To Question and Decide

The chalk drawing of W.G. Grace by Albert Chevallier Tayler in the previous post will have reminded many of the artist’s much treasured* painting of Colin Blythe bowling in the Kent v Lancashire match of 1906 reproduced above.**

The artist reveals his cricketer’s mind by selecting the precise moment before Blythe’s right foot touches the ground.  

Tayler has stopped time to convey movement, and, over a hundred years after he laid down his brush, you still wait with eager anticipation for the action to restart, the bowler’s canvas boot to make its twisting contact with the Canterbury soil, the arm to scribe its perfect arc, the ball to leave the hand with buzzing seam, to travel tantalizingly through the air before dipping steeply, striking the turf and rearing with turn and bounce, to ask its question of batsman Tyldesley.

It is more poignant still.  Sergeant Blyth, who as an epileptic need not have served in the First World War, amid a later stride, was killed by random shell-fire on the railway between Pimmern and Forest Hall near Passchendale on 8 November 1917

The painting has a cousin: another instant of time, captured by Henri Cartier Bresson, ‘Behind Saint Lazarre Station, Paris’,  in 1932.

“For me,” wrote Bresson, “the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously.”

“Questions and decides simultaneously” sounds exactly like the DRS.

* Kent sold the painting in 2006 for £860,000 to Andrew Brownsword – see other less celebrated work owned by Brownsword in a DATM post here.

**The figures depicted are from the left to the right: Humphreys at silly mid-on; Dillon in the distance in front of the sightscreen; non-striking batsman Findlay; umpire Atfield; bowler Blythe; batsman on strike Tyldesley; Blaker at mid-off; wicketkeeper Huish; Hutchings on the boundary at deep extra cover; Marsham at cover; Fielder at silly point; Mason at first slip; Burnup at point; Seymour at gully.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “To Question and Decide

  1. John Halliwell

    A lovely little tribute to an outstanding bowler and clearly a fine and brave man. The picture is wonderfully detailed, and how well the artist captures light and shade. How would KP cope against a modern-day Colin Blythe? On the evidence of the Pakistan series, with a large degree of hopelessness. On the evidence of the other day, very well. I bet old men of Kent spend hours comparing and arguing the relative greatness of the man they saw, Underwood, and the man they didn’t and whose remains lie in a Belgium cemetery.

    Thanks, T M, for another fascinating post

    • Thanks JH. How perceptive to hone in on the light and shade. Almost half the field in shade, the sky threatening, the flags fully stretched in the wind – a more romantic painter might have chosen a sunny day. But this allows him to use the shadow cast by Blythe’s booted foot to stress the captured instant, just as Bresson has done by chance.

      Did you hear Underwood’s interview during the recent Test in which he said that he had been coached by Lock at his school in Croyden? Would that account for Deadly’s atypical pace? Might Diogenes know more?

  2. John Halliwell

    Sadly, I missed that interview TM. I had no idea about Lock’s involvement but I bet you are close to the truth about the influence on Underwood’s pace. He was a magnificent bowler and but for the (understandable) attraction of World Series Cricket would probably have taken 400 Test wickets.

    I remember being newly married in 1968 and taking a day trip to London with my wife. It was the final day of the Ashes Test at the Oval with England desperately waiting for a flooded ground to become playable. I suppose they knew if they could get an hour’s play the great Derek would create havoc, which he did, of course. I spent most of the afternoon seeking out news from The Oval. My young wife was very understanding.

  3. I do recall reading an interview with the great Frank Woolley – who took a mere 2000 wickets with his left arm spin. I think it might be in the Ian Peebles biography. Frank said that Charlie Blythe had taught him that, to get wickets on a sticky, he used to push it through faster and flatter. And yet, we have the testimony of Old Trafford 1956 to say that the way Lock forced the pace made the ball deviate too miuch to catch the edge…unless the extra torque from a bent arm influenced the result. From the accounts of Cardus, i suspect that Underwood and Blythe on a wet wicket operated in much the same way and to the same effect – and therefore Woolley as well. I am fairly sure that Underwood would bowl faster on a sticky.

