A place to discuss Keighley Boys' Grammar School.
Some of you, if not already sick of all this cricket talk, may be interested in this memory (of Thursday, 23 July, 1953)which, at Chris's suggestion, will appear in three instalments:
Barney jerks ferociously at the strap and the window shuts with a thud that vibrates the glass. “This is the tenth time we’ve stopped and we’re not even at Shipley yet! The match’ll be half over before we get there.”
I too feel his frustration, even if he has stretched the point a bit.
“And it’s going to rain” says Michael, without looking up from his paper.
That too. And he’s probably right. The clouds have certainly darkened since we walked up the road to the station, even though you try to tell yourself they haven’t. And there are definitely more of them now than when we set off.
Thursday has been a long time coming. My first test, my debut, sort of. And now this. The others have been before. It’s not as bad for them. But the train is starting to edge forward again. And yet, Barney sighs mournfully, for in that very moment, the first heavy drops spatter against the window panes. I just knew it would be like this.
“What’s it say in the paper about the weather?”
“Intermittent showers all day in the north and west.” Michael doesn’t need to check. He has read it already. I rummage about in my haversack and take out my “Playfair Annual”, but my heart isn’t in it. Seeing them on paper is nothing when you had thought you were going to see them in the flesh, the whites, the pads, Compton, Hutton. Godfrey Evans, Bedser, Bailey. And all the fabulous Australians. The whole pantheon, in fact. A magic dissolving in the rain; hustling back into dreams.
Impatience and pessimism are unwholesome travelling companions, especially when you are only thirteen. Of course, the train does arrive, in time – and on time, regardless. All that anxiety. But it’s not over yet, not by any means. What about the queues? Maybe we’ll not get in. The train all but empties at Kirkstall, and though no one actually suggests it, of one mind, we half run, half walk, to get past them all, up the hill. At least it won’t be our erstwhile travelling companions who exclude us from the hallowed ground! But there aren’t any queues to speak of and soon we’re through the turnstiles and inside. Maybe, though, the crowds are already in and we won’t be able to get anywhere near the pitch. It isn’t so. We have no difficulty whatsoever, a place – lots of places - not yet taken, right on the boundary line. Here? No, here. Maybe better here. No, let’s go round a bit further so we have a better view of the batsmen and the bowlers – at a sort of extended mid-on. We sit down, start to unpack our things – the grass is quite damp and out come our pac-a-macs. But then Michael feels we could do a bit better still, so we shove everything back and move a bit further round. To mid-off. Truth is, it all still looks a long way off, wherever we go.
Despite the sombre clouds, it keeps forgetting to rain. There’s still more than an hour to go before start of play and even though we’re here, in a choice position, the anxiety that has nudged us all the way settles down among us. Michael takes out his Owzat! and I do the same, taking care to put its little tin box back in the zip compartment. His is a game he has already started, the Australians against Surrey; he’s pretty excited about it, Surrey had the Aussies out for just over 200 and have only lost a couple of wickets for well over a hundred runs – May seems to be doing all right and Constable is certainly keeping his end up. But that’s Michael’s world and has no meaning for me; I want to get on with my own Test Match, so even while he’s busy explaining, I’m getting my things set up, take out a shilling and get Michael to call. Hutton wins the toss and decides to bat.
Barney wanders off to see what they’re selling at the stalls. I look around to see if there’s anyone we know from school. But of course, there isn’t, and so I get straight on into my game. Only ten runs on the board and there’s an appeal against Hutton. I hold my breath, then roll. The thing goes off the end of my pad into the grass. I peer after it, heart pounding. It’s lying at an angle, sort of on its end, propped up by the blades of grass. Kind of midway between LBW and NOT OUT. I consider this grave situation. Then I move my head a bit further to the right. Definitely NOT OUT. No doubt about it! And I can breathe again.
