In a decade spanning the 1960s and 1970s three major crises gripped the world of cricket. The Close Affair in 1967, when Brian Close was relieved of the England captaincy in controversial circumstances, laid bare the ugly class prejudice which had lingered on from the days of Gentlemen and Players. The d'Oliveria Affair saw the selection of an England touring party become a major international incident which divided the nation. And the birth of World Series cricket forced players and establishment alike to confront the very nature of the game, and how it should be played. Torn between the politics of the sport and the shifting social pressures of the day, the venerable institution of cricket found itself caught at a crossroads that would come to define how the game would be played and received for years to come. Based on original research and interviews with key figures of the day, Guy Fraser-Sampson evokes the era of the 1960s and 70s, the attitudes and politics of the time, and tells for the first time the story of the decade that dragged cricket forever into the modern era. Along the way, the book tells the story of some of the cricketing greats, and of their triumphs, disasters, and personal tragedies. Gary Sobers, Colin Cowdrey, Ted Dexter, Ray Illingworth, John Snow, Derek Underwood, Geoff Boycott. The ups, the downs, and the elusive what-ifs.
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About the Author
Guy Fraser-Sampson is a well-known best-selling author in other fields, but this is his first book about cricket. He has been a regular attendee at cricket matches since the age of 10, most notably at Lord's, his home ground. He once dropped Brian Bolus at Lord's, but since he was in the upper tier of the grandstand at the time this fortunately had no bearing on the outcome of the match.
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Cricket At The Crossroads
Class, Colour And Controversy From 1967 To 1977
By Guy Fraser-Sampson
Elliott and Thompson LimitedCopyright © 2011 Guy Fraser-Sampson
All rights reserved.
GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS
It was a sweltering afternoon in 1967 as the England cricket team stepped off a BOAC jet in Barbados and dutifully posed for photos, led by their captain Colin Cowdrey. The beginning of a cricket tour is always aflutter with anticipation. Which newcomer will give glimpses of potential that may be richly fulfilled in the future? Will one of the struggling players find form and confidence simultaneously and leave for home at the end of the tour with their reputation enhanced, and their place in the side secure? It is at this point, of course, that those of a darker imagination will pose the third pertinent question: will one of the established veterans slink moodily onto the plane home, suffering the awkward glances of his fellows, undone by injury or inconsistency, and facing the grim possibility that his Test career may be over?
In respect of this particular team that December afternoon it was the first of these questions that must surely have lain uppermost in the minds of the attending journalists; both those meeting the plane on arrival and those travelling with the team from England, which latter crowd included a certain Brian Close, of whom more shortly. For this was a team chosen consciously to mark a break with the past, featuring a crop of mostly younger players who, it was hoped by the selectors, might form the bedrock of the England team for some years to come. To those who had followed England in recent years it had a somewhat unfamiliar look to it.
The era of Fred Trueman and Brian Statham was over, both having played their last Tests two years previously. John Murray, until recently rated unquestioningly as the best wicketkeeper in the country, was missing. There were some who felt he had been unlucky to be overlooked after his batting heroics against the West Indies in England in 1966, but in truth 1967 had been a wretched year for him.
Missing was the evergreen Tony Lock, one of the best left-arm spinners ever to play the game and who had reinvented himself with a new action and a new county as well as playing first-class cricket for Western Australia. He would therefore have been eligible for selection. However, he was 38 while his obvious like-for-like replacement, Derek Underwood, was just 22, and even he did not make the tour, despite his obvious promise.
Missing too was Bob Barber, felt by many to be the natural opening partner for the slower-scoring Geoff Boycott; he had declared himself unavailable because of business commitments. Nor, for the same reason, was there any return of the cavalier Ted Dexter, one of the most exciting batsmen ever to play for England; he had not played a Test since 1965, much to the disappointment of crowds around the world.
This was a team chosen for its blend of experience and youth, then, with the youthful element particularly applicable to the bowlers. The biggest concession to age and experience was Tom Graveney, at 40 the oldest man in the party. He was very much the joker in the pack, having forced his way back into the side in 1966 after a spell in the wilderness, and having played so well since then that it would have been simply unthinkable to leave him out. From the line-up, the selectors hoped and believed, would emerge a cadre of talented players who would form the future core of the side for the next five years or so.
