Sunday, August 2, 2015

A test match umpire tries and fails to teach My Life in Cricket Scorecards to ski

The time: 1985. The place: a hillside in the Massif Central, France. Imagine yourself in a helicopter looking down on the snow-covered scene.

You see two figures. The first is flat on the ground, rigid with fear at the imminent prospect of sliding to an icy oblivion. He is thinking that he will die not knowing the identity of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year for 1985.

The second is standing, wedging the first perfectly securely, coaxing him to a standing position (but not in the accidental racing configuration of the skis that led to the wiping out of not one, but two lines of Gallic infants the previous day).

The first figure is My Life in Cricket Scorecards, the second Barry Dudleston of Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and Rhodesia, scorer of 32 first-class hundreds, then at the beginning of a distinguished umpiring career that would include two test matches.

It was a joint trip by two Bristol schools. Barry was tagging along to enjoy the skiing and to help some of the novices stay upright (failing in my case), and a few of us teachers were also there as paying guests (in view of what follows it is important to establish early on that at no time was I responsible for the welfare of the young people present).

I recognised Barry as soon as I got on the bus that took us from Bristol to central France, but it wasn’t until the second night we became acquainted. He was impressed that I had seen him make 171 not out against Kent at Canterbury 15 years before. It was the innings that established him in the Leicestershire line-up. At No 4 rather than the opener’s position that he filled for most of his career, he batted almost throughout the second day and was 159 not out at the close, a fair rate of progress for the time, particularly as Norman Graham, Kent’s opening bowler, delivered 50 overs for 70 runs (yes, 50 overs; I checked).

Of course, it was a delight for a cricket fan to sit in a French hotel room listening to tales of the game, particularly as told by as entertaining a raconteur as Barry. But a bottle of whisky made an untimely but telling intervention. I made the beginner’s error of trying to keep up with a pace practised over almost twenty years on the county circuit. Imagine going for a run with Usain Bolt and trying to keep up; the physical consequences would not be dissimilar. By refilling my glass from the bottle and his own mostly from the tap, my Clifton correspondent—who I also met on this trip—did not materially assist matters.

My recall of the later events of the evening is imprecise, but it is reported that at one point I rose from the horizontal to correct a minor error of cricket statistics before returning at once to the recumbent. I skied little over the following two days, hence the lesson on the last day that did manage to get me down a hill intact and free of collateral damage to other skiers. I have not put on skis again from that day to this.

Over the next three or four years there were regular catch ups, often on Thursday evenings. The usual venue was The Vittoria on Whiteladies Road, run by Sam Glenn, a keen cricket fan. Sam was a resourceful landlord as exemplified by the Vittoria’s winning of a prize in the Pub Garden of the Year competition despite not having a garden, an impediment that a lesser man would have regarded as insuperable. He also had problems with his sight to deal with. Or at least I assume he did. It would explain why most Thursday nights he called closing time and shut the doors apparently not having seen that we were still there, drinking.

Barry was in the category of batsmen just below international level. Several players with career figures similar to his collected a few caps: David Steele, Graham Barlow and Roger Tolchard for example. He might have done so if a run of form had synchronised with the selectoral mercuriality of those times.
Instead he had the satisfaction of being at the heart of the successful Leicestershire team led by Ray Illingworth that won the Championship in 1975 and four one-day titles too, a record bettered only by Kent in the seventies (Lancashire won more one-day titles than Leicestershire, but not the Championship).

Illingworth was the key. He moved from Yorkshire for the 1969 season, taking the captaincy, disillusioned by Yorkshire’s feudal approach to its professionals. It seemed an odd move at the time. His home county had just completed a hat-trick of Championship titles, while Leicestershire were as unfashionable as a powdered wig. It made all the difference to Leicestershire; to Yorkshire too. Yorkshire led by Illingworth would have had a much better seventies than did Boycott’s unhappy band.

Barry regarded Illingworth’s cricketing knowledge and nous as unequalled. One example from dozens cited during those Thursday evening conversations: Illingworth could predict how many runs were in a one-day pitch with oracular accuracy. “This is a 180/220/240 pitch” he would tell his team of a Sunday afternoon. They then knew what pace to set, how many runs they could safely concede, and what level of risk they should take.

