Trevor Bailey – Essex and EnglandMartin Chandler |
With the passing of Trevor Bailey last Thursday, English cricket lost one of its most respected elder statesmen. In the early 1950’s Bailey was England’s premier all rounder, and his was a pivotal role in England’s Ashes success in 1953, their first in twenty years. Later he played a full part in the further victories England enjoyed in the next two series against the old enemy before, in common with almost all his teammates, he had a thoroughly miserable time in Australia in 1958/59, the series that marked the end of his international career.
Until the distinction was abolished in 1963 Bailey played as an amateur, but not one who came to the game with a silver spoon in his mouth, and indeed as Essex’s Assistant Secretary, and later Secretary, he derived his living from the game in the same way as his professional colleagues did. His private school and degree course at Cambridge were funded largely through hard earned scholarships and bursaries.
An outstanding schoolboy Rugby Union player as well as cricketer, Bailey demonstrated his versatility by switching, after he got to University, to the round ball code and, for a couple of seasons when his touring committments permitted, he enjoyed considerable success in the game. He played for East London amateur side Walthamstow Avenue in the days when the Amateur Cup final was a showpiece event that would regularly attract a capacity crowd of 100,000 to the Old Wembley stadium. The Avenue won that Cup in 1952, and the following season they enjoyed success in the FA Cup, defeating league sides Watford and Stockport County in the early rounds before living every non league club’s dream by drawing the reigning First Division Champions in the third round. Inevitably Manchester United beat the Avenue, but not before the amateurs had brought them back to London, and a replay at Highbury, after forcing a famous 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Bailey’s reputation, as it has come down the years, is as the most dour of defensive batsmen and a parsimonious right arm fast medium bowler, as illustrated most markedly by his only significant contribution in 1958/59 when, in the first Test at Brisbane, he took more than seven and a half hours to score 68. He played the game to win, of course, but if that were not possible then he would strive every bit as hard to secure a draw. This common perception of him as dull player is not an entirely accurate reflection but overall it was certainly merited, and with the events of 1953 the die was cast.
Australia in 1953 were captained by Lindsey Hassett. In 15 post war Tests Australia had won 11 and got by far the better of two draws. The Manchester weather had led to another draw in which there was insufficient playing time for either side to gain the ascendancy and just one match, the final Test in 1950/51, had been won by England. After drawing the first Test in Coronation Year it looked like England were going to go 1-0 down at Lords when, at the end of the fourth day, they were 20-3 with 343 needed for victory. Next day the fourth wicket fell at 73 and Bailey came out to join Yorkshireman Willie Watson, a man who played 23 times for England but who, with a career average of just 25 with two centuries, was a little short of the highest class. Bailey, who managed just one Test century in his 61 Tests (he averaged 29) could properly be given the same description. The ground was empty as those two, with little batting to come, set out on their historic partnership. The Australian attack was of the highest quality. Hassett could call upon Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Johnston from “The Invincibles”, and if that were not enough he had a young Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud. As the batsmen dug in the ground filled as news of the rearguard action spread and, no matter what combination of bowlers Hassett tried, the broad bats of the two Englishmen kept them at bay. Neither Watson nor Bailey were at the wicket when the game finally ended but they remained together deep into the final session and saw England to safety. Bailey’s contribution was 71 in 224 minutes.
In the third Test the Manchester weather again prevented a result and at Headingley in the fourth Bailey again made sure that a beaten England got away with a draw. First of all in his country’s second innings he ground his way to just 38 in as long as 263 minutes. It was turgid stuff but took time that was precious to the visitors and eked out a precious lead, which left a target of 177. For some time it appeared all in vain as Australia moved comfortably towards their target before Bailey came on to bowl six overs of leg theory which cost just nine runs in total, and they fell short as time ran out. England, who would certainly have been 2-0 down by then had it not been for Bailey, then won at the Oval to clinch the series and, with another long 228 minutes of patient occupation of the crease for 64, Bailey played a full part in that famous victory.
Forty years later Keith Miller wrote “I am not at all sure that Trevor’s part in England’s success during some very tough games against Australia has been recognised as it should have been. More than just the runs he scored or the wickets he took was his ability to stiffen the resolve of any team that he played for. He was a fighter, and for all the frustration and annoyance he often caused us, we admired him for that, above all”
Whilst Bailey’s batting might fairly described as functional his bowling was rather more than that. Bearing in mind that for the most part his international bowling career was as a support act for the likes of Alec Bedser, Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and Frank Tyson his record is impressive, particularly overseas where his 70 wickets cost just 23 runs each. His finest hour came in the Caribbean in the final Test of the 1953/54 series in Jamaica. The home side were 2-1 up and needed only a draw to win the series. Unsurprisingly the Sabina Park groundsman prepared the pitch to last for a month, and when Len Hutton lost the toss England feared the worst against a batting line up that featured the “Three W’s” at the height of their powers, as well as a young all rounder named Sobers. Bailey opened the bowling with Trueman. As ever the Yorkshireman had choice of ends but it was Bailey, with 7-34 from 16 hostile overs, who was the architect of West Indies downfall for just 139. There was time enough left on the first day for Bailey to go back out to open the batting with his captain. Hutton went on to score a superb double century and England won the Test, and squared a series in which they had lost the first two Tests.
