In the Genes

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier

Flying from Singapore to London to watch England’s third Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s, I found myself watching an episode of Fawlty Towers. It was the one where Basil is star- struck and almost swindled by a man passing himself off as ” Lord Melbury”. I must have watched it a dozen times but it always works.

Early on in the episode , the Major is chatting to Fawlty about the day’s news : ” D’ Oliveira’s made a hundred” he exclaims.

Well, talk about timeless. Worcestershire’s young all- rounder Brett d’Oliveira, grandson of Basil, one of the most significant of all sportsmen – has started the English season in sparkling form. Although he is scoring runs in the second division – opening the innings in the four day game is his strongest suit- it is not impossible to imagine him following in the footsteps of his distinguished grandfather and playing for England.

Fathers and sons have always been quite common in cricket : Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow provide examples in the current England side. Grandfathers and grandsons are a little rarer.

The most distinguished example must be the Australian Victor Richardson, captain of the side that toured South Africa in 1935-6, and his grandchildren Ian, Greg and Trevor Chappell.

George Headley, one of the all time greats, was the father and grandfather of Test cricketers. His son Ron was a loyal servant of Worcestershire for many years and was rather surprisingly called up for a couple of Tests when West Indies were touring England in 1973. Ron’s son Dean made a real mark for England, helping them beat Australia at Melbourne in 1998-9 before injury brought his career to a premature end.

The subcontinent has produced a similar triple. Jahangir Khan played Test cricket for India before Partition; he is best remembered , though, for bowling a ball – at Lord’s in 1936 in a game for the Indian tourists against M C C- which killed a sparrow. His son, Majid Khan , was a fine classical batsman for Pakistan in the 1970s and ’80s. His son, Bazid Khan , played one Test for Pakistan in 2005. His slightly lugubrious tones can be heard commentating on televised games involving Pakistan.

England narrowly missed a triple. J H ( Jim )Parks played for Sussex for many years, alongside his brother Harry , and made one appearance for Eengland in 1937, the year he achieved the unique feat of scoring three thousand runs and taking a hundred wickets in a county season. His son , j M ( also Jim) was a splendid attacking batsman and a wicketkeeper good enough to make forty six appearances for England. Jim’s son , Bobby , was a highly regarded keeper who played for Hampshire for many years. He never played Test cricket but came as close to it as it is possible to do. In 1986, when Bruce French was injured during the Lord’s Test against New Zealand Parks was one of three substitute wicketkeepers used in the match.

Giant pace bowler Chris Tremlett , who at Sydney in January 2011 took the last and series- winning Australian wicket, was the grandson of Somerset’s Maurice who played three Tests against the West Indies in 1947-8. Middle man Tim, a contemporary of Bobby Parks at Hampshire , was a fine medium pace bowler.

And then there are the Comptons.. Denis is up there with Headley, one of the immortals. In the English pantheon , among post – war batsmen , it is a choice between him and his contemporary Len Hutton, as to who is the greatest: Peter May, Ted Dexter, Geoff Boycott, David Gower, Graham Gooch , Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen are worthy runners-up. Compton was magical : flamboyant, debonair and apparently unconventional , yet impeccably correct at the moment of impact. He brought to post – war England the sort of joy that Don Bradman brought to Depression – hit Australia.

Nick usually looks good , even if he lacks the incomparable sangfroid of his grandfather. The Lord’s Test against Sri Lanka was always going to be a trial. The fact was he just hadn’t got enough runs, and he had had plenty of chances since returning to the side in South Africa.

His previous England stint had ended when he had batted himself out of the side in the short series against New Zealand which preceded the 2013 Ashes. It was a shame because he seemed to have made the opening spot his own in the previous away series against India and New Zealand.

At Lord’s he was riding for a fall. Alastair Cook and Alex Hales set the stage with a trouble-free opening stand of 51. When Compton came in it looked like a different game. The torture didn’t last too long , but it was long enough – eleven balls for one run. He walked off to a slightly embarrassed silence.

In the second innings a possible reprieve seemed at hand. Cook’s knee injury meant that Compton opened with Hales. For the first time in the series he looked almost relaxed. But it was not to be and he was caught behind again, for nineteen. This time the crowd gave him a warmer send-off but it was hard to avoid the sense of a final farewell.

Was he unlucky , or was he just not quite good enough? It’s not easy to say. There is always the feeling that the next innings will be the breakthrough. Michael Carberry was arguably unluckier, being far from disgraced by Mitchell Johnson but losing his place anyway. The fact is that Carberry and Compton both did just enough to show they were not quite ” there”.

Neither of them experienced a series in which they scored 53 runs at an average of under eight. That was Denis Compton’s record against Australia in 1950-1. But that just goes to show the force of one of cricket’s greatest truisms: form is temporary, class is permanent.

Bill Ricquier, 20/6/2016

The article was featured in ESPN Cricinfo:

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