The Smack of Firm Government

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier6 Comments

A number of friends – some not even cricketing friends really – alerted me to the passing, a couple of weeks ago, of the former England batsman Brian Bolus, at the age of 83.

I cannot remember now whether I actually watched Bolus batting. It’s quite possible – I used to watch a lot of county cricket and he played for three counties over 17 years or so, plus of course his brief England career, which was over and done with in a few months really, spanning the West Indies series of 1963, and the tour of India under M J K Smith that followed. To be honest he was not the sort of batsman you remember – solid and reliable rather than flashy and stylish. That said, he on-drove his first ball in Test cricket for four, off the fearsome Wes Hall. He finished with a Test average of 41 (highest score 88 at Madras) so he may have been a bit unlucky.

He started at Yorkshire and played a prominent part in the run-in to the 1959 Championship season when the county won the title for the first time in a decade. Competition for batting positions was already strong and when Geoff Boycott and John Hampshire joined the ranks the writing was on the wall. Bolus joined Nottinghamshire in 1963 and soon found himself opening for England; of course Boycott was to prove an obstacle there too.

He was a bulwark of Nottinghamshire’s batting for a decade, for much of that time forming a sound opening partnership with the Cornishman, Mike “Pasty” Harris. Bolus captained the county in 1972, but the side struggled and his contract was rather surprisingly not renewed at the end of the season.

He joined Derbyshire, as captain, in 1973, becoming only the third player to be capped by three counties. If we were at a cricket match, or in a pub, I would ask who the first two were (you have to be a real cricket nerd to know this). Of course it’s all different now when the idea of a T20 overseas player showing loyalty to his county is almost laughable; I think Dwayne Bravo is determined to play for all 18 counties. Anyway, we’re not at a ground or in a pub so I’ll tell you – Bob Berry, the slow left-armer who toured Australia under Freddie Brown in 1950-51, and played for Lancashire, Derbyshire and Worcestershire; and Roy Swetman, who kept wicket for Surrey, Nottinghamshire and Gloucestershire, and England too; he is the only survivor of the MCC party that toured Australia in 1958-59.

Anyway, Bolus’s Derbyshire leapt from 17th (and last) in 1972 to 16th in 1973, Nottinghamshire, appropriately enough, replacing them with the wooden spoon. It was a difficult season for Bolus, and it was made memorable by an extraordinary incident in the match against Yorkshire at Chesterfield in June.

On the Monday afternoon, the second day, Yorkshire were responding to Derbyshire’s first innings of 313 and Hampshire and Phil Sharpe were batting well. Derbyshire’s fast – seriously fast – bowler Alan Ward had started well, dismissing Boycott in his first over, but he lacked control and kept bowling no-balls. Hampshire took 16 off one over and conceded 56 runs in nine overs. When Bolus asked him to bowl again, he refused. Bolus, according to the Wisden match report, “made a dismissive gesture and Ward walked off and left the ground before play ended.”

Ward’s Derbyshire career appeared to be over; he first apologised, then retired. But within a few months he had rejoined the county and stayed till 1976, when he played the last of his five Tests. Bolus, who had handed the captaincy to Bob Taylor at the beginning of the 1975 season, retired at the end of it.

So it was a bit of a storm in a teacup. But the event itself was surely noteworthy.

Behaviour is a curious thing in cricket. The popular perception of the game is that it is conducted in an atmosphere of exaggerated gentility, with afternoon tea a central feature. Of course this has never been the case. This is hardly surprising. Unusually among team games , one side is considerably outnumbered by the other while the players are on the field. Two umpires are present but they are fully occupied interpreting the byzantine Laws and doing apparently mundane things like counting balls and acting as clothes-hangers to pay too much attention to disciplinary issues unless things get really out of hand.

But right from the start the “gentility” was nuanced, to put it mildly. Gambling, with all its attendant issues, was a central accompaniment to “big cricket” in the eighteenth century. W G Grace, “The Great Cricketer” spent his whole career ensuring that the Laws of the game were administered in his favour or – though this came a poor second – in his team’s favour.

