Getting To Know The Gentle Giant – From Those Who Did Know HimSwaranjeet Singh |
R.I.P. Sir Alec Bedser (1919-2010)
The day the sad news of Alec Bedser’s death broke, internet cricket fora around the world started threads about the sad demise of one of the game’s all time greats. Rummaging through the usual RIPs one came across a querulous, “Who was this Alec Bedser?” I was stunned. Surely this was not a serious question. But it was. It reminded me of Vitender Sehwag admitting, when on the verge of breaking one of cricket’s longest standing world records, that he wasn’t aware that two Indians had held that record since 1955; a time in India’s cricket history when the only records our country held were the unflattering kind.
After the initial shock and disappointment, this set one thinking what was happening to our young cricket enthusiasts. How come, I wondered, young people who spend long hours in chat rooms passionately debating the relative merits of the Tendulkar and Ponting, who have thousands of trivial statistics at the tip of their fingers, are so ignorant of the history of the game and of its giants. Come to think of it, how did I, as a teenager in the 1960s, get to know of Alec Bedser and his legendary predecessors Maurice Tate and Syd Barnes. It set in motion a train of thought down memory lane which I share with you.
I must have been about ten years old I first heard of the Bedser twins; not in the context of any cricketing feats but that there were these absolutely identical cricketing twins in England. As children, never having seen a pair, we were always excited by the very idea of identical twins. Exact look-alike babies maybe but grown ups? And cricketers at that? Totally indistinguishable from each other? This was very exciting indeed. One imagined all kind of match situations involving the Bedser twins. For the next few years, my knowledge of Sir Alec did not move much beyond a vague idea that he was a bowler and his twin an all rounder of sorts. The rest of his cricketing accomplishments did not bother me. I suppose, even if they had, there was no way I could do anything to update myself in the India of half a century ago. In all probability, one did not know of many other legends of the past either besides Bradman with his average of 99.99 (one always cheated a bit with that second decimal place to exaggerate the impact on the other boys who had no clue anyway) and Laker with his nineteen wickets in a Test. Even with these two, all we could discuss was how terrible it was for Bradman and Laker to miss the rounded figures of 100 and a perfect twenty out of twenty respectively
This was to change, about five years later, when my cricket coach started to lend me his cricket books starting with The Summer Game by Neville Cardus. From these little brown paper wrapped books, one learnt that one Syd Barnes was “the greatest bowler ever”. Importantly, it brought with it the realisation that one’s fast bowling heroes of the day, Hall and Griffith, Trueman and Statham, were only the latest in a long and distinguished line of purveyors of pace.
One learnt that this fellow Barnes bowled a delivery that started outside the off stump, swung in late, pitched on leg and then broke away to hit (or miss) the off stump. To a boy just learning the game, it sounded magical as it still does fifty years on. One discussed with the other young boys at the nets, mouths agape, what a magician this Barnes must have been. We invented stories about him to impress ‘less knowledgeable’ boys at school with.
One also learnt, from these books, of Maurice Tate who made the ball “gain speed” after pitching and was the next truly great fast medium bowler after Barnes. While “gaining speed” was a theoretical impossibility, every batsman who had played him came away with the same impression and we were firm in our belief this super bowler of the past must have done it somehow. We were not very different from the kids of the 21st century in this respect. We too loved to think of of our sporting heroes as superhuman not allowing scientific evidence to the contrary to clouded our thinking; it was just that we did not deny the “superman-status” to those we had never seen. I suppose, cynicism did not come at such an early age fifty years ago.
Then one day I read of Alec Bedser the next great medium fast bowler.
I clearly remember the context. One day, during our ritualistic tea after nets, as we sat “talking cricket” someone asked the coach if any bowler had ever found a way to defeat Bradman at the wicket. He told us of Larwood and Bodyline bowling and then, almost as an afterthought, he mentioned Bedser. He told us of the Englishman’s leg trap for Sir Donald and how, after getting Sir Donald in the previous series in Australia, with a ball similar to the one mastered by Barnes, Bedser, in the following series, laid a trap for him with two short legs and a late in-swinger that did not come back as the ball in Australia had. He had the Australian maestro playing for one that he thought might and inner edging it to be caught in that leg-trap not once or twice but four times in successive innings. I clearly remember my astonishment and a sense of utter disbelief.
