The Ashes According to Bumble
The Ashes According to Bumble
1 Plans to Scon the Don
2 In the Line of Duty
3 The High Fliers
4 Preparing for Battle
5 Dogs of Waugh
7 Black and White and Read all Over
8 Skinfolds at the Ready
9 My All-Time Ashes XI
RICHARD GIBSON, who worked with David Lloyd on the writing of this book, is a freelance sports writer who has covered international cricket home and abroad since the late 1990s. Trekking around the globe means he sees a heck of a lot of Bumble, and they naturally formed a special bond given that they hail from two of the United Kingdom’s modern utopias – Accrington and Hull.
In addition to the Sunday Times bestseller Start the Car: The World According to Bumble, his other collaborations include the autobiographies of Graeme Swann and James Anderson, while he is a regular contributor on cricket in the Sunday Mirror, Guardian and Daily Mail newspapers.
Richard Gibson – if you don’t like the book, it’s his fault. I get enough hassle in the day job and from irate Indian supporters.
Gareth Copley – the lad needed a leg up, being from Huddersfield.
One of the first things you notice as an England cricketer on an Ashes tour is the aggression shown towards you by the locals, even when they’re trying to be nice.
‘G’day,’ they say, lips pursing into a smile, before rolling the rest of the sentence off the tongue like a lizard toying with a defenceless ant: ‘Ya pommie bastard.’
Such uncouth language. Surely, everybody with a bit of culture about them knows that on first meetings it is the done thing to be as formal as possible. No shortening of words, and certainly no use of slang. ‘Good morning, how do you do?’ Now that would be a far better address to a visitor to one’s country. It’s what our good queen would approve of, and let’s not forget that for all our historical sporting differences we are united by one thing at least. We have remained kind enough to share her good ladyship with that other rabble.
And anyway, if this pseudo-hostility from our Australian hosts was designed to intimidate they clearly chose the wrong bloke. Regular greetings like that were unlikely to break me psychologically; after all I’d suffered a lot worse during my upbringing in Accrington. Let’s face it, when your mum dresses you in pink frocks, insists on growing your hair long and calling you Gwyneth, as mine did, who cares what you get called outside your front door? Mum had wanted a girl, you see, and for a time she was not prepared to let the fact I wasn’t one get in the way of her dream.
You see, it’s easy to lose your sense of perspective when it comes to the phoney war that develops before every England v Australia series. But while Dennis and Jeff could bruise my bones, names would never hurt me.
As it happened Dennis and Jeff did such a good job of hurting me, and limiting my runs to boot, that my Ashes playing experience was confined to just one series, the 1974–75 whopping down under. So to justify writing an entire book about it, you will notice in subsequent chapters that I have by-passed some of the most enthralling episodes of its great heritage to talk about my own involvement. You will recall me top-scoring in an England win on New Year’s Day that winter; battling valiantly for six hours on the trampoline at Perth. You what? You’ve no recollection of your hero’s bravery in the face of much provocation from those uncouth wombat worriers? Well, let me tell you in the most exaggerated terms possible exactly how I quelled the charge of these savages – softening them up sufficiently for others like Sir Ian Botham to ride in and finish them off in future battles.
I should also probably mention here that some of the names in this recollection of Ashes history have been changed – not, as in some books, to protect true identities but because, after 50 years in the professional game, my recall can be a little hazy. What I can promise, however, is that after half-a-century my enthusiasm has not diminished and I remain as excited as a kid at Christmas when it comes to England v Australia clashes.
There is something so magical about tussling with the old enemy – the great rivalry between Celtic and Rangers, or indeed football internationals between England and Germany, the most comparable things I can think of among other sports – and I have been party to some real ding-dongs in my post-playing career, both as England coach and as a commentator with the BBC’s Test Match Special and Sky Sports.
A series between England and Australia is like no other in cricket and resonates as much now as it did at the turn of the 20th century when news of the exploits of the likes of WG Grace, Ranjitsinhji and Sydney Barnes would be devoured by readers of newspapers like the Manchester Guardian. When you think of years gone by, the ones of 1948, 1956, 1981 and 2005 stand out. Those were years when this country was host to great Ashes series.
In this age of 24–7 media coverage our heroes are so much more familiar than those of the past, and reporting and analysis so much faster, that you can actually feel as though you are a part of what is taking place. You can follow the scores or even watch the action on the move; read about the latest session’s play on your iPad or download a podcast to your iPhone. Don’t worry, I’m getting there with technology too, and recently invested in an iRon for my good lady wife. Pleased to report it keeps her occupied when I get home to watch the highlights.
There is something so appealing about a duel with the Australians that it is hard to keep your eyes off it, or to restrain yourself from watching re-runs again and again. Generation upon generation of English cricketers would forego any of their other achievements in the game to be a part of a successful team, to be an Ashes winner. Me amongst them.
Our relationship with the Australians in general is interesting. They say that love and hate are pretty close together, don’t they? And we sort of love them, and sort of hate them at the same time, don’t we?
Australians tell us how much they adore being Australian, and of a devotion to their beautiful country; glad that they haven’t had to grow up around whingeing Poms, who don’t wash and drink warm beer. The lack of gratitude as they badmouth us always gets me here. Have they forgotten? It was us kind lot that sent them there in the first place.
The rivalry between the nations has always been best expressed through cricket, I believe, and on the field there is without doubt a begrudging admiration on both sides for the other. Yes, we’ve heard all the jokes before:
What do you call an Englishman with a hundred to his name? A bowler.
What would Glenn McGrath be called if he was English? An all-rounder.
What’s the definition of optimism? An England batsman who applies sunscreen.
Of course, we give plenty back too, and I think most Australians understand that when the Barmy Army remind them of their ancestry – how Great Uncle Jack arrived kitted out in clads – it is done so in good spirit. Furthermore, despite their mercilessly cruel song about Mitchell Johnson – altogether now ‘He bowls to the left, He bowls to the right, That Mitchell Johnson, His bowling is you-know-what’ – a good percentage of the throng will have admired his match-winning performance at Perth during the 2010–11 series. Because secretly we like them, and secretly they like us. It just doesn’t pay to admit it too often.
In a work capacity I have spent a hell of a lot of time in the Sky Sports commentary box with Botham, and there is no greater verbal jouster than he when it comes to the Aussies. He is digging at them all the time – and that’s just his friends. He cannot help but get stuck into them. I think he earnestly believes it is the primary duty he was put on this earth for. No wonder he used to treat them with such disdain as a player.
For Sir Beefykins – or His Royal Beefyness or Sir Osis (of the liver) to give him his other nicknames – getting stuck into the Aussies is the be all and end all. Some of his very best friends are Australians and he just damn right insults them the whole time he is in their company. His words are pretty choice towards them even when he is not. You should see some of the foul-fingered texts he sends to them. It’s like his phone’s got Tourette’s. To give them their due, his pals don’t hold back either. If you read some of these insults being batted this way and that you would think there was nothing but pure hatred between them. Yet dig beneath the expletives and you find there are keen friendships formed in his playing days that have stood the test of time. He is even in business with one of them, the winemaker Geoff Merrill, exporting bottles of Botham Merrill Willis Shiraz around the globe.
During the modern era of Ashes skirmishes, around the time I was England coach, there was some mischief hanging around regarding the value of the series in Cricket Australia’s international scheduling. During two decades of Australian dominance, it was occasionally suggested that five matches against England was too many, that Ashes campaigns should be downgraded to three matches and that Australia would be better off playing four and five match series against other leading nations.
Not sure that would go down well with the public on either side these days, particularly given that the boot has been shifted firmly to the other foot. Prior to this double Ashes year of 2013, there is no doubt that England have been the dominant force over recent meetings between the countries, and Australia are now the ones trying to rebuild under a new chairman of selectors in John Inverarity and a new captain in Michael Clarke. They will have felt under pressure to get that little urn back, and the focus of their player management over the past few months will undoubtedly have been to get their best possible XI on the park for Trent Bridge in July.
It is a rather historic time for cricket’s greatest competition, with 10 back-to-back Tests over six months split between home and away. These two series on the horizon could prove to be defining moments in the careers of many of the players involved. The challenge for England is to show that they are among the best if not the best Ashes team in history, that they can now be favourably compared to Australia from the late 1980s and 1990s.
Okay, this England team was defeated by South Africa, and relinquished their world number one status as a result, but this is the series that matters most to the fans, the one they demand is won. In the English cricket psyche it is okay to lose to almost anyone but not Australia. That’s tradition for you. No matter where the two teams stand within world cricket’s rankings, this is the big one, the one that means the most, and the passing of time has not diluted that.
For these England players, to win three Ashes series in a row would be something special – two generations of cricketers before them failed to win one, so imagine a treble on your CV. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, an England side last won four series in a row in the 1880s.
What a challenge sits on the horizon. These players can go down in history as the most successful we’ve ever produced in Ashes terms. And as things stood, they entered the 2013 summer in good fettle. Sure, New Zealand provided an unexpected jolt or two and came close to winning the series, but overall the winter was positive. England had previously struggled in India, but having conquered the subcontinent at long last under Alastair Cook’s leadership, I feel they are on the verge of something very special.
People talk about the demise of Test cricket around the world but you only need to see what is happening around this country’s Test grounds in the summer of 2013, and how the Australian public will reciprocate that enthusiasm by turning out in their thousands over the winter, to show the appetite for the traditional form of the game is as healthy as it has ever been between the two most traditional foes. Recession or no recession, there will be a mass exodus from these shores to Australia in the 2013–14 winter, too.
We can only hope that this most ferociously contested cricket is played in the kind of spirit shown in the recent past. One Ashes moment that people will never forget is when Freddie Flintoff consoled Brett Lee, who was down on his haunches on the edge of the pitch in the immediate aftermath of the agonising 2005 defeat at Edgbaston. Fred obviously just felt it was the natural thing to do. Two great blokes, two great competitors, going at it hammer and tongs; it summed up the essence of England v Australia matches in a snapshot. You can call each other whatever you want, and within the spirit of the game do or say pretty much anything you like to your opponent between the hours of 11am and six o’clock in the evening, but this is a series that promotes unbelievable friendships and ultimate respect.
Can there be anything in sport so small that creates such a big fuss? After all, when you break it all down, us English and those Australians have spent one and a quarter centuries skirmishing over a six-inch terracotta urn. If it’s in your possession – metaphorically speaking, of course, because it never leaves its safehouse at Lord’s – then everything is fine and dandy in the world. But if the opposition have their mucky paws on it, then start drawing up the battle plans because we want it back.
It is the primary rivalry in cricket and dates back to 1882, when England’s sorry chase of 85 to beat Australia at the Oval fell short, leaving star man WG Grace embarrassed and The Sporting Times bemoaning the death of English cricket in a mock obituary.
‘In Affectionate Remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29 August 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances – R.I.P. – N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia,’ wrote Reginald Shirley Brooks. I am unsure he can have imagined what his words would lead to.
