Two posts ago, we left our young friend Doug Insole packing his bags at the Victoria Station Hotel, Nottingham on the final morning of the Third Test against the West Indians in 1950 knowing that he had no further part to play in the match and that England had to survive the whole day to stave off an innings defeat.
He returned to Essex and the wilderness of County cricket for five long years before he was selected to play again for England, this time in the fourth Test Match at Leeds against South Africa.
This much had changed from his debut match, his orders stated that he was to appear at the ground not later than 3pm on the day before the match and he had been selected on the back of making six hundreds in the season, one against the tourists.
England was not at full strength. Peter May lost the toss, South Africa batted first and when it was England’s turn their good start to the innings was just beginning to dissipate when Insole arrived at the crease at number 7 to face a very good spell from Peter Heine. Insole found himself stuck facing Heine while his partner Johnny Wardle was enjoying a swing or two against the off spins of Hugh Tayfield.
Have we not all been there – that is to say, at the wrong end watching our partner cream the half-vollies while we fended off the rib ticklers and throat balls?
South Africa stacked up the runs in their second innings and England were left to score 481 runs. With the Dennis Compton knee playing up, our hero was promoted to number 4 and had made 30 not out at close of play. His instructions on the next morning were to play carefully but not to miss any scoring opportunities. [Yes, Skip.]
The South African Goddard’s negative leg side line kept things quiet and Insole was out for 47 caught at leg slip obeying Captain’s orders and trying to hit him round the corner. [Thanks Skip.]
This time Insole thought in his heart of hearts that he might be selected for the next Test at the Oval, but for the second time he was dumped, missing out not only on the next Test but also on selection for the winter tour.
Was he to be a Two Test wonder, then?
No, the following summer he received his third ‘call to the colours’ this time to play the Australians.
England were one down and entering the third Test. Our hero was experiencing no purple patch this time. And worse. Batting fourth wicket down he was to have his pads on early in the day when England staggered to 17 for three.
Next man in, Insole was to remain padded up through the whole day until 6.15 when Tony Lock was ordered to stand by as night watchman.
When our hero finally batted the next morning the Insole luck ensured that by that time the ball was turning square. He made to sweep half a dozen balls outside his leg stump without once making contact before snicking one onto his pad to be caught in the leg trap.
On a turning wicket Laker and Lock were too much for Australian batsmen and England won without Insole having to bat again.
Insole generously concedes that, ‘The series was at a crucial stage (one all with two to play) and no chances could be taken with uncertain qualities. He was dumped again for the remainder of the series.
There is something about the Insole story that speaks to all cricketers and all who love cricket whether they played for the village, for the school, for the town’s fourth eleven, for the Premier League side, the county or the country – someone who has known the collective agony we feel when finding ourselves at the wrong end, against the wrong bowler, playing the wrong shot on the wrong day.
Insole is truly ‘one of us’, a cricketing Everyman whose ‘uncertain qualities’ are his great strengths and his universal appeal.
However, the sun was to shine on his career that winter as MCC’s Vice Captain on the tour to South Africa during which he averaged more with the bat than anyone else who played in the Test team.
It was a brief period of sunshine in this cricketer’s Test career. As we shall see tomorrow, the clouds would return.