Bill Bestwick: Rough DiamondMartin Chandler |
Author: Pope, Mick
Rating: 4.5 stars
I suppose it may simply be because I’m a hardened cricket tragic that I enjoyed this book so much – after all why else would the biography of a long forgotten cricketer who never played for England and represented what was, in his time, one of the weaker counties, appeal to anyone?
But then there are other factors. First of all the book is a very well written one, by an experienced cricket writer. That helps, of course, but what really propels this most recent addition to the ACS Lives in Cricket series to the top of the pile is just what an interesting character Bill Bestwick was.
That Bestwick was the first in a long line of pace bowlers from the Derbyshire coalfields I knew. I was also aware that he had, at 46, taken all ten Glamorgan wickets in 1921. Then there is that enduring piece of cricketing trivia concerning, a year after the ‘all ten’, the occasion when Bestwick and his son Robert had bowled to Willie Quaife and his son Bernard in a Championship match against Warwickshire.
I learnt a bit more about Bestwick when I read Chris Overson’s All Ten, and my interest was piqued by the knowledge gained from that that, having been involved in the death of another man in 1907, a subsequent court case had absolved Bestwick of any culpability in respect of the incident.
Mick Pope’s book has been a long time in the preparation, and it is a few years now since my mole on the ACS committee first told me it was in the course of preparation. It is clear that that time has been used for a great deal of research, including tracking down two sets of descendants albeit one of them declined to assist. Pope indicates that he did, in light of that refusal, have second thoughts about his project. I am glad he didn’t, as he learnt much about Bestwick the man from his other sources.
Bestwick’s life seems an odd one to 21st century eyes. The idea of fast bowlers coming out of the mines to earn their living under the summer sun is a well worn one, but what is surprising about Bestwick is that he seems to have been content to go back to that occupation each winter. The hard drinking lifestyle is something else that was perhaps not unexpected in itself, but the extent to which Bestwick indulged was, and over the years it caused him a great deal of trouble.
The story of Bestwick’s most serious brush with the law is a sad one. Widowed only a year before Bestwick was undoubtedly attacked by the man who died, who was convinced that the big fast bowler was having an affair with his wife. In the end after hearing a number of witnesses the coroner’s jury decided Bestwick had acted in self-defence, and as a result the police decided not to pursue the case through the criminal courts. The details of the case were extensively reported, so Pope had plenty of material and gives an excellent account. I was left with the impression that Bestwick was perhaps a little fortunate with the outcome but, of course, I bear in mind that those who actually hear the evidence are in a much better position to form judgments than those who don’t, especially when they come along more than a century later.
The circumstances of the death of William Brown were not Bestwick’s first brush with the law, nor indeed his last, and Pope has tracked down all the relevant reports. Eventually Bestwick’s fondness for the sauce lost him his Derbyshire contract, which was not renewed in 1910, and he went into the leagues, most notably in South Wales.
When First Class cricket resumed after the Great War Bestwick was already 44, but he made his peace with Derbyshire and returned and played on, absent 1920 when he spent another summer in league cricket, until he was 50. Indeed the best year of Bestwick’s career was 1921, and even in his final summer of 1925, despite not playing regularly due to coaching commitments, he topped the Derbyshire averages with 35 wickets at 15.00. It makes you realise that, if truth be told, James Anderson is a mere whippersnapper.
After his playing career ended Bestwick became an umpire, and he was good enough in that role to be asked to stand in three Tests, most notably the Headingley Test of 1930, when a young Australian named Bradman scored 334. Thanks to Pope’s research I learnt that it was Bestwick, rather than Bill Reeves, who was the umpire that was famously admonished by Gubby Allen for triggering a young Denis Compton because he was desperate for a toilet break. Rather more importantly I was surprised to learn of a long running mutual antipathy between Bestwick and Jack Hobbs – I have always thought that Hobbs could not have been quite as angelic as so many of those who knew him portrayed him to be, and in truth it is reassuring to learn that ‘The Master’ had a competitive edge.
As I say it was a wise move on Pope’s part to choose such an interesting man to write about for this project, and he has conjured up a compelling narrative. He and the ACS also deserve great credit for the number of and quality of the illustrations in the book. The best is the one on the front cover, but there is also a fascinating image of Bestwick that was taken in 1922, by which time he was 47 but looks a good deal younger. Quite how, given his lifestyle, he managed to avoid the ravages of Anno Domini I know not, or was there a photographer in Derby in the 1920s who had access to a primitive version of photoshop?