The Buccaneer, The Trooper And The Ashes WinnerMartin Chandler |
Back in 1937 a cricket loving 14 year old, Maurice Tremlett, secured his first job. The position was as an office boy for the Somerset County Cricket Club in Taunton and as such required no particular playing skill. In the following two years he made no particular impact as a cricketer despite the opportunity to mix with the players and develop his skills.
In the manner of the times the outbreak of war brought a conclusion to the employment and in due course Maurice had to sign on for military service. He had hoped to join the RAF, but flat feet and eyesight that was less than perfect put a stop to that. In the end he joined the Army, and ended up with the British Army of the Rhine, the occupying force in post war Germany.
Cricket continued to be an important part of Maurice’s life as he served his country and in Germany he met Gubby Allen who, noticing some promising all round talent, offered him the opportunity to join Middlesex. He also had the chance to join Lancashire or Northamptonshire, but in the end chose to return to Somerset. He had been born in Cheshire back in 1923, but was brought up in the West Country and decided to go back to a place he knew.
In the 2018 summer the County Championship season began in early April, but back in 1947 the season was rather shorter and there was just a single match in April, the then traditional fixture at Worcester for the tourists, who that year were South Africa. Even then the game did not begin until the very last day of the month. Championship cricket did not begin until 10 May.
Although it was seventy years ago the 1947 summer still has a hold on the imagination of any self respecting cricket tragic. It was that vintage summer when Denis Compton and Bill Edrich carried all before them, Compton scoring 3,816 runs and Edrich 3,539. Both beat the record of the Surrey stalwart Tom Hayward that had been set forty years previously. The pair’s season’s aggregates have not been matched since, and unless the game changes dramatically will never be approached.
The Compton and Edrich story began at Lord’s, against Somerset. The visitors fielded two debutants, both aged 23. Maurice was the older by four days, the other being Eric Hill, a batsman who never quite made the grade and left the staff at the end of the 1951 summer and became a journalist. Maurice was tall, blond and loose limbed and was viewed as a fast medium bowler. His stock delivery was an inswinger, and he was generally very accurate.
Middlesex won the toss and batted first. Maurice was first change and, according to Hill, was so nervous before his first over that he could not even speak. He soon settled down though, and played his part in the Middlesex first innings taking 3-41 as the home side were bowled out for 231. Edrich made the first of his twelve centuries of the summer, but no one else made a major score. In reply Somerset passéd fifty without loss, but then slumped to 134 all out.
With a lead of 97 Middlesex moved to 60-3 in their second innings before Maurice struck. He did not bowl particularly well from the Pavilion End and was taken off before switching to the Nursery End from where, in the space of five overs, he changed the course of the match. First a breakback burst through Compton’s forward defensive stroke and bowled him. Then, whilst conceding just a single run, he bowled three more Middlesex batsman and had another caught at leg slip. Now the side who would go on to be champions were in trouble. The Somerset target was eventually 176, more than they had managed first time around, but the game was theirs to win.
At 113-7 in their pursuit of victory Somerset looked down and out, but Hill and wicketkeeper Wally Luckes fought hard until both fell at 151. With 25 needed the last Somerset pair were at the crease, the debutant Maurice and slow left armer Horace Hazell. Hazell was not an out and out rabbit, but a career average of 8.17 is nothing special. The Middlesex attack was in the hands of paceman Laurie Gray, who might well have played for England had it not been for the war, and Jack Young who was a parsimonious left arm spinner. They bowled well and nearly got Hazell twice, but lunch was reached with fifteen still needed. After the interval Maurice decided to take the long handle to Young. He struck him for a huge six over long off and two on drives for three and two brought Somerset a famous victory.
Maurice deservedly hit the headlines for his matchwinning debut, and there were plenty who thought that perhaps an answer to the nation’s dearth of fast bowling talent had been found. Of course he was never going to be able to carry on as he had started, but he ended the season with 65 wickets at a tick over 30 and, showing that whatever he was with the bat he was no number ten, managed 656 runs at 17, three times passing fifty. His best was an unbeaten 85 in the local derby against Gloucestershire, who finished the season as runners-up to Middlesex.
His season’s work was enough to get Maurice a place in the MCC side that toured West Indies in 1947-48. It no doubt assisted him that Allen, by then 45, was the England skipper. It was far from the strongest team England could have selected. There was no Compton, Edrich, Bedser, Wright or Washbrook. Len Hutton was flown out as a replacement half way through, but he was not in the original party either.
The tour was not a happy one for England, at least as far as the cricket was concerned. The first two Tests were drawn, and then even with Hutton the next two were lost. Maurice played in three of the Tests, but his four wickets cost 225 runs and, generally batting last, he never really had the chance to make a score. His overall results were even grimmer – just ten wickets at 70.00. He was bottom of the batting list with eighty runs in thirteen innings. Did he play badly? Perhaps surprisingly the answer seems to be no. His fielding attracted praise, he was given little opportunity with the bat, and whilst his bowling may not have achieved much in the wickets column journalist Charles Bray observed in mitigation that he did a lot of hard and useful work, but was not a new ball bowler. In its report on the tour Wisden supported Bray, stating simply that Maurice had been called upon to do far too much bowling in the tropical heat. He also suffered from his captain trying to change his action and turn him into a swing bowler.