Before the tour party left England, Colin Cowdrey had convened an indoor training session, at which he had laid out what he called a Five Tour Plan, ending with the Ashes series in Australia in 1970–71. He explained to the players that, stealing an idea from football, he expected them to form an ongoing squad from which England sides would be chosen during this period, though, as he admitted, 'one or two of us may fall by the wayside'.
The pairing of Cowdrey, the urbane Home Counties gentleman, and Fred Titmus, the chirpy cockney professional, both of whom were 35, must have seemed to the selectors a match made in heaven, bringing together two complementary individuals who between them could communicate with and inspire any member of the side, no matter what their upbringing or circumstances.
Cowdrey's background was public school and Oxford (both of which he captained), and he made his debut for Kent at the age of 18, moving on to captain them as well. One of the most graceful batsmen of his generation, he married into a wealthy family which enabled him to finance playing cricket as an amateur. Very much an establishment figure, he would end up as one of only two cricketers to be awarded a peerage (the other being Learie Constantine), at the personal instigation of John Major, the former Prime Minister. He was, in short, exactly the sort of cloth from which English cricket liked its captains to be cut, whether at Test or county level.
Titmus, on the other hand, had come up the hard way. Born to working-class parents in a tough area of north London, he was a natural sportsman, playing professional football for Watford and making his debut as a cricketer for Middlesex at the age of just 16. A fine offspinner, he had a trademark arm ball that drifted away towards the slips, so that many of his victims were either caught or stumped by his teammate and close friend, John Murray. A genuine all-rounder, at one stage of his career he achieved the double of 100 wickets and 1,000 runs no less than five times in six seasons. By 1967 he had been captaining Middlesex for three years, and was therefore seen as a natural deputy to Cowdrey, well able to lead the side occasionally should Cowdrey wish to rest himself, or become unavailable through injury. He was a perfect and natural choice as the platoon sergeant of the squad.
It is difficult for a modern reader to appreciate just how tangible and significant was the distinction between the amateur and professional cricketer or, as it was more often expressed, gentleman and player. Every season, for example, the gentlemen played at least one first-class fixture against the players, often viewed as a Test trial. On many county grounds the professionals were not allowed to share the same dressing room (or even pavilion) with the amateurs. They were expected to call the amateurs 'sir', and refer to them as 'mister'. Even the way their names were represented on the scorecard made clear their status. As the sixteen-year-old Fred Titmus trudged nervously out onto the Lord's turf to make his debut for Middlesex, it was to the sound of a P.A. announcement regretting that the printers had made an error. 'F.J. Titmus', the announcer said apologetically, 'should read Titmus, F.J.'
The difference had been even more pronounced on tour, when the amateurs had travelled in separate cars and stayed in swanky hotels, dressing for dinner, while the professionals had to put up in boarding houses. For away matches in England the situation could be even more stratified, with the amateurs in one hotel, the professionals in another, but the professional captain on his own in yet another. The image of upstairs, downstairs and the butler's pantry comes strongly to mind.
The distinction was abolished officially in 1962. For some years it had been increasingly difficult to find amateurs who were both wealthy enough to be able to play cricket purely for fun, and good enough to command a place in the side as a player. Even if both these conditions were satisfied, it did not necessarily mean that they would be willing to captain the side. Amateurs often came and went according to business and family commitments; being available to play every match of the season was a different matter. Yet amateur captains were what counties wanted.
'The snobbery was always there,' says England all-rounder Barry Knight. 'Tom Pugh, who took over as Gloucestershire captain from Tom Graveney, was an amateur who could hardly play ... pros were pros, amateurs, amateurs, even after 1962. The change was in name only. You always felt they wanted amateur captains.'
In truth, there had been many situations where it was apparent to all that the captain was not worth his place in the team as a player, which could and did lead to tension both on and off the field. Even Yorkshire, that most no-nonsense of counties, had suffered, the great left-arm spinner Johnny Wardle being sacked in 1958 after allegedly criticising the amateur captain Ronnie Burnet, a club cricketer who had been plucked from the obscurity of the Bradford League at the age of 39 to be given the job over Wardle's head.
This even occurred at international level. In the winter of 1929–30 there were two simultaneous England tours overseas. One, to New Zealand, was captained by Harold Gilligan (Dulwich College), who despite playing as a specialist batsman achieved a Test average of 17.75 in the series, while the other, to the West Indies, was captained by the Honourable Freddie Calthorpe (Repton and Cambridge), son of Lord Calthorpe and the uncle of cricket commentator Henry Blofeld. Calthorpe also played for England primarily as a batsman, and tabled only a slightly better average: 18.42.