Players from both countries have made their names on the back of performances in this greatest of series, and some of the attitudes of the greatest names have recurred in subsequent generations. Grace was quite a character of course, and one who used to inform opposition bowlers: ‘They’ve come to watch me bat, not you bowl.’ Sounds familiar, does that. I am sure there is some bespectacled bloke who played for Yorkshire for donkey’s years who used to say exactly the same, who now believes folk turn on the radio rather than TV for similar reasons. I actually got him out a couple of times but the name escapes me.
Grace was a beauty. You had to uproot his stumps to get rid of him apparently, as a nick of the bails would simply result in him setting the timber up again and carrying on as if nothing had happened. No wonder he scored more than 50,000 first-class runs in his career. Sounds like it was three strikes and you’re out in his rulebook. ‘I’ll have another go, if you don’t mind. Oh, you do mind? Well, I’ll be having another go, anyway.’
Then there was the godfather of bowlers Sydney Barnes, who, plucked from the Lancashire League, used to scowl and complain if asked to bowl from the ‘wrong’ end. He had a frightful temper, it was said, and aimed it at his own team-mates as much as he did at opponents. ‘There’s only one captain of a side when I’m bowling,’ he brashly once declared. ‘Me!’
Technically, England were the first winners of the Ashes 130 years ago under the captaincy of the Hon. Ivo Bligh, who announced his intention to put Skippy on the hop upon arrival in Australia. ‘We have come to beard the kangaroo in his den – and try to recover those Ashes,’ he is said to have told an audience at an early dinner on the tour. He did just that, returning to Blighty with a commemorative urn full of ashes of some sort, which was then bequeathed to the Marylebone Cricket Club upon his death in 1927.
Bligh’s victory began a period of dominance of eight England wins on the trot, a record sequence that the Australian teams that straddled the Millennium managed to equal but not surpass. Eight series victories in a row sounds as if it would dilute the intensity, but not a bit of it because in this duel you simply cannot get bored of coming out on top.
If there is one thing I really love about England v Australia clashes it is the win-at-all-costs mentality that prevails. I’ll declare my hand here. I hate losing, always have done, always will do. Bunkum to the stiff-upper-lip brigade who believe it is all about the way the cricket is played rather than the result. For my mind, as long as you do not transgress into the territory of disrepute, as long as you behave as you would if your parents were stood at mid-on and mid-off, and as long as you are acting within the laws of the game it’s all a fair do to me. In short, play as hard as possible.
Of course, there have been times when this ship’s sailed a bit close to the wind, but the history of the Ashes is richer for its great conflicts. Growing up as a cricket fan, there were some legendary tales to take in. As series that outdate me go there are none more memorable than that of 1932–33. So memorable in fact that it took on a name of its own: Bodyline.
During its course, the Australian captain Bill Woodfull exclaimed: ‘There are two teams out there on the oval. One is playing cricket, the other is not.’
Now that Douglas Jardine, the man in charge of the team alleged to be not playing cricket, sounds like an intriguing character. One who went around treating everyone else with utter disdain. Seems he didn’t like the Australians much, and didn’t have a great deal of time for his own lot either if they were ‘players’ rather than ‘gentlemen’. England captain he may have been, but he was from the age of teams being split between the upper classes and those ditching hard labour for graft on a sporting field. But as an amateur, he had little time for those who sought to make cricket their profession.
His task was fairly simple: to stop Don Bradman’s free-flowing bat in its tracks. His mind was devoted to curbing Bradman’s almost god-given skill, and he was chastised for coming up with a solution that served his England team’s purpose. One of the phrases I like in cricket is ‘find a way’. It is after all a game of tactics and, in Jardine, an Indian-born public schoolboy, England had a master tactician who found a way to win.
I guess he was the first in a long list of uncompromising captains in what is undoubtedly the greatest rivalry in cricket. From both English and Australian perspectives it is the series that matters. The number one. Possibly the only one to some.
There is no point downplaying its appeal because here is a series that draws the biggest crowds, the largest television audiences and generates the most chat down the local. Others are simply incomparable. In political terms our historical arch enemy has been Germany. The sporting equivalent is Australia.
Sounds to me like Jardine treated the Ashes as a war. Or perhaps more accurately, he tried to turn it into one. In his mind, all Australians were ‘uneducated’ and together they made ‘an unruly mob’. He lived up to this air of superiority by wearing a Harlequins cap to bat in. I guess that was the 1930s equivalent to go-faster stripes on your boots, peacock hair, diamond earrings and half-sleeve tattoos. I am not sure Jardine needed a look-at-me fashion statement, though, to draw attention to himself.
There was something more significant in Jardine’s behaviour that put him ahead of his era, though, and that was his use of previous footage to prepare for that 1932–33 tour. He watched film of Bradman caressing the ball along the carpet to the boundary during the Australians’ 1930 tour to England, and most probably grimaced. Bradman piled up 974 runs in Australia’s 2–1 victory that summer. But, having reviewed the action, Jardine is said to have noticed something from the final Test at the Oval. Although he took evasive action, Bradman apparently looked uncomfortable at short-pitched stuff sent down by that most renowned of fast bowlers Harold Larwood. He did well to spot it amongst the flurry of fours, I guess – Bradman scored a double hundred – but he was prepared to test the theory that Bradman did not like it up him.
The planning stage took in a meeting in Piccadilly with Larwood and others in August 1932, and continued in September when the England team set off on their month-long voyage down under. You can just imagine Jardine on the deck of the ship, rubbing his hands together, scheming like a James Bond villain. The evil henchmen that would make Bodyline famous were the Nottinghamshire pair Bill Voce and Larwood, a barrel-chested left-armer and a lithe, fairly short paceman whose cricket career rescued him from the daily grind of the pit. It was said that Larwood’s work as a miner gave him the extra strength to generate extreme pace. Just as now, pace has always been the ingredient that worries top batsmen most, and the one that made the Bodyline tactic successful.
The Ashes has had a habit of bringing out the dark arts and series like that have taken on almost mythical status. It seems like another world when you read about Mr Jardine but you can’t help chuckle at his behaviour. It’s like one of those 1930s talkies at the local cinema. This bloke turns up from down pit and is met by the villainous boss. ‘Now this is what I want you to do for me, Larwood. Are you clear?’
‘Certainly, sir, no problem. I’ll knock their heads off, if that’s what you want?’
These days a short one into the ribs is a shock weapon for a fast bowler but in Jardine’s tactical notebook it was a stock delivery. They say that the potency of Bodyline was evident even in the final warm-up matches of the tour when Bradman began to lose his wicket in unusual ways. In attempting to duck one bouncer, he left the periscope up and was caught at mid-on. Another piece of evasive action had resulted in him being bowled middle-stump. Suddenly, Bradman’s batting was no longer Bradman-esque.
Uncertainty does strange things to players and the photograph of Bradman’s first ball of the series – he had missed the first Test defeat citing ill health – shows it can even infiltrate the very best. The great man is well outside off-stump as he bottom-edges a Voce long-hop to dislodge the bails and complete the very first and very last golden duck of his international career.
Australia actually levelled the series in that second match at Melbourne. But it was in the next Test at Adelaide, upon the liveliest of pitches, where it all kicked off. Big style. It was from the dressing room at the Adelaide Oval, where he was laid out recovering from a blow to his solar plexus administered by Larwood, that Woodfull’s famous assertion that England had fallen short of the necessary spirit of the game made its way into the world.
To suggest the crowd were unhappy with the bombardment sent down to a leg-side trap would be like saying Marmite polarises opinion. In an age when the crowd reaction tended to be rounds of applause and hip hip hoorays, imagine how collective chants of ‘get off you bar steward’ or words to that effect would have sounded. From some pockets of the stands came the 10 count, as used in boxing, to suggest that the bouncer assault should be stopped.
Good old Jardine thrived on the confrontation, and could not give a hoot that the locals were sufficiently roused to tear down their own ground. An England captain in Australia has to have a thick skin. Luckily, Jardine’s exterior was the human equivalent of a rhino’s hide. Even his own tour manager, Pelham Warner, was uneasy about the conduct of the tourists in setting leg-side fields and aiming for the line of the body. It boiled over, of course, when Aussie wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield was felled by a top edge into his own skull, shaping to hook a Larwood bouncer. With blood on the pitch, no wonder Larwood and Co feared being lynched by the mob.
The best players through history adapt, yet when Bradman did in this particular series, eschewing conventional technique for shuffling this way or that as the bowler hit his delivery stride, he copped criticism. There were even calls for him to be dropped. This bloke, a flippin’ genius whose career Test average of 99.94 put him as close to cricket immortality as anyone has got, finished the series as Australia’s leading run-scorer. But there were still those questioning him, and whether he had the stomach for the fight against the fast stuff. The triumph of Larwood, who claimed 33 series wickets, over the boy from Bowral was key to England’s 4–1 win.
I would suggest that Anglo-Antipodean relations were at an all-time low that winter, and the Australian board’s wire back to the MCC claiming that the bodyline bowling had challenged the best interests of the game only added gasoline to the barbie. There is nothing like the use of the term ‘unsportsmanlike’ to ignite things. Unless the practice was stopped at once, it warned, the friendliness between the two countries was under threat. The MCC response was to insist no infringement of the laws, or indeed the spirit, of the game had taken place and that if the Australian board wished to propose a new law that was a different matter.
The MCC even volunteered culling the remainder of England’s tour. But that would only have halted the best theatre Australia had to offer. Of course, when there is some niggle, when the cricket is at its most hostile or spectacular, out they come. Think of the crowds shoehorned in during 2005 and the incredible television viewing figures that went with that, or even those of the following series in Australia when Ricky Ponting’s team sought and exacted their ultimate revenge. When the entertainment is box office, up go the attendances.
Some players like to stoke themselves up by engaging in chat with opponents, not necessarily with ball in hand but with bat, and Jardine was one for seeking out pleasantries with the crowd as well as members of the fielding side. He used to bait the masses on the famous hill at Sydney by calling for the 12th man to bring him a glass of water. It was all part of the pantomime, of course.
I reckon it would have made his trip had there been WANTED posters slapped on billboards all over Australia that year. But he didn’t have to leave the pavilion of their premier cricket grounds to discover he went down about as well as gherkin and ice cream sandwiches to your average Aussie. Legend has it that after taking exception to one on-field exchange, Jardine marched into the home dressing room to remonstrate with the opposition. He claimed he had heard one of them call him a ‘pommie bastard’ under their breath. He was met at the door by Vic Richardson, Australia’s vice-captain, who is said to have addressed the rest of the room with: ‘Alright, which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?’ Just about the right tone, that. What goes on, on the pitch, stays on the pitch – unless the stump microphones are turned on, of course.
Bradman was the major draw card for a couple of decades of Ashes conflict, and what an anomaly he was in the history of our great game. Name any team you want, any decade you want and there is no-one to come close to what he did on the world stage. At 20 years of age he became the youngest player to score an Ashes hundred, and from that point forth he made records tumble like dominoes down a hill.
At Headingley in 1930, he scored 309 runs in a day. That must have felt like one man against 11 for that particular England team. When he took over the captaincy for the 1936–37 series, he became the first man in history to lead a team to victory having been two Tests down. With this Clark Kent-esque figure around there was not much room for others to breathe.