Back in England in 1948 Maurice was never in the frame for a Test place against Bradman’s Invincibles, but he nonetheless recovered well enough from his travails in the Caribbean. His run tally crept over a thousand, and he took 86 wickets. The selectors kept faith with him and he was picked to go to South Africa that winter, but that proved to be his last involvement with England. Maurice did score his first century, against Natal, but his bowling fell away. He did not make the side for any of the five Tests and in the ten First Class matches in which he played he bowled only 103 overs. His eleven wickets were not too expensive, but he was palpably out of touch. The problem was again interference. Desperate to find an answer to Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall the selectors were anxious to find a bowler of real pace. Maurice looked the part and tried to increase his speed. Unfortunately however all the team management ultimately achieved was to convince Maurice that he wasn’t a bowler.
There were a couple more summers when Maurice managed more than fifty wickets, but in a career that lasted until 1959 he was always a reluctant bowler. In his four years as county captain he put himself on for less than a hundred overs, so not even one over per match. In that time he took just six wickets, at sixty runs apiece. He often bowled in the nets as well as anyone, but in the middle he just lost all confidence. Occasionally it looked like he may have conquered his demons, but it seldom lasted long. In 1951 for example he opened the bowling in Somerset’s first match, a friendly against Glamorgan. He took 3-15. In the Championship match that followed he took 6-67 in the Gloucestershire first innings. In the remaining thirty matches of the season he took just one more wicket. There was consolation with the bat however. It was the only season in which Maurice exceeded 2,000 runs, and he passed fifty on as many as 17 occasions. He travelled to New Zealand the following winter for a coaching stint. Whilst he was there he played a couple of matches for Central Districts, but not with any great success.
In 1953 Maurice suffered a grievous injury in the field. The pitch was, effectively, blameless although it was not a good one. It was the Bath Festival and two consecutive home games for Somerset. The first match was over in a day. After that the wicket was sprayed with bull’s blood and rolled constantly for two days in an attempt to get the newly relaid turf to knit together for the visit of Kent.
When the accident happened Brian Langford was bowling. An off spinner who was not yet 18 he was faced by the Kent opener Tony Woollett, not noted as a big hitter. Woollett drove a ball at Maurice who was fielding at silly mid off. The drive struck Maurice square on the forehead. His skull was fractured and there were concerns he may die. Once those fears were overcome some splinters of bone near Maurice’s optic nerve threatened his eyesight. He spent two months in hospital and didn’t play again that summer. As for Langford he had experienced two Championship matches, one that was over in a day and then early in the second he was involved in an incident like that. It says much for his fortitude that he went on take 14 Kent wickets in the match, and enjoy a 22 year First Class career. He never played Test cricket, but will always have a place in the record books after his spell of 8-8-0-0 in a John Player League match against Essex in 1969.
It is perhaps surprising that Maurice came back at all, but he did and, for one season only, that crack on the skull had a galvanising effect on his bowling. In 1954 he took 58 wickets at 28.27, but he never played a significant role with the ball again. There were also, despite his eyesight never again being what it had been before the injury, more than a thousand runs in 1954 and then in the following summer he approached two thousand again.
A stylish buccaneer of a batsman Maurice was a great crowd pleaser. One of his more famous innings came in the 1957 season. Surrey needed a win at Weston-super-mare in order to clinch the sixth of their seven successive Championships. Their attack had had an extraordinary summer with all five of, Jim Laker, the Bedser twins, Tony Lock and Peter Loader riding high in the national averages. To put that more closely in context the highest average of any of the five was Alec Bedser, whose wickets in the Championship cost 15.57 runs each!
Against the much vaunted attack Maurice scored 83 in the second innings in just over an hour. The Walter Lawrence Trophy for the fastest century of the season was well within his grasp when deep cover managed to pluck the ball out of the air and cut short the entertainment. Three wickets was Surrey’s eventual winning margin. Another quarter of an hour of Maurice and Surrey would almost certainly have had to wait a few more days. One local reporter wrote that Maurice bestrode Clarence Park like a blonde Viking. A modest man by nature Maurice’s teammates did not allow him to forget that one.
Prior to that 1957 game, between 1952 and 1955 Somerset finished last in the Championship on each occasion. For 1956 they decided to appoint Maurice as captain. Professional captains were still the exception rather than the rule, Maurice being Somerset’s first ever and one of only six in the Championship. The improvement in that first summer was modest, but by the time he had been in the job for three years the County were finishing as high as third. Maurice was neither vocal nor a disciplinarian but he was well liked by his team and understood more than most what both batting and bowling were about and the playing staff clearly responded well to him. His last year in the job, 1959, saw the side fall to twelfth and although Maurice passed his thousand runs again he decided to hand the captaincy on to wicketkeeper Harold Stephenson, whose benefit match he had lit up in two years earlier with that sparkling innings against Surrey. Maurice remained on the staff in 1960 but played mainly for the second eleven, his three Championship matches in early July bringing him just four runs. He indicated to the committee that he did not want to be considered for a further contract, took a job with Guinness and moved to Southampton.