Farce was an occasional alternative to tragedy. In Surrey's eagerness to appoint an amateur captain after the Second World War, they turned to Major Leo Bennett, a good quality club cricketer who captained the BBC's weekend team. Hearing that Major Bennett was currently at the ground paying his membership dues, they buttonholed him and offered him the job. Unfortunately it turned out to be the wrong Major Bennett, but by the time the mistake was discovered it was felt that it was too late to do anything about it. The Surrey committee resolutely refused to admit that he had not in fact been their first choice, and he duly captained the side throughout the 1946 season. Major Nigel Bennett was described by one writer as 'a weak batsman and utterly lost as a county captain'. The Surrey players, however, while doubtless resenting their very poor performance that year, were gracious in their acceptance of his presence, not least, so it was said, because he had an extremely attractive wife who used to attend every game, bringing a waft of perfume and a welcome touch of glamour to the pavilion.
So, the distinction had now been abolished, and at county level most captains were what would have been categorised as professionals under the old regime; Titmus at Middlesex was a case in point. Yet old habits died hard, and counties still yearned for a well-spoken public schoolboy when they could find one. So too did England and, amazingly, would continue to do so for some decades yet. In recent years their captains of choice had been public schoolboys all: Peter May, Ted Dexter, M.J.K. Smith and Cowdrey himself, who had captained the side sporadically over the years when none of the first three were available, and had finally got the job for himself in 1966, only to lose it after just three matches.
Fred Trueman said:
Those charged with running the game and selecting England teams ... were former schoolboys who went on to Oxford or Cambridge ... They looked down on the pros and considered an amateur with a cricket blue from Oxford or Cambridge as a much superior choice when it came to selecting the England team.
M.J.K. Smith had been captain for the first match that summer at Old Trafford where the West Indies attack of Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs overwhelmed England, who lost by an innings, Smith scoring just 11 in the match. His opposite number, Sobers, by contrast, scored 161 and then showed yet another side of his all-round brilliance by switching to left-arm spin in England's second innings; he and Gibbs bowled 83 overs between them out of the total of 108.
It was the end for Smith as a captain, though he would be recalled briefly and slightly puzzlingly in 1972. An outstanding all-round sportsman, he was England's last double international (rugby and cricket), but he had never really established himself at Test level, scoring just three centuries in 50 matches, with a batting average of 31. Indeed, playing as he did in an age of talented batsmen, it is difficult to imagine that he would have played anything like 50 Tests had he not been earmarked as captaincy material.
Smith, 'an absent-minded professor' who played in spectacles, was vulnerable against fast bowling, especially early in his innings. Cowdrey says that the selectors were also afraid for his personal safety, as this was an era before helmets, and Smith had problems spotting short-pitched deliveries. So, the selectors now turned to Colin Cowdrey, but he too was to find the brilliant West Indies side more than a handful.
The 1966 Lord's Test was memorable chiefly because it marked the debut of Basil D'Oliveira, the first 'coloured' cricketer to play for England since the 1930s. As so often at Lord's the game was badly affected by the weather, ending in a draw. England achieved a first-innings lead and ran out of time chasing 284 to win in the second innings, ending 87 runs short with four wickets down, led in fine style by a rollicking 126 not out from Colin Milburn. England had been in a position to win the match, only to be denied by a mammoth second-innings undefeated stand of 274 for the sixth wicket between Sobers and his first cousin, David Holford.
Cowdrey himself failed twice with the bat and was heavily criticised in the press for overly defensive tactics, in particular, failing to attack Sobers and Holford before they were set. At least one former England captain felt he was not only defensively minded, but also indecisive, as would be evidenced by his uncertainty after an over-generous (or sporting, depending on your point of view) declaration by Garry Sobers in Trinidad in 1968. Ray Illingworth, the northern professional, says wryly that one of Cowdrey's biggest challenges as captain was deciding whether to call heads or tails.
Trent Bridge was a better game for Cowdrey personally, but another disaster for him as captain, England losing after once again gaining a first-innings lead. Sobers, having been dismissed cheaply, opened the bowling with Wes Hall and took four wickets. Tom Graveney, one of his victims that day, would later say that, with the exception only of Ray Lindwall, Sobers was the bowler he least liked facing throughout his Test career. Sobers the batsman cashed in with 94 in the second innings, but the star of the show was Basil Butcher, who cut the English attack to ribbons in making an unbeaten 209.