Len Hutton registered the highest individual Ashes score of 364 at the Oval in 1938, in England’s whopping innings-and-579-runs victory, but still Bradman’s Australia held the urn. The great Wally Hammond went on into his 40s in his bid to finally overthrow him. As Jack Hobbs said: ‘The Don was too good: he spoilt the game.’
In his final series, Bradman fronted the 1948 ‘Invincibles’ – what a team they were. Not only did they win the Ashes 4–0 that summer, they also went 34 matches undefeated on the tour, led by fearsome fast bowlers like Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. In the 1950–51 series that followed, attendance figures were down by more than 25% on the previous one down under. Although my old mate Warnie sports the nickname ‘Hollywood’ it is fair to say that Bradman was exactly that. As soon as Australia’s A-list performer hung up his boots, folk appeared less keen to turn out. And what a way to go – bowled by a googly from Eric Hollies second ball in his final Test innings when only requiring four runs to finish with an average in three figures. No matter how you dress it up those numbers are absolutely mind-boggling.
The Thorn between Two Roses
It was right at the start of my Lancashire career that I witnessed Brian Statham and Fred Trueman on opposite sides doing battle. But what a partnership they formed when thrust together, though. Statham was like a greyhound: smooth, graceful, lean and hungry. At the other end was this big Yorkshireman who possessed a classical action, an extrovert character, an admirable competitive streak and that commonly-recurring fast-bowling feature: a huge backside.
Brian was my first captain at Old Trafford, although it was partly his injury that led to my first XI debut at home to Middlesex in 1965. It would be a fair summary to suggest that he was a cricketer who got himself bowling fit by doing exactly that – bowling. There was no pre-season fitness regime to adhere to. No hill runs or swim sessions down the local baths. It was just a case of rocking up ready to play.
If Brian came back from an England winter tour, the first we tended to see of him was on the eve of the first match of the season, and when I say eve I mean eve. If we opened up on a Saturday, he would stroll into Old Trafford on the Friday, reacquaint himself with us all, chew the fat in the dressing room for an hour or so before pinning the team for the following day up on the board.
But like the rest of us he was a product of the age. There was no expectation of scoring 12 in a bleep test back then. A test of one’s fitness was whether you had the stamina to be able to send down 25 overs in a day. He would take off his sweater in late April and answer that with unerring displays of high quality seam bowling. Brian was a very special bowler, who mastered a consistent line and length, and controlled the movement of the ball like it was on a string.
These days the late, great Brian has an end named after him at Old Trafford. It was fitting tribute to his efforts on behalf of the club and his impact as a Test bowler with England.
It was all a show with Fred. He played up to his own caricature with real skill. So much so that the fable of how good he was began years before he packed up. The trick for him was to make you think he was even better than he was, and his record meant he was intimidating enough before he opened his mouth.
One classic story comes from the 1952 Test series between England and India when one of the Indian batsmen was being rather meticulous over the positioning of the sightscreen. The umpire, getting a little agitated by the delay, inquired: ‘Where do you want it?’
‘Between me and Mr Trueman,’ came the clever reply.
My first memories of Ashes cricket were not from watching but from listening on the wireless to the efforts of Jim Laker in 1956. Of course, we all know of that famous match when he took 19 wickets, and subsequently I have studied the fields that were set. It was quite an extraordinary way that Australia played, and you are talking about uncovered pitches in those days, obviously.
Without doubt England exploited the dampness superbly, yet it is extraordinary that one chap in any era could get 19 wickets. Tony Lock, the left-arm spinner, would have been apoplectic that he ended up with just one in those conditions. They were a fine spin double act Laker and Lock even if they weren’t necessarily bosom buddies away from cricket.
To see how Laker tried to get his wickets was quite an eye-opener. Alan Oakman was stood like a predator at leg slip, a position which has really gone out of the modern game, and the spin that Laker got combined with the accuracy made it a really attacking position from which to snare batsmen.
I came to know Jim because he was a commentator on the BBC’s television coverage of the Sunday League alongside Peter Walker. Frank Bough was also around at that time, and they were a nice little commentary team. Jim also happened to be a really good friend of Jack Simmons. They were both off-spinners of course and Jack was one of the most gregarious fellows you could meet. The pair of them used to talk about the art of off-spin and other things for hours.
But it was actually Ray Illingworth, of the players I played with and against, that reminded me of most of Jim in that when he bowled he stood nice and tall in delivery. Accuracy was your main ally in the days of uncovered wickets because if you kept things tight the natural variation in a pitch would sometimes reward you by allowing the ball to spit this way or that.
I never tire of watching the cine reel of that 1956 performance at Old Trafford. It looks pretty clear to me that the Australians had no real idea of how to play that type of gripping off-spin where the ball does something off the pitch, off a decent length.
Fielders were stood all around, circling for their chance of an inside edge or a false defensive shot. One of the things that makes me chuckle from watching that back, though, is that a wicket did not encourage French kisses or gropes of each other’s backsides; it was just a simple pat on the back or a nod of approval with your head. Sometimes if players got really carried away they might give each other a handshake.
But there was certainly no going down on your hands and knees kissing the turf, beating the badge on your chest or tonguing short-leg’s helmet. There were no advertising logos to point towards the cameras either. The only name on any of your clothing might have been the nametag sewn into your shirt by your wife or mother. The most extravagant Laker seemed to get was to smile, and hitch up his pants in that 1950s fashion, as if to say he was ready for business.
It was really peculiar to England that the regulations meant you would play on uncovered pitches. Teams would come over and find it extremely difficult whereas an English player would develop a technique on these uncovered surfaces. Through the middle of the 20th century there was a fashion for fast-medium bowlers who were deadly accurate and hit the seam. Now, as a batsman that meant you had to play at most deliveries and if you weren’t used to it jagging this way and that you were in danger of being dismissed.
But it all came about from England losing the first Test at Lord’s, a match that the Australian fast bowler Keith Miller dominated. England’s response was telling. Out went their own attack spearhead Frank Tyson, as attention turned to spin. With Lock and Laker together it was an obvious tactic. Some of the Australian party believed it was a tactic that was tantamount to cheating. But I don’t see how preparing pitches to suit your own purpose can be called that. With the bilateral nature of Test cricket it seems eminently sensible to make use of any home advantage going.
We have reflected on Bradman’s freakish numbers but two Laker statistics from ’56 will stand the test of time, I am sure. To claim 19 wickets in one game, and 46 in an Ashes series is astonishing. It is fair to say that numerically at least Laker contributed more than any other Englishman to victory over Australia. Yet, in losing down under two-and-a-half years later, the urn was relinquished once more and stayed in the land of the didgeridoo for the entire 1960s.
It might have been different, according to good old Fiery Fred. I’ll let two classic pieces of sledgehammer wit tell the story. England led the 1962–63 series, you see, courtesy of Trueman’s eight wickets at the MCG. But two crucial slip catches went down. The first, by the Rev David Shepherd, was greeted by Trueman exclaiming: ‘Kid yourself it’s a Sunday, Rev, and put your hands together.’ The next, by Colin Cowdrey, came with an apology to the bowler: ‘Sorry, Fred, I should have kept my legs together.’ To which, the great man replied: ‘No, but your mother should have.’
Under Ted Dexter’s captaincy, England drew more than Rolf Harris at his marker-pen doodling best, but in 1964 their most significant result was a defeat at Headingley that put Australia ahead. Disagreement on the best tactical policy in the field led to Australia’s Peter Burge swashbuckling his team home with a big hundred.
The match I remember most clearly, though, is the fourth Test at Old Trafford that followed. Australia captain Bobby Simpson scored his maiden Test hundred, a whopping 311 to be exact, and the stand-out aspect from an England perspective was the fact that they opted to leave Trueman out on a featherbed, despite trailing with two matches remaining. It was a result of the Dexter–Trueman bust-up in Leeds, and meant they gave debuts to Fred Rumsey and Tom Cartwright.
As Simpson just batted and batted it was bleedingly obvious that they had come up with the wrong team. I guess the Simpson innings stuck in my mind both because it was at Old Trafford and also because he was the professional at my club Accrington.
What a fabulous cricketer Simpson was: a more than handy leg-spinner and one of the best slip catchers not just in Ashes tussles but that the world has ever seen. However, his main forte was as an opening batsman.
Later in life he became such an influence as a coach. He followed me in the role at Lancashire although he didn’t stick around very long. He had a lengthy association with the area, from the time that he played in the leagues and coached us youngsters, and we had exchanged views on a few things when he had been over in the past as coach of Australia. It was an unbelievable job he did from 1986 to 1996. When he took over, Australia had not won a Test series for three years, and by the time he had finished they were celebrating four consecutive Ashes victories and a place in the final of the 1996 World Cup.
It was during the 1991 season that he got in touch to inquire about another Australian who also played for our dear Accrington. One Shane Warne.
‘How’s young Warne going?’ he asked.
‘He’s not doing great, if I’m honest,’ I told him.
‘I thought he must be pissin’ ’em out,’ Bob said.
‘Well, no he’s not.’
‘Right, get him to ring me. I’ll tell him where to bowl.’
These days it is a privilege to sit in a commentary box next to Warne. Earlier connections in my career, meanwhile, take me right back to the 1930s through Gubby Allen, one of the central figures in the Bodyline fiasco, and a man who ran English cricket for a long time. He was Gubby to his very best friends but to most people he was most definitely Mr Allen. You can probably tell which camp I was in as an aspiring international player.
Having been called up in 1974 against India, my debut was at Lord’s, and so I got in early the day before the match, and was wearing my pride and joy. Get this: the pride and joy of which I speak was a snazzy yellow leather jacket. I thought I was a right bobby dazzler as I turned up in this clobber, and displaying typical keenness of the new boy I was first in. I put my bag down and there was this chap sat on the table. I had no idea who he was. ‘Alright,’ I greeted him. ‘How do?’
‘Hullo,’ came the rather authoritative reply.
‘Nice day, isn’t it?’ I resumed, trying to break an uncomfortable silence, my tactic being to work out who the heck this bloke was, and what he was doing in the England dressing room, if I kept talking. ‘See you decided to get here nice and early too.’
There was not much coming back from him at all, and what went through my mind was that this bloke had somehow wandered in uninvited. So I plucked up a bit of courage and warned: ‘Listen, pal. I don’t know if you realise this but you are sat in the England dressing room and they will all be coming up in a minute or two.’
‘You’ve no idea who I am, have you?’ he responded.
‘No, can’t say I have, sorry.’
‘My name is Gubby. It’s Gubby Allen.’
‘How do you do?’ I said, with a smile, which masked the fact that I remained none the wiser.
It took my more established team-mates to put me in the picture, and thankfully, he took my ignorance brilliantly. At night after play we would all be invited into the MCC committee room for a drink.
‘I believe you have been told who I am now,’ he said.
‘Er, yes,’ I answered rather sheepishly.
I was always careful to mind my manners around Gubby. He had that effect on you, which is quite a contrast to how one behaved around Alec Bedser, who was chairman of selectors at the time. Clocking me in my yellow jacket that week, he put me at ease with the blunt inquiry: ‘What the f***’s that you’ve got on?’
