off the pitch.
The three W's, Worrell, Weekes and Walcott, were great players, especially in 1950. Weekes I thought the more murderous type of batsman and on good wickets very difficult to keep quiet.
Denis Compton and Len Hutton stood out amongst the English players after the war; both were especially good when the ball was turning. Between 1946 and 1950 Denis Compton was one of the most difficult players to contain, his method being unorthodox. He would always take a chance in endeavouring to hit the ball wide of fieldsmen wherever they might be.
Hutton was more orthodox and I felt not so difficult to keep quiet but harder to dismiss. Whereas Compton would always advance down the wicket even to fast bowlers when well set, Hutton would play from the crease. This restricted his attacking range especially against slow bowlers.
Peter May, a product of a later era, is also prepared to stay in his crease to play slow bowling. However, because of his great strength of wrist and forearm, he can force the ball where Hutton could not do so.
Peter May has a wonderful record, especially so when it is remembered he has played most of his cricket at a time when pitches, because of the instruction of M.C.C., were not as fast and true as pre-war. Among present-day English players, Peter May alone ranks among the greats of all time.
Turning to my experiences with Surrey, I can recall many fine finishes and exciting games. Beating Middlesex at Lord's in 1948 after a run of defeats was a satisfying moment, as also was the winning of the Championship from 1952 to 1958 without a break. The achievement in the first year was exciting enough, but to win the title for seven years in succession was phenomenal. It became quite a strain and it would take a book to describe how the tide of fortune waxed and waned during those seasons.
Surrey were then at their zenith. The pitches were prepared, in accordance with M.C.C.'s instructions, so that matches could be brought to a definite conclusion and we were able to turn them to full use. So many of our players matured at one and the same time -- and with a number of years of good cricket left in them the experience and ability enabled them to make full use of any help from the pitch.
The outlook has changed at The Oval now. For one thing M.C.C., in an endeavour to produce brighter batting, asked that pitches should be made more favourable to batsmen and to finish a match is not so easy a matter.
Additionally, as Surrey during the great run kept almost the same side in being, it was not possible for young players to be brought along. No one can be blamed for this, for there is no point in changing a winning side, but as an after-effect it has meant there are a number of gaps to be filled and this will take some time to accomplish. Cricketers do not develop overnight and Surrey cannot be expected to regain the Championship yet awhile.
Surrey's great run coincided with Stuart Surridge taking over the captaincy. I doubt if there ever has been a more enthusiastic cricketer and he got the whole team one hundred per cent behind him. Most of us had grown up with Stuart and we were all one happy family. We had great team spirit and Stuart did a lot to develop this.
The influence of Laurie Fishlock, Jack Parker and Bob Gregory was most evident in the play. These older Surrey players were great team men and insisted that all who played with them put the team first. At this period Surrey supplied four players for Test matches-- Peter May, who joined the side in 1953, Jim Laker, Tony Lock and myself. Peter Loader came later.
Laker and Lock proved a wonderful spin combination but when one thinks of the great Surrey era the County stalwarts -- those not lucky enough to gain Test limelight -- must not be forgotten.
Surrey were lucky to have some fine cricketers -- Arthur McIntyre for years second only to Godfrey Evans, although I am afraid his limited international appearances would not indicate this. His few Test appearances were things I could never understand. Mac was a great keeper and a fine influence as well as an attacking batsman.
Tom Clark, Bernard Constable, Dave Fletcher all played their part. Later, Micky Stewart and Ken Barrington, both with batting and fielding, filled the breach caused by the loss of Jack Parker and Laurie Fishlock. My brother Eric, too, did a great job as aid or substitute to Jim Laker's off-spinners as well as scoring valuable runs, especially on bad pitches.
During this period the Surrey batting was often criticised. This was unfair. It was adequate -- we scored more runs than the opposition and often lost cheap wickets in the chase for quick runs. Comparison with pre-war Surrey batting performances is ludicrous. The Oval pitch and outfield were far different. In the Surridge era runs were much harder to come by and everything was sacrificed for a win.
How many finishes to matches at The Oval were seen between 1919 to 1939? Runs and more runs on easy pitches and bone hard outfields was the order of the day. In such circumstances runs were obtained quickly and spectators satisfied.
During Surrey's great run of victories the attendances at The Oval hardly increased, matches were finished and, indeed, there were some very exciting games, but nevertheless attendances dropped, which leads me to wonder whether in fact the cricketing public do want finishes. I often think all the onlookers seek is a good day's cricket.
In the last two years The Oval pitch has been made less helpful to bowlers; consequently matches have again become harder to finish but more runs have been scored. The outfield, however, is still slow and run-getting can never reach the pre-war rate under such conditions.
I joined Surrey in 1938, and my experience of first-class cricket prior to the war was limited to two matches, against Oxford and Cambridge in 1939. I am, therefore, not really in a position to judge the relative standards of the game before and after the war.
My experience immediately after cricket was resumed when I played with men who were developed in the pre-war years, and especially the batsmen, leads me to consider that they possessed more spirit of adventure than their successors. Whether this has been due to stereotyped coaching methods or the greater emphasis and publicity given to results I don't know; but cricket on the whole has become slower and, though there may be some logical reasons, it has not improved the game.
