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Tony Lock

Tony Lock is by a distance the most successful bowler to have been tainted by a throwing controversy. His total of 2,844 wickets is bettered by only eight men, and his average an impressive 19.23. But he was much more than that as a cricketer. He ranks as one of the all-time great close catchers, was a useful lower order batsman, and his man-management skills and tactical nous as a captain enabled him to, in the 1960s, turn a couple of “Cinderella” sides, Leicestershire and Western Australia, into opponents respected by all.

Lock made his First Class debut eight days after his seventeenth birthday in 1946, and he played the last of his 654 First Class matches a quarter of a century later, so it was a long career, and one that fell into three distinct sections. The first part was the young Lock. In this incarnation he was a traditional orthodox left arm spinner, a genuine slow bowler with a good command of flight. However he lacked the ability to turn the ball very much, and that seemed for some time as if it would be what would prevent him progressing to Test level.

National Service stopped Lock from getting a regular berth in the Surrey side before 1949. That summer he took his 67 wickets steadily, at the reasonable cost of 24.29, but he never took more than four in an innings and by 1952, in reviewing the previous season in which Lock had taken 100 wickets for the first time, Wisden was prompted to comment unless he imparts more spin he is not going to reach the pinnacle.

The early years brought no adverse comment at all about the Lock action, but that all changed after he emerged from the winter of 1951/52 a very different bowler. He had spent the off season coaching in an indoor school that was located in the basement of Allders department store in Croydon. The story goes that because the roof of the net was so low Lock couldn’t flight the ball as he usually did and he therefore chose to push the ball through with a lower arm, something that enabled him to spin the ball a great deal but which, particularly on his quicker delivery, meant that he bent his elbow and then straightened it, thus breaking the laws of the game.

One of the classic signs of a thrower is the ball that is bowled much faster without any perceptible change of action. If the ball is bowled at a different pace there has to be a change either in the speed which the arm comes over or the point at which the ball is released or both, and part of the skill of the bowler is to reduce the outward signs to a minimum. The thrower has no need of disguise because, if the change of pace is imparted by the elbow, his arm speed and point of release need not alter.

Fellow Surrey players confirmed the problem with the height of the net in Allders, although not all were convinced it was the sole cause of the change of action. Sir Alec Bedser for one apparently believed that it was simply irritation at his young charges carting him around the net that prompted Lock to speed up. Whatever the reason was he ended up at around medium pace, and that quicker delivery, which was very sharp indeed, started to account for around 25% of Lock’s wickets. Overall the effect was dramatic. From 105 wickets at 21.30 in 1951 his season’s work the following summer brought him 131 at 17.07, and an England debut against the touring Indians.

A week after his England debut Lock was called for throwing for the first time in the Surrey game against the tourists. It seems to have been pretty much unanimous amongst Lock’s contemporaries that he threw, the only real issue being whether it was just the quicker ball, or everything. Former Middlesex wicketkeeper Fred Price was the umpire concerned. He called Lock three times altogether, responding to some barracking by the Surrey crowd by lying down and waiting for the hubbub to subside before allowing the game to continue.

Price umpired Lock plenty more times in years to come without calling him again, and nor did anyone else, despite the consensus amongst Lock’s peers remaining very firmly to the effect that he threw. There is the famous tale of Essex amateur Doug Insole once enquiring pointedly of an umpire after seeing his stumps shattered; I know I’m out but was I bowled or run out? There is a clue to why the situation was allowed to persist in a comment made by then England captain Len Hutton just before Lock’s England bow in 1952. Asked by a bold questioner whether he thought Lock’s action was peculiar Hutton replied; Yes, but he’ll win the Ashes for us next year

England had not held the Ashes since the Bodyline tour twenty years before and in the three post-war encounters had not looked like getting them back anytime soon, so realistically the only reason why a blind eye was turned was because the new Lock was a potential match-winner. On a damaged surface the opposition had no chance. As Derek Underwood was to show a generation later a canny medium paced left arm spinner did not need to turn the ball much to be devastating on a damaged surface – it is interesting to try and imagine how devastating Underwood would have been if he had been able to spin the ball in the way that Lock could.

