A Tribute to a Great EnglishmanMartin Chandler |
In the early part of 1981 Kenny Barrington was the Assistant Manager of England’s touring party in the Caribbean. He was making a major contribution to guiding a 26 year old Ian Botham through what proved to be just as exacting a test of the young man’s temperament as had been expected for his first and, as it ultimately proved to be, only tour as England Captain. Kenny, affectionately known as “The Colonel” was an immensely popular figure throughout the game and his sudden death at the age of just 50, from a heart attack, part way through the Barbados Test, brought a massive outpouring of grief throughout the world of cricket.
In his playing days Kenny’s figures suggest greatness. His overall Test batting average of 58.67, assembled over 13 years in which he made as many as 82 appearances, has been bettered amongst Englishmen only by Herbert Sutcliffe and Eddie Paynter, and then only marginally. Of Barrington’s contemporaries in the England side none of Ted Dexter (47.89), Peter May (46.77), Colin Cowdrey (44.06) or Tom Graveney (44.38) ended up anywhere near his record yet, particularly in the cases of Dexter and May, their names usually crop up in any discussion about all time greats long before that of Kenny Barrington.
It is true that in his pomp Kenny was no stylist, but that seemed to have little real effect on his popularity at the time. It is surprising therefore that a man of whom Australian wicketkeeper Wally Grout, coincidentally another victim of a heart attack at a tragically early age, said “Whenever I saw Ken coming to the wicket I thought a Union Jack was trailing behind him”, is not remembered today in the same way as the likes of Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Hutton and Compton.
I am a little too young to remember too much about Kenny’s playing career, but one thing I do recall vividly is sitting with my father and listening to a radio broadcast describing play in the first Test of England’s series in the Caribbean in 1967/68. I knew the Barrington name of course, he had always been one of my father’s favourite cricketers, but I knew nothing then of the significance, of which more later, of his duel with Charlie Griffith that day. My abiding memory is of hearing about Kenny going to his century. It was to prove to be his 20th and last Test century, and he got there with a six. I had never heard of such a thing before, although I now know he did that as many as four times, and the impact of hearing about it remains in my mind to this day. Of course I soon learnt that Kenny was no English Sobers, but first impressions count for much, and I have never lost my admiration for Kenny, and the purpose of this feature, written to coincide with the 30th anniversary of his death, is to take an affectionate look at his life and times.
Kenny was born in Reading in 1930. His father was a soldier and his background very much a military one. On leaving school he went into the motor trade, a business that he returned to later in life, albeit as proprietor rather than grease monkey. As to cricket he was initially noticed by Surrey as a leg spinner in 1948. His batting came to the fore later, once he returned to his county following National Service, but his love of bowling never deserted him, and in an era when decent English leg spinners were all but extinct, it is surprising his bowling was not utilised more than it was. A career total of 273 First Class wickets at 32 is an excellent record for a man who was very much a part timer, and his strike rate (63.34) was not hugely inferior to that of Shane Warne (56.73).
By 1955 Kenny was established in the Surrey side. His rise was steady rather than spectacular, although it should be remembered that in those days wickets at the Oval were prepared for Alec Bedser, Peter Loader, Tony Lock and Jim Laker to bowl sides out on, rather than for the high scoring that had been commonplace there before the war, and indeed was to become the norm again in the future. His progress having been noted, when Len Hutton was injured Kenny was called up for his Test debut against South Africa in the first Test of that summer’s series at Trent Bridge. He came to the crease late on the first day at the fall of England’s third wicket at 228. Frank Tyson had been padded up but with skipper Peter May out in the middle the nod for “The Typhoon” to go in as nightwatchman never came, and Kenny walked out to join his captain. As always he was nervous and desperate to get off the mark. Not surprisingly in the circumstances Kenny was out for a duck. He felt devastated. His teammates made sympathetic noises, but nobody put an arm round his shoulder to console him. One of the reasons he was always looked on so fondly throughout his career was that after that experience he made sure that while he was an England player, or member of the management team, no young player would ever feel as desolate as he did on that evening in Nottingham.
England won that first Test by an innings so there was to be no chance for Kenny to redeem himself later in the match, but he played again at Lords and after another nervous start he top scored with 34 in England’s first innings. That top score, and 18 more in the second innings of a match England won really ought to have been enough to keep his place, but instead another young tyro, Colin Cowdrey, replaced Kenny for the third Test. It would be 1959 before he returned to the England team.