I just couldn’t see past this yellow fashion accessory being the dog’s doodahs. It had been purchased from a bespoke gents’ outfitters in Rawtenstall called Nobbutlads. Well, that’s how it was hyphenated in local speak, as it stood for Nowt But Lads.
There was no girls’ stuff on sale there, although being shiny yellow with these massive lapels I am sure a lass could get away with wearing something similar in 2013. Looking back it was quite hideous. But at the time I thought it was the business.
These days if you get picked for England, you turn up in the full suit for a Test match. Back then you were only kitted out afterwards, hence my turning up looking like a roadie for the Bay City Rollers. I was yet to receive my England jacket or indeed my MCC piping blazer that I would be sporting that following winter.
The 1970–71 Ashes series, the one which preceded my one and only tour as an England player, was a feisty affair and not just between the two teams. There was plenty of other niggle about too, and Ray Illingworth’s men had broken relationships with a member of officialdom as well as some of the people that populated the stands.
All hell almost literally broke loose when a John Snow bouncer collided into Terry Jenner and knocked him senseless. The treatment given to one of their tail-enders incensed the Sydney crowd, who seemed keen on exacting their own retribution by rioting.
The umpire Lou Rowan certainly took exception to the short-pitched stuff sent down by Snow, whose staple argument on the matter during that series was that his deliveries were aimed at the armpit of the batsman and not at the head, and were therefore not technically bouncers at all. On one occasion when the subject matter came up, Rowan is said to have argued: ‘Well, somebody’s bowling them from this end and it’s not me.’
Snow saw it his job to rough up opposing batsman. For him, it went with the territory as England’s new-ball enforcer, and getting struck was just an occupational hazard for top-order batsmen. His intention was to spread uncertainty and apprehension in the Australian ranks and a haul of 31 wickets that series suggests he succeeded.
But his aggressive approach got this Mr Rowan interested throughout a niggly series and particularly when Jenner was peppered with rib-ticklers after coming in with Australia seven wickets down in the final Test at the SCG. When Jenner tried to wriggle out of the flight path of the third his misjudgement on length cost him dear and witnessed the ball being ‘headed’ into the covers.
It was not until a bloody Jenner had been escorted from the field, and Snow was preparing to send down his next delivery, that Rowan told him: ‘That’s a first warning.’
Such decisions are pretty arbitrary ones and you have to rely on the umpire’s discretion. However, Snow was not the kind of man to take anything lying down and from what I knew of him was unlikely to merely accept a judgement without prior discussion. His argument as things got a little heated with the local official was that the delivery in question had been the first genuine bouncer he had sent down that over.
Unsurprisingly, Ray Illingworth, his captain, immediately offered his support. He was a very fine leader, Ray, and his teams would always know they had his full backing. As they stood arguing the toss, the first beer cans were lugged onto the field at the other end of the ground. And by the time the over was completed, it looked like the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve party had been going on at fine-leg.
And when Snow clasped his hat and sauntered off to the boundary along from that famous Sydney mound, the blood of the locals had not cooled. As I say, John was not a man to dodge confrontation, although it would take a far braver man than me to give it a touch of the Liam Gallaghers at that point. His ‘come on, then’ gestures were taken up by one have-a-go-zero who leapt the fence and grabbed him by the collar. Snow’s remonstrations with this drunken chap amounted to him asking quite matter-of-factly what the hell he was doing. But it was the signal for the boozers behind him to unleash their tinnies and bottles once more.
Illingworth, again as befitted his position as leader, was first on the scene and ushered Snow away, and the rest of the England team off the field. Others might have questioned his actions – ‘the game must go on’ and all that – but he was a man of principle, so the players were all holed up in the away dressing room when Rowan entered to inquire: ‘What’s going on, Mr Illingworth? Is this team coming back onto the field or have you chosen to forfeit the match?’
With the Ashes in England’s possession all bar the shouting it was a bit Hobson’s Choice, really, wasn’t it? Get back out there or hand Australia a drawn series. Illingworth insisted that a few minutes were given for things to calm down and so, with the ground swept of its debris, it was on with the show.
England left with smiles on their faces in relation to the series result but with scowls for Rowan, who did not give a single lbw against Australia in the series, a statistic that enraged the visiting players, including Illy.
This Rowan episode would have been one of the many instances that combined to move us towards neutral umpires in international cricket. Sure, the process of two home umpires officiating went on for another 20-odd years but in the end something had to give. Too often around the world touring teams would feel that they were playing against 13. For example, there was the popular theory that Javed Miandad had never been given out lbw in Pakistan. Now, as statistics go, that’s quite extraordinary, and not strictly true. The facts were that it was not until the 10th year of him playing home Tests that he was first given out in that manner.
History suggests that Rowan was taken aback by Illy’s attitude but if you are dealing with Raymond Illingworth you would simply not get the stiff upper lip that an Australian official might expect from an England captain. Indeed, Mr David Clark, the tour manager on that trip, expected the same thing – to be British about it and get on in the face of provocation. Earlier in the trip Clark had expressed his dislike of drawn matches and offered the suggestion that he would prefer to witness a 3–1 Australia victory than to see it end in stalemate.
It is fair to say that Clark’s views and mine are diametrically opposed. Ray was exactly the same as me in his attitude and I am pretty sure I would have replicated every single one of his actions had I found myself in his position. In my time as England coach I would never do that stiff upper lip thing either, preferring to stick up for those under my charge, and remained desperately keen to win. During my England tenure, my attitude was always: ‘You should never have appointed me if that was what you wanted.’ I am just not that sort of bloke. If someone wronged me I would come back hard at them; it’s the way I have always been, and not just on the cricket field.
Without doubt, that is how Illy has always been too. He will play hard and fair but if he is crossed then watch out because he will take matters into his own hands. There were distinct parallels to be drawn between Illingworth and Jardine, actually, as captains, and I would argue that there is a correlation that they were seen to be sticking up for their team out in the middle, taking the flak on behalf of the group, and that their teams were successful out there.
It needs strong leadership and a single-mindedness to win an away series in such a demanding and hostile environment, and neither bloke would take a backward step. These guys revelled in being in charge and weren’t about to let anyone else boss their teams around. In acting in this way they were showing their own individual characters, and neither would have found it easy to hide that in any case. The one thing that neither would accept was being pushed around. They had to be seen to be leading their players, not just the bloke who had an asterisk by his name in the score book.
For years there was always a suspicion that whatever country you were in the appointed officials would favour the home team. Neutral umpires were necessary for the good of the global game but I believe we have now come full circle. I sit on the ICC panel that selects the officials for the elite level of the game and because of the way they are monitored centrally I am of the opinion that we can go back to home umpires standing in Test matches. Umpires across the globe are simply miles better and are more accountable for their decisions because of the presence of so much media coverage. Any mistakes are highlighted all around the world, and any real howlers would be struck down by the Decision Review System in most instances.
In the 1974–75 series there was a lovely chap called Tom Brooks umpiring. Jeff Thomson was a big no-ball merchant. He sent down loads of them, not that many of them were called as such, so when stood at the non-striker’s end while batting we would monitor where he was landing. Of course, he was regularly landing over the line with his front foot but seldom was he called.
This situation had been the subject of debate in our dressing room and we decided that it should be a duty when out batting to emphasise his landing position to the man in the white coat. It entailed us drawing the line with our boots, making it highly visible, or running our bats down the crease to encourage attention being drawn to the area. The odd word didn’t go amiss, either. ‘Oh, he’s close, really close, don’t you think?’
You couldn’t challenge the umpire back then, in contrast to the modern day when you can go right up to them and have a bit of a go. No, in ours it had to be a lot more subtle. Tom was a lovely bloke and he used to say in response: ‘You guys play to this front foot rule so we tend to be a bit stricter with your lot.’ It had always been a back foot rule before that, of course, and it was almost as if we were being punished for the rule change.
Conflict these days is dealt with a lot differently, and situations like Illy’s England found themselves in would get nowhere near the levels of antagonism with the current procedures in place. Any grievances are recorded, and written down or emailed, considered by match referees, and then even higher up the ICC chain of authority if necessary. This diplomatic mechanism was something that those teams could have done with but it was still light years away.
Such was the disharmony that existed between John Snow in particular and the Australian public, that year, though, that one might have presumed he was kept away from the Test squad in 1974–75 for his own safety. There was a certain justification for branding him public enemy number one down under for his part in the victory there four years earlier.
So when our bristly, fiercely competitive villain turned up to do some television commentary during our tour, public enemy number one became a target for his adversaries from the stands once more. During the Test match at Perth, some of the local punters were so incensed by his presence that they literally tried to tear the scaffolding down to get to him. The gestures they made towards him suggested they wanted to shake him warmly – not by the hand, but by the throat. Put it this way, Snowy didn’t look overly eager to clamber down to check out the theory that he was a wanted man.
My personal experience of the crowds down under was that the banter that flew about was mainly of a good-hearted nature. The infamous Bay 13 at the MCG was marvellous, actually, although not necessarily if you were the one posted in front of it on the boundary edge as Deadly Derek Underwood was on one occasion. It didn’t last long, though, as he was soon protesting about his placement. ‘I can’t stand down there any longer,’ he exclaimed. ‘I really can’t.’
Typically of the man, Tony Greig said he would go down there and stand up to it instead. It was a ritual for the Bay 13 lot to start throwing things at the fielders, and they didn’t need a gallon on board to provide them with Dutch courage. Oh no, this lot could be loutish when stone cold sober. They just had to be in the mood for mischief, and if they were, and you were in range, then trouble was on the cards.
The bombardment normally began with lumps of ice. More often than not it went from single ice cubes, to handfuls of ice, finishing with the final assault of the whole esky. Now Greigy was not a man to back away from a challenge or at a point of confrontation, so he naturally started lugging these frozen missiles back with interest.
There was plenty of entertainment on offer aside from the cricket when you stepped into an Australian cricket ground in the 1970s. There was no Barmy Army around back then to amuse you with their songs, but this Australian lot didn’t need any rivals to spar with because they used to find enough enjoyment in fighting amongst themselves. During the 1974–75 tour we got friendly with the stadium control police, whose radio room was adjacent to our dressing rooms.
So during our innings, we used to mill around in there, watch their surveillance, and listen to their officers reporting back on any shenanigans in the stands. It used to kick off regularly throughout a day’s play, not just once or twice, and not just play stuff either. I am talking proper fights. Just for the sake of it, blokes used to throw things at each other, and it only took someone to react and all hell broke loose.
Remember those crowds were 95% Australian, so they weren’t being wound up by Poms. Australians are aggressive people by nature and sometimes they just like to scrap. Watching the surveillance gave us a rare chance at seeing the Aussies lose at something that winter.
On the subject of crowd abuse, I suffered some minor incidents during my career, and tended not to react despite provocation. My general attitude was that they were looking for a rise out of you, and therefore refraining from a reaction would nip their game in the bud. Coming back with a quip only extended an unwanted interaction.
But the one time I did react was when I was struck on the back of the neck by a lump of cheese as I fielded on the boundary. Bending down, I scooped it up and held it between my fingers, looking at it incredulously. ‘That’s not very mature,’ I said.