Before the war Maurice’s wife, Melina, had been a swimmer and achieved the Olympic qualifying standard in advance of the Helsinki games of 1940. The inevitable cancellation of those games brought the end of her hopes of medals as, by the time the 1948 London games came around, she had given up top class swimming. Curiously swimming was something Maurice never learnt to do, and he had a lifelong fear of water.
With such strong sporting genes on both sides of the family it is no surprise that Maurice and Melina’s son, Tim, enjoyed a decent cricketing career with Hampshire. The county had invited Maurice to become an honorary life member almost as soon as he had moved to Southampton and he was often asked to go along to the nets, and he would often take Tim and his younger brother Jonathan with him. Both boys were good cricketers, but only Tim looked to the game for a career.
Tim’s First Class career extended from 1976 to 1991. He took 450 First Class wickets at the respectable average of 23.99 and scored 3,864 runs at exactly 21.00. Curiously his best bowling and highest score (his solitary century) were both recorded against Somerset. Tall, with a slightly stiff and upright bearing that earned him the nickname Trooper, Tim was primarily a right arm medium pace bowler who was often compared to Derek Shackleton, a great servant of Hampshire cricket from a generation before.
For a few seasons in the early 1980s Tim cannot have been very far away from an England place. He consistently took wickets and was selected for an English Counties tour of Zimbabwe in 1984/85 and an England B side that visited Sri Lanka a year later. He was essentially a line and length bowler good for long spells and keeping the runs down but, important skills that those are, the lack of real pace and the fact that he rarely ran through sides tended to keep him under the selectorial radar. He was however a perfect complement to the quick men, which for most of his career meant Malcolm Marshall.
His days in the first team finishing at the end of the 1991 season Tim moved into coaching. Unusually he was given a benefit after he finished playing in 1993 and that amply demonstrated his popularity with the Hampshire public, netting him £110,000. In 1999 he took over the role of County Coach, although in circumstances he would doubtless have preferred to be different as his predecessor, Marshall, was by then gravely ill.
Tragically one of Tim’s three sons lost his life in a car accident. The youngest of the three was a talented cricketer and played at age group levels for Hampshire, but he had some fitness problems and ultimately pursued a non-sporting career. Eldest son Chris however not only emulated his father by playing county cricket for Hampshire (and later Surrey), but he also surpassed his father’s mark by playing twelve times for England. Had his physique been a little more durable then surely there would have been many more England appearances.
Only 18 on debut in 2000 (six good wickets against a New Zealand touring side including Mark Richardson with his first delivery) Chris was playing regularly for Hampshire the following summer. At 6’7’’ in height he could extract bounce from all but the most lifeless of pitches and whilst never truly fast he was definitely on the high side of fast medium and was watched from on high almost from the start.
Chris made his first appearances for England in three ODIs prior to the start of the tumultuous 2005 Ashes series. He had to wait a little longer for his Test debut but in 2007, with every member of the attack of 2005 out of the picture, he forced himself ahead of Stuart Broad in the pecking order and formed a distinctly useful partnership with James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom. He ended up with 13 wickets at 29.69 and in front of his two more experienced teammates in the averages.
Unfortunately injury and loss of form then forced Chris out of the picture and it was a move to pastures new with Surrey in 2010 that finally got him back into international contention and earned him selection for the 2010/11 Ashes party. England collapsed in a heap in his first Test back, the third, despite Chris running in hard and taking 8-140 in a match England lost by the huge margin of 267 runs. In the final analysis however it didn’t much matter. Less than three weeks later it was Chris who forced one through Michael Beer’s defence to set the seal on a 3-1 victory. In three Tests he took 17 wickets at 23.35. Only Anderson took more, 24, and he had the advantage of playing in all five Tests and paid more than 26 runs each for his wickets. For Chris it was to be very much the high point of his career.
Fitness was maintained after returning from the Ashes and 15 wickets at 23.40 headed the averages against the doughty fighters from Sri Lanka who lost their three Test series 1-0. Career best figures of 6-48 came Chris’ way in the first innings of the third Test. He was fit too for the first of England’s four Test wins over India, but sadly the injury curse struck again after that. Eventually there were two more Tests, the first against Pakistan in the UAE in 2011/12, but Chris needed back surgery after that. Then he clawed his way back into the side for the first of that enormously (to English eyes) disappointing Ashes series of 2013/14 before injury stopped him again. Eventually in 2015 he bowed to specialist advice and, at 34, called time on his cricket career.
Having retired from the game Chris was back in the public eye in 2017 and his photograph appeared in a number of newspapers. He was a changed man, the lean and mean athleticism having given way to a new broad, muscular and powerful Chris Tremlett. His twitter account describes him as a BPI Sports Ambassador, BPI being a company that trades in the supplements that presumably facilitated his acquisition of the physique he now has. He also describes himself as working in property investment. I am not aware that there are yet any male heirs waiting in the wings, but Chris told writer James Buttler in 2017 that he would like to have children in the future, so hopefully one day English cricket will be graced by a fourth generation of the Tremlett family.