I had two reasons to doubt what I was being told. To begin with, I was not willing to let any one displace Bradman from the high pedestal on which I had placed him. Furthermore, and I suspect even more pertinently, to hear that this Bedser could really bowl, let alone master, that magic delivery of Barnes was just too much to accept. I expressed my reservations to my coach and he promised to get me a book to read on Bedser. The next day he brought for me another one of Cardus’ books, Close of Play.
That night I discovered Alec Bedser through the lovely prose of Sir Neville. Over the years I learnt much more of him through the eyes of those who played with or against him or those who saw him play; everyone confirmed all that Cardus had said and more. Let me share with you some of what I learnt as a fifteen year old and thereafter, of the man I have always thought of as the ‘gentle giant.’
KNOWING THE MAN
. . . old fashioned, big in body and heart and a friend to everyone . . .
Alec Bedser is a big man, squarely shouldered, with the gentlest face, frank and kind eyes . . . and the smile of a friend . . . (he) looked you in the face, not aggressively but because of a natural openness of mind. At bottom he is a shy man, but not without a shrewdness . . . a shrewdness not hardened by sophistication . . . a big man, big in physical size, big of heart and friendliness. – Sir Neville Cardus
Alec is a straightforward character, honest kind and absolutely dependable . . . a man without enemies and universally respected. It is difficult to imagine anybody disliking him . . . especially valuable in times of stress and crisis, because he remains calm and unruffled . . . his sense of humour is ungarnished and sometimes sardonic, while he has the happy knack of producing a pithy homily on the subject on the unkindness of the world to bowlers . . . decidedly conservative, a shade predictable . . . this makes him suspicious of change and, at times, slightly intolerant. His own standards are very high and occasionally rigid so sometimes he has difficulty appreciating another’s point of view
He made a great host of friends . . . always the first to go to the Australian dressing room for a glass of beer at the end of the day?s play and . . . there was always a warm welcome for him. – Trevor Bailey
More eager to give a pat than a kick, as well as being a realist, he is kindly, absolutely sincere, a willing tutor to the young and punctilious in his correspondence . . . he did not know how to give anything but his best – Dennis Compton
Bedser was and is a very dear man, abounding in integrity, softened by a gentle nature, and inspired by an unshakeable desire to give off his best. His success, both on and off the field, has been based on the simple virtues which the young of today look down upon as being ‘square’ or old-fashioned – John Woodcock
Now we have a comprehensive picture of the man . . . multiple contemporary sources provide an authentic flavour of the subject . . . the picture is sharp and consistent; that of a gentle giant.
KNOWING THE BOWLER
. . . truly great . . . a worthy successor of Barnes and Tate
> Alec Bedser . . . was undoubtedly a great bowler; always and for as long as he lives he will be a big man, big in physical size and weight, big of heart and friendliness. He had the kind of presence that over-topped even men not at all short in inches. His was a formidable presence on the field of play . . . As I watched him . . . preparing to bowl, measuring his short run by half a dozen or so strides, then a leap, rolling up the sleeve of his right arm, a ham of an arm, muscled like an ancient blacksmith’s . . . as I watched him, going through the motions grimly, frowning a little, waiting in the “middle” for a new batsman to come in, and then his brow has seemed shadowed with thunder, and his mouth grimly closed, I always felt relieved that it was from the safe cover of the pavilion that I was watching him. I have seen Bradman himself, going in to bat, after Bedser has tasted quick blood, and there has been on Bradman’s face an even more than ordinary tight-lipped determination. – Sir Neville Cardus
Without hesitation or reservations, I rate Alec Bedser the best medium pace bowler I ever faced. On good wickets he was difficult enough with his eternally accurate swing; on a surface giving him the barest encouragement he was a veritable terror . . . Before or after the war, I never batted against the equal of Bedser. – Dennis Compton
There is no doubt in my mind that I found Bedser harder to play (especially in England in 1948) than Tate . . . I think all Australian batsmen of the modern age think Bedser the best medium paced bowler they have met . . . – Sir Donald Bradman
Both metaphorically and physically Alec Bedser stands head and shoulders above every other fast-medium bowler I have played with or against. He was a truly great bowler who stands alongside S. F. Barnes and Maurice Tate. – Trevor Bailey
HIS BOWLING . . .
