Yesterday Third Man began a two dayer recounting how he and the Squire were drawn to The Rose Bowl on the first day of the season for a reunion of cricketers nurtured in the Nineteen Sixties by the then County Coach, Arthur Holt of whom John Arlott wrote,
“Go to the County Ground on any day in the cricket season – or, for that matter, on a good many days outside it – and somewhere between the indoor school and the pavilion you are likely to meet a comfortable, well-fed-looking man going in one direction when he obviously wants to go in several. He has a rosy face, a quizzical look in his blue eyes and one eyebrow goes up as he asks you wistfully, out of the side of his mouth, “Have you seen so-and-so?” This is ‘The Coach’. Arthur Holt finds that title convenient: it saves him the embarrassment of telling ground staff boys that they must call him Mister Holt and not Arthur.”
It was no surprise to the assembled and aging audience that Alan Castel selected himself to open the post lunch story session, “Fellow Athletes …” he began. “Anyone under the age of 65 may as well leave now.” No-one moved.
For a decade Castel, the last English-born leg spinner to play for Hampshire was the club’s Lord of Misrule – the permanent irritant in the otherwise measured life of that urbane County Secretary and former Captain, Desmond Eager.
Authority was to ‘Cas’ as a red rag is to a bull and this cricketing roustabout spent as much time outside the door of Eager’s office awaiting admonishment as ‘The Fat Owl of the Remove’ spent outside Quelch’s study awaiting the cane. Floreat Hampshire!
With Danny Livingstone he held and for that matter may still hold the county’s ninth wicket 230 run record partnership. In 122 first class matches he took 5 wickets in an innings eight times but was never capped, an injustice remedied later in the day when the current Chairman Rod Bransgrove presented him with Holty’s County Cap forty years on. Eager could be heard spinning in his grave.
“We have come to celebrate the life of our County Coach,” bellowed the old pro. “Today there is a Cricket Development Manager, a Head Coach, a Batting Coach, a Fast Bowling Coach, a Spin Bowling Coach, a Wicket Keeping Coach, a Nutritionist, a Head Psychologist, a Fitness Coach, and a coach to drive all the bloody Coaches round in.”
In Arthur’s day there was just the one man to do it all.
Second into bat was Keith Wheatley who told the assembled of his first match for the Second XI against Sussex at Southampton possibly in 1965. In the fourth and final innings Hampshire needed 140 to win. He entered the fray at 65 for 3 and proceeded to glove one to the wicket keeper. He was so dismayed that he simply ‘froze’. The umpire, a pre-war cricketer who no doubt had served in the artillery and was as deaf as a post and as blind as a bat, gave him not out. He sallied on and despite the pre-sledging but incisive invective of his opponents scored 50 to help guide the IIs to victory.
At the top of the rickety steps to the wooden shack-on-stilts that did for the First Team dressing room at the old County Ground, “Coach” was waiting for him.
“Did you hit that?”
“Yes Coach, but I was so upset I just couldn’t seem to move.”
“Well, if you do that again, you’ll never play for me again.”
Wheatley then produced a framed manuscript of notes Holt had written under the title, ‘What can I say about cricket?’
Cricket when played in the right spirit there is no sport more capable of developing man’s finest qualities.
In no other game is the individual and his team more closely integrated that one man alone may win you a match not necessarily by technical skill, but by intelligence CONCENTRATION and CHARACTER and one man can loose you a game by the failure of one of those qualities.
To play it keenly, generously, honourably and self sacrificially is a moral lesson in itself, and the classroom is God’s fresh air and sunshine.
The game may now have reverse swing and reverse sweeps but that is not all that has been reversed since Arthur played and coached and communicated to talented young cricketers how the game should be played.
“Alas,” does Third Man hear you say?
N.B. The pieces on Arthur Holt began three posts ago here with Would You Like to Join the Nursery Staff?