Tony Lock – Aggressive Master of Spin

Published: 2008
Pages: 224
Author: Hill, Alan
Publisher: The History Press
Rating: 3 stars

Tony Lock - Aggressive Master of Spin

Tony Lock’s name has gone down in cricket history linked with that of his former Surrey and England ‘twin-spin’ Jim Laker. In truth there is little difference in terms of their overall career records and both, for a variety of reasons, were anything but straightforward individuals. In the minds of the cricketing public Laker will always be considered the greater of the two, simply because of his 19 for 90 at Old Trafford in 1956, but most of their contemporaries accept there was little to choose between them.

There are many interesting features in Tony Lock’s career not least of which is the throwing controversy which dogged his early successes. Lock, during the greater part of his time in international cricket was, nominally, ‘slow left arm’, but in reality a hostile and aggressive bowler with a low arm. Despite being no balled only rarely, it seems to have been generally accepted that at that stage Lock had an illegal action.

At the beginning of his career, and again later following the remodelling of his action after he saw film of it in 1959, Lock was an equally successful orthodox slow left arm bowler with a high straight arm who relied on subtle variations of spin and flight to snare his victims.

His bowling apart Lock is also remembered as a magnificent close catcher in the leg trap and as a fine captain albeit not with either Surrey or England. On leaving Surrey Lock transformed Leicestershire, one of the Cinderella sides of the English County game, into a side capable of challenging for the County Championship and, perhaps his greatest achievement of all, was at the same time as he was working miracles at Leicester, to do so in Perth, and convert Western Australia into a competitive side.

Alan Hill has already written a number of cricketing biographies including Lock’s county colleagues Laker, Peter May and the Bedser twins as well as Lock’s long time rival for an England berth, Johnny Wardle. Hill’s biographies are always accurate, well researched and enjoyable. I have seen reviews that criticise his work on the grounds that it is formulaic, and it is certainly the case that had I read this book without knowing the author’s name that I would have guessed correctly, however that is a somewhat unfair criticism given that the formula works.

Where Hill’s work can be criticised is that it does have a tendency to be unduly reverential and while he will bring his readers’ attention to any character flaws in his subject there is a tendency to understate or excuse. That issue is particularly striking in this book because of its treatment of the series of charges levelled against Lock, in his declining years, of historic sexual abuse, which caused him to be dragged more than once through the Australian Criminal Justice system. Ultimately Lock was never convicted and it is clear that Hill himself has no doubt in his subject’s innocence. Opinions of family and friends, mirroring Hill’s own, are liberally scattered through the relevant chapter. What that chapter does, however, fail to do is to give sufficient information to allow the reader to form any real view of what was going on. One or two obvious weaknesses in the Prosecution case are seized upon and as a consequence the allegations are dismissed out of hand and there is no exploration at all of the evidence put before the Court which was, when all is said and done, sufficiently strong to ensure that no jury ever reached a unanimous verdict.

I would anticipate that Hill would respond to my criticism of his work by pointing to the fact that he intended to write a cricketing biography and a celebration of the career of a great entertainer and that accordingly the allegations against him are only a peripheral part of his life story. That may well be true, and I accept I may have laboured the point, however while this book no doubt achieves exactly what Hill intended to achieve when he set out on the project it certainly leaves the marketplace open for a more thorough study of Lock the man, as opposed to Lock the cricketer.

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