. . . nagging accuracy . . . direct attack . . . and damn that corridor of uncertainty
The basis of his attack was classical. He pitched an accurate length, just short enough to worry a forward stroke, and not short enough ever to encourage a long-lengthed onside stroke . . . Bedser believes in the direct attack on the wickets; he does not use his slips and short-legs as mere accessories; he likes to see catches sent to them from strokes played mainly in defence of the stumps. . . ‘To bowl well,’ he once said to me, ‘you have to think? The italic was in his voice. He spent much time experimenting . . . – Sir Neville Cardus
The ‘big fella’ believed in the old maxim that it pays to attack the stumps and he seldom strayed off course. . . He kept an immaculate length. He considered a bad delivery an insult to his craft and nobody was meaner when it came to giving the batsmen half volleys or long hops: one in a match he considered generous . . . – Trevor Bailey
His simple maxim . . . “If you are straight and the batsman misses you have a wicket” . . . (then) there was his uncanny accuracy: in all the overs I saw him bowl – and he completed over 16,000 in his time – I honestly cannot recall a rank bad ball . . . was forever turning over in his mind how he could get a batsman out. I have been at the other end wondering what he was upto, what he would try next. His meticulous field placings showed how much thought was put in his bowling. – Dennis Compton
. . . the run up belaboured . . . the action classical . . .
A giant of man, Bedser’s run up was belaboured and perhaps lacked the rhythmical beauty of a Larwood or a Lindwall. The orthodox in England criticised him for this calling his action clumsy. Cardus, considered by many as old school, replied with scorn and went on to separate Bedser’s lumbering run up from his beautiful flowing action, firmly stating that the rhythm and beauty was in his bowling action.
Tate’s action, like Alec’s was not exactly musical as Mozart, or if it comes to that, as Johannes Brahms. But it served. Like Bedser, Maurice got his annihilating energy from a swing of body and late propulsion of his shoulders. With Alec and Maurice, it was a case of “handsome is as handsome does.”
He moves into action as though going slightly uphill; it is not a flowing rhythmical action like Lindwall’s. Bedser runs to bowl in small galloping strides until the ball is released by energy at the shoulders, which swing round from a classical left side pointing to the batsman’s position. The right hand follows through full, or nearly full, circle. The hint of stiffness before the ball goes its stinging, swinging way is the proof of compressed, concentrated power. . . The action was suddenly made rhythmical. But it was a rhythm carrying a weighty and explosive harmony. – Sir Neville Cardus
Alec Bedser bowling was one of cricket’s most impressive sights. The big body dripping with sweat, the slow methodical amble up to the crease, the massive head rocking from side to side, and finally the tremendous body action and powerful follow through.This was cricket at its best. . . Alec had a classical action – Trevor Bailey
. . . and what did he bowl?
We must be careful if we use the term ‘new ball bowler’ with reference to Bedser; for it suggests mechanical dependence on the seam. Bedser resents constant allusions to him as essentially an inswinger. He exploits the inswinger cleverly enough, goodness and Sir Donald Bradman knows; it does not follow, however, that whenever Bedser sets his short-leg field he does so merely with in-swingers in mind . . . No bowler cam live off in-swingers alone . . . Every batsman will agree that the really dangerous spin is that which ‘leaves the bat’. . . Bedser at his best brought this superb ball . . . a genuinely spun leg-break – under almost sure command. At Melbourne I saw him pitch it between Harvey’s off and middle and just miss the leg. – Sir Neville Cardus
Batting against Alec provided a fascinating challenge, if I was lucky enough to remain, I was reminded of the privilege for some time to come because the knuckles of my right hand would be sore and bruised as a result of constant jarring. Although not fast he certainly hit the deck so that he always came off the wicket a shade quicker than one expected. I personally never picked out his beautifully disguised slower ball until he was too late. . . He made the ball move very late in its flight and I have lost count of the number of times I have seen players about to drive him through the covers only to find themselves ‘bowled through the gate’ . . . in addition he possessed a leg cutter which became a legend and was probably the most devastating ever known . . . What can a batsman do against that ball which pitches leg stump and whips back to hit the top of off at a lively medium pace – Trevor Bailey
The trouble for the batsmen was that his ‘straight ball’ swung at the very last second. It would come in a dead straight line until it was almost at the batsman and then dip very late and decisively. The lateness of swing is the hall mark of true class . . . the extra hazard was that occasionally, on pitching, it would ‘hold its course’ . . . The leg cutter, which brought the downfall of so many top class internationals, was invariably delivered on a perfect length and was the equivalent of a fast leg-break. It was Alec’s most potent weapon . . . even on a really good pitch it would still bounce disconcertingly. . . I was once in the slips at Melbourne when, hard as he tried, Harvey could not make contact with ball after ball . . . here was a stalemate caused by one of the finest players of his generation unable to lay a bat on Bedser . . . It was also at Melboune that Ron Archer, after opening for Australia and doing well, told me later he could not believe bowling could be so good! – Dennis Compton
. . . recreating the magic of Syd Barnes . . .