Sometimes the friction on the boundary edge is not one created by the public but the players with their behaviour. When Colin Croft was our overseas player at Lancashire we received several complaints from those situated in the Lady Subscribers’ Stand of a rather disconcerting habit he had.
Nothing out of the ordinary, really, at least as far as fast bowlers go, but nevertheless something that upset the predominantly female spectators at fine leg. Between bowling overs, Colin would regain his breath in the deep and clear his pipes further by blowing his nose onto the grass without the use of a handkerchief.
Subsequently, as captain of the club, I was asked into a meeting to discuss the problem and find a suitable solution. You won’t believe the one that we came up with – Colin switched from fine leg to third man, where his nasal ritual could be carried out in front of the popular side of the ground!
Playing in the Ashes would represent the pinnacle of any England cricketer’s career and the opportunity to scale it came bang smack in the middle of mine. Nine years after my debut; and nine years before I retired.
My journey to the very peak of what English cricket has to offer began with a County Championship match on 12 June 1965, against Middlesex at Old Trafford, and has given me reason to chuckle every time I’ve heard the Half Man Half Biscuit song ‘F***in’ ’ell It’s Fred Titmus’ since. It’s probably what I subconsciously thought at the start of every over he bowled to me in my maiden first-class innings.
Some late changes were made to the Lancashire team for that match, and an 18-year-old Lloyd, D, was one of the three call-ups, as much for a couple of impressive displays as a left-arm spinner in Second XI cricket at the start of that season as any ability I had shown with the willow in hand.
I arrived at the crease on the opening day with the scoreboard reading 140 for five, and although I failed to shift the ‘0’ displayed under the number seven slot, I spent an age trying. So much so that I took a salt tablet for cramp before I was dismissed.
My lunging forward to counter Titmus’s off-spin had taken its toll on my tense muscles, you see, because as a young player I was simply following advice from a more experienced colleague in Geoff Pullar. I was grateful for his input, too, as I sat waiting to go out to bat. Geoff’s instructions were to get well forward but to make sure my bat was out in front of the pad to minimise the chance of an inside edge ricocheting up into the air for the preying close fielders. It was a practice I carried through faithfully, but good old Fred got me in the end, and claimed a further eight wickets besides during my debut match.
As starts to professional careers go, mine was fairly barren. Titmus bowled me in the first innings, and I was caught behind off the other spinner Don Bick for another blob in the second. In between, although I claimed a couple of wickets, I dropped nightwatchman Bick, who went on to score 55 and help Middlesex to a useful 77-run lead. After a pair, a costly miss like that in the field, and a modest start to my career with the ball, things could only get better, I suppose.
But while I might not have started as I meant to go on, I certainly finished strongly. To be honest, I had a fun-filled playing career, but it would be untrue to claim I loved every minute of it. Towards the end I lost the enjoyment of turning up for work, a trait that I previously took to be inherent.
It didn’t help my batting that my eyes were no longer what they used to be, and if only I had gone to the optician’s sooner to address a natural deterioration, I might have scored a few more runs in the couple of years when my enthusiasm for cricket waned. I knew I was not seeing the ball well enough either when batting or in the field, and as soon as I got a prescription things improved markedly. So much so that my tally for the summer of 1982 touched upon the 2,000-run mark in all competitions.
But a recurrence of the neck injury that was to rule me out of the final Ashes Test in 1974–75 hastened the end for me the following season. I missed half of it recuperating from its debilitating effects and by the time I did return the club had unearthed some exciting young talents to fill the void.
Amongst them was the swashbuckling Neil Fairbrother, whose performances persuaded me that the club no longer required my services. I notified them of my intention to retire well before the end of the campaign. Somewhat surprisingly, it did not dissuade them from picking me, however, and in contrast to my spluttering start, I went out with a real bang.
My final Lancashire appearance, at Wantage Road, Northampton, saw me open the batting with another left-hander, Graeme Fowler. We were of different generations but both of us hailed from Accrington, and we both hit hundreds in a drawn match with Northamptonshire. It was the perfect time to say goodbye.
Like all good stories, this career of mine had a happy ending, and there was ultimate contentment in the middle too when I was informed that I would be representing my country abroad. Not just anywhere, either.
When I was called up for my maiden England tour, in late August 1974, it is fair to say that I had limited travel experience behind me. I had never been out of Britain for a start, and the most exotic place I had visited on any type of excursion was North Wales. My mum and dad used to favour the Welsh coastline as the destination for our summer holidays, and we would always stay in one Methodist guest house or other. Firstly, because they were cheap and we were far from flush with cash. Secondly, because it gave my dad a chance to sing; one of his passions in life was singing.
The correspondence I had been waiting for to inform me of my selection in the 16-man party to tour Australia and New Zealand arrived while I was playing in a County Championship match for Lancashire against Nottinghamshire. It was in the form of an official letter from the Test and County Cricket Board, penned by Donald Carr. It was a bit like receiving a letter from the Queen: ‘You have been selected to represent England on the MCC tour of Australia … blah de blah de blah …’ In cricket terms it was akin to the royal seal of approval. After I’d confirmed my intention to travel – the letter asked whether I would like to go, and so I had to reply with something enthusiastic like ‘Yeah, I’m up for that!’ – the next thing required of me was to secure a passport. This was an opportunity to take part in the greatest series of them all for an England cricketer: the Ashes.
In those days you were given all your paraphernalia in one leather cricket bag: your England tour blazer, your MCC cap and sweater, and your shirts and trousers all tucked inside. There was no coloured clothing back then, of course, as one-day cricket in its infancy was played in whites, and there was no need for the Velcro pouch on the side to store your Oakleys, either.
However, some kind of goggles would have been pretty useful as it turned out, when we boarded our jumbo jet down under. A Qantas Airlines long-haul flight was quite something in the 1970s. Now, as a novice traveller in his mid-20s I confess I was a little bit wide-eyed. Those eyes were soon narrowing, mind, thanks to the tendency for folk to indulge in their filthy habits. These days it is easy to forget what it was like back then, whenever you travelled on an aeroplane. People would be lighting up their cigarettes all around you, so that when you sat down it was reminiscent of when the lights get switched on for the first time down the front at Blackpool. They would spark up the minute they’d parked their backsides and chain-smoke for the entire journey. Yes, the full 27 hours! Once onboard you couldn’t see a bloody thing; it was like being sat in thick fog for a day.
Oh, did I forget to mention that contrary to the no-expense spared experience that our modern England Test cricketers have laid on for them – the reclining beds, personal gadgets and click-your-fingers waitress service – we were shoved at the back of the big bird to join in the economy chorus of coughing and wheezing? By the end of it we would have made Adele’s voice sound like Shane MacGowan’s.
It was comparable to being stood outside the front doors of a pub these days. Unfortunately, being up at 30,000 feet, we didn’t have a Hesketh Tavern or a Haworth Arms to dive into for some fresh air. One of my pet hates is that – smokers loitering outside boozers, gobbing between drags on their fags. Never really understood where they’re coming from, smokers. Partly due to the fact that I suffered from asthma as a kid, and therefore never felt inclined to try a cigarette, I suppose. I know some of you will be taking a drag as you’re reading this and may find me a bit of a stick in the mud, but please allow a bloke his prejudices in the privacy of his own pages. In my estimation, it’s a filthy habit and I probably couldn’t afford to indulge in it either with the price of a packet of fags these days. Actually, why not go the whole hog on this? They should charge £50 per packet, of course. Then we could all pay less tax.
Anyway, I digress. So here we were, jetting off to represent our country, an international sports team, struggling for breath before take-off. Now take-off was an experience in itself for a flight virgin. Only once previously had I entered an aircraft and that was a sightseeing flight around the Blackpool Tower as a nipper. Never having been up properly before, I sat there considering how on earth we were going to manage it when next thing, this big bird set off like the clappers, and I got my answer. Like anything when you’re trying it for the first time, it took some getting used to, and I just about had when we stopped off at Dusseldorf, Germany, to take some wood on board.
Peering through the smoke rings, and out of the window at healthier-looking clouds than hung around our beaks, I was spellbound by the whole experience, and almost delusional by the time we finally touched down. So imagine how I felt when they told me we had landed in ‘Darwen’. ‘Just down the road from me that, just beyond Blackburn,’ I thought, ‘and it’s taken me more than a day to get here.’ Fancy spending all that time to get a few miles down the road.
Rumour has it that Yorkshire used to do something similar for every pre-season tour during the 1960s – they’d set off from Leeds–Bradford Airport, get up to about 20,000 feet, U-turn just south of Sheffield, circle the region a few times to look down upon famous landmarks such as the white horse at Kilburn and arrive back in Leeds within the half-hour. ‘Because if it’s not in Yorkshire, it’s not worth bloody going,’ they used to say.
Goodness knows why Darwin in the Northern Territory was our first port of call but this was my first disembarkation down under. ‘Cor blimey, these engines don’t half get hot, do they?’ I said as we clambered down onto the tarmac. It took seasoned traveller John Edrich to put me right: ‘That heat you can feel’s not the engines, you pillock, it’s this bloody place!’ You see, I was a bit wet behind the ears as a tourist and unaccustomed to anything other than cloud and mizzle for the first 18 years of my life, so the temperature was severe enough to really take me aback.
The previous England team that had travelled to Australia in 1970–71, under the captaincy of Ray Illingworth, had returned victorious, of course, one of the great (and rare) wins for an England team down under. John Snow was a key figure in that victory, as we know, but subsequently came under something of a cloud, and was not in our party. Another figure missing was Geoff Boycott, and it was his absence to which I owed my chance at international level.
Boycs had not been selected the previous summer, and although there were rumours surrounding his omission I never knew the official reason why. There were all kinds of suggestions made, conjecture in the newspapers that he had been dropped, other reports that he was preoccupied with the organisation of his benefit, but I never knew the truth, and why would I want to know? There was even persistent talk of him falling out with the then captain Mike Denness but I was not in a position to dwell on such matters. What interested me was doing well for England, having been selected as his direct replacement as opening batsman.
As far as I was concerned, he was just out of the reckoning, I had been picked, given the chance to fulfil a dream and play for my country, and everything else went over my head. I was concentrating on the business of scoring runs to better myself, focusing on that red, spherical leather object being hurled down at me from 22 yards – not analysing the personality clashes, or the torment he surprisingly suffered at the hands of the innocuous-looking swing bowler Solkar at the start of that series against India, that may have played some part in providing the initial opportunity.
I had made my maiden Test hundred against India during this initial spell of Boycs’s absence, and followed that up with another in a limited-overs international match at the end of a troubled tour of England by Pakistan. Relations had become quite strained between the teams after the Pakistanis levelled accusations of skullduggery during the Lord’s Test when Derek Underwood bowled them out. If there was any damp around, Deadly was well, deadly, and water had got under the covers. Persistent showers left a wet patch on the pitch, he kept hitting it and they simply couldn’t cope. I was stood at short leg and it was like picking cherries.
Accusations that we were complicit in the state of the pitch were complete and utter nonsense. Pakistan had been ripped apart by Underwood in the first innings on a drying surface after a lengthy downpour on the opening day, and then after we batted to secure a 140-run lead, rain struck again when Pakistan came out to bat for a second time.
