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Long Tom

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Like many young boys when I was first able to hold a cricket bat my favourite cricketer was my father. He played a decent standard of cricket for the local village side and, by the time I understood the game, was in his late thirties so, as he would tell me, a little way past his prime. He was also a useful medium pace bowler, and I remember one particularly expensive day for me when he cost me a shilling after I had laid a bet with a friend that he would not complete a hat trick after he had taken wickets with consecutive deliveries. Despite that he always described himself as a batsman.

I can remember feeling let down by the old man with some regularity. I didn’t see him score too many runs, and he always seemed to save his bigger innings for games that for whatever reason I could not attend with him. But I knew he was popular with the villagers, a stylish and attacking batsman whose main fault, which he would admit, was an inability to resist the temptation to take on slow bowlers, especially those who, on the soft wickets he generally played on, were cannier than they looked. His teammates would refer to him as a ‘Poor man’s Tom Graveney’, something that rather tickled him, but which I did not really understand at the time.

What I did know was that Graveney was a batsman who played for England, and that even as a seven year old I could, unlike with many batsmen, happily sit and watch him for long periods. The only other man I enjoyed watching in the same way was Garry Sobers. Whilst I grew to appreciate the role of dour and defensive batsmen in the years that followed in those days I could rarely manage more than an over or two of the likes of Geoffrey Boycott and Bill Lawry and, to my shame, not much more of men such as Kenny Barrington and Colin Cowdrey.

For a man who was ultimately to enjoy a long and successful career in the game Graveney was no sort of a schoolboy sensation. In those days he was mainly a medium pace bowler, something he gave up completely in the professional game. His advance as a batsman came as a national serviceman in Egypt, where the true bounce of the matting wickets gave him the confidence to develop the glorious drives that were his trademark, as well as the hook off the front foot which he continued to deploy against the finest fast bowlers of his era, a mark of his class as a batsman being that he was never hit on the head in going for the shot.

On leave in 1947 Graveney was introduced to county cricket by his older brother Ken. A useful fast medium bowler who once took all ten Derbyshire wickets in a Championship innings Ken was to drift out of the game after a few years as injury reduced his effectiveness, only to return in unusual circumstances years later. He managed to get his younger brother a game in a couple of Charlie Barnett’s benefit fixtures and the result was a contract for 1948. Graveney started by not troubling the scorers on debut, and soon after managed a pair, but Test calls meant he got the chance to establish himself and by the end of the season he had almost 1,000 runs. With the exception of the 1961 season that he missed Graveney would not fail to reach that particular landmark again for more than twenty years.

Progress was rapid. In 1949 there more than 1,700 runs and almost 2,300 by 1951 when Graveney was deservedly handed a Test debut against South Africa. He came in for the third Test due to an injury to Denis Compton. An innings of 15 was not enough to keep him in the team in place of a fit again Compton for the fourth Test, but his display on a tricky surface was enough to gain selection for the touring party to India that winter. It was not a full strength England side by any means, but Graveney did well, averaging 60.50 for the series and making 175 in the second Test. He wasn’t quite so successful in the return series in England in 1952, but was still fourth in the averages.

In 1953 England’s first professional skipper, Len Hutton, led them to victory over Australia. Graveney played in all five Tests although in a low scoring series he averaged just 24. He made a high class 78 on the first day of the second Test at Lord’s, but that was remembered rather less than his allowing himself to be yorked by Ray Lindwall in the first over of the second day, and then being caught at the wicket for two in the second innings after a loose shot at Bill Johnston. Graveney himself believed that Hutton never fully trusted him after that.

In the unhappy tour in the West Indies the following winter Graveney again played in all five Tests, but as in the Ashes a century eluded him and there were only two fifties. Discipline-wise he did not get into hot water as consistently as Fred Trueman, but did manage to almost get himself sent home part way through the tour after admonishing a guest at a party at the Barbados Yacht Club after he had suggested that England needed to curb the drinking habits of their senior players if they were to succeed. One can imagine that Graveney, for whom loyalty to teammates was always important, did not use the most temperate of language, and unfortunately for him the gentleman with whom he had words was a personal friend of the Governor General of the island.

By the time England got to Australia for their triumphant visit in 1954/55 Hutton had lost faith in Graveney and preferred the youthful Cowdrey. Graveney came in as cover for Compton in the second Test, in which he achieved little, and was not seen again until the final Test when, to his great surprise Hutton informed him that he would be opening the batting with him. Graveney had not opened before but despite that went on to record the only century he was to make against Australia.

