Longstop* recently made his claim for Pullar and Barber as ‘his Hornby and his Barlow long ago’. The case for these two has the special appeal of identifying two further Lancastrians. How lucky Longstop was to see them flicker to and fro, to and fro.
For younger readers it needs to be explained that Geoff Pullar opened for England playing in 28 Test Matches from 1959 until 1963. As a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1960 there’s a contemporary article from the Almanack available on line that gives a strong flavour of the man and celebrates the fact that he was the first Lancastrian to score a Test hundred when playing on his home ground. What a surprisingly long time they waited. Pullar averaged a very respectable 43 in Test matches.
Bob Barber is a much more complex character who featured in a recent Wisden Cricketer article five years ago featuring a reunion match at Broadhalfpenny Down. (Time flies.)
Barber was capped in 1960 in a strong batting side as a leg-spinner. It was for a while his only Test.
After a demanding spell as the almost sacrificial captain of an aging Lancashire side, he moved to Warwickshire where, the fairy-tale goes, he was transformed from careworn frog into carefree prince.
Warwickshire had asked him to open. Was that the magic potion sipped? The bowlers stiff and short in their early overs, triggering the left hander’s instinctive hook? A hard, shiny ball that cracks off the bat to the boundary? A fresh page in the score book with none of the pressures generated by earlier wickets?
Opening the innings was for Barber a liberation. For the county in ’64 he scored a hundred before lunch against the Australian tourists. A Test recall led to a successful tour of South Africa where he averaged over 70.
Dare it be said? Will statistics support the statement? Barber was the only batsman (except one perhaps) who ever scored runs at the other end to Boycott.
What a contrasting pair they made, ambassadors for those two countries of the brain: the analysing, congested frontal lobe and the deeper, more intuitive core.
On the way to Australia in 65/66 the England touring party called in at Sri Lanker (then Ceylon) to play a goodwill match. At the airport each player had to fill in the usual form for the local immigration officials. For ‘purpose of visit’ each player put down ‘playing cricket’, except Boycott who answered ‘business’ and Barber who wrote ‘pleasure’.
In the Sydney Test that pleasure principle helped Barber score a celebrated 185. The impact of that innings at home in cold, dark Blighty and out there in bright baking Australia is hard to convey – the approach to batting has changed so. This was a period in which 185 was often what the entire England side managed to score in a full day’s play and Bill Lawry opened for Australia.
No wonder the crowds took Barber to their hearts.
At home he entered business and, the tale continues, the prince made a fortune out of blue loo cleaners.
The above article describing his reunion match demonstrates how many, how deep and how lasting were the friendships he made in the game.
O my Pullar and my Barber long ago.