It was actually during the rest day of the match, the Sunday, that London was the subject of some major downpours and these continued into the Monday, which meant that when the temporary tent-like covering was removed, the pitch was discovered to be sodden. The rain had seeped through and in these conditions it was a different game altogether.
Deadly bagged a bundle of wickets with his idiosyncratic left-arm-round stuff – six to be precise – when the match finally resumed at around 5pm on the fourth evening. In plunging Pakistan from 192 for three half an hour into play to 226 all out, he took his innings haul to eight and provided match figures of 13 for 71, in addition to setting up a victory target of just 87 runs.
Dennis Amiss and I wiped 27 from that target before the close of play. But our efforts in 10 overs against the new ball were not the focus of attention that night, due to Pakistan manager Omar Kureishi’s utter indignation. Kureishi put in an official complaint in which he accused MCC of ‘negligence’ and ‘incompetence’ in their attempts to cover the wicket. In those days, if it rained once the Test match was underway then the run-ups and edges of the square were protected but the pitch itself was exposed to the elements. On rest days, however, every effort was made to protect it from the elements, and Pakistan argued that they were entitled to be able to bat on a pitch in the same condition it had been in when stumps were drawn on the Saturday evening.
As it happened, we didn’t get on again. Despite re-marking of the pitch during the final session on day five, the rain returned, and the contest, which had become more political than sporting, was abandoned as a draw and a three-Test series was on its way to a 0–0 stalemate. It was a series which bore few runs for me personally but the news I wanted to hear was delivered during a six-wicket win over Sir Garfield Sobers’s Notts. That match concluded on 30 August, and I celebrated with 116 not out in the one-dayer against Pakistan in Nottingham the very next day.
Preparing for Battle
We felt almost from the moment we arrived that Australia were determined to show they were the better team and that they would avenge that defeat by Illingworth and Co four years earlier. And it is fair to say that we were caught on the hop by their line-up.
For a start, we did not anticipate Dennis Lillee being declared fit, and when he was, on the eve of the series, it undoubtedly gave the Australians a boost. The main thrust of the pre-series talk had been that Lillee was not going to play. He had suffered a serious back injury, spinal fractures that had caused him to be set in plaster from his backside to his shoulders for six whole weeks earlier in the year, and word was he wasn’t going to be ready in time.
With him missing, we really didn’t have anything to fear. Truth was that Australia were a little bit thin on the ground for fast bowlers. Or so we anticipated. They had Gary Gilmour and David Colley, the pairing who opened the bowling for New South Wales against us ahead of the first Test. Both had a couple of caps to their names – Colley’s earned during the 1972 Ashes – while there was a recurring whisper doing the rounds that a chap called Thomson was in the mix too.
We had encountered two blokes of this surname during our four pre-series games – a bit of a beach bum, called Jeff, who sent down some fairly innocuous new-ball fare for Queensland, and who on his Test debut 12 months earlier against Pakistan had, by all accounts, gone around the park, finishing with match figures of nought for 110; and Alan Thomson, otherwise known as Froggy because of the way he sprang to the crease and bowled off the wrong foot, who had featured against England four years earlier when he got involved in a bouncer war with Snow. Because of his experience, we anticipated it would be the latter called up for the opener in Brisbane. But this hardly filled us with fear as his return for Victoria against us a fortnight earlier read 17-0-85-0.
We were hoodwinked, of course, as they wheeled out the man who would no longer be referred to as either Jeff or Thomson from that year forth. Following his selection he was forever known as Thommo and in tandem with Lillee ambushed us right good and proper. When he’d opened the bowling for Queensland against us in that first-class contest, he did no more than amble into the crease, under the express instruction of Australia captain Ian Chappell. He was merely playing to have a good look at us while being careful not to show anything of his true self – so that we didn’t get accustomed to how freakishly fast he could send this ball down at you and would be caught unawares when the serious business began.
Facing up to Thommo was a real challenge not least because of his rather unique bowling action. In modern day cricket you will see batsmen such as Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan muttering to themselves: ‘Watch the ball.’ The television close-ups and slow-motion shots reveal that they mouth those words as the bowler runs up to the crease.
However, occasionally, you come up against bowlers that make it more difficult for you to be able to do that because of slight quirks in their actions. And then there was Thommo, who made it absolutely impossible because he didn’t let you see it at all as he wound up to wang it down. With other people you knew where their hands were going and you could watch the ball all the way because it was visible. But with Thommo you just never saw it because the way he held it, with his body tilted backwards before uncoiling like a gargantuan spring, meant it remained behind him until the last nanosecond. His body shielded this arm that seemed to drag a yard behind the rest of him, and that, allied to the velocity he managed made him doubly difficult to face.
In that most wonderful of fast-bowling combinations, Thommo was the speed merchant, the unrefined paceman. Lillee, although a yard slower than the bowler the world had witnessed in the 1972 Ashes, was quick enough too, but a real artist in comparison to this laidback mop-head that had been plucked from the sticks. Because of his background there were some great tales about the young Thommo’s early days. For example, he didn’t even have a run-up when he first started his professional career, never practised one during net sessions, just shuffled up and slung it down.
So much so that in that first Test at the Gabba, he sent down no-ball after no-ball (13 in the match) which triggered Chappell’s presence on his shoulder as one early over progressed. Clearly struggling to get into a decent stride pattern, Thommo asked his elder: ‘How many paces do I do, skipper?’
‘What do you mean? I’ve no idea. Don’t you know?’
‘Nah, I’ve always walked back to where the tree is at this end – but they’ve cut it down!’
That’s how much of a natural he was. These days fast bowlers carry tape measures among the essential items in their kit bags, mark their initials on the pitch with whitewash to identify their starting point, and do all sorts of other things besides to make sure they set off from the right place. It’s precision. But there was nothing aesthetically pleasing about Thommo.
Make no mistake, with his dander up he was frighteningly quick, and described rather fittingly by one scribe as a one-man sonic boom. Even by fast bowlers’ standards he was pretty raw as a cricketer – a guy who really was from the back of beyond. And in partnership with the recovered Lillee he made us England batsmen feel pretty raw too with regular blows to our bodies. They were a pretty gruesome twosome, who didn’t seem overly bothered whatever the levels of pain they inflicted on opponents. Several of our party had to pay emergency visits to hospital during the six-match series, while I had to undergo a medical check that all was what it should be after an excruciating piece of physical assault in Perth. More of that later.
From my experience, Thommo hardly said a word on the field – I guess with the arsenal he packed in his right shoulder there was no need to – and he is even quieter now. Actually, a little known fact about him is that he slips over to Britain most summers, and lodges with his big mucker Mick Harford, the cricket-daft former professional footballer, while he does the rounds for a few weeks on the after-dinner speaking circuit, then heads back to Queensland and spends the rest of the year chilling out on his boat. You meet some great blokes in cricket and Thommo has to be up there for me. Although I am not so sure I appreciated him as an adversary on that trip 30-odd years ago!
Some suggested we were caught unawares by Australia after two wins and two comfortable draws against the state sides ahead of the first Test. Of course, we were without our own fast bowling nasty Snow, the scourge of the 1970–71 Aussies, and in terms of preparation for games it was nothing like what you might be used to reading about these days.
Let’s just say that fitness was an interesting subject on my only England tour. There were no drills as such for fielding, practice was just day after day of netting. And when we weren’t in the nets, we would be playing one of our many warm-up matches. We had landed in Australia in late October, and were involved in four four-day games between 1 and 25 November. That was 16 days’ cricket out of 25 with all the travelling logistics such a huge country provides in between. It was gruelling work alright, especially for the bowlers as we were still on eight-ball overs under Australian regulations in the early 1970s.
Watching the lads now four decades later with their high energy drinks, their diet and nutritional advice, and a devotion to take care of themselves in their spare time, you can see how well equipped they are to combat such a schedule and environment but they are almost incomparable to our physical state back then. These days players undergo regular tests to make sure they are getting nowhere near the danger zone when it comes to hydration.
In contrast, we were frazzled and returned back home looking like pickled balloons. You see, we understood the need to get fluids on board but what we drank whenever there was a break in play – whether it be a formal drinks break, at lunch or at tea – was called a brown cow. A brown cow, would you believe, was an intriguing mixture of Coca-Cola and milk. We were necking this concoction like it had gone out of fashion at the end of every session. Put it this way, I am not sure you could call it a predecessor of Gatorade!
We simply knew no better. You only had to look at our daily routine when on county duty to see that we were technically still amateurs – certainly when comparing ourselves to the recent vintage to have come through that Old Trafford dressing room, like James Anderson – masquerading as professionals. Strength and conditioning would have amounted to an arm wrestle with your mates at the lunch table, while being careful not to knock over the beer bottles clumped in the middle.
Yes, for each home Lancashire county match, crates of Watneys Red Barrel would be emptied out at the start of the 40-minute interval and not many went back into those crates unopened at the end of it. That was a practice that carried on from the 1960s into the 1970s. Even on my Test debut, at Lord’s, I supped a pint of shandy at lunch before resuming my first international innings. Could you imagine the furore now if one of England’s top-order batters did that? It’s the same game, but the world of cricket has changed.
Our modern lads are all tied into advertising whether it be through their personal gear or team-branded stuff – logos on all their equipment, the collars of their shirts, the pockets on their trousers, all of which is designed to keep you cool in these hot climates. They even wear vests underneath to regulate their body temperature and rate of perspiration. I ask you!
Forget skins. The only undergarments we wore were proper vests when we went to play at places like Liverpool or Southport (do you know how cold it gets at Aigburth in April?). And we didn’t change our clobber drastically for our assignment down under, either. We wore flannels and these bloody great socks, made from thick wool that you might shove on if you were hiking through the Himalayas. Oh, and how could I forget the tour jumper? Nice and thick, MCC colours, cable knit. I was perspiring like a big black Alsatian.
And it wasn’t just our attire that was inappropriate. Back in the day there was scant regard paid to what damage the sun might do to you. Skin cancer was not given a second thought, the world knew virtually nothing about it, and we all thought it was marvellous that whenever we weren’t playing we could have a sunbathe. Even on the field, there were those of us rolling sleeves up to brown off the arms, and unbuttoning shirts desperately trying to improve the tan on the chest. There would never be any danger of us putting caps or hats on, so inevitably our foreheads looked like they had head-butted a Breville by the end of a day in the field. Protection from the sun is so matter of necessity these days – particularly in Australia with their ‘slip, slap, slop’ campaign – that you take it for granted. But in those days there was none of it. The result being that we scuttled around the place like lobsters clad in flannel.
Our fitness regime was monitored by Bernard Thomas, the physio. He would start by getting the fast bowlers stretched, which entailed the likes of Bob Willis and Mike Hendrick putting the back of one of their heels up on Bernard’s shoulder, and Bernard raising up on his toes where he stood. There was a fair amount of stretching for everyone, in fact, but nowhere near the amount of physical activity players have become accustomed to as part of their preparation in subsequent years.
