Wisden arrived this week. Of course one always has to wait a little while for it in Singapore, but wherever you are the arrival of this remarkable book is always a welcome moment.
Of course nobody actually reads Wisden in the way you read a normal book. This is partly because of its function as a work of reference, although the Records section takes up less space now because so much is available online. But Wisden – any Wisden – is one of those books which, once picked up, can be impossible to put down. But to make the most of the book you have to know your way around it; otherwise you sort of miss the point.
Every aficionado has his or her approach to the book. These days I always start with the obituaries. It sounds morbid but it isn’t. I have been following cricket for a long time and I remember a lot about the players I used to watch, live or on television, when I was growing up. This year, of course, the most significant obituary was that of Bob Willis, cruelly taken from us at only 70. I took particular note, though, of the obituaries of two great West Indian batsmen of the 1960s, Basil Butcher and Seymour Nurse. Butcher in particular I remembered well. He played a leading role in one of the most exciting Test matches of all time, the draw between England and the West Indies in 1963.
Anyway, I was leafing through the tome (1536 pages this year) I was struck by a photograph. It is one of the “part titles”, pictures inserted to mark the start of a Part of the book, in this case, Part One, Comment.
I love these part titles, which were introduced by the then editor Matthew Engel in 2007. I am prepared to wager that many people who “read” Wisden are barely aware of their existence.
But I was particularly struck by this picture. It appears at the top of this post, and the title – caption? – revealed on page 1536 of the book – is the title of this piece. The picture in Wisden is in black and white, which makes it somehow more effective and evocative, though the colour is equally beautiful. The photo was taken by Patrick Eagar, the greatest of all cricket photographers and the son of Desmond Eagar, who ran Hampshire cricket, as captain and then secretary, for 30 years after the Second World War. In Feeling is the thing that happens in 1000th of a second – don’t worry about the clunky book title, the combination of Christian Ryan’s prose and Eagar’s pictures, taken during the 1975 cricket season, makes for a rapturous gem.
I didn’t need to look at page 1536 to identify the location of this picture. I spent many happy days at Dean Park, the ground in Bournemouth where Hampshire played for many years, continuing to play there after 1974 when, thanks to Ted Heath and Peter Walker’s largely pointless local government reorganisation, Bournemouth became part of Dorset. (The Cooper-Deans were a big local family; the football club still play at Dean Court.)
It was a lovely ground, still used I think but no longer by Dorset, let alone Hampshire. Located in a suburban part of the city, it is surrounded by splendid Victorian and Edwardian villas and beautiful oaks and horse chestnuts. There is a quaint old pavilion; the ground was developed in 1869. Hampshire always seemed to be playing there in August when it was full of holiday-makers, before the holiday-makers went to Europe instead; now they can’t go further than their own back gardens, if they’re lucky enough to have one, it seems strangely appealing.
But Hampshire haven’t played there for years, not because of local bureaucracy but because for a long time now they have played almost all their cricket at the Ageas Bowl, a new ground just off the M27, between Southampton and Portsmouth. This has been the story in most of the counties, as recounted in Paul Edwards’ excellent article in the almanack, County Outgrounds.
That explains why the picture has been used as the part title. The greater mystery is why it was taken in the first place – apart from the obvious fact that Dean Park looks lovely.
I turned at once to my copy of Wisden 1971 and looked at the Hampshire section. Sure enough, the first home game of the season was at Bournemouth, against Surrey. This was a wonderful match. I actually saw the final day when Roy Marshall, one of my greatest cricketing heroes, made a thrilling hundred and put on 112 in 75 minutes for the eighth wicket with all-rounder Alan Castell. Hampshire lost by 10 runs.
I looked again at the scorecard; the first day was 23 May; surely the good book couldn’t have made a mistake?
No of course it was me who had made the mistake. Closer examination showed that the county’s first John Player League match of the season (the 40-over Sunday league) was also at Bournemouth, against Somerset, on 3 May.
Typically for those days, the match was staged in the middle of Hampshire’s Championship match against Middlesex at Lord’s, which started on Saturday 2 May. (Somerset were not playing anybody else. The match was not especially interesting. Hampshire batted first and made 133 for six in their 40 overs (Trevor Jesty 57). Somerset, despite losing openers Roy Virgin and Tony Clarkson for nought, won quite easily by eight wickets, Mervyn Kitchen and Graham Burgess making 73 and 56 respectively.
So it wasn’t a hugely interesting game. There was no shortage of interesting players. Hampshire were going through a genuinely transitional phase. Of the eleven who played in this match, five had been regular members of the team that won the championship for the first time in 1961– the captain (in 1970), Marshall, middle-order batsman Danny Livingstone, all-rounder Peter Sainsbury, fast bowler David “Butch” White and the legendary medium pacer Derek Shackleton. “Shack” had retired in 1968 but came back for the 40-over competition which had started in 1969, when Hampshire came second. In 1970 they slipped tom12th.They came fifth in the Championship in 1969 and tenth in 1970. Five of the eleven who played at Dean Park in 1970 were members of the squad who won the championship for the second time in 1973. They were Sainsbury – the only man to play in both 1961 and 1973 – Jesty, the left-hander David Turner, the opener Richard Lewis, and the keeper Bob Stephenson. The other players in this eleven at Bournemouth were Castell, the other opener Barry Reed and the fast-medium bowler Bob Cottam. Hampshire’s best player, Barry Richards, missed the game.