In 1955 Graveney was ever present for England against South Africa but did not score heavily. After two failures in the first two matches of the Ashes series of 1956 he was left out of the side for the third Test. For Gloucestershire in a difficult summer for batsmen he had a magnificent summer and ended up with more than 400 runs more than any other batsman in the country. This no doubt contributed to his selection for the fourth Test (the occasion of Jim Laker’s 19-90) but in the end he missed the match because of a hand injury. More surprising was his missing selection for the tour of South Africa that followed the reason being, on one account,  the reaction of Chairman of Selectors Gubby Allen to the news that he had shaken hands with skipper May without his injury causing him to flinch.

If that is true it was perhaps surprising that Graveney got a chance for redemption as early as the second Test against the 1957 West Indians, and that after a duck in his only innings then that he got another chance in the nest Test. This time he made the most of his opportunity and scored 258, which was to remain his highest Test score. With another big innings, 164, in the final Test his place should have been assured for many years ahead, but after failing to fill his boots against the very ordinary New Zealand side that visited England in 1958 his Test career looked like it might have ended after the 1958/59 Ashes series.

To be fair to Graveney he did rather better than some in what was a real mauling, made all the worse because England travelled to the southern hemisphere as favourites. For Graveney there were 280 runs at 31.11. He crept past fifty just twice, but at the end of the day only Cowdrey and May bettered him amongst England’s batsmen

The captaincy of Gloucestershire came Graveney’s way in 1959, no doubt easing the pain of his omission from that summer’s Test series against India. Punching well above their weight the county finished as runners-up, and it was no sort of reflection on Graveney that the following summer they slipped to eighth. Despite that the committee decided that they wanted a change at the helm and Graveney was told that he was to be replaced by Tom Pugh. It was still three years before the old distinction between amateurs and professionals would finally be laid to rest, and in recent years professional captains had been increasingly prevalent in the shires and indeed in the six years prior to Graveney’s appointment Gloucestershire themselves had, in Jack Crapp and George Emmett, professional skippers.

It seems however that there was still a substantial rump of the county committee who hankered after an old fashioned amateur and Pugh, an Old Etonian from a monied background, fitted that particular bill perfectly. He had shown some promise in 1960 as a 23 year old and just got his thousand runs for his first full season. As captain in the next two however he averaged just 15 and did not play again. Graveney was not prepared to accept demotion and decided to move on. Initially the county were prepared to let him go with their blessing, but something changed and in the end they objected to Graveney joining Worcestershire, so he had to sit out the 1961 summer, ineligible for the County Championship. There is an irony in what happened next in that in 1963, the distinction between amateur and professional having finally gone, Gloucestershire decided to call in a businessman to lead them for two summers. The man in question averaged less than Pugh had with the bat and took just 39 wickets in 56 games. At the end of 1964, like his kid brother had been four years earlier, Ken Graveney was sacked. A generation later the county made it a family hat trick when they dispensed with the services of Ken’s son, David.

In the event Graveney’s lay off seemed to do him a power of good. He returned with his new county in 1962 batting better than ever and was restored to the England side straight away. It is true that the Pakistan side visiting England that summer was not a strong one, but to average 100.25 in four Tests was impressive nonetheless. His place in the 1962/63 Ashes party assured Graveney was left out of the final Test whilst the selectors experimented. Against Australia Graveney once again disappointed, playing in only three of the Tests, averaging just 29 and not getting past 41. It seemed like this time, at 35, Graveney’s Test career really was over.

For the next three seasons Graveney just had the county game to sustain him, but given that Worcestershire won their first title in 1964 and followed that up with a repeat in 1965 he had plenty to celebrate including becoming, at the beginning of August of 1964 at home at Worcester, the fifteenth man to score a hundred hundreds. The way the feat was achieved was somewhat ironic. Northamptonshire’s giant Scottish fast bowler Dave Larter dropped one short at Graveney who went for a pull. He got an ugly bottom edge and the ball went straight in to the ground, bounced over short leg’s head and Graveney was able to scamper through for the single he required. One of his imperious cover drives would have been more fitting, but no one seemed to mind.