And here’s Barney back with a programme and a couple of photographs. One of Yorkshire. One of the Australians. Only a shilling each. Shall I go now or leave it till later? This pad’s a bit short and the hexagonal bits of metal can only manage one or two complete revolutions before they drop off the end. The limited space is bound to lead to a lot of appeals. It’ll be a low scoring game, that’s for sure. Maybe I should go now for the photos. They may not have any left later. Another appeal. More anxiety. I roll the piece in misery. CAUGHT. So that’s the end of Hutton. For thirteen. Edrich has six. Nineteen for one. Ah well! These things do happen!
“Hey, look!” says Barney, all excited, “something’s happening”. Two or three people coming down the pavilion steps. Too far away to see just who, or what they’re up to. I get the binoculars out of my bag. “These were in the first World War. Went right through it” I tell them both, but they don’t seem all that impressed. I adjust them, by which time the two men are onto the pitch and heading for the centre. Still can’t manage to find them through the binoculars. Just pigeons and seagulls and the top of the rugby stand.
“It’s Hutton and Hassett” Michael says. “They’re coming out for the toss.” At last, I’ve got them in focus. They’re laughing. Hassett bends down and prods at the ground. He says something to Hutton and they both laugh again. I feel as though I’m right there on Olympus with them, out there at the far end of the binoculars.
“What are they doing?” Barney asks, squinting hard.
“Shhh!” I implore. He’ll be asking to borrow them next thing. I mustn’t miss it. The toss. So I can be first with the news. Hutton’s hand is in his pocket. Out it comes. The coin spins. Hassett calls. They both peer down at where it has fallen. Hutton picks up the coin and hurls it into the crowd, in disappointment, I would say, and groans are audible all round the ground. Hassett has won it. “Hassett’s won the toss” I announce. “That was obvious” says Michael (whose eyesight is rather better than my own). Then, Hassett turns towards me (and Hutton) and, clear as day, he says to me, “You bat, Len”. Hutton’s face betrays a look of disbelief and he makes an imaginary stroke with an imaginary bat, and before I can relay the news, the whole ground knows England are going to bat. Sic transit gloria mundi! And so much for the World War binoculars.
Back they go into the pavilion and an audible murmur breaks through the silence which, hitherto unnoticed, had settled over the ground. “I wouldn’t want to bat on that wicket, it’s already damp and a bit more rain could make it really treacherous” Michael declares.
“Yes. I think you’re right” says Barney – who has never yet been known to contradict Michael. Personally, I couldn’t care less. At least I’ll see Hutton bat and, with a bit of luck – bad luck, I suppose; England’s, not mine – Denis Compton, the greatest batsman of all time past, present or future. No doubt about it. Then the momentary hubbub subsides. They’ve all had their say. Michael goes back to his game and I to mine. Out of the corner of my eye I see Barney pick up my discarded binoculars, adjusting them, then focusing on the pavilion. “There’s somebody out on the balcony,” he tells us, “it looks like Edrich. And that’s Watson with him. And ...”
“Shhh” Michael and I command in the self-same moment, both trying to concentrate on what’s happening in our games. Barney falls silent and with that hush Graveney joins Edrich to face Lindwall’s fourth ball. The runs begin to mount, more or less equally; both pass twenty, then Graveney passes thirty, and Edrich follows suit; things are looking good. “Only ten more minutes now,” says Barney, rubbing his hands in excitement, “then they’ll be out”. He stands up to look around the ground. “It’s filled up a lot in the last few minutes” he informs us, but things are much too tense for me to respond – another appeal and ... yes, Edrich bowled for 39; 93 for two and soon Compton will join Graveney ...
