A voice from my youth was cruelly silenced this morning when former England cricketer and radio broadcaster Tevor Bailey died in a fire at his home. He was 87.
Bailey, an all-rounder for Essex, was still playing first-class cricket when I was a boy. He retired in 1967 and soon joined a British institution, the commentary team on BBC Radio 3’s Test Match Special.
Test Matches, when England took on the other cricket-playing nations of the world, were followed with almost religious fervor by cricket fans. In the 1960s, TV coverage was in its infancy and you were lucky if you saw a couple of hours a day. And I used to hate it when, during Wimbledon fortnight, the cricket coverage was shared with tennis.
But the Radio 3 programme covered every ball of every day’s play, as well as the interludes in between, and featured some of the best voices to grace the airwaves, men such as John Arlott, EW Swanton, Don Mosey, Norman Yardley and Alan Gibson.
Fans used to send in cakes for the commentary team. Brian Johnston was famous for posing a question to one of the pundits just as they had taken a mouthful of cake. I can well remember Trevor Bailey being one of the victims and hastily swallowing the morsel in order to reply.
Test Match Special became renowned for its public schoolboy mentality and jolly japes. It was not until Fred Trueman joined the commentary team that it gained a bit of working-class grit. In fact, Bailey and Trueman formed an entertaining an endearing partnership that lasted 26 years. Both men did not mince their words when broadcasting, unlike the sycophants that grace TV commentary boxes the world over and in any sport you care to name.
Bailey and Trueman were of the old school and told it like it was. If it was good, they gave deserved praise; if it was bad, they were among the harshest of critics. And, to my mind, that is the way it should always be.
I was always keen on cricket as a youngster and even captained The Close Junior School cricket team in 1964. We only played one game against Springfields. When I went to high school in the autumn of that year, playing cricket faded from prominence. Hanley High School was a renowned football school. I can only recall playing cricket a handful of times during the summer games sessions.
The county where I was brought up, Staffordshire, did not have a first-class cricket team and so I adopted Somerset as my county side for no other reason than they had player called Ken Palmer. Palmer, like Bailey was an all-rounder, which meant he could bat and bowl. After his playing career ended, he went on to become an Test Match umpire.
When Somerset reached the semi-finals of the Gillete Cup in 1967, I skipped school for the day and went to see them take on Lancashire at Old Trafford. The match was abandoned after only a couple of hours due to heavy rain. It resumed the following day and I wagged off school again to see the final outcome.
Somerset made 210 for 7 in their allotted 60 overs. It did not look like a match-winning total but Somerset bowled out Lancashire for a miserable 110 in 47.4 overs thanks to an electric spell of bowling by my hero and namesake. He ripped the heart out of the Lancashire batting and claimed the important wicket of an in-form Barry Wood. Ken returned figures of three wickets for 20 runs off his 12 overs and was named man of the match. As you can imagine, I left the cricket ground with a broad smile on my face.
Somerset met Kent in the final at Lord’s and struggled right from the start. Ken only took one wicket — Kent skipper Colin Cowdrey — but was out for a duck as Somerset chased 194 runs for victory. They failed being bowled for 161.
Twelve years later, Somerset finally tasted success and won the Gillette Cup with a side that included West Indian Test stars Vivian Richards and Joel Garner, and England all-rounder Ian Botham.
The side also won the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1981 and 1982, and the renamed NatWest Trophy (formerly the Gillette Cup) in 1983.
My final cricket appearance was in 1977. Manchester University Geography Department arranged a game against Keele University Geography Department at Keele. Manchester’s head of department Professor H.B Rodgers, Harry in the staff common room, had formerly been at Keele and he took to the field with his former colleagues.
Professor Rodgers was my supervisor during the first year of my doctoral research. He was bowling when I stepped up to the crease. I promptly sent his first delivery over his head for four runs. Two balls later, he did me with a slower ball. I took another almighty swing missed it and heard the clunk of the ball hitting the stumps. There is no more sickening sound for a batsman.
When Manchester took the field, I volunteered to keep wicket. I had never kept wicket in my life before but did a reasonable job. I cannot remember giving away too many extras and I seem to recall I ran one of the Keele batsmen out.
I do distinctly remember misjudging the bounce of the ball and stopping it with my forearm rather than my gloved hands. Cricket balls are hard and the inside of my forearm was numb for a good twenty minutes.
Soon after that match, Harry Rodgers dropped me as his research student. The joke among the lecturers was that it was because of my boundary off his first ball. The truth was that my research was moving in a direction outside Harry’s field of specialization.
I remained a keen cricket fan until I moved to America. These days I cannot name a single player in the England team, although I do know England trounced the Australians this winter to win The Ashes. And sad to say, I have completely lost touch with the fortunes of Somerset County Cricket Club.
At least the sad news of Trevor Bailey’s death has been tempered by my recall of happy cricketing memories from bygone years.