    I do not recall reading or seeing anything to suggest that the Yorkshire tradition from Peate through to Wardle operated in the same manner when they encountered a wet wicket. I think they relied on dimpling the pitch when is was soft in the first innings so that, if rain did happen, they would have an uneven wicket to exploit, which would not need the injection of pace to achieve results. In one of Steven Chalke’s books, I think Ray Illingworth talks about the lesson in doing this that Wardle once gave him. Illie outbowled Wardle in the first innings but was comprehensively outbowled in the second and Wardle took him out to examine the indentations on the pitch to explain how he set up the situation by his first innings “unpenetrative” bowling.

    A hypothesis I think I will try to explore further.

    • On a dry and crumbling turner (Old Trafford ’56) the spinner need not sacrifice dip for turn. On the kind of wicket John describes at the Oval the turn is chemically assisted! and responsive to ‘cut’ that requires pace. Hence the agonizing half hour at the Oval when ‘nothing’ happend after the resumption of play. The question became, ‘would the surface cook in time? It did.

      Could son John be induced to comment on his father’s use of a first innings to prepare the wicket for a final innings?

  4. diogenes

    you remind me of another of those Cardus anecdotes….was there ever a more maddening writer on cricket from the “what actually happened” point of view? Yorkshire looking out on a wet wicket where they were going to bowl if the ground dried enough. Either Emmott Robinson or Schofield Haigh (both always cast in the straight man role by Cardus) said that it would turn by 2pm…I cannot recall the exact pseudo-“quote”. “Nay,” said Wilfrid, “2.,30.” Unfortunately I have not read anything to suggest that Rhodes and co pushed it through on a sticky.

    However, we do know that Appleyard had uncommon success with his brand of ….? Do we know exactly? Some (eg FRS Trueman) have called them cutters. Some say he bowled off-spin. But he was appreciably quicker than most of his off-break contemporaries.

    And then, we get to the totally ignored Don Shepherd….just what did he bowl…with a wicket-keeper standing back, on Wilf Wooller’s instructions, so that they could get 3 catchers behind square onj the leg-side?

    But I suspect that Blythe, Woolley and Deadly all bowled at a higher pace than the classical slow-lefties – Verity excluded….(and maybe Appleyard). And, of course, having now almost finished my scroll-back, I recall that Charlie Parker – a mere 3000 wickets – was also said to bowl at a brisk pace.

    Tentative conclusiions – left arm orthodox spinners have either bowled for flight or been slow-medium merchants. The stats hint at a quasi 50-50 distribution but should maybe be looked at – the ratio between Rhodes+ JC White +Peel+Peate+Iremonger+Valentine (I am not sure about Briggs) and Parker+Verity+Lock+underwood.+ Kilner(?) + maybe Blythe and Woolley.

    The problem is that it is almost impossible to read about Blythe from cricket writers without getting that lost genius element. maybe I should research the newspapers.

    I suspect that Right-arm spinners break down in a very different way…..and I am not going there tonight.

    • You may have noticed that TM is a great admirer of the ‘pseudo-quote’ – a shot best used against the mystery spinner.
      The modern production and protection of wickets that mean they resemble billiard tables places a premium on revolutions and ‘action’ on the ball. It is quite possible that an Underwood developing his talents today would be quite a different bowler. Leaving aside the chuckers, Swann is surely close to the ultimate ‘off-spin’ ‘left-armer’ of these conditions. Revolutions beside bringing turn produce drift and dip, the later adding to the bounce produced by height of release, pitch conditions and arc.

  5. diogenes

    from a tactical standpoint, I agree that Swann seems to be like Rhodes – all those accounts of the “artful curve”, the “surprising dip”. So with Bishen Bedi, Laker, and possibly the other Yorkie slow left armers other than Verity and Kilner. Not like the toss-it-up-and-befuddle bowlers such as AP Freeman, Mortimore?, Wells?.

    Then there are the people who rely on bounce and determination – O’Reilly, Underwood, Gibbs, Werity?, Parker?, Goddard? Kilner?

    The grinders, Grimmett, Verity,JC White, Illingworth, Titmus, Briggs

    Then the freak spiinners – Chandra, Doug Wright., and probably Vogler and Faulkner…Bosanquet

    Of course, on a helpful wicket, any of these bowlers is transformed.

    And now I woinder where to place Blythe, Woolley and Shepherd.

    Pure supposition – billiard-room chatter…

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