“Oh no!” groans Barney, holding out his hand, “It’s starting to rain!” Michael and I scramble to put our books and things away. Barney sits down and takes out his cape. We all move closer together and by the time we have the cape over us (luckily, I’m in the middle), the rain has become a steady downpour. We all feel too glum to make any comment, much less to converse. It looks well and truly set in. And suddenly, I am overwhelmed by a sense of utter dejection. We’re not likely to see any play today, and that’s that. Then Michael takes out his flask and pours himself some coffee. He shouldn’t have done that. It’s like accepting. The rain and everything. After a while, Barney sticks out a hand, then after a moment or two’s consideration, says he thinks it’s easing off. I stick my head out for a moment, “Yes,” I say, “you could be right”, willing it to ease off, then to cease altogether. We sit and we wait.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1951-58
Current location (optional) Mid-Lancashire/ East Yorkshire
I was there, Doug - with John Henry Turner (5A and 1st XV). Could have heard a pin drop - but I won't anticipate your tale. Biggest shock was Compton - his hair had never seen Brylcreem. Shattered all my illusions
Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1952-60
Current location (optional) Nirvana
OK, TERRY, THEN ON WE GO...
Then the rain stops as abruptly as it had started, though by now having encroached well on into playing time. Everyone looks appealingly at the sky, but it remains obstinately leaden, still threatening; not very hopeful. The minutes pass slowly and the world, utterly beyond our control, bears down upon us with all its weight of foreboding. Nothing we can do or say can reconnect us with any sort of happiness; it’s like waiting for the dentist. Wearily, half-heartedly, I set up my game, remembering Denis is just about to receive his first ball – from Lindwall. I roll the die and then sit blinking at its decision. I could pick it up and start again. Could think of it as a “No ball” which, of course, it could very well turn out to be if I were to roll the second die, as the rules require. The moral moment. I glance furtively at Michael, then at Barney. Both of them, alas, are staring down at that very clear, very loud “Owzat!”. “What are you waiting for?” asks Michael. Then he picks up my score book. “It’s Compton, isn’t it?” he sniggers, “You’re frightened he’ll be out first ball!”
“Don’t be daft!” I say, “Course I’m not. These things do happen.”
“Come on then,” Michael taunts (he’s no partisan of Compton, Hutton’s his man), “let’s see what happens!”
Then a ray of hope. Barney seizes hold of the smaller die, cups it in both his hands, blows at it through a small hole between his thumbs, closes his eyes and goes off into some sort of incantation in which, whatever it is, I have to believe. He feels the same about Denis as I do. Then he rolls. “BOWLED”. “He’s out!” Michael shrieks, maliciously. “He’s out!” and he thumps the ground with his fists, in glee.
If he were not my best friend I might be tempted to thump his head in the same way.
“Sorry,” says Barney, “I tried my very best for him”.
“It doesn’t matter,” I tell him, my hand on his shoulder, “it’s only a game, after all.” Though even as I’m saying it, it crosses my mind that if I don’t write anything, just put my things away again, as if preparing to watch the match just about to begin, I can forget all about it. Besides, Barney didn't really have the right to do that ... But I feel uneasy about that thought. They wouldn’t know, but somebody, something might. And I would, definitely. In any case, Michael (who is still chortling at Compton’s downfall) nudges my arm “Come on, let’s see you write him out!” So I have no choice. “Don’t see what all the fuss is about” I start to say, but my throat dries up and I can’t quite manage to finish the sentence. So I write. “Compton, b. Lindwall, 0”. Not an easy thing to do with your hand trembling.
“Here they come, now” Barney shouts, clearly elated, and sure enough the umpires, the legendary Chester and Lee, are already on the pitch, sauntering towards the centre. Barney has my binoculars but I don’t say anything, for the moment. Truth is, I’m still smarting from Compton’s dismissal, and the manner of it, to be all that interested in what’s happening out there. Still, it’s what I came for. Owzat’s really for home. This is the real thing… Isn’t it? Well, isn’t it?