There was a lot of catching practice, particularly spiralling, high catches because in the thinner air the ball travels further and quicker. To lads like me who had not been down under before, looking into clear blue sky for a ball was quite a new experience, and took some adjustment. As a Lancashire lad I was more used to fielding in light drizzle. Despite the glare, however, nobody wore shades like your average endorsed 21st-century cricketer. We just squinted and got on with it.
Given the eventual 4–1 scoreline, you might anticipate a tale of misery being told of that 1974–75 tour – my only England tour as it happened – yet not a bit of it from my perspective. Although it was a chastening experience on the field, and there were some battered and bruised bodies by the end of it (mine among them), I recall it fondly. I made a bargain with myself to give it my best shot and enjoy it. In terms of touring, if not actual age, I was a young shaver and in addition to the cricket this was an adventure like none I had experienced before, and as it transpired none I would experience again (while a player at least). Even the chance to visit the vast sprawling mass that is Australia held an appeal for me.
Sure, things didn’t start well. Mike Denness, our captain, suffered from pleurisy in the early days of the tour and that was a major disruption as we didn’t see him for weeks. To dampen my personal enthusiasm, I broke my little finger in one of those darned fielding practices and missed the first Test, in Brisbane, where Thomson spectacularly deconstructed the façade that he was a fast-medium bowler fortunate to double his international caps. John Edrich broke a bone in his hand there at the Gabba and later at Sydney broke a rib. Dennis Amiss also fractured a finger in that first match, and a combination of their ailments meant I inherited one of English cricket’s great statesmen as a room-mate.
Colin Cowdrey was the equivalent of cricket royalty. He was into his 40s and very much winding down his career at that stage – as the fact that he turned up looking rather lavish in a pinstripe suit, and his warm-up at the MCG, walking around the boundary edge as adopted conductor of the brass band, testify. A real gentleman, it was an honour to spend time with him; not that everyone held him in the same regard. Indeed, after one day’s play during that Test, we were making our way out to the cars waiting for us at the back of the ground, when this little lad with his autograph book addressed Colin in a most uncouth manner. ‘Hey, Cowdrey, you podgy f***er,’ he said. ‘Sign us this!’
‘Oh, marvellous!’ Colin said, in his archetypal English gent’s voice. ‘Absolutely charming!’
Rooming with PF, as he was subsequently dubbed on that tour, was almost a throwback to the era of gentlemen and players. Although mild-mannered and warm, his record and standing in the English game was slightly intimidating, and there was also some awkward history between us for me to get over when we were thrust together upon his arrival down under. You see, sharing a room with Colin took me back to an incident that had occurred in county cricket a good few years earlier. I had not really engaged with him since this particular occurrence on the field in a match between Lancashire and Kent in the mid-1960s.
Back in that era, county teams did not tend to travel with a twelfth man in tow to away matches. You went with your XI, and, in the event that somebody got injured, you simply borrowed a player from the home team. This role of loanee was one I fulfilled from time to time when Brian Statham was captain of Lancashire – it was not to be sniffed at for an aspiring young cricketer, particularly given the toffee involved. Doing ‘twelfths’ paid a few bob as a match fee, and in most instances, there was sod all to do to earn it. Unfortunately, however, this was not the case when Kent came to Southport for a County Championship match in 1967, and Muggins here was on duty.
Called on to the field as a substitute for what was a relatively short passage of play, I promptly dropped two catches – one at mid-on and one at mid-off – to besmirch my reputation with all and sundry but most notably the esteemed leader of the opposition.
‘Tell me about your twelfth man,’ Cowdrey said to Statham later that evening. ‘What exactly is his role in the game?’
Fair enough question, I suppose. I was a hopeful 20-year-old all-rounder in those days, not that he would have been interested by the actual answer to what effectively was a rhetorical question. Now, seven years on, we were top-order team-mates – human targets at Lillee and Thomson’s coconut shy.
Felled by the Cracker at the WACA
Talking of coconuts reminds me of the most painful experience I ever had on a cricket field. Even if you have not seen the footage in question, you will no doubt be aware of it, so please remember to wince in sympathy in all the right places, and we’ll go through it here for old time’s sake.
Remember this was an era of uncovered pitches and facing some of those great West Indies fast bowlers was like hanging out the washing on the Siegfried Line. But of all the blows I took, never was I in as much discomfort as that day during the second Test in Perth when, sadly, I lost most of my genitals.
Thankfully this loss proved only temporary and they were returned to me some minutes later, having been found in 77 different parts, the other side of my protective box. They had migrated south (and every other compass point imaginable for that matter) the instant that a 3,000 mph Thomson thunderbolt shattered this plastic protector, turning it into some kind of medieval torture implement.
For the particular delivery in question, I got myself too square on and immediately knew there was trouble looming, hoping beyond hope that I would get some bat on ball as it climbed above stump level. Alas, no such luck. One of cricket’s more interesting facts is that the first testicular guard was used in 1874, yet it took another 100 years for the first helmets to be worn. A relatively short time, I guess, for blokes to work out that their brains could also play an important part in their lives.
Of course, we are now so used to seeing blokes head out into the middle for gladiatorial combat with every piece of body armour imaginable. But we certainly didn’t have things like chest guards or arm guards back then. You would have something resembling a thigh pad, although they were nowhere near the thickness of the ones you see in kitbags down your local club these days. These things were a bit flimsy to say the least. But being that way meant you had the chance to slide a Reader’s Digest or your spare socks down there too to provide extra protection.
Yes, the sight of batsmen wearing helmets was still in its infancy, I wasn’t using one, and I might as well not have been sporting anything between my legs either for the good it did. This pink litesome was completely useless for the job it was supposed to do. If you can’t remember what these litesomes looked like, here’s a reminder: you can still see them in use these days in bathrooms up and down the country – you know, those plastic things you keep your soap in.
Nowadays batsmen are much better protected around the groin but this flimsy thing did more harm than good. Because it was full of breath holes it splintered on impact and concertinaed my knackers. Suddenly, everything that was supposed to be on the inside was now on the outside. If you want to get a tad more graphic, imagine a cactus growing the wrong way out of its pot. Then consider for a moment how that might feel … Was it any wonder that I jack-knifed straight onto my head? Talk about being doubled up in pain. I lose my voice every November in memory of that cracker in the knacker.
Number one priority once back in the dressing room was to release my master of ceremonies from its snare: a pretty unforgiving job for Bernard Thomas, who certainly hadn’t signed up for that kind of thing when agreeing to be England team physio. We didn’t have any medical staff travelling with us in those days, though, so suffice to say I was very grateful for Bernard’s delicate handling of the situation. To be frank, such was the stinging sensation, I wouldn’t have minded a personal visit from the Fremantle Doctor but in the end had to settle for an hour or two of ice treatment once back in the dressing room. ‘Can you take the pain away but leave the swelling?’ I’d pleaded with Bernard upon retiring hurt.
You know as an England opener in Australia that you are going to cop some, and the crowd at the WACA turned gladiatorial, egging their evil henchmen on the next morning when I resumed my innings. The hairs stood up on the back of your neck walking to the crease anticipating a serious going over. A combination of Perth’s extra bounce – even these days batsmen can leave the ball on length in the knowledge that slightly short deliveries will sail over the top of the stumps – and eight-ball overs meant there were plenty of bumpers, as Cowdrey was so fond of calling them, to contend with, and although I didn’t score a mountain of runs – there were very few scoring opportunities against a backdrop of chin music – I was quite proud of sticking it out for six hours in that match against such sustained hostility.
There was no getting away from the fact that batting out there was hellish demanding. I would stop short of saying frightening but it was a real challenge facing someone as rapid as Thommo. As a collective, we just couldn’t handle that pace.
Australia were ultra-aggressive with the ball, the tactic of targeting the body of the batsman a good one on such bouncy surfaces. But in one way we only had ourselves to blame. Or, more accurately, one of our own to blame.
No series brings out good cricket tales, or indeed good cricket myths, like an Ashes series, and Dennis Lillee would have you know in playground parlance that ‘it was the Poms what started it.’ One adopted Pom, actually – that lovable giant Tony Greig, whose decision to bounce Lillee in the first innings of that first Test in Brisbane had repercussions for the rest of us over the coming weeks.
As Lillee regained his feet and brushed past Greig, having been caught behind attempting to hook, he told him: ‘Just remember who started this.’ No matter who started it, it is fair to say that the Australians finished it, although, to his immense credit, Greig never took a single backwards step following this confrontation. He always played in the same positive manner and was forever the showman, signalling his own fours whenever he opened those big shoulders of his, much to the chagrin of his Australian adversaries.
Greigy was the one player within our ranks who took them on with success, and what a totally brilliant guy to play with he was. The cricket was always colourful whenever he was one of the protagonists, a fact that Lillee did not seem to appreciate, particularly when he uppercut to the fence and then dropped down or leant forward to wave his right hand to the audience like the conductor of an orchestra.
That he was out there able to antagonise at the Gabba was chiefly down to one man. A chap by the name of Clem Jones. There were all kinds of storms sweeping around Queensland in the build-up to the first Test, and Jones, the mayor of Brisbane, actually doubled up as the groundsman to get the pitch fit for purpose.
The square had been that wet that as the countdown to the first ball being sent down got closer, no-one really knew which strip we were due to play on. Eventually they produced this pitch that became visible the day before, and we practised along from it before attending a mayoral reception that night.
One heck of a surprise was delivered when we did because here was Jones, the same chap that we had witnessed slaving away in a cork hat, pair of shorts and vest by day, now dressed resplendent in chain, robes, the works. Quite a job share was that one. In fact, when it came to Brisbane in the 1970s he was chief cook and bottle washer too. He knew everything and everyone all around the city, it seemed, and his name was to be known around the world to others subsequently thanks to the naming of the Clem Jones Stand.
In defence of Greig’s goading, Lillee could be a feisty bugger at the best of times, and was prone to react to the slightest provocation. Take the time when Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad bumped into him mid-pitch in a Test match at Perth, while taking a single to fine-leg. Lillee’s response was to follow his opponent to the non-striker’s end and administer a kick up the arse.
A number of his contemporaries would no doubt have been lined up behind him and would have put the boot in a good deal harder given half the chance – let’s just say Javed was as popular as gherkin and ice cream sandwiches – but it emphasised that Dennis just could not resist a skirmish.
He was close to wearing Javed’s bat as a cravat in that incident, and might have done but for umpire Tony Crafter’s positioning between the two men. In the end the only damage done was to Lillee’s pocket – he was fined $120 and banned for two matches.
Whichever way you dress it up, a number of us would live to regret Greigy’s bravado. Some of my own words came back to haunt me, too. When I look back I really wish I hadn’t offered the wisecrack that I could play Thomson with my knob end. Obviously I never meant it!
Being struck amidships is not something you forget. There are few things that leave me speechless but that was one of them, and even blows down below from other bowlers cannot compare to one from Thommo. My old mate Mike Selvey did double me over in a county match at Lord’s once, so I thought it only right to pop into the Middlesex dressing room after play to allay fears he might have done any serious damage.
‘Don’t worry, Selve,’ I grinned. ‘Compared to Thommo, you were a pleasure.’