Throughout his career Kenny never did conquer the jangling nerves that he suffered from. He was also notoriously superstitious, always doing all that he could to get his favoured spot in a dressing room, although if he failed to accomplish that he was too courteous a man to try and push in. He was also one of those batsmen who religiously followed the same procedure as he donned his kit. Perhaps surprisingly given what happened to him on debut, he also insisted for many years on carrying with him the coin with which Peter May had won the toss in his first Test. Every time he played for England his wife sent him a telegram before the start of the game, which he kept in his pocket throughout his time on the field.
Kenny’s career did not progress as he would have hoped after his brief appearance for England and it seemed for a while as if he might drop out of the game altogether. He had a poor 1956 with Surrey, and after an improvement the following year he was back in difficulty in 1958, so much so that at one stage he was dropped by the county. That hit Kenny very hard indeed and he resolved it would not happen again. He decided to put away many of his shots and a different, hugely effective if unspectacular Kenny Barrington emerged – despite the reputation he later acquired at the outset of his career Kenny had been something of a dasher.
India were beaten 5-0 by England in 1959 and were not a strong side. Having done enough to earn his chance the reinvented Kenny played in all five Tests. He did not record a century but there were four fifties and sufficient was achieved to win a place on that winter’s tour to West Indies where, with centuries in each of the first two Tests, Kenny must have thought he had cemented his place. Charlie Griffith’s role in this series was negligible, he played in just one match and took one wicket, but Wesley Hall and Chester Watson made sure that Kenny had to deal with plenty of hostile pace bowling.
Back home in 1960 Kenny started by averaging almost 70 in his first eleven innings. He then managed just one run in his next four but must still have been confident of selection for the first Test against that season’s South African tourists. In the event he was made twelfth man and once again the experience of being dropped was acutely distressing. A tearful Kenny told his Surrey colleague Micky Stewart “They’ll never be able to leave me out again. I’m going to see to that”. It was only after that that Kenny started to eschew absolutely all risk. He became the dour accumulator of runs that he is now known for as he consigned what remained of his attacking shots to net practice only.
Thanks to a hand injury suffered by Geoff Pullar Kenny’s exile was a short one and he was back for the second Test and did enough to hold his place. It did not, however, escape Kenny’s notice that, having been dismissed four times in the series by the ultra defensive left arm medium fast bowling of Trevor Goddard, that he had a problem with that line of attack and he feared he might be exposed by the similar, but vastly more penetrative Alan Davidson, who would be with the Australians in 1961 for Kenny’s first Ashes battle. That winter he worked out the solution. His answer was an open two eyed stance in order to combat the difficulties he would otherwise have when the ball was slanted across him. “It is, to be frank, far from beautiful”, was the verdict of renowned journalist EW “Jim” Swanton. Ugly it might have been, but England had cause to be eternally grateful for its effectiveness over the remaining eight summers of Kenny’s career.
Four half centuries against Benaud’s Australians proved the worth of Kenny’s new technique and he went on to greater glory in India and Pakistan the following winter, where he scored four centuries in the seven Tests. He proved to be immensely popular with the local crowds who he took every opportunity to entertain, at appropriate moments making full use of his repertoire of impressions of other players. Such was Kenny’s following on the sub continent that he received a number of proposals of marriage amongst a great weight of fan mail.
Back in England in 1962 Kenny had health problems and therefore missed out on an opportunity to take easy runs from a Pakistani touring side that was arguably even weaker than the 1959 Indians. Such was his value by then that the selectors stuck with him through three Tests, in which he scored only 10 runs and was dismissed three times. He was eventually rested for the fourth Test but, with a not out half century when recalled for the fifth, he averted a complete personal disaster.
The following winter was Kenny’s first Ashes series in Australia. His only disppointment would have been England’s failure to recover the Ashes as the series was drawn 1-1. He scored two centuries and three half centuries in the Tests to average more than 70 for the series. He was just as successful outside the Tests, and after the tourists moved on to New Zealand. The touring party was managed by the Duke of Norfolk who learned first hand about Kenny’s notorious nocturnal problems. A good night’s sleep was a rare thing for Kenny to enjoy and he was not always a popular man to room with as a result. On a famous occasion on this tour he was eventually driven to telephoning the Duke’s room in the middle of the night to ask for a sleeping tablet. A somewhat irritated Duke confirmed to Kenny that he could come to his room to collect the pill. Such was the relief at the prospect of getting off to sleep that Kenny promptly relaxed and did just that without the need to trouble the Duke further. I cannot find any confirmation as to just how the long the Duke waited up, but it is widely reported that at breakfast the following morning he was by no means in the best of humour with his star batsman.