The Aussies come sprightly onto the pitch, as if there isn’t a moment to lose. Hassett and Lindwall are discussing the setting of the field and, as they construct it piece by piece, it looks more and more menacing, one of those Australian fields which leaves the batsmen barely room to breathe, let alone swing a bat – though swinging the bat, really swinging it, is the only antidote. You could hear a pin drop. A moment or two’s wait, then Hutton and Edrich are coming down the pavilion steps to thunderous applause.## Patiently, Hutton takes guard, Lindwall walks slowly off into the middle distance, and again a total silence falls over the ground. Then suddenly this majestic tableau springs into life and Lindwall is speeding in to deliver the first ball. Hutton plays it away easily on the leg side, where Hassett chases after it. "Go on!” urges Barney, along with a few other hopefuls in the crowd, but the batsmen seem not even to be tempted. Michael clicks his tongue, presumably in derision at Barney’s impetuosity. “The runs will come in Len’s good time, you can be sure of that!” he says, a touch of scorn in his voice.
Hutton settles down to face Lindwall’s second ball, plays too late and is yorked; two stumps are knocked back. Lindwall leaps into the air, arms spread wide. The stunned silence echoes round and round the ground; the rueful Hutton is halfway back to the pavilion before the desultory applause begin to break through, here and there, spreading only slowly, certainly not fulsome applause – that would seem too much like a betrayal, on Hutton’s home ground, as well as rank hypocrisy. Who ever really cheered an executioner?
If only Len had heeded Barney’s advice and gone for the single off the first ball, then this tragedy would not have happened. Michael’s face is puckered; he wipes the back of his hand across his eyes. I would desperately like to jeer at him, just as he jeered at the fall of Compton, but he is suffering enough. Besides, my heart wouldn’t be in it, for after Compton, Hutton is my favourite too, and I too am suffering, like everyone else, as the stark reality of the moment filters through the still rigidly despondent atmosphere that has descended on the ground, like a fog. But it’s uncanny. First Compton – and that was really Michael’s fault – and now Hutton. If Michael hadn’t been so cocksure, hadn’t tempted fate just before that second ball, would it have happened? I look at Michael, but his head is averted. Barney looks much, much glummer than his naturally glum face usually looks.
But the match goes on, and even as we are all still trying to come to terms with this cataclysmic setback, here comes Graveney, jauntily, to join Edrich, who has yet to receive his first ball. The crowd holds its breath, which is then exhaled as a huge ohhhh! of relief, as Graveney pushes the ball away for a single, to open England’s unpromising account. Now Edrich has the strike and is forced to play out the over crouching low, steeled in concentration, to contain the deadly speed and accuracy of the titanic Lindwall.
Then Miller sets his field, which is even more threatening than Lindwall’s, for there isn’t a man of them whose icy breath Graveney must not be able to feel upon his skin. Only one over bowled and the screw is already turned almost to the full. A maiden follows. Then spasmodic ones or twos. But everything tight, nothing spare. The tension has squeezed the colour from Michael’s normally Cox’s pippin-cheeks. Barney sits rigid, his face a mask of despair. And wherever I look, everyone is the same, as if turned to stone by these mighty magicians. Over after over, the tension never letting up. I wish it would rain. Lunch is still light years away. The agony is immense. “Owzat!” Miller swings round to challenge umpire Chester, having rapped Edrich on the pad. Chester’s clear, unhesitating “not out” was probably heard down in City Square, so deep is the hush. Miller grins and, on his way back to his mark, lifts Chester’s white trilby clear of his head, then solemnly replaces it. The tension snaps and the laughter courses round the ground. Good old Miller! we all think, always got some prank up his sleeve. We needed that so very badly. A bubbling spring in a parched desert; but all too soon left behind.
