One Test Wonders are a feature of cricket. There is even a Wikipedia page devoted to them. There are 39 listed there at present.
At one point Doug Insole boasted the distinction of being a Three Test Wonder – having played his first three tests in three different series and having had the distinction of being dropped after each one of them.
Third Man has enjoyed spending time in the literary company of Mr Insole while recently reading his Cricket from the Middle, published in 1960.
In 1949 Insole became the first grammar school boy to captain Cambridge University and his side was the first to beat Oxford after the Second World War.
He had learnt his cricket in the ‘sideway’ of his home in Essex and then in local club cricket, representing London and Essex schools more for his fielding than anything else. Largely self taught he gave up trying to penetrate the packed off-side fields of his era and, placing his foot unfashionably wide of the ball, shovelled it with his bottom hand into the vacant leg side, as illustrated below.
This unorthodoxy, not to be compared with Compton he hastens to add, meant that he was highly dependent on form and timing. Feeling right he would score freely. Not feeling right he would scratch about unattractively.
Insole tells the reader that every batsman learns the best way of dealing with lack of form. His method was to stay there as long as possible in the hope that eventually it would turn up.
It is easy to empathise with Insole. Third Man took to him immediately. He is ‘one of us’ who happened to play at the highest level rather than ‘one of them’ whose talent sets them apart from the ordinary cricketer.
Never is this more apparent than in his Test career.
On Sunday 16 July 1950 he was having tea with Lancashire’s captain, Nigel Howard, in Sale when he heard on the six o’clock news that he had been included in a list of thirteen players from which the England side to play the Third Test against the West Indies at Trent Bridge would be chosen.
Back home the notification of his selection arrived instructing him to report to the ground by 10.30 am on the morning of the first day. (Tests started at 11.30 in those days so there would have been time for a cup of coffee, a John Player Senior Service un-tipped and a flick through the Racing Post – TM)
Well, we have all had that type of notification. “Meet at the Coach and Horses, cars leave at 1.00 pm sharp. Bring own kit.”
The debutante writes, ‘As it happened I played in a match for my firm on the Wednesday immediately prior to the Test and arrived at the Victoria Station Hotel at Nottingham about 10 p.m. to find Norman Yardley phoning all over England for a spare batsman … It was all rather reminiscent of a club tour.’ Quite.
Insole, a team-sport player, he was also a fine amateur footballer, found it all very disconcerting. He was further unsettled when, down to bat at number six, he found himself walking to the wicket on that first morning with the score on 26 for four.
He remembers saying to Frank Chester as he went out to bat that he felt thoroughly at home as it was a bit like playing for Essex (then rather a dud county). But for Insole it was really not like playing for Essex. He didn’t have any of those butterflies at the start of an innings when ‘I feel I am batting with and for every other member of my side’.
He ‘scraped and prodded about’ for an hour or so adding 45 with Yardley before Sonny Ramadhin completely beat him on the back stroke and he ‘heard the death rattle’. England were all out for 223. The West Indies, then, through Worrell (261) and Weekes (129), made 558.
After a better start in the second innings by England, Insole nevertheless found himself going out to bat with five minutes of play remaining on the fourth day. He survived the remaining deliveries of an over from Valentine and called his partner, the well set John Dewes, for a run off the last ball of the over.
Insole now had to face Ramadhin, this time in the final over of the day. The second ball he faced pitched outside leg stump, he played his favourite walking shot to nurdle it round to midwicket, missed and was stumped down the leg side.
Have we not all been there either in reality or in our recurring nightmares? The cardinal sin committed of getting out with four balls of the day’s play remaining. The long, long walk back to the pavilion. A whole night and a whole day and a whole life to reflect on why, oh why, we did not sweep the bloody thing, or leave it, or even kick it away.
But that ball never comes back. As in life, so dramatically in cricket, we never have the chance to play it again.
Not surprisingly Insole was not instructed to be at the ground for 10.30 on the first morning of the next Test, not for any Test in the next five years.
Tomorrow Third Man will navigate the time contraption to 1955 and the arrival of the South Africans.