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Tavare circa 1982

Not too many batsmen who play in 31 Tests, but average just 32, tend to linger too long in the memory, and when he left the Test arena Chris Tavare was, for me at least, no exception to that rule. But that was more than twenty years ago and for some reason in the intervening years I have gradually developed a fondness for Tav that I would never have dreamt I would acquire during those long sessions of tedium he would regularly subject me to in my early 20s. The bulk of Tav’s Test career coincided with my days as an undergraduate and, as I only ever had about ten hours of lectures and/or tutorials each week, it was the only opportunity I have so far had in life to watch as much Test cricket as I wanted. And my first choice was never to watch a bloke who, with the greatest of respect to him, made Geoffrey Boycott look like a bit of a dasher.

Tavare was born in 1954 and came from a cricketing family, albeit he was the first to play the game at First Class level. He was an outstanding schoolboy batsman at Sevenoaks averaging 113 in 1972 and 94 in the following year, his last at the school. Of course Bradmanesque figures in Public School matches do not guarantee a successful cricketing career at the highest level, but it is possible to put the stats in a little more context than usual where Tavare is concerned. Also in that Sevenoaks side was Paul Downton, a wicketkeeper/batsman who would be his Kent and, briefly, England teammate in years to come. In those same seasons Downton, who went on to play 30 Tests for England, averaged 29 and 41 with the bat. It is true he was a couple of years younger than Tavare, but even in his final two years he was unable to average more than 45, so the judgment in 1974 that Tav was A stylish young batsman …… whom many good players consider one of the most promising young cricketers in the county was clearly a sound one.

At a rather more rarefied level in 1974 Tavare averaged 41 for Kent’s second XI. He was given a First Class debut against Cambridge University, and then in August an extended run in the lower reaches of the batting order in the firsts. He averaged only 15 that year but the fact that he was selected for as many as nine three day games clearly demonstrates the faith that the county had in him.

In 1975 Tavare went up to Oxford to study Zoology, with a special interest in Entomology which, I suppose, might just be reflected in the way he played the game. But despite his county cricket being limited to the summer vacation he averaged more than 40 for Kent that summer, and that despite still being at the bottom of a batting order that boasted seven men who had made Test centuries.

Tavare continued to progress and, degree obtained, decided on a career as a professional cricketer. His first full season for Kent in 1978 saw him second only to overseas star Asif Iqbal in the batting averages. He also became the first Kent player ever to average two catches in the field per game over a full season – most of them were held at slip. This was a particularly notable achievement given that not even Frank Woolley, who assisted “Tich” Freeman in so many dismissals between the wars, was quite so prolific.

So what sort of batsman was the young Tavare? One of my purposes in writing this article, given the reputation that he now has, is to stress that there were in fact two Tavares, the one we all remember for his Test batting, and the one who played for Kent and later Somerset, who is often overlooked. The reality was that Tavare actually possessed a full range of shots, many of which he eschewed for most of the time at Test level. In either guise he always stood at the crease like a Coldstream Guard, ramrod straight, and consequently looked a little stiff in his movement. And in addition he was always prone to wandering off towards point or square leg between deliveries. But there were some major differences. The more carefree Tavare could be particularly severe on off spinners, and was quite happy to hit them straight back over their heads, but to my recollection he only batted like that once in a Test. There were also a couple of trademark Tavare shots. One was the “drive” he played off the back foot that sent half-volleys between point and cover, and the other was the way he got a long hop to square leg. The Tavare shot was a bit like a hook, but very much an apology for one, as if he was telling the bowler that if he insisted on bowling rubbish like that he couldn’t expect Tav to waste too much energy on dispatching the ball on its way.

In 1979 Tavare enjoyed another productive year,6 and although both his aggregate and average were slightly down this time he was Kent’s leading batsman. A number of respected journalists, Jim Laker included, thought the England selectors might pick him for the three Test tour of Australia that was hastily arranged for that winter in light of the end of the World Series Cricket rift. In the end Tavare was not selected which, given the drubbing England received, may not have been a bad thing.

The following season, 1980, marked a new era in English cricket as Ian Botham took charge on the field. With Brearley having stepped down, and Derek Randall out of favour, there were two vacant batting places and the selectors turned to Tavare, who had enjoyed a rich vein of form in the early games of the season, and county colleague Bob Woolmer. Tav’s international debut came in the first ODI and he created a fine impression. England lost the game, failing by 24 runs to chase down West Indies modest looking 198, but without the Kent man it would have been a rout. He was chosen for his favoured slot at three in the order and was soon at the crease. Unlike his teammates he was able to keep out the threat posed by Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. He was also able to pace his innings perfectly but, sadly, he could not inspire his colleagues to match him. Nonetheless his unbeaten 82 (there were almost four overs left when he finally ran out of partners, deservedly won him the Man of the Match award.