An hour has gone by (it seems like three), and only eighteen runs on the board. However, if we are all knotted inside, clamped in the Aussie vice, it has to be admitted that doesn’t appear to be the case with Graveney. He has been steady, chanceless, confidently making strokes, yet hardly scoring, seeming almost content not to be scoring. Maybe he’s forgotten what he’s there for! Edrich, at the other end, is anything but nonchalant; his concentration is total, but to we who suffer each ball he is bowled it is no substitute for confidence. Or runs. Never mind, after these two have tired the fast bowlers, there’ll be Denis to rattle them all over the pitch. Then it’ll all have seemed worth waiting for. The thought is no sooner formed and voiced, than Miller is appealing for LBW. Cries of derision from some sections of the crowd, for clearly the ball connected with nothing; one of the fielders is just scooping it up out of the gulley, and the score-board moves up another four runs. More of Miller’s cheek! His next ball is a quite different story, Edrich moves a fraction too late. Again the appeal and this time the umpire’s finger is raised. Edrich is out. Out for ten of England’s meagre total of thirty-three. Somehow, it seems incredible he should have lasted so long – eighty-one minutes, Barney informs us. At this stage of the game it doesn’t look much of an achievement, but later, well, who can say how we shall think of it, later?
(TO BE CONCLUDED)
Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1951-58
Current location (optional) Mid-Lancashire/ East Yorkshire
It has to be admitted, whatever it means for England, for Barney and me this particular cloud does have its silver lining, and how! In truth, it seems as if a god is even now descending from the clouds, instead of down the pavilion steps. This is why we came – well, a good three-quarters of the “why”– and I feel the world a good deal less heavy than it has been all morning. A moment to savour. Barney is clearly much happier too; he extracts a sandwich from its grease-proof wrapping and takes an enormous, celebratory bite, just as Compton is taking guard. All the same, I make no pronouncements, no predictions, mindful of how Michael’s oh-so-confident words had scuppered Hutton. But some people never learn! “Now for some runs!” says Barney, well into his third sandwich.
Last ball of Miller’s over. A full toss, and Compton’s flashing blade plays it confidently away. Lindwall again, to Graveney. An easy single. And now, Denis has the strike. For my sins, my eternal, infernal, hell-fire sins, I wasn’t watching, so I’m not sure quite what has happened. Barney’s premature lunch has given me an appetite too, or something has, and I’m fishing around in my haversack, trying to find the right packet, and what do I hear but Barney choking on his sandwich, trying to squeeze words out of his bread-jammed mouth, that and a universal gasp. I look up. “What is it? What’s happened?” But if the detail is still a mystery to me, the awful truth it represents is all too plain to see – the evil, grinning Aussies; Lindwall looking very pleased with himself; Miller dancing a jig, and there, receding into the distance, to the distant pavilion, a wounded god.
Michael, I’ll give him his due, never says a word; probably for much the same reasons I kept silent at Hutton’s dismissal; it’s all too serious, there’s far too much at stake, to leave room for such petty rivalries. But for me, it’s deeply personal too, though hard to say how or why it should affect me the way it does. I barely applaud the incoming Watson, Yorkshireman though he is, talented though he is, for although I like him (and he’s made some good scores for Yorkshire in my County Championship, so far this season), he is of a lesser breed, sometimes a hero, but never an immortal. And he struggles, especially against Lindwall. Lunchtime is a relief that has been a long time in coming. England thirty-eight for three wickets, and only mortals left to try and quell the Australian onslaught. Lunchtime is nominal, for me, anyway. My appetite has left me.
“I think I’ll go for a walk round ... maybe get one or two of the team photographs.”
Michael nods. Barney says something I don’t hear.
There’s this idea that’s been clamouring to get itself heard all morning, but especially since Len Hutton was out. With Compton’s departure it has become utterly insistent. And it’s this. Somehow, in ways, and for reasons I do not understand, it is all my fault. I come to see Compton and Hutton play, and no one doubts that they are great, not just for these times but for all time, and both are out for ducks, both on their second ball, and both to Lindwall. If I hadn’t come, could that possibly have happened? All these coincidences. And it doesn’t stop there, does it? It has something to do with my Owzat test, where both failed, Compton for the same duck that that imposed on him in the real test match. It’s uncanny. I wanted to blame Michael and Barney, and well, all right, they both had a hand in it, but underneath it all, it’s my doing. After all, whose idea was it for us to come? Mine! Ok, the other two jumped at it, but in all probability, if I hadn’t thought of it they wouldn’t be here watching this tragedy unfold.