He was also the focus of a large number of funny stories, oddly for a man who was never deliberately humorous and, like many from the Ridings, wore dourness as a badge of pride. Much of this stemmed from the fact that, in a career that straddled five decades and consisted of more than 1,200 innings, he never, on any single occasion, believed himself to have been dismissed because the bowler bowled a ball that was better than he was. There was always an excuse so cast-iron that, by comparison, the Queen Mary appeared made of rice paper.

The apogee was reached on a benefit tour of the Caribbean. Leicestershire found themselves playing under a baking sun on a pitch from which steam rose as the bowler came in. Illingworth went out to bat wearing a sunhat, the first time that anybody could remember him donning any manner of head gear on the field. He was soon out, and as he walked back to the pavilion a good deal of money was laid down on whether his excuse would rest in the pitch or the hat.

The dressing room was tense when Illingworth returned as they waited for his preferred explanation. “How can they expect anybody to bat on a pitch like that?” he said. “Besides, my hat got in my eyes.”

Illingworth was also responsible for Barry’s fledgling career as a wicketkeeper. When Roger Tolchard was selected for MCC in the traditional season-opener versus the champion county at Lord’s, Leicestershire were without a stumper for a match against Cambridge University. When Illingworth asked if anybody had ever kept wicket before, Barry responded in the affirmative. This was a flat-out lie, but his view was that any opportunity to wear gloves to protect against the chilling April winds off the Fens should be taken.

He did enough of a job to be reinstated later in the season when Tolchard committed the cardinal sin of missing an easy chance off Illingworth’s bowling. Things went well until presented with a stumping chance when Illingworth lured a batsman down the pitch. Barry took the ball cleanly and with a flourish turned to the square leg umpire expecting the raised finger to be accompanied with a nod of appreciation to the skill of the keeper.

Instead, the hand remained by the official’s side, but he was laughing heartily, as were all the players. Except, tellingly, Illingworth. After gathering the ball, Barry’s sweeping movement with the gloves had failed to make any contact with the stumps and the batsman had returned to the crease bails intact. Thus ended a promising wicketkeeping career.

Playing for another county, Barry might have developed a reputation as an all-rounder. But for Leicestershire there were four slow bowlers ahead of him: the test off spinners Illingworth and Birkenshaw and slow left-armers Steele and Balderstone, so his own left-arm spin was not given the exposure he felt it deserved. “Fred Titmus took 3,000 wickets” he once told me. “How many of those does he remember? I took 47 and I can talk you through every one of them.”

After a spell as Gloucestershire coach (which is what took him to Bristol) Barry joined the first-class umpires list, on which he served with distinction until compulsorily retired on reaching 65. He regularly finished near the top of the assessments and was popular and respected around the county circuit.

Barry umpired two test matches in the era when officials were from the host country: against the West Indies at Edgbaston in 1991 and Pakistan at Lord’s in 1992. Along with my Clifton correspondent, I had the pleasure of being his guest on the Saturday of the latter game. From our complementary seats in the Mound Stand we watched Pakistan achieve a lead of 38 against an England attack of Malcolm, De Freitas, Lewis, Salisbury and Botham. Only now have I realised that we saw Botham’s final bowl in test cricket.

We have always regretted not taking up the offer of more free tickets for the Sunday, which turned out to be one of the great test days. England were dismissed for 175 by a combination of top-class fast bowling from Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and Mushtaq Ahmed’s leg spin. Chris Lewis gave us his finest hour (or five minutes, at least) and removed three of the top four for ducks, turning a target of 137 from a hillock to a mountain. They got there by two wickets, thanks to judicious hitting from Wasim and Waqar.

For many years Barry led bands of some England’s more discerning, less barmy, supporters on overseas tours. It was a pleasure to catch up with them in Sydney, Wellington, Rotorua, Auckland and Napier.

Barry Dudleston was 70 a couple of weeks ago. Happy birthday Barry, and thanks for the skiing lesson.

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