A few years ago, he began some private experiments with the ball’s seam held horizontally; after much diligent practice he was able to pitch the ball between leg and middle and cause the ball to turn to the off and remain dangerously near the stumps. The effect was that of a genuinely spun leg-break; it was not a case of cutting under the ball. Bedser at his brought this superb ball-the best of any bowler’s tricks-under almost sure command . . . With this ball, known of old as the ‘Barnes-ball’, Bedser has taken his place among the truly great of his craft. – Sir Neville Cardus
. . .he possessed a leg cutter which became a legend and was probably the most devastating ever known. This is a hard delivery to (master and) bowl effectively and it took Alec a long time to master it. He had four things in his favour. First, he was prepared to practice; secondly, he had the basic control; thirdly, his natural delivery was the in-swinger; fourthly the size of his hands and the power of his fingers was exceptional. When I measured my fingers against his, the top of mine were just level with his first knuckle. – Trevor Bailey
I was once batting once with Doug Insole for Essex against Surrey. . .when Alec bowled one of the most remarkable overs I have ever seen. . . It was a fascinating performance. . . The ball kept dipping in, pitching around the leg stump and flying over the top of the off . . . Insole was unable to make contact with the first five deliveries and managed to edge the last through the slips. – Trevor Bailey
Hassett, with over a hundred to his credit, was batting superbly and then Alec ambled up. The ball started outside the off stump, whipped in, pitched leg and just clipped the top of the off . . . – Trevor Bailey (describing Hassett’s dismissal at Trent Bridge 1953)
Hassett who had scored 115, was bowled by Bedser with a ball which both swung in the air and moved off the pitch (in different directions) “I must be a fair bat,” he quipped, “I tried to play three shots at one ball and almost made contact with the third time it moved !” – Dennis Compton (describing the same Hassett dismissal)
It was delivered on the off stump, swung very late to hit the pitch on the leg stump, and then came back to hit the off. – Sir Donald Bradman (describing the ball from Bedser that dismissed him at Adelaide in 1947)
Despite the fact that I made a century (in the tour match against Surrey in 1948) he bowled me with a glorious ball which pitched on the off stump and hit the off – the same type of ball with which he bowled me for 0 at Adelaide in 1947. – Sir Donald Bradman (describing his second successive dismissal off the ‘Barnes-ball’)
HIS PLACE IN THE HOLY TRINITY . . .
. . . below Barnes . . . alongside Tate. . .
We should today agree he is the greatest ‘new ball’ bowler since Maurice Tate – and perhaps the equal of Maurice Tate . . . I can do no greater honour to Alec, or to Maurice, than to link them to S. F. Barnes – an immortal trinity, each of the same order. – Sir Neville Cardus
Alec Bedser was a similar type of bowler (to Tate). They were about the same pace though Bedser had a slightly higher delivery which assisted him in getting lift from the pitch. Bedser had the same quality of “speed off the pitch,” and he could actually turn the ball from leg to off. . . It was this particular ball that always worried me and which beat so many batsmen. I don’t think Bedser bowled the out-swinger as well as Tate. On the other hand his in-swinger was better . . . it dipped later. . . Anyway both were magnificent . . . and ornaments to the game. – Sir Donald Bradman
Originally (when) Bedser was compared to Tate (it) seemed nothing short of sacrilege to many, but as his ability was enriched he was given his rightful place among the immortals – not a second Tate but an original Bedser. – Dennis Compton
In 1946 . . . Alec was being compared to Maurice Tate. By 1948 he was a household name, and the comparison with Tate still stands, these two and Sydney Barnes being the three greatest medium pacers of all time. – Trevor Bailey
Those who played against them both credited Bedser with the better in-swinger. . . Tate the more dangerous out-swinger . . . but in Bedser?s armoury the most lethal weapon was the leg-cutter . . . a fast leg-break that would pitch on the leg stump and miss the off . . . no one could cope with it. In addition Bedser?s change of pace was deceptive. – John Woodcock
Sir Neville, does put Barnes’ achievements in clear perspective when he reminds us that he had to use the same ball throughut the innings when he was bowling. . .
We must always bear in mind as we compare bowlers who have skillfully used the seam. Heavens! – suppose Sydney Barnes had been offered more than one new ball . . . But usually he found one and the same ball good enough.
BRADMAN’s NEMESIS . . .