The development in England of a national, county-organised structure dominated by class meant that discipline, in the sense that we regard it now, was rarely an issue. Amateurs and professionals occupied different dressing rooms and at some grounds even entered the field by different gates. The social changes that accompanied the end of the Second World War and the election of Clement Attlee’s Labour party to power largely passed cricket by. It is surely no coincidence that the two previous occasions of a cricketer being sent off the field by his captain – admittedly well before World War Two – both involved a professional being despatched by an aristocrat.

The first was the tragic case of Bobby Peel, the great Yorkshire slow left arm bowler. One of the stars of his day, Peel took 102 wickets for England in 20 Tests at an average of 16.21. He was at his peak in 1897 when a most unfortunate incident occurred in Yorkshire’s match against Middlesex at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in 1897. Peel was drunk on the morning of the match and the great all-rounder George Hirst persuaded him, or at least thought he had persuaded him, to stay in the team hotel. The captain, Lord Hawke, told the twelfth man he was playing. But when Yorkshire took the field Hirst was mortified to observe that they numbered twelve, including Peel, who, according to a newspaper report, “was obviously unable to do himself justice”. Hawke, according to Hirst, quietly asked Peel to leave the field but Peel said he was fine. He then turned around and bowled a ball in the direction of the sight-screen. At that point Hawke escorted him from the field, and his career was over.

The second incident concerned the Hampshire all-rounder Jack Newman, a player good enough to score almost 14,000 runs and take 1,946 wickets in his 20 years with the county.

During the game against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 1922, Newman was being barracked by the crowd for taking too long to set the field while he was bowling. The captain, the Hon. Lionel Tennyson (later Lord Tennyson – he was the grandson of the poet) told him to get a move on. This irritated Newman; the two exchanged words, Tennyson ordered Newman to leave the field, which he did, kicking the stumps over as he left. They had kissed and made up by the next day.

The amateur-professional divide, increasingly discredited, survived until the end of the 1962 season. Traces of it remained after that. The argument over whether Ray Illingworth or Colin Cowdrey should lead the MCC tour party to Australia in 1970-71 was not simply a matter of North versus South.

Reverting to the Newman incident, we are all, not just the players, expected to be on our best behaviour when attending a cricket match. The Newman incident was probably not the first time the crowd had provoked a reaction on the field, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Some games, most recently the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, have been abandoned, or at least rudely interrupted because of an actual riot. (Often the cricket is just the setting for the riot; at Eden Gardens it was the cause.) In the sixth Ashes Test of 1970-71 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a section of the crowd responded to Terry Jenner being felled by a John Snow bouncer by pelting the England fast bowler with beer cans and fruit. Illingworth took his men off the field until things had calmed down. That showed leadership. During the first Test between Pakistan and the West Indies at Multan in 1980-81, the fast bowler Sylvester Clarke reacted to being pelted with oranges by picking up a brick boundary marker and throwing it at one of the ringleaders, who ended up in hospital. The match was suspended, as was Clarke. As if repaying the compliment the great Pakistani leg-spinner Abdul Qadir, was embroiled in a similarly unsavoury incident with a spectator in a Test in Barbados in 1987-88.

Clive Lloyd, captain on that West Indies tour of 1980-81, is rightly regarded as one of the greatest of all captains. His results justify that accolade. But his wonderful team wasn’t always perfectly behaved. In the first Test between New Zealand and West Indies at Dunedin, which the hosts won by one wicket, the now sainted TV commentator, Michael Holding, then the West Indian opening bowler, was so disgruntled by a no doubt erroneous umpiring decision that he demolished the stumps at the batsman’s end with a full swing of his right leg. In the second Test, at Christchurch, Holding’s opening partner, Colin Croft, having been no-balled several times, barged into the umpire, Fred Goodall, as he ran in. Lloyd was quite unfazed by these incidents. Umpiring, in the old days, could of course be a huge source of frustration, most notoriously in the case of Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana in Faisalabad in 1987-88.