Another story from this tour shows another talent of Kenny’s, used this time to embarass a certain Yorkshire fast bowler. The story goes that on a shooting trip in the outback the said bowler was having no success at all. Eventually the party’s driver managed to, literally, stop a rabbit in his spotlights a few yards from the vehicle, and a double barrelled shotgun was handed to the White Rose’s finest, who still managed to miss the animal. I have to confess that I am not totally convinced that I believe what happened next but, according to Worcestershire paceman Len Coldwell, Kenny got out of the vehicle, walked up to the startled rabbit, picked it up and presented it to the hapless shot – Trueman’s reaction is not recorded, but can be imagined.
His experiences back home in 1963 brought Kenny back down to earth. Frank Worrell’s West Indian tourists won a magnificent series 3-1, the single drawn encounter being the Lord’s Test where Colin Cowdrey famously came out with a broken arm to play out the final few deliveries with David Allen and see England to the draw. There were just two half centuries for Kenny in the 275 runs he scored at 27.50 in the series, but both were at Lords where, without the 140 runs he contributed there would have been no heroics on the last day from Cowdrey. For Charlie Griffith there were 32 wickets in the series at just 16. Kenny, as with most batsmen who faced him that summer, was convinced that he threw his bouncer and yorker, but no umpire intervened. Kenny at least had the satisfaction of scoring a century for Surrey against the tourists, Hall and Griffith included, to record one of just eight scores in excess of 100 made against the tourists that summer – only Kenny and Bob Barber took their’s from an attack spearheaded by both Hall and Griffith.
It was back to India the following winter but this time it was a disappointing tour for Kenny. He played only one Test, scoring 80, before a finger injury ended his participation in the series. He was fit again for the summer and the arrival of Bob Simpson’s 1964 Australians. After their showing in 1962/63, and given an opposition that was not particularly strong, there was much optimism in England. Sadly what followed was a 1-0 defeat. For Kenny the series was a personal triumph as he averaged more than 75 and finally, at the 45th time of asking, and after doing so eight times overseas, he finally passed his century in a home Test and indeed went on to 256. The fourth Test was, however, a dreadful game that, had its pattern been repeated, would surely have killed the game. Australia batted first and took 256 overs to amass 656 before declaring with eight wickets down. The rearguard action needed in response suited Kenny down to the ground, and it was 293 overs later that England were all out for 611. Despite a full five days play there was only time for two overs to be bowled in the Australian second innings.
Towards the end of the 1964 season the stress related problems that Kenny always suffered from came to the surface as the strain of playing cricket constantly since 1959 began to show. Firstly there was a flaming row with Fred Trueman in the visitors dressing room at the Oval when Yorkshire played Surrey in Kenny’s benefit match in late August. Kenny had, as he always did, walked when Trueman at short leg had claimed a catch that neither Kenny nor either umpire had been able to see completed. At the close Kenny was shown a photograph which seemed to suggest the catch was not cleanly taken. Kenny was never going to be happy, but the vehemence and extent of his reaction towards Trueman was completely out of character. In fairness to Kenny he also had another meeting with Charlie Griffith on his mind at the time. A team of West Indians styled “Frank Worrell’s XI” were due to play three matches in September against an invited England XI. Kenny accepted an invitation to play but as the matches neared he pulled out. His reasoning was simply that he wasn’t prepared to play against a man he was convinced broke the laws of the game. Kenny did not give an explanation for his withdrawal, but the true reason was leaked to the press and the subsequent furore that blew up cast a long shadow over the next few years of Kenny’s career.
