Retro Cricket: From Bradman’s Invincibles to Clive Lloyd’s Calypso Kings

Published: 2014
Pages: 320
Author: Collis, Ian
Publisher: New Holland
Rating: 4 stars

Black and white cricket photos can have an ethereal quality. They can seem distant in time, yet appear timeless, as if you could walk right in and plonk yourself at first slip. They can also lend an authentic feel to a moment more so than colour photos. For fans of traditional cricket who want less of the limited overs soaked world and more a reminder of the days when test cricket dominated, a new book , Retro Cricket: From Bradman’s Invincibles to Clive Lloyd’s Calypso Kings provides welcome relief. Within the 400 pages of this beautifully presented coffee style hardback there is a diverse range and many lesser known photos of cricket from the Second World War through to the start of the commercially driven era of the late 1970s.

One image was enough to have this reviewer reminiscing about his days in short pants as a Grade Four at Linden Park Primary School in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide.  The photo’s occasion was the final day of the Fifth Ashes Test at the Oval in 1972. Significant because Australia was 1-2 down and trying to square the rubber and it was also Ian Chappell’s first full series was captain. A loss would represent failure but a drawn series would indicate progress. Australia was going through a rebuilding phase after a heavy defeat by the South Africans two summers before and a loss if the Ashes at home in 1970-1.

The photo in question depicts a bare headed Rod Marsh turning to smile at his batting partner; a baggy green capped Paul Sheahan as they sprint off the Oval with English players and spectators nipping at their heels. They have just hit the winning runs. It was also historic, the first time a full day’s play was beamed by satellite into Australian living rooms in black and white.

The night was a memorable one in the Nicholls household. My parents allowed me to stay up and watch the match near the end of a typically frigid Adelaide August.   Kept company by our gas heater, warm toast and occasionally dad popping his head in to check the score I had never felt so indulged – and all of this on a school night.

Australia was one for 116 overnight chasing 241 to win with opener Keith Stackpole and Ian Chappell still at the crease. It looked good at first, not so positive when the Aussie captain was caught by the sub fielder Bob Willis after he swept at Underwood and the ball ricocheted off his head into the hands of the close in fielder. A steady procession of wickets followed and when Ross Edwards was out for one Australia was 5-171. I was starting to experience that sinking feeling of an impending Aussie loss. So much so I fell asleep , only to be woken by my father, yelling out that we’d won. Through bleary eyes I remembered the child like exuberance of Marsh swinging his bat around and around, a bit like a helicopter blade, while Sheahan ran off with the enthusiasm of a teenager sprinting to get a front row seat at a pop concert. Rarely before had I seen an adult display so much joy. It also marked a turning point for Australian cricket, but little did we know at the time how big a shift in power.

For me the Marsh/ Sheahan image provides a delightful window to the past and a reminder of the simplicity of the life of a schoolboy when I first developed a love of the game. And herein lies the beauty of Retro Cricket, especially for baby boomer fans. Pick any page and you will surely find similar connections. Some of the photos I had seen before but many were revelations.

The image of Sonny Ramadhin joking with his West Indian team mates in Brisbane during the early part of the 1960-61 as his team mates laugh in the background provides a window into positive team spirit. While it looks partly staged it reveals the joy the West Indians had in their soul and helps explain why that series was such a success both on and off the field.

While the action shots are instructive (none better than Garry Sobers launching into a Kerry O’Keefe delivery at the MCG during his 254 for the Rest of the World against Australia in 1971/72), the real strength of the book is the glimpse of cricketers beyond the game. These include English comedian Harry Seacombe with the captain of the Indian touring team, the Nawab of Pataudi at the Café Royal, Regents Street London both beaming as they muck around with neck ties. Another is Lindsay Hassett seated ‘with the fervent female cricketers of Noumea.’ Overall the captions provide terrific detail into the history and the context of the images. We learn for example in the Hassett shot , that ‘the women wore uniforms of voluminous ankle length ‘ Mother Hubbards’ in all colours of the rainbow… played 17 a side, used rubber balls and home- made bats , longer and thinner than the standard bats.’ There is also a touch of humour such as when Richie Benaud is shown being bowled by Trueman for a duck in the second innings at Leeds in 1961, the caption reads in part ‘similar result in the first innings’. All the major cricketing nations from the era are featured in this eclectic array of photos, the only thing missing is their provenance. It would have been useful to know the photographers behind the images. While the author Ian Collis provides a brief but enlightening introduction tracking the game from the end of the Second World War to the moment before the game transformed into a commercially driven game after the arrival of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, it would have been good to hear more of his insights.

That said the book Retro Cricket: From Bradman’s Invincibles to Clive Lloyd’s Calypso Kings is a real treat for cricket fans and would be a useful guide of introduction to younger cricket fans especially with a middle to senior aged ‘elder’ looking over their shoulder telling them how things were in the ‘good old days.’

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