After that performance Tavare inevitably retained his place for the first Test which was to be the only one of the series to produce a positive result. In the manner to which we were all to become accustomed Tavare batted for almost two hours all told, but scored only 17 runs. West Indies margin of victory was just two wickets, so another twenty or so might have made all the difference, but Tavare would not have been the only man in that England side who was disappointed with his personal performance. In the second Test he scored 42 in the first innings, and without that innings, which extended over just six minutes short of five hours, England would certainly not have drawn the game. He batted for another fifty minutes in the second innings, scoring just six. He was then dropped, along with Woolmer, on the basis England felt they needed to attack, so Wayne Larkins and Brian Rose were drafted in leaving just Boycott to play the sheet anchor role.

There were mutterings that Tavare had changed his technique, more particularly his grip, and that that was why he had not been the same player who had score so prodigiously for Kent in the early weeks of the season. His own view was different, and rather more compelling. It amounted to stating the blindingly obvious, that being bowled to by an unremitting West Indian pace quartet was a rather different proposition to facing a selection of county trundlers. The fact that respected writers on the game sought to find some more complex explanation suggests it is perhaps rather a good thing that most leading commentators now are former players who have turned to commentating after long international careers, as opposed to experienced broadcasters or writers on the game, who have little or no experience of playing it at a professional level.

Having been dropped Tavare returned to Kent where his form deserted him completely. Listening rather too much to those who suggested technical faults he tried various adjustments, none of which worked for him. In the end he decided to just try and be more positive and towards the end of the season he ran right back into form. It was not enough to earn him a recall to the Test side that summer, nor indeed to gain a place in the party that went out to the Caribbean for the return series. I suspect he would have been disappointed at the time the composition of the party was announced, but that when he looked back at the beginning of the 1981 season he might well have thought that he had done well to avoid the trip.

Tav’s early form in 1981 was inconsistent and he was not selected for any of the first four Tests and therefore missed Botham’s heroics at Headingley and Edgbaston. Finally though in July he found some real form and, with Peter Willey struggling for runs, he took the gritty Northamptonshire man’s place at Old Trafford. By now England were 2-1 up, courtesy of those two most famous of victories. Brearley won the toss and batted but the resurgent England team, with one exception, crashed and burned in their first innings as they were bowled out for 231. Botham went for a duck. The exception was Tavare, who batted for the best part of five hours for 69 that held the innings together. Despite that setback the bowlers still secured England a first innings lead of 101 but second time round they were struggling again at 104-5 when Botham joined Tavare. What followed was a magnificent Botham century that took the game right away from Australia. But Tavare made it all possible. He was at the non-striker’s end throughout Botham’s knock, and altogether batted for another seven hours as he painstakingly compiled a second half century before eventually being dismissed for 78.

England visited India and Sri Lanka the following winter and Tavare pursued his sheet anchor role with relish. In the first Test he was at his most obdurate. In England’s defeat in this low scoring match he took more than five hours to score 56 in the first innings. He put on 92 for the second wicket with Geoff Boycott. Tav’s batting is put in context by the fact that in that partnership, compiled over 3 hours 38 mins, the Yorkshireman outscored him by almost two to one. In the third Test Tav produced what was to prove his highest Test score of 149, at a relative canter, in just over seven and a half hours. The most turgid performance was saved for the fifth Test when, pressed into service as an opener due to Boycott’s return home as a result of “physical and mental tiredness”, Tav took more than five and a half hours to score 35. Altogether in a series that saw five draws follow India’s first Test victory, Tavare spent nearly 27 hours at the crease in scoring 349 runs.

Although the public were assured that the event was unrelated to Boycott’s sudden return home the fact remains that in March 1982, following the end of the Sri Lankan leg of the tour, the first South African rebels, including Graham Gooch and Boycott, left England. With both of the selectors’ first choice openers unavailable as a result of the bans imposed Tavare opened the innings throughout the summer of 1982 when both India and Pakistan visited England and, with two trademark half centuries in each series, he did enough to ensure he travelled with the side that left to defend the Ashes in 1982/83 under Bob Willis. England lost the series and for Tavare it was a disappointment with only two significant innings, coincidentally both 89, to show for his ten visits to the crease. The first of those innings, which took the best part of eight hours to put together, was trademark Tav. The second, a four and a half hour effort when temporarily reverting to his favoured berth at first drop, was more of the same initially but, after a couple of hours of steadfast defence Tav became positively skittish in comparison. He hit as many as 15 boundaries and was particularly severe on off spinner Bruce Yardley.

The third World Cup was played in England in 1983. The hosts reached the semi-final before crashing out to surprise winners India. Tavare opened in all seven of England’s games in the tournament, and did as well as anyone could reasonably have expected of him. He retained his place for the four Test series against New Zealand that followed. In the first match of the series he recorded his second and last Test century. Once again he opened the innings, this time with Graeme Fowler, and the pair added 223 before Tavare, having outscored the Lancastrian, was first to be dismissed. There were half centuries in each of the next two Tests as well, but after that Tavare’s star began to wane and he lost his place the following winter. In 1984 the visitors were the West Indies, and a 5-0 hammering followed. Tavare was not recalled until the final Test. He could not help England avoid defeat, but with 16 and 49 he scored more runs than any England batsmen save Botham. He must have been disappointed not to win a place in the touring party that went to India that winter. He had however been at his most moribund in the one off Test against Sri Lanka, scoring just 14 in 138 minutes from a bowling attack led by Asantha De Mel and Vinothen John – a decent enough pair of seamers, but hardly in the same league as the West Indies quartet.