Kenny was also embroiled in controversy the following winter in South Africa. The 1964/65 trip was to be England’s last visit to the Cape for 30 years and they did well to win the series 1-0. For Kenny the trip was a personal triumph as he averaged a Bradmanesque 101.60 in the Tests. It was the events of the third Test that caused the row. Early in the South African first innings England were convinced that Eddie Barlow nicked the ball on to his boot before first slip took a clean catch. Barlow stayed put and the umpires were unsure so the burly opener stayed put and went on to 138. In those days the England team’s failure to applaud Barlow at 50, 100 or on his eventual dismissal was the most pointed snub he could possibly be given. When England batted Kenny, after centuries in the first two Tests, was going well on 49 when he edged Peter Pollock to the ‘keeper. Kenny had always walked before but, still incensed by Barlow’s behaviour, he hesitated and was given not out. Only then did he walk back to the pavilion. Opinion was polarized – for some observers it was the ultimate selfless gesture – for others it was a deliberate insult to the officials. For Kenny of course it was simply a case of, ultimately, feeling he had to do the right thing.
As the 1965 season dawned there was an increasing realisation in England that cricket needed to be more entertaining. This was not lost on Kenny who declared in an interview at the start of the season that he intended to adopt more positive methods. He was as good as his word as far as his approach to batting was concerned but was having little success. Prior to the first Test he was averaging just 16 and in a dreadful run of form. The opposition in the first part of the summer were the New Zealanders. Kenny scored 137 at Edgbaston but took more than seven hours to do it, at one point spending over an hour seemingly marooned on 85. There were extenuating circumstances. The weather was bitterly cold, so much so the players were given hot coffee at some drinks intervals. In addition Kenny was, as noted, in a bad trot, and he had to contend with New Zealand skipper John Reid setting defensive fields throughout. He was also troubled by some excellent bowling from 19 year old Dick Collinge, a classic example of the sort of pacy left armer that Kenny was never at his best against. Despite England’s victory the powers that be were not happy and Kenny was dropped for the second Test. He was angry and upset, not necessarily with the fact that the selectors expressed such concern about his rate of scoring – he knew he had not batted well – but because he found out about his dropping and the reason for it via the press. Injuries meant Kenny was back for the third Test and a further, rather faster, century then meant he remained in the side for the second part of the summer against South Africa, in which he did enough to ensure he was on the plane for that winter’s trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Frustratingly for England it was another 1-1 draw in 1965-66. Kenny batted well enough but, in England’s abject innings defeat in the fourth Test, was barracked strongly by the Australian crowd as he battled away in his own inimitable style to score 162 runs in the match in well over 9 hours. By the time the fifth Test arrived Kenny was not, for once, in the right frame of mind for Test cricket. He went into bat with England, taking first knock, in trouble at 41-2. Two and a half hours later, from only the 122nd delivery he faced, he hit Tom Veivers for six to go to the fastest century scored in Test cricket in 1966. It was wholly out of character and meant that Kenny’s final average for the series still pushed 70, but he was close to exhaustion. Management noted his discomfort and he was spared the New Zealand leg of the tour and flew home.
As the 1966 season approached Kenny’s mood deteriorated. The West Indies were the visitors and despite the press and public being preoccupied with the FIFA World Cup there was still plenty of space on the back pages devoted to building up the summer’s confrontation between Kenny and Charlie Griffith. Personal confrontation was not something that Kenny enjoyed. He thrived on the battle between bat and ball but with his opponents he craved a relationship of mutual respect, not of dislike and distrust. In the first two Tests Kenny scored 59 runs but, after being selected again for the third, he dropped out of the team and the series. He took a little time out of the game before returning to the Surrey side although his mental state, and his form, remained fragile all season.
England had no tour over the winter of 1966/67 and at last Kenny had the chance of a long break with the prospect the following summer of Tests against India and Pakistan. Both were expected to be stronger than on their most recent visits, 1959 and 1962 respectively, but still represented a complete departure from the intensity of 1966. Kenny thrived, particularly against Pakistan, as he reached his century in each of the three Tests of that series. It was a relaxing experience before the stress of the next meeting with Griffith that was scheduled for the winter of 1967/68. Griffith had been much less effective in England in 1966 than he had been in 1963, and indeed had never repeated his successes of that English summer anywhere, but at thirty he was still capable of bowling at high speed, and Kenny would have been understanably concerned about the prospect of a fully fit Griffith running in at him on home soil.