Graveney’s record in the title winning years was superb. In 1964 he averaged 55.39 in the Championship, more than 21 runs more than West Indian opener Ron Headley. By 1965 Basil D’Oliveira had arrived, so the margin between first and second in the Worcestershire averages was down to five, although no one else got within fifteen. Most felt that the main factor in the titles was the bowling of the county’s England pair, Jack Flavell and Len Coldwell, but Coldwell for one was in no doubt that Graveney’s runs were the main factor in the county’s rise to the top.

In 1966 West Indies toured England. They won the first Test by an innings, and that marked the end of Mike Smith’s reign as captain. His replacement for the second Test was Cowdrey, and Graveney was delighted that D’Oliveira received a call for his Test debut. He was astonished however by his own call up after more than three years in the wilderness. Determined both to enjoy himself and show he should never have been left out in the first place the 39 year old rolled back the years at Lord’s with innings of 96 and an unbeaten 30 in a game which, had it not been for a famous partnership between Garry Sobers and his cousin David Holford, would have seen the series squared.

England slipped back after that performance, and a century from Graveney in the third Test could not prevent two defeats to go into the final Test 3-0 down. There was another change of captain, Brian Close taking over, and an England win by an innings after a sticky start. In reply to West Indies 268 they were in trouble at 166-7 with just Graveney of the major batsmen left. They got to 527 though, with 165 to Graveney for a series average of 76.50. Wisden described his batting as majestic. No one disagreed.

There was no England tour that winter but Graveney was back for the twin series against Pakistan and India in 1967. He wasn’t as prolific as the year before but still averaged more than 50 and scored 151 at Lord’s in the second Test against India. The trip to the Caribbean in 1967/68 for a series famously won by England after a generous declaration by Sobers was a disappointing one for Graveney given his past successes against the West Indians, particularly as he started by scoring a century in the first Test.

In 1968 Graveney had his last chance to make a real impression against the oldest enemy, Australia. He didn’t altogether succeed, although an average of 42.12 was certainly acceptable. There were a couple of half centuries, the first of which took Graveney tantalisingly close to a first home Ashes century. He was batting well and on 96 when he was undone by a clever piece of bowling. Paceman Alan Connolly decided to switch to round the wicket and Graveney, looking to turn the ball to the fine leg boundary for the four he needed, misjudged the line and lost his leg stump. The match was also notable for an injury to Cowdrey which saw him miss the next Test. Vice-captain Graveney therefore captained England at Headingley in the fourth Test. The match was drawn. Having twice got a start in scoring 37 and 41 Graveney was doubtless disappointed not to have celebrated his appointment with at least a half century.

Never having made the trip before Graveney was looking forward to the visit to South Africa that was due to take place in 1968/69. The tour was, because of the ‘D’Oliveira Affair’, destined never to take place but there was still a winter overseas for Graveney. A series in Pakistan was hurriedly arranged and took place against a backdrop of civil unrest which affected the matches themselves and eventually led to the abandonment of the tour following a particularly ugly invasion of the playing area during the last of the three Tests. Graveney was deeply concerned at the risks the team were exposed to and as vice-captain took it on himself to be the advocate of the doubters. It may be that the MCC remembered his stand a few weeks later, but whatever concerns he had his commitment to the cause could not be doubted as he recorded what was to be his final Test century in the riot strewn final Test.

After the wonderful impact of his second coming the end of Graveney’s Test career was unsatisfactory to say the least. 1969 began with England looking for a new captain. Just as Cowdrey seemed at last to have made the job his own he snapped an Achilles tendon and missed the entire season. Graveney had been vice-captain for three years and must have been a candidate for the job. He was however 41 and the selectors eventually opted for Ray Illingworth, not too many years Graveney’s junior and with a distinctly ordinary Test record, but he was impressing many as he turned perennial strugglers Leicestershire into a power in the land.

In the event Graveney’s Test career lasted for just one more match, despite the 75 he contributed to England’s 10 wicket victory. What finished Graveney was a three match ban imposed on him after the match. His ‘crime’ was to spend the rest day of the game in Luton, 170 miles from Old Trafford, playing in a benefit match. Graveney was in a difficult position. His benefit was something he needed to make the most of and for the match in question he had been offered £1,000. To put that in context Graveney’s season’s pay from his county Worcestershire was £850, and the entire benefit proceeds were £7,886. Graveney knew the rules, and that what he did was forbidden. Everything hung on a phone call. Graveney said that he had told Alec Bedser about the benefit match, that he intended to play, and that if that were an insurmountable problem he would prefer not to be considered for selection. Bedser had been non-committal on the phone, but not unnaturally Graveney then assumed his subsequent selection meant that he was being permitted to play in the Sunday match. Bedser was adamant he could not recall such a call so, unsurprisingly, the decision went against Graveney.