Worse still was to come at Headingley, where West Indies batted first, declared on exactly 500 (Sobers 174), bowled England out, enforced the follow-on and bowled them out again to win by an innings. With the exception only of D'Oliveira, who top-scored with 88, much of England's batting was deeply unimpressive, with Cowdrey again failing twice.
With the series lost, the selectors decided that the time had come for firm action. They dropped the diffident southern amateur Cowdrey and brought in Yorkshire's Brian Close to captain the side, with a young Dennis Amiss receiving his first cap. What followed was little short of cricketing magic. England scored 527 after having at one stage been 166-7, largely thanks to two huge stands. First Tom Graveney put on 217 for the eighth wicket with John Murray, whose batting had been considered a weakness at Test level. Then, still more improbably, the opening bowlers Higgs and Snow put on 128 for the last wicket. With Snow then dismissing both West Indian openers cheaply, this time it was England's turn to win by an innings. After the match Snow and Higgs were asked to pose for the press still holding their celebratory beers. The authorities, scandalised, substituted teacups.
A blunt, combative, northern professional, much loved and admired, Brian Close remains one of cricket's enigmas. His early days were spent in a council house in the working-class suburb of Rawdon, the birthplace of the great Hedley Verity, with two of whose children Close grew up (Verity was killed in Italy during the war). He was an intelligent and hard-working grammar schoolboy who, most unusually in those days, was offered a place at university, which he decided to decline, preferring instead to pursue a sporting career, though he had thought seriously about becoming a doctor.
A good enough footballer to play for Leeds and Arsenal and gain a youth cap for England, he too might have become a double international, but his soccer career was curtailed by a leg injury and the unwillingness of Yorkshire to release him for games which overlapped with the cricket season, so he decided to concentrate solely on cricket. His first season with Yorkshire, 1949, was little short of outstanding, as he became the youngest all-rounder to achieve the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets. He was selected to play for the Players against the Gentlemen, which was to prove memorable for more than cricketing reasons. On reaching 50 he was congratulated by the amateurs' wicketkeeper, Billy Griffith, who said 'well played, Brian', to which Close replied 'thank you, Billy'. He was later disciplined and formally reprimanded by the Yorkshire committee for not having addressed him as 'Mr Griffith'.
Excerpted from Cricket At The Crossroads by Guy Fraser-Sampson. Copyright © 2011 Guy Fraser-Sampson. Excerpted by permission of Elliott and Thompson Limited.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
CHAPTER 1: GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS,
CHAPTER 2: THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE,
CHAPTER 3: THE CLOSE AFFAIR,
CHAPTER 4: ENGLAND'S 1967–68 TOUR OF THE WEST INDIES,
CHAPTER 5: THE 1968 ASHES (PART I),
CHAPTER 6: THE 1968 ASHES (PART II),
CHAPTER 7: SOUTH AFRICA'S INTERVENTION (PART I),
CHAPTER 8: SOUTH AFRICA'S INTERVENTION (PART II),
CHAPTER 9: ENGLAND'S ALTERNATIVE 1968–69 TOUR AND A SUMMER AT HOME,
CHAPTER 10: AN END TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN TOUR AND ENGLAND V THE REST OF THE WORLD,
CHAPTER 11: THE 1970–71 ASHES (PART I),
CHAPTER 12: THE 1970–71 ASHES (PART II),
CHAPTER 13: THE 1970–71 ASHES PART III),
CHAPTER 14: A CONCLUSION TO THE 1970–71 ASHES,
CHAPTER 15: AT HOME TO PAKISTAN AND INDIA,
CHAPTER 16: THE 1972 ASHES (PART I),
CHAPTER 17: ENGLAND'S TOUR OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN, AT HOME TO NEW ZEALAND AND THE WEST INDIES,
CHAPTER 18: ENGLAND'S 1973–74 TOUR OF THE WEST INDIES,
CHAPTER 19: THE SUMMER OF 1974,
CHAPTER 20: THE 1974–75 ASHES,
CHAPTER 21: THE 1975 ASHES,
CHAPTER 22: AT HOME TO THE WEST INDIES,
CHAPTER 23: THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA,