Tag Archives: Denis Compton

Virender Sehwag – Rara Avis

Those for whom the bleep test is an approaching nightmare, the yoyo a yearning easily ignored, the skin-fold measuring device as welcome as a dentist’s drill, the press conference a void to be avoided and foot movement a distraction from the job of laying bat on ball, Virenda Sehwag is an idol.

Well, he may not be as fond of full-fat ice cream as Samit Patel, but he looks as if he enjoys food, doesn’t enjoy exercise and could be a computer salesman off the cricket pitch with short sleeve shirt and chinos rather than one of the world’s most exceptional batsmen.

But mark well, there is a great deal of technical skill and discipline on show when Sehwag bats.

In a game that takes place in the four dimensions of in/out, up/down, here/there and time, the odds are far better if the batsman uses either a perfectly perpendicular or a perfectly horizontal bat – anything in between increases the difficulties of meeting the ball at the batsman’s choice of contact point. 

In fact, it is more important that you hold to the straight and the horizontal than that you use the full face of the bat. 

Sobers and Lara both had the knack of applying the same swing but varying the amount of the face that was applied to the ball.  They could ‘slice’ and intentionally reach the straightest or finest of third man and fine leg boundaries.

Ditto Virender.

This special technique can only be built upon a spectacular pair of eyes but when these rare things come together you have master batsmen who can drive a ball in an arc of over 270 degrees, all along the ground, over the in-field or across the rope, whichever they choose.

This gives them so many relatively safe scoring directions from an identical ball that they pierce the field at will.

The early Ben Hollioake looked to have the same skill, but cricket was robbed of the chance to see how he would use it.

The remarkable thing about Sehwag is that this precision eyesight normally decays with age requiring a mid career change of technique.  Even Sobers and Lara found it harder and harder as they grew older and made adaptions, but Virender treated the world to a superb display this week in his 219 in 149 balls with 25 fours and seven sixes at the age of 33.

 

The conditions and the opponents were ideal but it was still an awesome display.

While the new religionists in cricket put their novitiates through the Inquisition of their gruelling torture physical conditioning, making them more injury prone on the way, they must have to shield their eyes from the heresy Sehwag preaches. 

His creed is sacrilege and all the more full of heavenly wonder for that.

And his calling and running between the wickets? 

Well that is in the Compton class of absolute entertainment.

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Homes Fit for Heroes – A Bank Holiday Bonanza

Third Man is grateful to Chunter for directing him to the photograph of The Botham (above), an apartment on a Persimmon development built on the site of the former Aylestone Road cricket ground in Leicester (see here).

The Botham and the Boycott (below) excited his ever sensitive imagination if not his wanderlust.

The Squire is presently renovating the East Lodge with the help of Miss Pamela Kueber who has described herself in Homes and Obsessions as (and this proved irresistible to His Grace), ‘your mid mod mad guide’

“Just the person we need for the renovation of the East Lodge.  Très Mid Century.”

 “Would that be the Mid-Seventeenth or the Mid-Eighteenth Century, Y’Grace?”

“Enough of your nonsense, TM.  Hold my Leica and let’s take Pam for a spin in the old Type III to trawl up some ideas.”

Published below are images ‘stolen’ on that trip from the homes of mid-century cool cricketers, including one taken in Boycott’s mother’s bathroom where, so to speak, the young Geoffrey cut his teeth and perfected his Backward Attack:

The Parfitt bathroom:

The matching Parfitt bedroom:

A bedroom in The Gower:

The pool  in The Compton:

The Dexter, note the roof styling and use of diamond bricks:

Suitably fastidious and symetrical tiling in the Edrich:

And finally bathroom features in The Boycott where the flamingos prefigure a South African infatuation:

 Plenty in the cabinet to aid the dyspeptic.

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Bowman of Bowland, Oxford and Lancashire

Not as old as it looks - 1964 match to celebrate Lancashire's Centenary. Sir Frank Worrell, Brian Close, Dennis Compton and other immortals can just be made out from this snap taken on a phone in the Gentleman's Lavatory of the Inn at Whitewell - the Queen's Pub

Hurrah!  The rain has stopped.  Clitheroe’s match on Saturday was uninterrupted and often played in that rare commodity, sunshine.  The wicket was more like one to be found in April, though there is still a hosepipe ban imposed by United Utilities.  Clitheroe won and remain on the top of the Ribblesdale League, which still seems a strange thing to say after their pitiful performance last year – plus ca meme chose plus c’est la difference ?  

Third Man’s son made his debut as an opener and posted 60.  Here is the result of the cap taken round for him by the shy but affable Josh Marquet.   £22 pounds or so.  Hard work against a Kewi pro and a Derby IIs tweaker with a ‘modern’ action.

The sun shone yesterday (Sunday) and the grass was cut.  Strangely dressed persons started arriving at the Cottage at 7.00pm.  All was explained when Third Man was ushered out of his home so as not to get in the way of a Murder Detective dinner being held by his daughter and her friends, who are trying desperately to distract themselves from the inevitability of Thursday’s A level results.

He was persuaded by the promise of a portion of fish pie at The Inn at Whitewell which would tempt anyone out on a sunny Sunday evening – orders until 9.30 pm.

The Inn is on the other side of Longridge Fell (the most southerly use of the word fell in the country) which is ‘traversed’ by way of Jeffery Hill and which offers spectacular views stretching from the Fylde coast to the Trough of Bowland.   The Bowland Fells fill the view.

Farmers in the Trough were taking advantage of the sun and contractors’ tractors mowed the small fields into those familiar striated patterns.  The drone of their machinery had filled the day and would continue through the night.

Down from the fell, the lanes to the Inn follow the course of the Hodder which eventually passes through a narrow gap (the gullet of the trough) at Whitewell which is therefore overlooked on all sides by uplands.

The Inn itself and the surrounding estate is part of the Duchy of Lancaster, which means that this is the Queen’s pub.  She is the Landlord, though Gore Smith manage it for her.  Speculation surfaces now and then that somewhere around here will one day become a very special Retirement Home, but that is usually when someone else wants to sell their nearby home whose value they believe could be enhanced by the quality of the neighbours.  But think of the security, dear.

Whilst waiting a while at the summit of Jeffery Hill and taking in the whole panorama it occurred to Third Man that the Trough is a trough indeed for cricket.  He knows of no cricket team in Dunsop Bridge, Slaidburn or Newton-in-Bowland.  

Then he remembered that the Inn at Whitewell had been the “mission to eradicate pomposity and pretension from fine living while taking care not to sacrifice style, comfort and, above all, humour.” of Richard (Dick) Bowman who played 26 first class matches principally in 1957 when he received his Blue for Oxford.

The Inn is exactly as Third Man imagines Squire Weston’s pile to have been.  It sits on a sweep kink of the Hodder and there is a terrace on which the intrepid can eat outside.  Inside are a myriad of rooms each with their own personality and each with their own open wood fires.  The floors are stone and dogs are welcome.  In fact a dog can be provided for those who forgot to bring their own – you know the type of place.

The Bowman humour is still in evidence five years after his death.  The rear end of a fox disappears through a cupboard door high above a passageway that leads to the lavatories.

The Gentleman’s Lavatory has alas been modernised in recent times but was once a homage to the Sixties, to Bowman’s cricketing and school activities and indirectly and, in a way that TM cannot explain, to James Bond.   He seems to remember that the walls were pasted not with wall paper but with newspapers from that decade.

The best of the cricketing and other ephemera remain:  a photograph and scorecard of a match to celebrate the Centenary of Lancashire CCC in which Bowman sits with Sir Frank Worrell, Brian Close, Denis Compton and other immortals;  the scorecard of Essex v Oxford University (probably 1957) in which Bowman, coming in at number 9, made 75, having previously taken 7 for 60 in the Essex innings.

He must therefore have been in good form as he went on from Chelmsford to Lord’s and the ‘Varsity Match’ where he toiled through 39 overs and defeat by an innings.

Bowman used to patrol the Inn and light the place up with his smile, good humour, infectious welcome and a rhubarb and custard tie.  It is therefore odd to find this one photograph of him at Cricinfo with only a trace of that smile.

As TM returned home to creep up and spook the dinner party like a real murderer, the contractors were still going strong, the headlights on their tractors lighting up the fields and an exactly half moon hanging above the Irish Sea directly over the Isle of Man.

(more photographs later – what a promise!)

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Strange but True … They Say

If there are countless stories about Compton, there are a good few about George Brown, Denis’ dresser in Felixstowe.

Georgian stories have a capacity to develop a life of their own, but they bring an endearing character to life 35 years after his death.

An early legend had him leaving his home at Cowley aged 18 with a tin trunk, a bat, a pair of plimsolls and enough money to buy a single ticket to Southampton. 

By 2005 this had mutated in the imaginations of all who had heard and passed it on until it had taken the form of a young George walking 60 miles from his Oxfordshire home for a trial, hauling a tin trunk containing all his worldly belongings’ with the prospect of the return journey as the only incentive he needed to succeed.

As Diogenes reminds us in a recent comment, it was believed that George Brown had kept wicket in motorcycling gauntlets. Then that this had been in a Test match and finally that he was keeping to Larwood at the time.

This photograph is suggestive that the story is true though not conclusive. 

A Pair of Brown Gauntlets?

In the dining room in the old County Ground was a scorecard of the famous Hampshire v Warwickshire match recording the County’s lowest score of 15. Following on,  Hants had lost six second innings wickets and were still 31 runs behind the Bears when Brown began a famous counterattack, scoring 172 in a total of 521, and allowing Kennedy and Newman to bowl out the opposition for158, 155 runs behind.

Brown’s career spanned the period 1909 to 1933.  He was a true all-rounder. His top score was 232.  He made two other ‘doubles’ and shared in three huge partnerships; of 321 for the second wicket with E. I. M. Barrett against Gloucestershire at Southampton in 1920; 344 for the third with C. P. Mead v. Yorkshire at Portsmouth in 1927, and 325 for the seventh with C. H. Abercrombie v. Essex at Leyton in 1913.   In 1926 he scored over 2,000 runs.

For the county he held 485 catches and made 50 stumpings.  As a bowler he took 629 wickets with notable spells of six for 24 runs against Somerset at Bath and six for 48 against Yorkshire at Portsmouth, both in 1911.

Arlott told us that he was able to tear a deck of playing cards in his huge hands.  This strength came in handy when, in another match against Warwickshire, Brown going in at No 10  took with him a ‘strange ruin of a bat’ which soon split from top to bottom.  Undeterred, the batsman ripped the two parts asunder and, giving one half to the umpire, continued his innings with the other.

Compton should have been thankful that it was not this blade that George took with him to Felixstowe.

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Time Never Stands Still

Yesterday, we spent some time with a promising member of the Lord’s ground staff and took the train with him to an ‘out’ match in Felixstowe to watch him play against Suffolk.  By the outbreak of the Second World War, Denis Compton, had become an established player for both Middlesex and England with significant successes against New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies.

Today we meet another ground-boy, a few years junior to Compton.  Nick-named by members of the ground-boys room as ‘Mr’ Paul Brooks*, was highly rated by those at Lord’s.  Yet he was always listening to senior players and trying to improve his game.  He desperately wanted to know whether he would make the grade and longed to be tested.

In 1938 when the Australians came to Lord’s for practice, the youthful, eager ‘Mr’ Brooks was ordered into the nets at the old Nursery to bowl for Don Bradman.  In front of the viewing press, his left arm fast-medium, knocked out the Don’s middle pole making him for a short time a celebrity.

In Middlesex’s last Championship match of the 1939 season, Brooks was at last brought in to make his first class debut.  He joined Compton at the wicket and together for an all-too brief period they made hay in the last of the sunshine before the war clouds darkened the skies.   

“When he joined me at the wicket,” Compton wrote,  “I knew, from the look on his face, that he was enjoying the happiest moment of his life … he ‘wallowed’ in his batting, and with me as his partner, cracked up a wonderful unbeaten 45.”**

What fun they must have had, chatting between overs, sharing nods of encouragement as the fielders returned the ball from the boundary, taking in the cheers and heckles from the crowd in front of the Tavern, catching a glimpse now and then of Coach Archie Fowler looking on with pride from a gap in the stands.

“You’ve a big find there,” commented a Warwickshire player to general agreement among the Middlesex dressing room.

Were there drinks in the evening, paid for out of the season’s fines? Or were spirits too low, worries too considerable?  Within a few days all contracts at Lord’s had been cancelled.

In November Compton headed off to the Finsbury Park Labour exchange to sign up for the Royal Artillery – an apt outfit for an Arsenal left-wing.

If Martin Williamson at Cricinfo  is right, Brooks first joined the London Fire Service, representing them at Lord’s.  Cricket Archive  has him playing for the Lord’s XI between 1940-42 and around this date he must have ‘joined up’ as they then have him playing for the British Empire XI in ‘43 and ’44 and the Combined Services in 1944.  None of these matches were rated first class.

Compton takes up the story, “But Paul Brooks – God bless him! Never lived to enjoy the success he had earned, for after lying three months in a hospital bed in England, after receiving a spine wound while fighting in Italy, he passed away.”

Perhaps it is appropriate that for this one promising cricketer destroyed by war, with first class figures of matches 1, innings 1, not outs 1, Runs 44, Highest Score 44 not out; his average should be infinity.

*Compton spells his surname Brookes.

** Cricinfo and Cricket Archive say the score was 44 not out.

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The Stuff of Nightmares

It is every cricketer’s nightmare.  You are on a train travelling to an away match.  Your team are all about you their excited voices and banter filling the air.  Everyone is relaxed and enjoying the adventure … except you. 

There is a nagging undefined fear growing in your mind and preventing you joining in.  Something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on the cause.

It had begun the day before.  A chance to show people what you could really do.  You’d made the team you’d longed to be selected for and hurried home impatient to share the news.

“Very good dear,” your Mother had said.  “Just make sure your kit is clean and you are looking neat and tidy.”

“I’ll clean his pads and boots for him. Do you need new studs, boy? Ma, darn that hole for him.”

“Don’t fuss both of you.”

“Make sure you pack everything.  You know what you’re like.”

“We’ll pack his bag with him.  He’ll be fine.”

In the morning you’d picked up your bag from the hall and taken the bus to the meeting point.  

Now, on the train nearing the terminus, everyone is getting up, stretching and reaching for their cricket bags.

That’s it!  Where’s your bag?  A searing realisation burns the brain. 

“I’ve left it behind!”

That is exactly what happened to the 17 year old Denis Compton  in his third year on the MCC ground staff.  Coach, Archie Fowler, had told him he had been selected as one of three professionals for the MCC against Suffolk at Felixstowe. 

Denis with a 2lb 3oz bat that he has 'looked through the back of'. 'Seethru bats' are explained here: https://downatthirdman.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/seethru-bats-is-third-man-losing-his-grip/

Now, as he was about to play in a match that meant more to him than anything else, his bag was where he’d left it – in the grounds-boys’ room.

He wired Lord’s asking them to forward his bag.  Back came a reply, “Bag on way.  You’ll leave your head behind one day.”  They already knew him well.

“Ma le disgrazie non giungono mai sole”, as the Italians say.  MCC wickets were falling quickly with no sign of the missing bag.

Compton paced the dressing room, a boy among men; a boy without a bat, shirt, trousers, or boots.

One of the other professionals was George Brown.   Nearing his fiftieth birthday but still an imposing 6ft 3ins giant of a man who, because of his deep tan, high cheek bones and imperious nose, resembled a red Indian chief, George was one of the great characters of the game.

Utterly fearless, he had once got into a ‘set too’ with the Kent fast bowler Arthur Fielder.   Facing a fierce short delivery he dropped his bat to his side, stood up, took the ball full in the chest, and roared, “He’s not fast ” and then went on to score 71.

You will believe, then, that George seemed as broad as he was tall and supported his great frame in size 11 boots.

“Wear my kit, Denis,” suggested the veteran to the diminutive 5ft 8ins Compton.

“But George, it’d be like Oliver Hardy offering his suit to Stan Laurel.”

“Put them on Denis.  Make a go of it until your own kit comes.”

Denis clambered into the shirt as if it were a circus tent.  Then he climbed into the trousers which he turned up by about a foot.  He and George packed the boots with newspaper and strapped on the pads that, according to Compton, ‘appeared a little tight under the arms’.  

Next he endeavoured to pick up the Chief’s bat.  Denis even in his prime used a 2lb 3 oz blade.  He could barely lift George’s plank of a bat.

And out he struggled, a comic figure, in this the most important match of his life.

And back he marched, bowled first ball, the immovable bat unmoved.  “Better luck next time, lad,” said George. “You’ll do better when your kit arrives.”

If you thought that the first photograph was an exception this one should confirm Compton's head position 'cocked to one side'.

Brown was right.  In the second innings Compton redeemed himself with a score of 110.  There are six million Compton stories.  This has been one of them.

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Watch this then! – Sir Donald Bradman and the Origins of the Dilshan

The dare is irresistible to young boys.

“I bet you wouldn’t dare go out there and reverse sweep that opening bowler.”

“Watch this then!”

That was the kind of chat you might have overheard listening to a bunch of eleven year old cricketers, five years ago.

Now they’re sixteen and it’s the Dilshan that’s the subject of their dares.

Tillakaratne Dilshan playing the Scoop Shot right out of the coaching manual

Twenty or so years ago cricketers rediscovered that scoring runs could be a three dimensional activity.  In the days of risk-averse batting one might see the odd lofted straight drive, though cricketers have been sacked from Test sides for playing that shot before lunch on the first day of a Test.

The hook was always an explosive shot with the ball soaring skyward, but even then you could hear the coach’s admonishment, “Roll those wrists, TM.”

Roy Marshall famously played the sliced cut that slewed the ball over Third Man’s head for six, but no-one thought of copying that ‘impossible’ shot.

Perhaps it was Barry Richards, copping with the demands of the Gillette and Benson and Hedges formats, who in recent times rediscovered the art of lofting drives over extra cover and clipping leg side shots deliberately up and over the inner ring of fielders.

Field placing tactics evolved with in and out fields, but these could not put the gene entirely back in the bottle.  Shot selection and captaincy had now to consider the third and liberating dimension. 

Batsmen responded to carefully placed in and out leg side fields by developing reverse shots if the on side was packed with extra fielders.  

By the time the preternaturally attacking and wonderfully inventive Sri Lankan, Tillakaratne Dilshan , arrived on the scene there was only one segment of the field left to exploit: the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.

Third Man does not hesitate to repeat and underscore this; yes, the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.

Perhaps in the nets one day, bored but feeling ‘right’,  Dilshan assumed the position of head butting the half-volley and at the last nano-second produced the bat and, without a further view of the ball, timed a flick over the wicket keepers left shoulder.

“Bet you wouldn’t do that in a match.”

“Watch me, then!”

Yes, Third Man, but what’s this got to do with Sir Donald Bradman?

In Doug Insole’s Cricket From the Middle, the Essex and England allrounder recalls playing in a match at Lords against Middlesex.  Compton had yet to reach three figures and was batting freely but seriously when play stopped for tea. 

During that interval the mischievous and impish Middlesex captain, R.W.V. Robins,  ‘innocently’ enquired of Compton why he never played the straight drive, as this shot was the usually considered the mark of a decent batsman.

Cultural linguists will recognize this as a typically upper middle class mid-twentieth century way of issuing a dare.

Walking out after tea, the Essex players heard Compton tell the bowler, Ray Smith, that his third ball would go back over his head.

The third ball was duly hit for ‘as straight a six as it is possible to see’ reports Insole.

Yes, yes, Third Man, but what had this to do with the ‘Don’ who everyone knows during his entire career played every shot along the ground?

Insole goes on to recall Bradman telling him that once in the course of a big innings in a state match in Australia he had suddenly felt the urge to experiment and he had ‘determined to hit the next ball to fine-leg for four’.

Bradman had told the wicket keeper to stand back, or he would get the ball in his face, and had hit the next delivery, a half volley outside the off stump, over his left shoulder to the boundary.

Voila, The Dilshan … or should we say The Bradman, played fifty years ago.  Of course, for added spice, Bradman the master cricketer had dared himself – the real challenge in life.

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