Verbals played their part in that 1974–75 series but mainly away from the ground, believe it or not. Every evening Australian television seemed to be screening interviews with one Aussie player or another in which they would spell out exactly how they were going to crush us Poms. The most memorable was when Thommo came on one night on the eve of the first Test and matter-of-factly exclaimed: ‘I like to see blood on the pitch.’ We were in a team meeting and it is fair to say there was the odd intake of breath as he declared a preference for hitting opponents rather than getting them out.
As an opening batsman I always liked to keep relations with those hurling that leather sphere down at me at the speed of light on an even keel. Dennis Amiss and I tried to maintain a certain friendliness for self-preservation as much as anything else. So I was at odds with the response drawn when Lillee walked into bat one day and got struck on the elbow by a Greig bouncer first ball. ‘Well bowled, give him another,’ squawked Keith Fletcher from gully.
I cringed as Lillee turned 90 degrees and retaliated with: ‘It’ll be your f***ing turn soon!’ Funnily enough, Fletch was given a right working over when he came in. He would have been left in no doubt what lay in store for him, though, following another episode of the Dennis Lillee TV Show that evening. During an interview on the news, he was asked about the progress of the match, and to assess the position Australia found themselves in – most probably answering something such as ‘we’ll bloody crush ’em’ – before finally being quizzed on what the opposition were like.
‘The Poms are a good set of blokes, I get on with all of ’em,’ he said, before looking right into the camera lens. ‘Except that little weasel Fletcher, that is. I know you’re watching, Fletcher, and you might as well know I am going to sort you out tomorrow.’
Fletch would have been forgiven for wishing that tomorrow had never come as Lillee roared into him next day. Picture the scene as Fletch awaited his punishment – no helmet, no visor, no body armour. Just the MCC navy blue cap sat on the top of his head as Lillee sent down the full artillery. Bouncer after bouncer was fended off or dodged in expert fashion until one short one failed to get up as much as the rest and finally located its target, hitting him straight on the head, flooring our number five batsman in the process, and sending the ball bouncing to Ross Edwards at cover.
‘Blimey, he’s only gone and knocked St George off his ’orse,’ gasped Geoff Arnold, in reference to the emblem on the front of the MCC caps, as we sat in the dressing room watching the drama unfold.
One of the weird things in cricket is seeing the pseudo-pleasure people get when a team-mate gets sconned. Sounds vindictive, doesn’t it? But it’s not, really. It’s similar to self-preservation. Quite simply, if someone else is being hit, you’re thankful. Because it means it’s not you.
I’ve never met anyone who likes being hit by a cricket ball. One bloke came close to challenging that theory, actually, although like may still be too strong a word. A certain Brian Close used to chest balls down like a brick outhouse of a centre-half. Trouble was these leather balls were made for cricket not football and were being propelled down the pitch by some of the planet’s most hostile fast bowlers.
The most famous Close combat came in 1976 when, at the age of 45, he stood up to those West Indies firebrands Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel and Andy Roberts for the best part of three hours in a Test match at Old Trafford. It was in the second innings, in a hopeless cause, and proved to be the last of his England career, but what bravery this bloke showed.
Talk about bulldog spirit. Brian was as tough as old boots, and would literally put his body on the line if he thought doing so would enhance the chances of winning the game. And that was not limited to him wearing a few bouncers while batting, either. Here was a man who seemed to have no limit to his pain threshold, one who was brave enough to offer himself up as a human ricochet during that series against the Windies. Legend has it that during that series defeat, Close came up with an unusual and rather masochistic tactic in search of a wicket for England.
‘I will field at short-leg when Derek Underwood is bowling to Clive Lloyd,’ he announced at a team meeting. ‘When Lloyd sweeps, the ball will hit me, and the other close-in fielders can catch the rebounds.’ If you know anything of the man, you will realise he was deadly serious.
Some lads talk a better game than they play. Back in 1989, a number of years after I had retired from first-class cricket, I was still playing for my beloved Accrington in the Lancashire League. We reached the semi-final stage of the Worsley Cup and were drawn away at Todmorden, whose overseas professional at the time was the Sri Lankan all-rounder Ravi Ratnayeke.
He was a handy cricketer was Ratnayeke but had hardly pulled up any trees in the league that summer and we knew it. He was certainly not a player to put the wind up us. So we remained unperturbed about him coming across our path. However, when we arrived at Centre Vale in late morning, Ravi was nowhere to be seen.
His absence was explained a few minutes later when a beanpole West Indian strolled across the ground as our lads knocked up. There was a lot of mouthing of ‘who’s that?’ around our group as he sauntered past with his kit. I had clocked him a long way off. Huge, supremely athletic, he was the new kid on the block as far as fast bowling in the Caribbean went. It was Ian Bishop, who had made his Test debut within the previous 12 months.
It turned out that, with Ratnayeke injured, Todmorden had hired Bishop from Derbyshire for the day. Now as business transactions go, this was a fairly impressive one.
Bishop flew in to the crease and got the ball through at a fair old lick, but our opening pair of Nick Marsh and Andrew Barker, elder brother of Warwickshire’s left-arm swing bowler Keith Barker, resisted manfully to keep him at bay. Todmorden did not make a breakthrough until we had 63 on the board, in fact, and that put our wicketkeeper Billy Rawstron on the verge of going in.
Billy was our number four and confident enough to declare in the privacy of our own dressing room that, in his estimable opinion, this 21-year-old Adonis from Trinidad was not as quick as some others were making out. He even shunned the notion of wearing a helmet, a ploy I believed was unwise when confronted with a paceman of Bishop’s velocity. He upped the ante by declaring if his West Indian adversary had the audacity to bounce him, he would be hooking. Oh dear, Billy.
At 71 for two, it was time for Billy’s boasts to be put to the test. We’d heard the theory; now it was going to be put into practice.
You have probably guessed by this point that our hero was going to get the trouble he was asking for. Some lads reckon the cricket gods will not allow you to get away with saying stuff like that without having your words put to the test, and sure enough Bish obliged by unleashing one of his heat-seeking missiles. It kissed our Billy on the lips just as he was deciding that a cross-bat shot was the order of the day – careering him straight into the wooden stuff behind him in the process.
A sniff of the smelling salts later and Billy declared: ‘Hey, I can’t be out like that. I had completed my shot.’
As captain I thought I’d better put my young charge right as we escorted him from the field: ‘Billy, you hadn’t even started it. Now let’s go and see a man about some teeth.’
Just to prove he was as mad as his pre-match talk suggested, our noble gloveman refused any treatment until our task was completed, so he went out and took his place on the other side of the stumps for the second half of the match, blood oozing from his mouth, looking like the lead character from a 1980s low-budget zombie flick. We won by 51 runs in no small part due to the efforts of our Rawstron. They breed ’em tough in Accrington, you know. Billy and I are living proof.
Exploding the Myth
Despite all of the pain inflicted, being on an Ashes tour was a great experience. The reality was that I was not good enough as an individual and neither was the team collectively, but being a part of a tour like that, travelling all over Australia on Ansett Airlines’ internal flights, getting acquainted with the Australian way of life, and the subtle differences between the cities was a real career high and a great life experience. A tour like that was long and, against superior opposition, provided no respite. I know the current players talk about the length of tours, and the stretch of time they are expected to be away from home, but what you can’t appreciate now is just how tightly the games were shoehorned into the schedule between late October and early February. Physically it was very demanding, particularly given the fact that we were still playing under the old Australian regulation of eight-ball overs.
Those eight-ball overs were an important dynamic in the flow of matches. Australia hit us hard with pace, and with a few deliveries an over sailing past your nose end, it felt as though we were being pinned down. At the start of an over, we knew that if we got through the first couple of deliveries from Lillee or Thomson there were still half-a-dozen more to come. Talk about dispiriting. On our side we only had Bob Willis with genuine speed, but his dodgy knees only allowed him one burst at full tilt. This in itself came with a caveat: if he over-stepped a couple of times he was suddenly looking at 10 balls before he got his breather, and his run-up was one of the longest the game has witnessed.
While aggression was one of the keys, if not the key component, of the captaincy of Ian Chappell – or Chappelli as he is more commonly known – the competitive edge never turned into abuse. Don’t get me wrong, the will to win was unmistakable but you sensed he wanted it to be done fairly, even against the English. As a cricketer, I found him as honest as they came, and I am not sure he would have stood for unbridled nastiness from his players. I certainly respected him, and would call him ‘captain’ or ‘skipper’ as was the common practice towards the figurehead of your opposition in those times.
In fact, he was too generous on occasion, and I might have avoided my crisis in the Balkans had the Australians bothered to appeal when, on 17, I shaped up to a Thomson delivery; the extra bounce meant the ball got too big on me, and ran up the face of my bat on its way through to wicketkeeper Rod Marsh. I immediately went to put the bat under my arm – as English players you walked in those days – only to realise there was no appeal forthcoming. I waited another split second to listen for the ‘HOWZEE?!’ and the ball being thrown up in the air. But it never came. There was nothing, other than a ‘well bowled Thommo’ and so, as I had turned 270 degrees, there was nothing for it but to let out an apologetic cough and begin some phantom pitch prodding.
This respect for Chappell, held by our team collectively, was in no small part for what he had done for Australia since they had lost the urn in 1970–71. In 1972, they had come to England and earned a draw, and now he was going up a level. He had got this team together and it gelled beautifully – you could tell they were playing for their captain too. Didn’t they flippin’ just.
Like any other team during that generation they had financial issues with their governing body; they were not too enamoured with their appearance fees, because of the insubstantial proportion of the revenue generated from the huge crowds of that series ending up in their pockets. Chappelli’s trick was arguably to spend as much time off the field batting for his men – negotiating better rates of remuneration – as he did on it.
Because once they crossed the white line, boy did those eleven men answer to his tune. They were supremely fit and a very well-balanced side. They had guys who carried out unheralded roles such as Max Walker, who, arms and legs akimbo, would run in and bowl all day. Walker possessed great stamina, a facet which allowed Chappell to rotate Lillee and Thomson at the other end. Then there was Ashley Mallett, a wonderfully steady bowler, who offered that spinner’s gold – control. Although some of the edges from the short balls flew just out of reach, the Australian slip cordon caught just about everything that you would deem a chance, and so they were always going to beat us over a six-match series.
Although we had some feisty fighters, most notably Greig and Alan Knott, there was undoubtedly only one team in it, and despite the drawn third match, Melbourne’s Boxing Day Test, going down to the wire with all three results still possible – Australia needed six runs, us two wickets – the only match we won was the last, and one of the two I missed.
Having begun the campaign late following that broken digit, I was forced back onto the sidelines and onto an early flight back to the UK, boarding it shortly after the second MCG match had got underway. The injury, a long-standing one to my neck, was aggravated taking evasive action at short-leg in a game against New South Wales, and although I subsequently played in Adelaide, my pair of single-figure scores there were to be my last in Test cricket. So as I flew back to the UK nursing two damaged vertebrae, my team-mates cashed in. Thomson was ruled out of the series finale through injury and that other menace Lillee lasted half a dozen overs before breaking down. I believe it is called the law of the sod.
Конец ознакомительного фрагмента.