Embed from Getty Images

Lloyd demonstrated undisguised cynicism in other aspects of his captaincy. Having four fast bowlers at your disposal does not provide solely intimidatory possibilities. It means you control the pace of the game; the batting side aren’t going to get many runs if there are only 13 overs an hour, even if most of the balls are hittable. Of course Lloyd was not the first or last captain to recognise this. Ian Johnson’s 1954-55 Australians were lucky that Len Hutton only had two fast bowlers in his Ashes-winning team; the Yorkshireman was a past master at slowing the game down. Jason Holder, the West Indian captain who led his team to victory in the first two Tests against England in 2018-19 paid the price for his team’s tardy over rate by missing the third. Ultimately over rates are a behavioural issue, affecting tactics and value for money.

The gladiatorial aspect of cricket is the individual contest between batsman and bowler. Tempers can run high then and often there’s not much the captain can do about it. A few images stick in the mind: Javed Miandad and Dennis Lillee; Steve Waugh and Curtly Ambrose; Ramnaresh Sarwan and Glenn McGrath. A batsman who repeatedly tries to steal an advantage by backing up too early, as Jos Buttler is wont to do in the shorter formats, can hardly complain if the bowler tries to run him out.

At the MCG in February 1981 India in their second innings were facing a massive deficit but their openers, captain Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, put on 165 in their second innings. Then Gavaskar was given out leg before. He left the crease promptly enough but cajoled the perplexed and reluctant Chauhan to accompany him, clearly indicating to the disconcerted Australians that, well, this is my ball and you’re not going to play with it. Gavaskar and Chauhan were met on the boundary by the Indian team manager, who persuaded Chauhan to return.

Usually, though, when there is “trouble” on the field, the captain is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. What was the greatest affront to what we now, rather piously, refer to as the spirit of cricket, in the first half of the twentieth century? It must surely have been Bodyline. Fast, short-pitched bowling, directed at the upper torso and the head with half a dozen fielders clustered round on the leg side. And the captain, Douglas Jardine, was the prime mover.

Did anyone refuse Jardine’s direction to bowl, as Ward did to Bolus? Well it all depends how you look at it. The Nottinghamshire professionals, Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, seem to have been willing accomplices in Jardine’s method of attack. But the Middlesex amateur, “Gubby” Allen, refused to bowl Bodyline. Of course, he did not refuse Jardine’s direction on the field. My goodness that would never have done. It would all have been sorted out over a whisky and soda before the series started. The Nawab of Pataudi also made his reservations about Bodyline clear. The Indian prince scored a century in the first Test but was then dropped, but, of course, he wasn’t English.

The interesting question is not whether Larwood might have been sent off by Jardine for refusing to bowl Bodyline but whether he should have been sent off for bowling it. Of course it’s a dumb question. You might as well ask if Cameron Bancroft should have been sent off by Steve Smith for ball-tampering in Cape Town. They’re all in it together. Ball-tampering is the obvious example of this: vide Faf du Plessis and Michael Atherton. (Clearly Cape Town was on a different level.)

Captaincy in cricket is a seriously complicated business, not readily comparable to a leadership role in any other sport. A reasonably intelligent person who has captained his or her team in a school house match will recognise this. There are so many decisions to make, so many opportunities for making howlers. It is no accident that The Art of Captaincy, by Mike Brearley, is regarded as an almost biblical source by Hollywood producers and business leaders.

Embed from Getty Images

At the professional level, one hopes, the howler potential is limited. The critical elements are strategic astuteness and personnel management. Brearley, with his situational awareness and his “degree in people”, excelled at both, and there have been other great captains: Ian Chappell and Mark Taylor; Graeme Smith; Misbah-ul-Haq; Andrew Strauss.  Sides captained by such people tend not to claim unfair catches, make stupid appeals, harass the umpire and all the rest of it. Leaders such as they can command attention by raising an eyebrow. Virat Kohli is good but the whole ground, the whole world, knows when he’s fed up with one of his players. You can almost – almost – imagine Kohli sending someone off.