. . . some truth . . . some myth . . . and Bradman’s ire . . .
A story has spread around that getting Bradman caught in the leg trap with the inswinger was really O’Reilly’s idea. This is not really true as has been clarified by O’Reilly himself in writing. It was Bedser who realised Bradman was uncomfortable to an in-swinger landing on his leg stump and felt he could have him caught by one of his two short-legs. He mentioned it to the Australian leg spinner at the end of the second day’s play in the first Test of the 1948 series with Bradman still at the crease with 130 to his name. O’Reilly agreed but suggested that both the short legs be moved slightly squarer. Bedser did that next morning and had Bradman caught by Hutton at backward short leg. He did it again in the second innings and then again and again in the next two innings as well – always caught in the leg trap. Bradman was furious and has made no secret of what he thought of this form of attack. Others, however, have different opinion on the matter.
On the third day. . . Bedser accidentally had me caught at slip. I say accidentally because I need not have played at the ball. I strongly dislike this modern habit of bowling medium paced in-swingers to a modified leg field (not for any personal reason but simply because I think its general effect on the game is bad), and therefore I tried to drive the ball through this field . . . Accident or not this catch had a profound effect on the tactics employed by England’s bowlers against me in future matches. – Sir Donald Bradman (on his first innings dismissal to Bedser in the first Test 1948)
I had again fallen victim to what now became known as Bedser’s leg-trap. I refused to be chained down into inactivity by an obvious plan, and paid the penalty with my eyes open, to the delight of some partisan supporters who saw in this old-fashioned device some new theory that would save England. – Sir Donald Bradman (on his second innings dismissal to Bedser in the same test)
Bedser dismissed Bradman five times in consecutive Test innings that year, a distinguished ‘rabbit’ if ever there was one . . . True Bradman was on his last tour, but by any yardstick he was still Bradman and finished the series with an average of 72.57 (highest from both sides). The two salient factors that emerge in my mind both reflect to Alec’s credit. First, the memory of that delivery in Adelaide was at the back of Bradman’s mind. He knew that Bedser was capable of more than straightening the ball pitched middle and leg and felt that he was obliged to play an in-swinger in that area. His problem would not have arisen if he had felt certain that the ball would have continued on its flight path and miss the leg stump. Therefore, Alec had raised some doubt in Bradman’s mind by the pure skill of his bowling. Secondly Bedser’s accuracy meant that the ball pitched fractionally outside or on the off stump had to be defended. The Don, naturally and instinctively, played with the flight towards mid-on but because of the movement in the last yard the ball found the inside edge of the bat and went to backward short leg.
How the pre-war Bradman would have dealt with this type of bowling is hypothetical, as the fact is he never faced one . . . to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps it was never tried but the more probable explanation is that there wasn?t a bowler able to control the in-swinger with such devastating lateness . . . Bedser, remember, dismissed Bradman twice for 0 in Tests. Bedser was one of the few bowlers Bradman respected realising that there were no liberties to be taken or cheap runs in the offing. – Dennis Compton
THE PROBLEMS OF BEING ALEC BEDSER
. . . strike bowler . . . stock bowler . . . only bowler . . . the final heart break . . .
Bedser in each of his two Test series with Australia has been saddled with too much hack work responsibility for a man of his pace and outsize physique . . . Not only was he over bowled by his England captains, his county captains refused to allow any consideration for this in their handling of their senior professional. The day after a test ended (with Bedser presumably having been bowled to the ground) he was expected to be at the county ground to do the donkey work all over again and keep doing it till the next test match . . . Bedser is a grand cricketer but I fear suspect that he will be thoroughly burned out in a very short time unless English selectors can find the men to lift some of the burden from him. – Bill O’Reilly (writing at the end of the 1948 Ashes series)
In 1946-47. . . as Doug Wright was the only other bowler of class in that team, Alec Bedser was given enough work to have killed a smaller or a less stout hearted man. For hour after hour in hot sunshine he plugged steadily away. He never gave up . . . – Trevor Bailey
Under extremely trying conditions, Bedser put up a grand exhibition of bowling. Seldom can one man have bowled so well for to have finished with such poor figures, or have seen so many possible chances go astray. Even a touch of the sun (which caused Bedser to leave the ground) did not subdue his spirit. He returned to the field and caused us to defend with all the skill we could muster. – Sir Donald Bradman (writing of the 1946-47 series)