In 1982 Tavare had captained Kent on an occasional basis and was offered the job for the following season. He thought long and hard about the offer, after all Kent were, after being one of the leading counties just a few years previously, going through a period of transition. In addition his expected committments with England would cause him to miss a number of games. Nonetheless he accepted the offer. There was no silverware at the end of the season but Kent were beaten finalists in one of the cups, reached the semi-finals of the other and were third in the forty over league. A rise of six places in the County Championship were enough to cause the writer of the county’s annual report to say It has been a most promising and exciting season for Kent and one on which we can expect to build next summer. When commenting on Tavare specifically he went on As captain his tactical skills and calmness under pressure were major factors in our winning some vital matches by the narrowest of margins.

For 1984 Tavare was, as we have seen, with his county almost full-time. He was unfortunate in that the late Graham Dilley missed the whole summer through injury, and the county’s performances in one of the cups and the forty over league were well down on the previous season. That said they were still finalists in the premier one day competition, and rose another two places in the Championship. The committee still decided however that Tavare was no longer the man for the job and the captaincy passed on. He was bitterly disappointed, understandably so in light of losing his England place as well, and other counties circled around before he eventually decided to sign another four year contract that would enable him to enjoy a benefit in 1988. Professional to the core Tavare continued to score runs for Kent albeit his average in the following summers was at relatively modest levels, 36, 33 and 33 again. In his benefit year he upped that to 42, but that was to be the end of his Kent career. Alan Knott’s verdict on Tavare the captain was A great skipper, one of the most wasted talents I’ve seen in the game. There was some gnashing of teeth in the committee room at Tavare’s decision to leave immediately after his benefit, but while Tav had every reason to feel aggrieved, he has always insisted that he had originally intended to leave the game altogether, and it was only when an offer of employment from outside the game fell through that he decided to look for another county, and he has continued to speak warmly of the county ever since.

Essex, Northamptonshire and Somerset all expressed an interest in signing the by now 34 year old Tavare. In the end he joined Somerset, surprisingly on only a one year contract, but seemingly with a view to the future, and he duly succeeded to the captaincy in 1990 and led the county for four seasons. His first season was a struggle at times but, long after he thought his international career must have been over, a few runs in late June saw him called up for his 31st and final Test after Alan Lamb, Mike Gatting and Robin Smith all withdrew from England’s side for the third Test against Border’s Australians. The third Test was one of the two that, thanks to rain, England managed to draw. For Tavare there was just one innings and two runs. Robin Smith was back for the fourth Test and it was back to county cricket for Tav, this time for good.

The following season, 1990, his first as Somerset skipper, turned out to be Tavare’s best with the bat as scored more than 1600 runs at nearly 60. His averaged more than 50 again in 1991, although by 1992 his powers had started to decline as his tally of runs fell by more than 400 and his average by 15. His final season, 1993, was a disappointing one in which his average fell to 26. There was though a matchwinning 141* against Glamorgan, his 48th and last First Class century, which Wisden described as being made ..in the dogged, unruffled fashion that has made him famous.

After he left the game Tavare’s life, in a sense, turned backwards and he is now, and has for many years, been a biology teacher at his alma mater, Sevenoaks School. His name seldom crops up in cricketing conversations today, and when it does that is usually with a view to criticising or mocking the way he batted in the Test arena. I conceded at the outset of this feature that, in his time, I was no great fan of Chris Tavare, but there is no doubt that I do now value his contribution to the cricket of the 1980s, and that he is one of my favourites from that era. I am not entirely clear in my own mind why this should be, but I think that in all probability it is neatly summed up in Wisden’s section on Somerset in its 1994 edition when it described him as … a dignified upholder of the game’s best traditions. In that respect he was certainly one of, if not the, last of the line. Put another way Dilley, who named his son after him said I do not expect in my lifetime to meet someone who is as honest, friendly and committed as Tav


Recall his 82-83 tour here when he did the job of soaking up loads and loads of time. He was fairly widely derided for it but iirc he played a very aggressive knock of 80 odd in Sydney which shocked a lot of fans here.

Comment by Burgey | 12:00am BST 21 May 2012

Too young to remember him as a test player properly, just remember the shock everywhere when he was recalled for that disastrous ashes series.

Comment by flibbertyjibber | 12:00am BST 22 May 2012

I always had a fair bit of sympathy for him. Having just about established himself at number 3, he found himself opening when Gooch and Boycott got themselves banned for their SA jaunt and the alternatives were too horrible to contemplate. I don’t know whether he had ever opened for Kent, but I suspect not. Perhaps that’s why his test career never really took off they way we thought it would when he first appeared.

Comment by wpdavid | 12:00am BST 23 May 2012

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