The other thing, apart from strategy and handing you players, is how you deal with pressure. Ah yes, pressure. Everybody’s favourite quote about this is the great Australian all-rounder Keith Miller, who, asked how he coped with a particular “pressure situation” in a match, said “Pressure is having a Messerschmitt up your arse”; Miller had been a RAAF pilot in the war. (After one mission he made an unauthorised detour so he could fly over Beethoven’s birthplace.)

Even the most jaded of observers would surely admit that a World Cup final is loaded with pressure. The 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup final, played at Lord’s on 14 July, was surely the best of all such contests. A glorious day and a packed house in the great old ground (even the Duke of York was there). Two teams who had never won the competition before, one of them the home side. Both teams had had brilliant tournaments. Three weeks earlier I had been present at Edgbaston when (in the press box no less) when Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain, had struck the second ball of the final over for six to reach his hundred and hit the next for four to clinch victory over South Africa. Meanwhile England’s one-day captain, the Irishman Eoin Morgan who had transformed his adopted nation’s 50-over team from the hopeless rabble of 2015 to the best team in the world, had seen them through to the final despite some anxious moments, notably in the unexpected defeat by Sri Lanka at Headingley (which I also watched from the press box (in the mid innings break, literally everyone thought England would win). I don’t know enough about Morgan to say but it seems to me that he, too, has a degree in people. Which of these two champions was going to emerge triumphant?

Well, we all know what happened. As Miles Jupp says in the 2020 Wisden: “From the first ball, there was the sense that England were behind; nearly 100 overs later, they were still behind.” Those last few, unforgettable moments of England’s innings. 22 needed off nine balls, and Ben Stokes seemed to have been caught by Trent Boult in front of the Warner Stand but Boult stepped over the line – six.

Boult bowled the final over; after two balls, England needed 15, with two wickets left, Stokes on strike. Who was under pressure now? Stokes obviously, but what about the fielding side and especially its captain?

Stokes smashed Boult’s next ball for six. Nine off three. The next ball saw the overthrow, and the deflection off Stokes’ bat to the untenanted area in front of the Pavilion; two plus four equalled six. Should it have been one plus four equalled five? Maybe – but it wasn’t, and it might have made no difference at the end of the day.

Embed from Getty Images

Now it was three off two; two off two for a tie, which meant a Super Over contest. There was no doubt who was under most pressure now, with Stokes seeing it like the proverbial football and so many options for him.

It was a tie of course, and so was the Super Over contest. England won by virtue of hitting more boundaries. It would be interesting to know how many people involved in the match – players, officials, commentators, coaches – were aware of the relevant rule, say, forty minutes before the dramatic conclusion of England’s innings.

Williamson, who had remained focussed but utterly composed, on the surface, through those pulsating final moments, was inevitably asked, almost immediately after the game, how he felt. “Gutted”, he said. That was it.

Anybody really interested in the spirit of cricket should watch those last two overs: Martin Guptill, ruefully signalling six as Boult stepped over the line; Ben Stokes apologising as the magnitude of the ricochet became clear. And Williamson, standing powerless, as the dream of a lifetime inexorably vanished.

Share this Post

Comments

  1. Another excellent piece. Reminds me, I really must get The Art of Captaincy…

  2. Good to read about Brian Bolus. This is a fascinating piece with every recollection or anecdote told in great style. EW would no doubt have approved !

  3. A thoroughly enjoyable read, all the more so with here and now cricket in the offing. Perhaps memorable events await – rain preventing play seemingly not amongst them.

  4. Wonderful piece Bill. What a pleasure to read proper, insightful, informed writing about something so badly missed.

  5. Excellent piece again Bill. I actually saw Bolus bat in the first Test match i ever saw live — in Bombay’s Brabourne Stadium in 1963-4. He wasa more than competent opener, solid and reliable, and made an impression with scores of 25 and 57 in a match in which an England team depleted by injury and illness had their backs to the wall throughout.

  6. Thanks Bill for a very interesting read. I do think you are being generous to dear old Brian Bolus by calling him solid and reliable. My memories are of some boring blocking when he was at the crease but then what’s wrong with that you may ask?

Leave a Comment