Attractive batting and stroke-play have, in my opinion, declined and it is noticeable that there are now not many professional batsmen among the highest class. This may be because pitches over the last few years have been more helpful to bowlers and confident stroke-players cannot be developed on turf from which the ball does not come on true and fast. Practice pitches, too, are not as good as they were before the war.
I do not think bowlers are any better than they were, though they are given more assistance and are helped by the present lbw law, which I regard as satisfactory.
I find that youngsters today are keen on the game and take an interest in it, but generally they are not prepared to give sufficient time and energy to practising. It would seem that they expect fame to come too easily and, if it does not come early, they do not want to put in that extra effort so necessary to bring about success.
There are exceptions, of course, but I know from my own observation that young players as a whole do not spend the time at the nets or at organised practice that we did in my early days. Too many of the less mature players treat the game purely and simply as a wage-earning job, and when the clock shows a certain time they want to go home or somewhere else to pursue other interests, instead of dedicating themselves to cricket which is necessary if one is to succeed.
There is another angle to this. There are far more pulled muscles nowadays, and I wonder whether the younger players are fit enough. Muscles break down more easily if they are not strong, and I am certain that the hard work and grind, as some people call it, at the nets in one's youth does build up muscles able to stand the strain of long days in the field. Too much car-riding is a detrimental factor, especially for youngsters; strong limbs cannot be developed by sitting in a car.
The opportunity to join the staff of a country does not present the same difficulties now as was the case before the war. Counties like Northamptonshire, Worcestershire, Somerset and others who augment their finances with the proceeds of football competitions run by their Supporters' Associations, can now afford to attract players who could not perhaps get into such sides as Yorkshire and Surrey.
It was much harder in the old days. Take Surrey as an example. When I joined the staff there were nine seam-bowlers all trying to gain a first-team place; now there are four battling for two and sometimes three places. Think of the competition for batsmen when there were such men as Hobbs, Sandham, Barling, Ducat. Fishlock, Gregory and Squires established in the eleven, and there were a number of counties similarly well-endowed in that period.
To counter-balance this, when one takes into account the difference in the value of the £, Surrey players were definitely better off before the war. An average wage then was between £450 and £550 for first-team players. Now it is around £1,000. As the cost of living is probably four times as large, wages have not increased in proportion.
A few benefits are bigger, in figures, but players who have received something like £10,000 since the war can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Even this is only the equivalent of some £2,500 pre-war, and there were a good many of these in the 1930's. When one considers the rewards which fell to W.G. Grace and George Hirst in the 1900's, the modern benefit pales by comparison.
One other change is that the amateur has almost disappeared. I doubt if there are any players now taking part in first-class cricket who are amateurs in the old-fashioned and accepted sense. I am told that before the war the amateur approach did the game a lot of good, but it should always be remembered that it was very easy for the amateur to play in a carefree manner when he knew that his place in the side was not in jeopardy. That is not the case today, for the amateur, especially in an international side, must prove himself good enough. He can also gain financially by advertisements and other mediums, so it is important for him to succeed.
Many professionals would prefer an amateur as captain. I feel that this is because of a certain amount of tradition and because some professionals do no wish to exercise discipline over their colleagues. I cannot be persuaded to believe that an amateur at 22 can do the job of captaincy any better than a young professional. Admittedly the amateur may have enjoyed the advantage of skippering a side at school and so is able to gain a little experience, but if county clubs selected young professionals to captain their colts and club and ground teams, the art of leadership would be developed and they could graduate step by step to the county eleven.
When, as now, club cricketers are brought in to captain these junior sides, the young professional has no chance at all to show whether he is capable of doing the job, nor is his ability likely to mature under an indifferent leader. Discipline is necessary, of course, particularly where young players are concerned, but I feel sure that players would become used to being captained by their professional colleagues and grow up in that atmosphere.
In these days when first-class cricket is suffering from diminishing public support, all sorts of suggestions are being put forward to re-establish its popularity. Some people argue that there are too many first-class counties. My view is that, if the clubs can produce top-class sides, there are not too many first-class counties. If they cannot, it might be sensible for the smaller counties to amalgamate.
Because of the financial question, I cannot conceive two divisions with promotion and relegation. Already attendances are low enough with only one group, so who would go to watch a second division match?
As regards Tests, I think five-day matches are too long, except perhaps against Australia. Certainly the lesser countries such as Pakistan, New Zealand and India should not be given five-day Tests and, in fact, I feel that four days should be plenty for any match in England.
One way of improving the standard of cricket is already at the disposal of the authorities if only they would utilise the services of the retired professional whom I am afraid they tend to neglect. I was asked recently what action I would take in the event -- most unlikely -- of my being appointed Cricket Dictator of England. One of my first moves would be to appoint certain ex-professionals, selected and capable individuals, to tour the schools and develop the natural talents there. This would augment the group-coaching scheme which I believe has a tendency to mould every player in the same way.
Further, I would make good practice pitches throughout England and create a series of Leagues all over the country in order to bring competition into all grades of cricket. I would see that these tournaments were run in such a manner that the teams would be graded so that the best came out on top. All this would, of course, cost money.
|1946-47 ( Australia)
|1946-47 ( New Zealand)
|1948-49 ( South Africa)
|1950-51 ( Australia)
|1950-51 ( New Zealand)
|1954-55 ( Australia)
|1956-57 ( India)
|*and 1424.6 in Australia and South Africa