In fact that Coronation year of 1953 was something of a struggle for Lock as he suffered with a split spinning finger and then, when he finally did get in the England side for the fourth Test he bowled poorly. Prior to that his great rival, Johnny Wardle, a Yorkshireman with a faultless action, had played pretty well in the first three Tests so, for the final Test, taking place after four draws, the selectors options were Wardle with 13 wickets at 26.46 in three matches or Lock with 2-101 in his one. In the end, on his home ground, Lock got the nod and Wardle carried the drinks. England triumphed to finally bring home the urn, and the main reason was Lock and Jim Laker dismissing Australia for 162 in the third innings, Lock’s share being 5-45 as for once he out-bowled his “twin”.

That winter Lock was with England on their difficult assignment in the Caribbean. His return in the Tests was a miserable 14 wickets at 51.28. Worse still was the fact that in the first Test he was called for throwing by Perry Burke, and in the game against Barbados just over a week later he was called once by Harold Walcott, and twice by Cortez Jordan, who six years later would call Charlie Griffith in the match in which Indian skipper Nari Contractor came close to losing his life. And therein lay a problem, as although MCC could exercise an influence over English umpires they could not do so with their overseas counterparts.

So Wardle and not Lock went to Australia in 1954/55, and although Lock went to South Africa in 1956/57 he had to play second fiddle to Wardle there. In 1958/59 England were due in Australia again, but despite some hugely impressive figures for the previous domestic seasons it was Wardle who was originally selected. But then fate played a hand as Wardle published a newspaper article that was deeply critical of his Yorkshire captain, and got the sack for his trouble. His invitation to tour was also withdrawn, and his place went to Lock.

Some said that England reaped what they had sown in 1958/59 when the powerful side that had been assembled was humbled by a keen young Australian team that contained four men with dubious actions. For England Lock demonstrated once and for all that he was not, in this style, a hard wicket bowler, as his four Test appearances brought him just five wickets at 75.20. In the preceding English summer a weak New Zealand side had visited England, and Lock had a remarkable series taking 34 wickets at 7.47. One of the New Zealanders, Harry Cave, had taken a cine camera with him and created a filmed record of the tour. Naturally Lock played a role in that and during the New Zealand leg of the 1958/59 tour the Englishmen were invited to spend an evening at the home of New Zealand skipper John Reid, with a showing of Cave’s film being part of the entertainment.

Back home in England Test matches had been televised for years, but not many homes had sets and the grainy monochrome pictures were not of great quality. Cave’s film however was rather different. There were sharp and clear images taken from a variety of positions that TV and newsreel cameras never bothered with. One thing that comes through clearly from this episode is that Lock cannot have believed, prior to seeing the film, that his action was illegal. All the attendees commented on how pale and distressed he appeared when the lights went up. He realised suddenly that he clearly did throw the ball.

It was back to the drawing board for Lock as he worked tirelessly to remodel his action. It took some doing and he made a late start to the 1959 season, but he eventually succeeded. There were some problems along the way, and the notorious hard-liner Paul Gibb called him once at Cardiff in early July 1959. It is an odd episode in which it seems Gibb called Lock twice in the Glamorgan first innings before the bowler bounced back in the second innings with a match-winning 7-66. The no-balling is confirmed on Cricketarchive, and in Ian Peebles’ well known treatise Straight From The Shoulder, but there is not a word of the incident in Wisden, The Cricketer, or Alan Hill’s 2008 biography of Lock. Even Peebles’ failed to note the last occasion when Lock was called, once by Arthur Fagg (another to call Griffith) in the opening match of the 1960 season.