In fact, as I have already alluded to, Kenny won this battle with his demons by going to that century in the first Test. Indeed he went further than that and in addition well and truly buried the hatchet with Griffith. In the later stages of his innings, his runs made, there was one of those bizarre moments that cricket occasionally produces. Kenny was backing up as Griffith steamed in and with the bowler part way into his follow through he managed to send him flying to the ground. Given Griffith’s supposedly taciturn nature it might have been expected that a truly unpleasant scene might follow, particulary as Kenny’s elbow had made contact with Griffith’s neck, but Kenny was the first to go to the big fast bowler’s assistance and he apologised unreservedly. Griffith must have been struck by the sincerity of Kenny’s actions as they proceeded to have their first conversation in four years, and the bad blood and ill feeling that had haunted the pair since 1963 was immediately forgotten. As to the rest of the series both men would have been disappointed with their overall performances. Kenny played in all five Tests and averaged 41, but scored almost half of his total of 288 runs in that one innings at Port of Spain. Griffith broke down early in the fourth Test, which England won thanks to Gary Sobers’ sporting declaration, and took just 10 wickets. He would have taken some satisfaction from the fact that he had to pay just 23 runs each for them but, realistically it was his last success as his only other Tests, against Australia and New Zealand the following winter, would not have given him very much pleasure.
As the 1968 season began Kenny was having problems with his back that were to necessitate a manipulative procedure. With just one half century to his name all summer he was, perhaps, fortunate to be selected for the second Test (he was unfit and not available for the first) in that year’s Ashes, but he scored 75 and averaged 56 for the three Tests he played – he was dropped for the final Test, scores of 49 and 46* not being enough to see him retained. The selectors reasoning, that attacking batsmen were needed for the must win match at the Oval, was vindicated as Kenny’s replacement, Basil D’Oliveira, scored 158 before Derek Underwood famously brushed aside the Australians after a fifth day downpour.
No one supposed that Kenny’s career would close at the end of the 1968 season, and indeed he was selected in the party for the visit to South Africa that winter which, due to the D’Oliveira Affair, never took place. Kenny filled in time by playing, together with the larger than life Colin Milburn, in a double wicket competition in Melbourne and it was there, in October, that he suffered his first heart attack. The attack certainly could have been more severe, and for a time Kenny nursed hopes of playing on, but it was not to be.
In January 1969 Kenny appeared on television and announced his retirement from the game. It was a sad and premature end to a great career, although Kenny was not going to be idle. He had had an interest in a sports clothing business since 1964 and, by 1971, was ready to open a garage business. Kenny also had some journalistic duties with the Daily Sketch, but the greatest drain on his time, and by its nature the most pleasant, were his parenting duties towards his son Guy. Mr and Mrs Barrington had been trying to start a family for more than fifteen years, and to finally succeed in doing so so soon after Kenny’s heart attack smacks of divine intervention somewhere along the line.
As time passed Kenny took every opportunity he could to maintain his links with cricket and he played an important role in the management of a number of overseas tours. It is ironic that Kenny was not, initially, due to be involved in the 1980/81 tour of the Caribbean, the selectors deciding that the cost of sending an Assistant Manager would be prohibitive. When Mike Brearley declared himself unavailable to skipper the party, leading to Botham’s appointment, there was a rethink. Kenny commanded the complete respect of the youthful Botham, whose comparative inexperience and robust personality were felt to require the appointment of a mentor he could relate to, and Kenny was quickly appointed.
Botham was not alone amongst the England side in being devastated by Kenny’s death. Several of the players cried openly and the tour and Test series lost some of its appeal. No more would young batsmen be advised to “book in for bed and breakfast on that wicket”. As well as such favourite expressions Kenny’s brain’s inability to always make his lips utter the words he wanted to say was one of his most endearing qualities. “Pitch it there and you’ll have the batsman in two man’s land” is one of the best known as is “Move your feet like that and you’ll be between the devil and the deep blue sky”. On the subject of quick bowling Kenny once said of a Charlie Griffith delivery “The ball came at me like a high philosophy bullet”, and years later, when his young charges had to face a battery of fast bowling he said “It’s a good job we had those helmets, otherwise there could have been some fertilities”.
In the thirty years since his death Kenny Barrington’s name, his personality and his cricketing achievements have slipped quietly into history and not, in my opinion at least, been celebrated in the way that they should have been. I do hope therefore that this 30th anniversary will be widely noted, and that those of us who have them can share our memories of Kenny with those who are too young to know him as anything other than a name in the record books. If my optimism proves well founded then one of England’s finest cricketers should, not before time, be recognised for what he was – a great cricketer and a great Englishman.