After lunch (and I don’t eat mine until we are on the train going home), it is much the same as before. Lindwall and Miller, seemingly inexhaustible. Runs prised out, like teeth. At tea time England have still only scored ninety-two, but at least no more wickets have fallen. A different episode begins, however, soon after tea, with the taking of the new ball. Four down, five down, six; we all agreed Simpson would fail (we don’t think he should even be in the side), but, to be fair, he was injured immediately he came to the wicket and had to leave the field at once. But not Bailey, stonewall Bailey, run out through a bit of Evans’s clowning.
Evans is really all that is left. Now for some real fireworks. But what is Hassett doing? Instead of sending his fielders out to the boundary he’s bringing them in close; ah well, let’s hope he’ll soon learn his folly. But it’s not to be. Far from scalping these arrogant Aussies, Evans is all uncharacteristic caution, especially after the Bailey fiasco. Then Laker, of all people, starts to swing the bat and you can see the Aussies backing away a bit, though only a bit, and ... well, we have to go. Michael has his trumpet practice this evening. Slowly we pack away our things, watch another ball, then another, edging gradually further away, and even at the gate running back as the crowd’s gasp sounds like the onset of a gale. Laker is out too.
The patches of sunlight have been all too few. Gloom soon took over from overcast, oppressing the day, compressing it, until it became hard even to breathe.
I never did manage to see Hutton and Compton again, not in what we all agree is real life. Of course, they both went on for a few years yet, still making their hundreds, whether in that real life or in that virtually real life of my own making – that which depended on the rolling of two small hexagonal bits of metal.
And suddenly, sixty years have gone by, at the batting of an eye, time that has spread like a stain. Of course, even in that match, Compton more than redeemed himself with a magnificent sixty-one in the second innings, and Hutton’s twenty-five was invaluable in building a score that the Australians just couldn’t overtake. And furthermore, after four drawn tests, England went on to win the final one at the Oval and thus regained the Ashes. Whoever would have predicted that on our gloomy day? So much for chance! So much for our gloomy day within the context of all those other more or less magnificent days. But that day was my only day and I lived it excruciatingly; all the others could just as easily have been a part of my Owzat!
I see us now as if it were yesterday. Haversacks, plastic macs, grease-proof packed lunches, hapless speculations, sinking steadily into glumness. And only I have the picture of that day, however imperfectly, imprinted in my mind. Michael is long gone; just a few short years after that day – chance, of course! – taking a corner a bit too fast near the Victoria Falls. Barney (Brian Bailey, really) also dead, not so very long ago. Of course, I had not thought of him, much less seen him in more than forty years.
For Hutton, Compton, Lindwall, Hassett, Laker, Evans and the rest, the brief poem is long over. They too have all departed for the far pavilions. Unbelievably, cricket itself has done much the same. And in its place an often graceless, often grotesque travesty. Impeccable, unimpeachable, even on that gloomiest of days, those giants we saw then have left behind them only vacant plots.
Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1951-58
Current location (optional) Mid-Lancashire/ East Yorkshire
Great story Doug; evocative even for a cricket-hater like me. Even I knew those names: Graveney, Edrich, Laker, Bailey and of course Compton and Hutton; though their faces were less well known to me than those of the Aussies of a much greater sport: Hoad, Rosewall, Emerson and Laver. I felt what you must of gone through on that gloomy day. Luckily I do not remember being disappointed by a similar outing around the same time when my dad took me to Huddersfield to see them play Blackpool and marvel at the magic feet and gliding, feinting beauty of Matthews on the wing. The outcome didn't matter. I don't even remember it.
Years at KBGS e.g. 1958-1964 (optional) 1954-59
Current location (optional) United Kingdom