Under My ThumbMartin Chandler |
Author: Thomas, Bernard
Rating: 3 stars
The name of Bernard Thomas is one that most supporters of the England cricket team of a certain age will recognise. Between the 1968/69 tour of Pakistan and that to India of 1984/85 he was the team’s physiotherapist, travelling with them on all their overseas trips whilst also looking after the team in England and building up a successful private practice which eventually comprised a number of clinics in the West Midlands
In 2011 Thomas wrote and published this slim book. It is one that until very recently had completely slipped under my radar. When I did finally see a copy I bought it straight away and, initially, consigned it to the pile that might one day be read, but if truth be told probably wouldn’t be.
The novelty of having found the book did however prompt me to mention its acquisition on twitter, and I was reminded that it was Thomas whose prompt action had, back in 1975, saved the life of New Zealander Ewen Chatfield and also that Thomas had come in for a few less than favourable comments from Derek Pringle in his splendid autobiography from last year.
One of the good things about Pringle’s book is that it has an excellent index, so I was quickly able to check out all of the references to Thomas. The reminder that Thomas’ role with England, particularly in relation to disciplinary matters, was rather more extensive than I had remembered meant that Under My Thumb was clearly a book that was going to have to be studied sooner rather than later.
So is it a good read and, following on from that, is the only copy I can see currently available on the interweb at a pricy £80 worth recommending? For the completist possibly, but whilst I have to say I enjoyed reading Under My Thumb it is, as much as anything, a missed opportunity.
I will start with what the book is not, and that is an autobiography. There is a brief foreword of around 300 words that puts Thomas’ life in context, but that apart it is a chapter for each of Thomas’ overseas tours and, for reflection and the story of what happened after Thomas gave up his position in 1985 until publication, in 2011, there are just two short paragraphs. Of the many home Tests that Thomas covered, his private practice, his family life and his thoughts generally readers learn nothing.
There is, inevitably, a bit of cricket in those fourteen chapters but the book is more about the touring experience and some stories about the injuries that Thomas had to deal with. There is a telling observation early in the chapter on the 1970/71 Ashes trip; there were certain personality clashes which caused occasional embarrassment. The reader is left to surmise that that is a reference to the relationship between captain and vice-captain, Ray Illingworth and Colin Cowdrey, but that hint apart Thomas betrays no confidences, nor does he in any of the succeeding chapters.
And what of Pringle? The tour that Pringle and Thomas made together was that to Australia in 1982/83 and in that chapter there is not a single mention of Pringle’s name. Is it a pointed omission that speaks volumes? Probably not is the answer to that one as Pringle is not alone amongst his teammates in not getting a namecheck, but I will still be rather more interested than I might otherwise have been to read the relevant part of the forthcoming autobiography of another of the ‘anonymous’ ones, reserve ‘keeper and larger than life personality Ian ‘Gunner’ Gould.
As far as the Chatfield incident is concerned that does at least get fully dealt with although it would probably be fair to say that Thomas was a reluctant hero. My understanding has always been that without Thomas’s prompt and skilled intervention Chatfield would not have survived that short pitched Peter Lever delivery that struck him on his unguarded head. The account Thomas gives is thorough, but based on everything else I have read he could certainly be accused of rather downplaying the role he played.
There is one last point to be made, and indeed I dare say this may have been the main motivation in publishing the book in the first place, and that is the illustrations it contains. There are nearly seventy of them altogether, mainly from Thomas’ own collection and they are very much the highlight. The best is the classic Thomas pose where he, not a tall man by any means, is stood facing a tall fast bowler who is resting his foot on Thomas shoulder, stretching his leg muscles. There is such an image online, with Richard Ellison the bowler. The one in Under My Thumb, perhaps a tad better, features Mike Hendrick and I am certain I have seen at least one with Bob Willis, although I cannot immediately locate that one – if my memory serves me right it will doubtless be one we see again before too long.