I have vivid memories of a number of these cricketers, notably Marshall and White. Marshall, a (white) Barbadian who played half a dozen Tests for the West Indies, was a glorious stroke-maker and one of the best batsmen to watch of his era. White, a big, cheerful man, on his day was genuinely fast. I remember seeing him bowling to Asif Iqbal of Kent at the old County Ground at Northlands Road, Southampton in 1968. On only two other occasions (live) have I seen batsmen so clearly concerned about safety: the first was watching John Snow bowling to Clive Lloyd at Headingley in 1970 when England played the Rest of the World; the second was watching Mitchell Johnson at Adelaide in 2013-14. I knew Lewis a bit. His father, Vic, was a leading figure in cricket in Winchester: Richard became coach at Charterhouse School.
Somerset were not exactly in a transitional phase. They were just, well, not that good. They were to come 13th in the Championship and 15th in the Sunday League. But they too had plenty of interesting players. Virgin and Kitchen were solid county batsmen; the latter became an international umpire as did the opening bowler Roy Palmer, following in the footsteps of his brother Ken, who had retired the previous year. Their best known player was probably the all-rounder Tom Cartwright, who had a coaching role and who is credited with helping make Ian Botham the bowler he became. That is not the only link with the Somerset that became a major force in one-day cricket in the late 1970s. This was an early game for Brian Rose, who became the captain of that side. Other members were Burgess, a bustling and talented all-rounder who also became a first-class umpire and a popular coach at Monmouth School, and the keeper, Derek Taylor. Taylor’s twin brother Mike, a useful lower middle order batsman and medium pace bowler, played for Nottinghamshire. In 1973 he joined Hampshire and was an ever-present in the Championship-winning side. The captain was off-spinner Brian Langford who first played for the county in 1952. Last man was fast bowler Allan Jones, one of the first cricketers to play for three counties, and for having the loudest grunt on delivery of any bowler in the land.
Now back to the picture. When I first saw it, there was one figure who was instantly recognisable. This was the umpire, John Langridge, wearing his trademark white cap. Langridge, an opening batsman, played for Sussex from 1928 to 1955 and was on the umpires’ panel from 1956 to 1980. He scored more first-class runs without playing a Test than anyone else in the history of the game apart from Alan Jones of Glamorgan. His brother James played for the county for a similar period of time. Cricket nerds are obsessed with initials – E R Dexter, F S Trueman, M C Cowdrey, etc; that is how players are named in scorecards, not just Dexter, Trueman, Cowdrey. When looking at my brother’s old Wisdens, I was always struck by the fact that the scorecards identified the Langridge brothers, who of course had the same initial, as John and James.
The non-striker is Hampshire’s Antiguan left-hander, Daintes Abbia (“Danny”) Livingstone. He was a seasoned campaigner by the time this photo was taken. He made his Hampshire debut in 1959 and established himself in the Championship year of 1961. He was a key batsman for the next few years but fell away slightly in the mid-60s. He has a special place in the hearts of Hampshire supporters because he held the catch to win the match, against Derbyshire at Dean Park – where else? – when the title was secured in 1961.
After that I struggled until I looked at the scorecard and the Getty caption. The latter says “Hampshire batsman Barry Reed pulls a delivery from Somerset bowler Roy Palmer…”.
Reed, an Old Wykehamist and a farmer by profession has been a dedicated servant of Hampshire cricket in many capacities on and off the field. He established himself as Marshall’s opening partner in 1967. He was a regular in 1968 and 1969. He dropped out in 1970, making way for a young man who had come to Hampshire from schools cricket in Berkshire, and who turned out to be more than useful. His name was Gordon Greenidge.
Has Reed actually hit the ball, as the caption suggests? He seems to have completed his shot but the ball hasn’t got very far. Livingstone, at the non-striker’s end, seems rooted to the spot. Taylor, behind the stumps, is moving to his left to take the ball rather than looking to watch its progress towards the boundary.
The scorecard is not helpful. Livingstone participated in a number of major partnerships for Hampshire (including a record 230 for the ninth wicket with Castell against Surrey in 1962; on the day after this picture was taken he put on 263 for the fourth wicket with Marshall against Middlesex at Lord’s) but this wasn’t one of them. Reed opened with Lewis, who was out for a duck: two for one. Marshall came in next and was out for six. Palmer took both wickets. So Livingstone joined Reed with the score ten for two. They took the score to 26 for three in 18 overs (it was exciting stuff, this 40 over cricket). It is not clear who was out but the survivor did not last long; Jesty joined Turner on 33 for four. Reed made nine and Livingstone 12. Maybe Eagar was just having a net, as it were.
It doesn’t really matter of course. I love this strangely beautiful and strangely inconsequential picture featuring a group of cricketers who never played international cricket and whom almost nobody now remembers. I saw the picture for the first time yesterday, but I immediately thought I had been there, which I hadn’t. The picture is like a Betjeman poem, timeless, wry, beautiful and poignant.
The virus can stop us playing cricket, except in our back gardens – if we are lucky enough to have one. It can stop us watching it, except old stuff on telly (Indian, mainly, if you live in Singapore). But it can’t stop us remembering.
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