To be born at all is to
pick a ticket in a lottery. Land in one place and time and history leaves you
alone to get on with life and make it what you can; a few years or a few
hundred miles different and it intervenes with a black hand. Think of being a
boy of 13 as opposed to 17 in much of Europe a hundred years ago and the
difference that would have made to your life expectancy.
I had a lucky escape. As I
have written before in these columns, my formative cricket year was 1966 when
Sobers, Kanhai, Butcher and Hall came to England to intrigue and captivate a
receptive young mind. Two years older and I would have been trying to drink in
the desert of the 1964 Ashes series, and might well have fled parched from
cricket into the arms of that temptress association football.
The ’64 Ashes was the love
child of Sir Geoffrey Howe and the speaking clock, plain to look at, wet and
desperately dull. Almost 15 hours were lost to rain during the first test, at
Trent Bridge. With the scoring rate struggling to keep above two an over during
both sides’ first innings, spectators will have welcomed the respite.
The rain and the funereal
scoring at Lord’s led to a second draw. At Headingley, 160 from Peter Burge
helped Australia to victory and the run rate to a heady two-and-a-half an over.
How selection policies have changed over the years. Fred Trueman and Les
Flavell were England’s only fast bowlers, so after Flavell was injured, Ted
Dexter—brisk but very much a batsman who bowled—and Fred Titmus shared the new
ball with Trueman.
And so to Old Trafford, the
setting for our cautionary tale. In tune with the attritional attitudes of the day,
Australia’s captain Bobby Simpson was solely intent on avoiding defeat, thus
retaining the Ashes. On Thursday morning he won the toss, opened the batting and
was still there on Saturday morning when a bit of late hitting took the strike
rate to a pulse-threatening 2.56 an over, having not been much above two an
over for the first two days. Simpson’s 311 remains the second-highest maiden
test century after Sobers’ 365 and the second-slowest test triple hundred after
Hanif Mohammad’s 337, both in the 1957-58 series in the Caribbean.
For real empathy with the
hapless folk who paid money to watch this, look at the bowling figures of Tom
Cartwright: 77 overs, 32 maidens, 118 runs, two wickets. Cartwright (then of
Warwickshire, later of Somerset and Glamorgan) was a medium-pacer who could
bowl with unequalled accuracy and with just enough variation to make batsmen
even more risk-averse than usual in those cautious times. In first-class
cricket he took 1,536 wickets at under 20 and at only a smidgen over two an
As I have written before,
my Blean correspondent and myself frittered away our best years picking made-up
cricket XIs. Our most debated and proudest effort was the All-Time Boring XI.
Cartwright led the attack, which excluded truly fast bowlers, masters of swing
and, obviously, spinners as being too intrinsically interesting. Cartwright’s
selection was a compliment, a reflection that he did what he set out to do—to
wear batsmen down by the relentless tedium of nagging medium-pace
accuracy—better than the hundreds of other English county bowlers who have set
about the same endeavour over the years.Other bowlers were Derek Shackleton of Hampshire, cut from the same
cloth as Cartwright, and GG (Horse) Arnold. The latter was a controversial
choice, as Arnold could be quite interesting as a bowler, but was favoured as
being most likely to induce boring batting in the opposition.
Three members of the batting
line-up played at Old Trafford fifty years ago. Bill Lawry placed his position
in doubt by hitting three sixes, and by being run out, always an interesting
way to go. However, 106 at two an over despite the sixes supports his
Geoffrey Boycott, in his
debut test series, set the tone of the reply with three fours in three hours.
Ken Barrington made 256 from 624 balls, though he did take an hour-and-a-half less
than Simpson to reach 200.
Players with reputations as
dashers were brought down by the miasma of the pervading torpor. Ted Dexter went
no faster than Barrington in scoring 174. Jim Parks spent more than three hours
over 60 against a tired attack. In went right down the order. Opening bowlers John
Price and Fred Rumsey faced 51 balls between them for four runs.
England’s defence for
imposing this inertia upon the paying public would have been that the
Australians started it. There is something to this; with no chance of victory why
risk defeat, however remote the possibility? Yet for the past 30 years at least,
the rearguard action would have been conducted with a bit more style and awareness
that people had paid money to watch and should not be sent home contemplating a
call to the Samaritans.
The 1985 Ashes was a
milestone in this respect. On the face of it, it was an unremarkable 3 – 1 win
by a superior England team. But look closer. Two of England’s victories were
concluded in the final session of the fifth day. England’s scoring rate
forthe series was close to four an
over, and Australia’s was well clear of three. At 1960s scoring rates there
would not have been sufficient time for the games to have finished and the
series would have been drawn.
It is much more difficult to
draw a test match these days for reasons beyond a more positive attitude.
Fields drain quicker, covering is better, artificial light fills in when
natural light is inadequate and some lost time is made up.
But let us not be
complacent. For much of the current series in England (I write after the third day
at Lord’s) progress has been pedestrian, the scoring rates inflated by some
tailend bashing. At Trent Bridge, as at Old Trafford half a century ago,
spectators turned up for the third and later days pretty sure that they were
watching a game that was going to end in nothing but a draw.
This report from the 1965
Wisden—unusually trenchant for the time—captures the futility of the events at
Old Trafford fifty years ago this week: