A man of style and spirit, 1965

Tom Graveney - a century of centuries

Neville Cardus

Thomas William Graveney who in the summer of 1964 made his hundredth hundred in first-class cricket, is one of the few batsmen today worth while our inspection if it is style and fluent strokes we are wishing to see, irrespective of the scoreboard's estimate of an innings by him.

His accumulated runs, up to the moment I write this article, amount to no fewer than 38,094, averaging a little above 45. Yet he has seldom been regarded as a permanent member of the England XI; he has been for more than a decade on trial. Nobody in his senses with half-a-notion of what constitutes a thoroughbred batsman would deny Graveney's class, his pedigree.

He came out of the Gloucestershire stable following the glamorous period of Hammond and Barnett, while the influence still pervaded the atmosphere of the County. Eleven years ago Wisden wrote of him in this eloquent way: "Undoubtedly no brighter star has appeared in the Gloucestershire cricket firmanent since the early days of Hammond himself; some who have played with both believe that with a comparable intensity, almost ruthlessness, Graveney in time could emulate Hammond's remarkable achievements. Hammond as he matured and compiled his seven hour double-century certainly developed in mental determination. We who had seen him in his younger years realised the price we were paying for his solid durable contributions to the cause of England in Test matches -- we knew that we wouldn't, except occasionally, see again the dauntless Hammond of his first raptures."

Since Hammond's glorious reign the character and economy have become tougher and tighter. Cricket everywhere, reflecting character and economy in the world at large, has tended to change from a sport and artistic spectacle to a competitive materialistic encounter, each contestant mainly setting his teeth not to lose.

Batsmen not fit to tie Graveney's bootlaces, considered from the point of view of handsome stroke-embedded play, have been encouraged to oust Graveney from Test matches stern and generally unbeautiful.

Style has become a corny word everywhere, so it is natural enough that we have lived to see and extol an honest artisan such as Boycott building his brick wall of an innings, what time Graveney must needs content himself scoring felicitous runs for his adopted county (incidentally going far towards winning the championship for Worcestershire).

Were I myself Tom Graveney I shouldn't deplore my fate; I'd much rather remain a cricketer on the side of those who add to the aesthetic values and delight those lovers of the game who find it difficult to count and work out percentages and hours of labour at the crease endured by the unblessed toilers under the sun whose presence at the wicket might not be closely observed if the scoreboard didn't dutifully and mechanically draw our attention to them.

It is true -- and not to be questioned -- that in Test matches against Australia Graveney has seldom done his talents justice. In some 24 innings v. Australia he has failed to reach 20 twelve times and only six times gone beyond 40, with a single century put calmly together at Sydney, during the Hutton tour of 1954-55, when the rubber had already been decided in England's favour.

At Lord's, in 1953, he played a royal innings with Hutton, in the face of Australia's first-innings total of 346. He was not out 78, and Hutton still in possession, when stumps were drawn on the second day with England 177 for one. Next morning in bounteous sunshine Lindwall clean bowled Graveney before another run had accrued. "Ah," said the wise heads of short memories, "he's no temperament this Graveney", forgetting at once that only a few hours since they had seen from Graveney batsmanship of the highest blood.

As a fact Graveney was bowled on that morning of promise at Lord's by one of the finest balls bowled by Lindwall in his lifetime -- a fast swinging yorker. "I never bowled a better one," he vowed.

We should in fairness judge a man at his best. No batsman not truly accomplished is able to play a characteristic Graveney innings. Today he has no equal as a complete and stylish strokeplayer. Dexter can outshine him in rhetoric, so to say; Marshall in virtuosity of execution. But neither Dexter nor Marshall is Graveney's superior in point of effortless balance.

When he is in form Graveney makes batsmanship look the easiest and most natural thing in the world. I have no rational explanation to account for his in-and-out form in Test matches -- which, by the way, has not persistently been too bad. Against the West Indies in England in 1957, he scored 258 at Nottingham and 164 at Trent Bridge. No Test match temperament? Once on a time it was said of Hendren and W.J. Edrich that they hadn't any.

I decline to keep out of the highest class a fine batsman simply on the evidence of his half-success in Test matches. Indeed I'm not too sure nowadays that success in Test cricket most times is not an indication of dreary efficiency. It is a modern notion that anybody's talents need be measured by utility value in the top places of publicity.

Some of the rarest artist-batsmen the game has ever nurtured have figured unobtrusively in Test matches; some of them have not appeared in Test matches at all. None the less they have adorned cricket, contributed to its memorable art, added to its summer-time appeal and delights.

Amongst these cricketers of style and pleasure can be counted L.C.H. Palairet, H.K. Foster, A.P. Day, Alan Marshal, Andy Ducat, Laurie Fishlock, George Emmett (superb stroke-playing colleague for a time of Graveney), the Hon. C.N. Bruce (as he was named), Jack Robertson -- I could extend the list beginning from the days of W.G. Grace and continuing to Graveney himself and his Worcestershire captain, Donald Kenyon.

Consider cricket as a game of skill handsomely exhibited and who in the name of truth and common sense will argue that so and so's century in five hours in a Test match necessarily ranks him above, as a cricketer, Tom Graveney. Endurance and concentration, admirable factors in human nature in their proper place, don't inevitably add to the graces and allurements of any game, not even to its highly specialised technique.

If some destructive process were to eliminate all that we know about cricket, only Graveney surviving, we could reconstruct from him, from his way of batting and from the man himself, every outline of the game, every essential character and flavour which have contributed to cricket, the form of it and its soul, and its power to inspire a wide and sometimes great literature. Of how many living Test match cricketers could you say as much as this? Could you imagine Bloggs of Blankshire reminding you of the soul of cricket as he plods his computing way to a century in six hours and a half?

Graveney is one of the few batsmen today ornamenting the game, who not out at lunch, pack a ground in the afternoon. Bloggs of Blankshire sometimes empties it or keeps people away -- the truth of his performances may copiously be found out from the subsequent published statistics.

An innings of Graveney remains in the memory. Simply by closing our eyes we can still see, in deep winter as we browse by the fire in the twilight, a stroke by Graveney; we can see and delight in, retrospectively, the free uplift of his bat, the straight lissome poise and the rhythm of his swinging drives.

In form he hasn't need to labour; he knows the secret of artistic independence of effort. He can cut late from flexible wrists -- whenever the miser of a bowler isn't pegging away on the leg stump. A fair-weather cricketer? Is it possible that any batsman not strong in mental and technical fibre could play most of his 955 innings in England, scoring more than 38,000 runs, averaging 45? No cricketer not fairly complete in character and skill could hope to score a hundred hundreds in first-class cricket.

Moreover, Graveney has often enough proved that he is capable of facing stiff problems presented by the turning ball on a nasty wicket. Not really a Test cricketer? -- still the parrot question about him persists. Yet in Test matches Graveney has scored 3,107 runs, average 41.98.

This sop I toss to the statisticians. In a world of ideal cricket, a world in which the game could freely show its class, allurement and fine subtle technique unburdened by parsimonious competitive considerations, Graveney would be a first-choice in any England XI.

Really, there should for the purposes of all representative games be a certain style insisted on. Here I am an unrepentant snob; I want to see breeding in an England XI. I'd rather lose a rubber than win it by playing against the game's spirit and pride, its traditions of style and summer-time spectacle, charm and glorious change and variety.

Critics who think of Test matches as though they were of dire consequence to the nation politically, economically and what have you, have maintained that Graveney has on occasion let England down. But nobody has claimed that Tom Graveney has ever let cricket down. In form or out of form he has rendered tribute to the graces of cricket.

© John Wisden & Co