Hammond (the captain) was greatly handicapped . . . Bedser did magnificent work at one end. At the other Edrich was not up to the mark. . . Bedser did a prodigious amount of work . . . I doubt whether he completely recovered from the terrible gruelling he took in the stifling heat . . . – Sir Donald Bradman (writing on the 1946-47 series)
Alec, as usual was bearing the brunt of the attack and had completed twenty overs with the temperature at 105 degrees . . . Eventually even Alec’s iron constitution rebelled and he had to race off, lumber up the stairs to be sick . . . once it was over he was back on the field. -Dennis Compton (writing of Bedser in the heatwave at Adelaide 1946-47)
In praising this famous bowler, we do not often remember that Bedser for long had to work on a lonely trail. He had no Statham, no Trueman, no Lock and no Laker, to help him at the other end; and it was in a vulnerable England XI, a losing England XI, that he staked his claim to greatness, and to the attention of the game?s historians for ever. – Sir Neville Cardus
Like Tate in the twenties, Alec was often to play a lone hand . . . For England, Bedser (in 1948) was the chief attacker, though he had to work like a Trojan for his wickets . . . Against West Indies (1950) Bedser bore the brunt of the bowling, though to less than his usual effect. England, plagued by injuries were desperately short of good bowling. – John Woodcock
At Brisbane in 1954, England took such a hammering. . . Alec’s return of 1 for 131 gave no indication of the ill-luck that he suffered in the way of dropped catches. . . Bedser took a well deserved rest in the state game against Victoria . . . Tyson played . . . found the pitch to his liking . . . took 6 for 38. Had Bedser played, he might have taken 6 for 30. A wild horse at the start of the tour, Tyson was lassoed and now broken into work. . . After endless discussions the selectors picked him for Sydney, in preference to Bedser, and he went on to play the vital part in retaining the Ashes.
Poor Alec! For reasons known only to Hutton, he was left to read of his omission only when the team was pinned on the dressing room door . . . and he was obliged to spend the rest of that day and all of the next watching a duel fought on a pitch that might have been made to suit him . . . Australians used to say that had Alec played this England would have won this second Test more easily than they did . . . It was poignant to watch his eclipse in Australia. – Trevor Bailey
As a senior member of the party, he was entitled to be told in advance of the intention to exclude him . . . (Hutton) should have spared a moment for a word of explanation and sympathy to Alec. No player, whatever his past record has a divine right to automatic selection . . . but the gesture should have been made . . . The lesson was not lost on Alec and when he became an outstanding Chairman of selectors he made a point of telling a player personally or by letter why he was being dropped, before the decision was made public. – Dennis Compton
Before I end there is the small matter of that young man on that forum who did not know who Bedser was. I have to tell him that this feature is as much about him as it is about Sir Alec. There is nothing I have written above that came first hand to me. I did not see him play (even I was born too late for that) nor did I have the pleasure of watching him play on TV – live or other wise (television was ‘born’ too late for that). I just read up on him. It is purely to highlight this fact, have I chosen to use mainly quotes to ‘talk of’ this great bowler. My late coach did me a great favour by inculcating in me a love for the game’s history and its characters and I, fortunately, took up the habit. This is the only way any fifteen year old can come to know of him or other great cricketers he/she is born too late to have seen.
I sincerely wish I could do for every young cricket enthusiast what my coach did for me but that being impractical, I hope this will persuade at least a handful amongst them to take the trouble to read what they can. There is much more available and, in this day and age, much more easily, than there was half a century ago when I borrowed a cricket book for the first time.
Everyone has his or her heroes and so had I; the Jaisimhas, the Umrigars, the O’Neills, the Kanhais and the Davidsons were my cricketing Gods. But it was good to know that they were not some ‘new kids on the block'; that they had a lineage; that they were part of a long line of famous cricketers that went back a hundred and fifty years. This did not reduce the glamour of my heroes, it added to it. By denying them their links to the past we only reduce the stature of our contemporary heroes not enhance it. When Barnes, Tate and Bedser entered our pantheon of cricketing deities they did not threaten those already there. Far from it. We were able to take as much pride in C. K. Nayudu and Vijay Merchant, who we never saw, as we did in Chandu Borde and Nawab Pataudi who we did from close quarters. The same can and should apply to the cricket-crazy fifteen year old of today. History and heritage is something to cherish – not to run down; and that applies to all history and all heritage be it of our countries, our planet or our favoured sport.
Let us today pray that Sir Alec be at peace, wherever he may be marking his run up at this time, but let us also honour him, and those who came before, by taking the time to learn a bit about them. Trust me it will be a much more satisfying experience than you can imagine.