It is interesting to contrast the two distinct sections of Graveney’s Test career. Part one, between the ages of 24 and 36, when he should have been in his prime saw him score 3,107 runs at 41.02 in 55 matches, the mark of a good player rather than a great one. Between 39 and 42 however, in another 24 matches, his figures were 1,775 runs at 50.71. His own explanation is an interesting one. His explanation was that in the 1960s he believed he was the best batsman in England so, irrespective of whether that was actually true, the resultant confidence was reflected in the way he played. In contrast back in the 1950s he had felt somewhat in awe of the likes of Compton, May, Bill Edrich and, particularly, Hutton.

In 1970 Graveney gave English cricket one last summer. He comfortably exceeded the benchmark of 1,000 runs, for the last time. His average was 62.66, his best ever for a full English summer, so he went out on a high. At the time Graveney was seventh in the all time list of English runscorers with 4,882 runs at 44.38 in 79 Tests. In all First Class matches he was eighth with 47,670 runs at 45.09 over a career span of 23 summers. Only nine men could boast more than his 122 centuries. In this day and age a lucrative post retirement career would beckon for a man in Graveney’s position, but that was not the case in the 1970s.

The first post retirement move was a drastic one. Graveney became a ten pound Pom. He had spent the southern hemisphere summer of 1969/70 in Australia, having been courted by the outspoken Brisbane Mayor Clem Jones and joined Queensland in what he thought was a purely coaching role. In fact Jones expected Graveney to play and against his better judgment he did. He played twice. In the first game he had to keep wicket, and made the only stumping of his career. In the second he suffered his first and last serious cricketing injury, his arm being broken by a delivery from Alan ‘Froggy’ Thomson.

Jones wanted him to bat in the next two summers as well, but there was just a single half century Graveney, on his own admission, being well past his best. In that third season Graveney finally tired of the autocratic Jones, there was a blazing row and that was that. Graveney faced a difficult decision. His two children had settled happily in Australia, but his wife hadn’t and Graveney himself felt a profound sense of failure in his mission, so the decision was made to return – the trip back cost rather more than ten pounds.

Unemployed on his return Graveney had to find work and the first opportunity that came his way was to manage a squash club in Essex. It was a job Graveney did successfully enough for three years, but he didn’t enjoy it at all and left. His next move was into sales, unsurprisingly of sports equipment. Graveney did not consider himself a natural salesman, he was far too affable and insufficiently pushy for that. But knowledge, trustworthiness and reputation can shift stock as well and Graveney was reasonably successful and, perhaps more importantly, a little happier.

The sales job kept Graveney on the road and cricket having done precisely the same there must have been a yearning to settle down in one place. The chance for that came with an opportunity to become a publican, at the Royal Oak in Prestbury near Cheltenham. This was a job in which Graveney was much happier, although he wasn’t involved on a full time basis for too long. First he became involved in a business that manufactured artificial cricket pitches, and he became an integral part of the sales team, employing a manager at the pub and going off on the road again. This time however by the nature of the business it was just cricket and cricketers he dealt with. He had plenty of contacts and the business did well.

In 1979 a third string was attached to the Graveney bow. For the 1979 World Cup he was invited to do some work for BBC Radio, and after that was done successfully he switched to television where he was a popular summariser for more than a decade before the BBC, for reasons they chose not to share with Graveney, decided not to renew his contract. At that point, in the early 1990s, Graveney took stock. The Royal Oak, which had become a thriving business under his watch, was hard work. He didn’t make a huge amount out of it as he was just a tenant, but the brewery, Whitbread, wanted it back and were prepared to pay Graveney an acceptable amount to get it. So after the commentary went the Royal Oak did too leaving Graveney, by now approaching 70, with just his artificial pitches, although he was employed on an occasional basis to host cricket tours, something he was particularly adept at.

Graveney’s ambassadorial skills led to him being appointed President of his second county, Worcestershire, in 1994. He stayed in post for four years and later, in 2004, was elected President of the MCC. His cricketing skills and legacy were recognised in 2009 when he was one of the first 55 inductees of the ICC Hall of Fame. Tom Graveney was 88 when he died in 2015, just a week after older brother Ken.

 

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