There is no doubt that the new Lock action was less successful than the old one, but once he perfected it there were no more allegations of throwing, and what the game was left with was the slow beguiling Lock of the late 1940s with, as a bonus, considerably greater powers of spin. Such was the improvement that Lock regained his Test place against the 1961 Australians, but he did not bowl well, three matches bringing him just three wickets at 83.33. That disappointment notwithstanding he did go with an understrength England side to India and Pakistan in 1961/62 and bowled superbly. He didn’t however enjoy the same success against the modest Pakistani tourists of 1962 and to his great disappointment missed out on what was still an expected selection for the 1962/63 Ashes party, the selectors bizarrely preferring to take three off-spinners and no slow left arm option.

Despite his non-selection for the touring party Lock arrived in Australia a few days in advance of the official tourists having accepted a contract to play for Western Australia. He was the Sandgropers leading wicket taker in a season that showed a modest improvement for them and he was invited back again after what was to be his final Surrey summer in 1963. The mistake in Australia learned from England also went back to Lock in 1963, picking him for the last three Tests against Frank Worrell’s West Indies. All in all they were a disappointing way in which to end Lock’s Test match career in England, his six wickets costing him 38.33 runs each. It would have been some consolation to him however, never having done so before, to score two half-centuries. The first helped England move from 189-8 to safety in the third Test, and the other, a courageous 53 in the fourth Test, top score in a disappointing 174 all out with Charlie Griffith at his most spiteful.

By the end of the season the Lock family left England, this time to settle in Perth for good, but Lock was not yet done with the English game. In 1965 he returned, to play for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League at weekends and for Leicestershire in eight midweek County Championship games. The following summer saw Lock assume the county captaincy as he became available for them full time. Leicestershire had had a dreadful season in 1964, barely avoiding the wooden spoon. Even with Lock available only briefly in 1965 they had risen two places and in 1966 they were eighth, just in the top half. Lock galvanised a young team and led from the front, topping the county’s bowling averages and enjoying his second best season ever with the bat.

In his final English season, 1967, Lock led the Foxes to their highest ever finish to that time, joint runners-up. Had it not been for a rainy day in Brighton at the end of the season then they may have taken the title. Lock was one of only four men in the country to bowl more than 1,100 overs, and he took 128 wickets at 18.11. In terms of averages he also had his best ever season with the bat, scoring 603 runs at 21.53. Wisden, not a publication given to hyperbole, described Leicestershire’s progress under Lock as quite extraordinary

Back in Perth Western Australia had not won the Sheffield Shield since Keith Carmody led them to the title in their first season in 1947/48. In 1965/66 Lock took more Shield wickets than anyone else, and he repeated that the following year with 51, the first man to reach the half century landmark since the war. After his exploits at Leicester in 1967 Lock was also asked to captain Western Australia, and those who appointed him were rewarded with the state’s second Shield. The praise for his captaincy was no less vocal than it had been in England a few months before, and there followed a scarcely credible postscript.

England were touring the Caribbean whilst Lock was leading Western Australia, but there were problems after the Sheffield Shield campaign ended. Fred Titmus had an accident with a propeller on a boat that cost him four toes, and it was it was the in-form Lock, almost 39, that England turned to for the fourth and fifth Tests. The pitches in the Caribbean were no more suited to his new style than they had been fourteen years previously to his old one, and his four wickets cost him 53 runs each. But England wouldn’t have won the series without Lock. In the final Test, with Gary Sobers launching a one man campaign to right the wrong of his overly generous declaration in the previous Test Lock recorded his highest ever First Class innings, 89, as he shepherded tailenders Pat Pocock and Jeff Jones as 112 precious runs were added at the end of England’s first innings. At the game’s denoument England’s last pair were hanging on grimly, so Lock’s innings two days earlier had been crucial.