In 1959, following the previous winter’s Ashes debacle, England decided to rebuild against a weak Indian side and Bailey was not part of the selector’s plans. He was 35 by then but, to cock a snook at the selectors, he had his best ever season for Essex and ended the summer with more than 2,000 runs and 100 wickets. No man has achieved the feat since and none ever will again. By the time he finally retired at the end of the 1967 season he had become only the seventh man to take 2,000 career wickets and score 20,000 runs, and this was from a career that, due to the war, did not properly begin until he was 25. Ray Illingworth and Fred Titmus, who both made their First Class debuts in their teens, have since joined that illustrious group to make it one of nine, but they will be the last.
Before leaving Bailey’s cricket career it would be wrong not to mention a couple of lighter moments when he showed a rare spirit of adventure. The first took place in a Championship match at Brentwood in 1952 when Lancashire set Essex a target of 232 for victory. When the last over began all four results were possible as Essex required nine runs to win with their last pair at the crease. Bailey faced Malcolm Hilton, a left arm spinner who, as an 18 year old in 1948, had made headlines by dismissing Donald Bradman twice. Bailey met the first ball of the over with his signature forward defensive push. The crowd must have feared the worst but the second ball of the over was off driven for six. Remarkably, despite the target now being three in four balls, and having Frank Vigar, a perfectly competent batsman at the other end, Bailey went for another six. He did not strike it very well but Alan Wharton could not hold the chance that came to him at waist height and the batsmen ran two – one needed from three deliveries – surely after that shock “Barnacle” Bailey would be looking for a single? Well actually no – he repeated the slog yet again and initially it seemed that the rope would be cleared once more until, as it was about to cross the boundary, Lancashire skipper Nigel Howard plucked the ball out of the air to tie the match. Impetuosity by Bailey had, for once, cost his team victory.
The second example is from the first Test of the 1954/55 Ashes series. The game at Brisbane gave no hint of the English dominance that was to follow. Hutton inserted Australia and saw them pile up more than 600 in their first innings before reducing England to 26-4, at which point Bailey joined Cowdrey in a situation tailor made for one of his most obdurate innings. He did not disppoint as he top scored with 88 in almost four and a half hours. Bailey did however, early on in his innings, charge down the wicket to off spinner Ian Johnson and deposited him over the midwicket boundary for six. A generally smirking Bailey spent the rest of his days maintaining that the ?100 on offer to the first Englishman to hit a six in the series had nothing to do with the shot, although years later in his autobiography, a most entertaining book entitled Wickets, Catches and the Odd Run, he expressed the view, presumably tongue in cheek, that his subconscious must have influenced his shot selection.
Bailey’s determination did not, as with some, blind him to the bigger picture and fact that the game of cricket itself is, at the end of the day, far more important than any individual. He always played the game in the spirit in which he believed it should be played and, however much he might have tried to frustrate his opponents, he respected them all. These qualities were most clearly demonstrated in the final Test of the 1954/55 series. England were 3-1 up and had already retained the Ashes. Rain prevented any play on the first three days of the match. When it finally got underway England were put in and, with the assistance of a typically patient half century from Bailey, established an impregnable position. Bailey started to play a few shots after he passed fifty and then, on 72, with the declaration due at the end of the over he, after telegraphing his intention by taking guard a foot outside leg stump, wandered back across his stumps, played a half hearted, lazy pull shot at the sixth delivery of Lindwall’s over, and helped the ball on to his stumps. It was Lindwall’s 100th wicket in Ashes Tests and it had been considered likely that he would not play again – his own teammates had, by some poor catching, seemingly prevented him reaching the milestone – there must have been few who would have expected Trevor Bailey to make good their failings. In fact that match in Melbourne proved not to be the last Ashes Test of Lindwall’s career. As things turned out that was to be at Melbourne four years later, and coincidentally was Bailey’s final Test. Many Australians never forgot Bailey’s selfless gesture towards Lindwall in 1955, but it must have slipped to the back of the great fast bowler’s mind as he brought down the curtain on Bailey’s career by dismissing him for a duck in each innings!
His cricketing days over Bailey enjoyed a variety of employment opportunities. He was the Financial Times football and cricket correspondent for many years, and he wrote a number of books about the game including a fine biography of Gary Sobers. He also had an interest in an indoor cricket school in his native Essex and he dabbled in the toy business. More importantly he was, from 1966 until 1999, a much respected member of BBC Radio’s Test Match Special team. Never a man to waste his words, Bailey was known as an incisive and astute critic of the cricket he watched although, to a much greater extent than his long time fellow summariser Trueman, he was always prepared to praise the modern game when he felt it appropriate.
In his private life Bailey married Greta in 1948, so the couple enjoyed more than 62 years of marriage. The wedding took place on the day after the 1948 Varsity match. Bailey always said that that memory, together with his 1949 edition of Wisden, made sure he never forgot his wedding anniversary. As to the man himself I regret I never met him to form a judgment. John Woodcock, “The Sage of Longparish”, and long time colleague in the pressbox, knew him well and his words capture superbly the character of the man I used to listen to on the radio. He described Bailey as “…kind yet intolerant, thoughtful yet outspoken, cautious yet successful, precise yet amusing and aloof yet companiable….”