Lock led Western Australia for another three seasons. They couldn’t quite lift the Shield again, being runners-up twice and then third, but when Lock did finally leave the game he had, despite never playing a Shield match until he was well past his 33rd birthday, become second only to Clarrie Grimmett in terms of wickets taken in the competition. There are fifteen men in front of Lock in that table now, but no one heads his average by more than an inconsequential 0.63 runs per wicket, underlining the fact that when he did start bowling entirely legally, his game was ideally suited to the Australian pitches that had drawn the sting of his medium paced bent armed incarnation.

Life treated Tony Lock well after he left the game for more than twenty years, but there was to be a sting in the tail and his final years were ones of strife and anguish. News first broke of his travails in April 1992 when it was announced that he had been charged with an offence of indecent assault following a complaint from a 15 year old girl that dated back five years and related to occasions when she had gone to Lock’s home for coaching. The best part of two years later he was cleared by a jury, on a 10-2 majority, but his ordeal was not over as within 24 hours he had been re-arrested in connection with an even older allegation. This one was 13 years old, and involved a female aggrieved who was aged 10 at the time of the events complained of.

Sadly in the course of 1994 Lock was told that he had inoperable cancer. An application by his legal team to bring the case to an end on the grounds that the former Test bowler had less than two years to live was unsuccessful. It had been argued on Lock’s behalf that to continue the case would offend common humanity. The Prosecution disagreed, and their view held sway with the Court, and Lock’s second trial began on 21 December 1994.

The trial, in Perth District Court, lasted two days but the jury was unable to reach even a majority verdict despite deliberating for eight hours. A retrial was ordered even though the medical evidence on this occasion was that Lock’s lung cancer was likely to claim him within three months. The prosecution were however ultimately persuaded that pursuing the retrial was not in the public interest and the case was dropped in February 1995. A disgruntled Lock said after leaving the court building, I suppose when I die it won’t be Tony Lock the greatest left arm slow bowler to play for England, but Tony Lock, the guy who was up on sex charges. My reputation has been destroyed but I’m lucky I’ve got friends who won’t give a stuff and they are the only people who matter.

A few weeks later Lock was admitted to a hospice where he died on 29 March 1994, thus proving his medical advisers correct. Was it inhumane to subject him to the second prosecution? It is a difficult balancing exercise that, in England at least, is and has for some time been high on the public agenda thanks to the Jimmy Savile inspired “Operation Yewtree”. Some describe the relentless pursuit of the alleged perpetrators of historic rapes and indecent assaults as a witch hunt, but the reality is that child sex offenders must be discouraged and, to my mind at least, the Judge in the Perth District Court got it right. It may be that Lock’s accuser was not being truthful, but the allegation having been made it was right that it should go to trial.

Lock’s bitterness at what he was put through is entirely understandable, and it is clear from Alan Hill’s biography that the loyalty of his family and friends was resolute, his son going so far as mortgaging his house to raise funds to pay legal bills. But Lock was wrong about one thing. History does not remember him primarily as the guy who was up on sex charges, nor even just as the bloke who got the other one when Laker took his 19-90. His reputation as a great bowler is slightly tainted by virtue of the dubious action in the middle of career, but John Arlott’s summary of him, written in 1963, remains the right epitaph for Tony Lock.

He was a man quick to anger, quick to forgive. He was plain-speaking with few inhibitions, sometimes apt to be brusque in the attempt to conceal his innate shyness. Humorous, at times spectacularly convivial; a useful poker player, a natural golfer with a swing so shallow as to horrify the purists, but it sent the ball far and straight. We should remember his amazing eagerness to bowl, always believing he would take a wicket with each ball, even though a dead pitch granted him neither pace nor turn. We shall recall his short leg catches, bewildering in their quickness, in the distance his pantherish leaps covered in a split second, in the unflinching coolness which kept him stock still with both eyes on the middled stroke. We should do him less than justice if we forgot the fact that, from time to time, he has batted not only with resolution, but in style: indeed, we might wonder whether, if he had not bowled for hour after endless hour, he might have been a top class batsman. He was a truly great man in a tight corner.




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