Tag Archives: Peter May

Feast Your Eyes – Form to Fluidity

Even in Arcadia May and Cowdrey exist

Classical batting at its height in May and Cowdrey with their cerebral approach, their clarity of expression, the nobility of their design (disegno) that recalled the craftsmanship and idealised forms of Poussin.

From the Temple – Gower 1980:

And Gower at the height of his powers, the primacy of imagination and intuition – the solution of complex problems with obvious ease like a painting by El Greco.

Molton batting – Gower if he were playing today: the expression of inner necessity.

How Gower Would Bat Today by Wassily Kandinsky

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In which Everyman encounters the Ram again and then deals with Mr Inconsiderate

Picking up from where we left off yesterday, Doug Insole, three times dropped after a single unsuccessful Test appearance has been recalled again and has enjoyed a successful winter as Vice Captain of the MCC team touring South Africa where he has scored more runs than any of the other players playing in the Test side.

The reward for this winter form is a place in the side for the first Test against the Windies in 1957.

Those who have followed the story so far (Thanks, TM) will realise that this means another encounter with ‘the Ram’.

Sonny Ramadhin with the flicker's grip and an interesting and all-too familiar elbow position

This time he meets the West Indian off-spinner-with-carom-ball while batting in partnership with the England captain Peter May.  After a few balls May helpfully suggests that it might be a good idea to ‘have a go at him’ to knock Ramadhin off his length.  You first?

Insole batting number 3, has found the pace attack fairly straightforward but at this point, following captain’s orders, he decides to cut Ramadhin. 

When the county championship ended on the last day of August, they used to say, never cut the off-spinner until September.  Insole ignoring this advice is bowled Ramadhin for 20.  May soon follows caught Weekes bowled Ramadhin for 30 and England are bowled out in four hours with the Ram taking seven for 49.  [Thanks Skip.]

Collie Smith, uncharacteristically for him, compiles a careful 161 and the Windies finish their innings at 474.

England are left with two hours to bat on Saturday afternoon.  Again going in at number 3, and after playing a few balls from Sobers, Insole finds himself facing the Ram.

Everyman takes up the story, ‘He promptly bowled me a ball just outside my leg stump and slightly overpitched which I tried to force through the mid-wicket area.  I failed to make contact and was bowled off my pads.  I can think of better things to do on fine Saturday afternoons than scoring ducks in Test matches …’

It is impossible not to feel for him, but TM is afraid to say that it gets worse, or better depending on the point of view.

On Monday morning at the fall of Close’s wicket Cowdrey, who was already known for playing unusually behind his front pad, joins May who has another cunning plan.  In the ensuing partnership the two ‘invent’ bat/pad play.

They remain together all day, putting on 265.  Insole believed that Cowdrey never did managed to pick Ramadan’s ‘leg spinner’ or carrom ball, but on the last day May and Cowdrey continue batting together until Cowdrey is out for 154 ending their marvellous stand of 411 runs. 

May went on to make 285 not out.  The spell is broken.  Ramadhan had been asked to bowl 98 overs in the second innings.  But it was once again too late for Insole.

Although England so nearly went on to win the match with Trueman, Laker and Lock taking seven West Indian wickets in their second innings, Insole was dropped for the fourth time and would never play for England again.

It is no common achievement to play cricket for England as a one time wonder or a nine times wonder, as was the case for Doug Insole.

But Third Man hopes that recounting Insole’s Test career has demonstrated that, in a game that yearns to immortalise the few, Insole’s very mortality and human frailty speaks to us across the years.

He is our representative on the field at the highest level of the game.

We sense in him a universal truth.  He is every one of us who has been caught playing that stupid shot of ours, off the bowler who taunts us when we walk out to bat ‘here comes my bunny’, the player who does everything for his captain and his team mates yet fails in all but dignity, humanity and fellowship – those finer qualities.

Cricket had at least one further twist of fate for Insole.  As Chairman of selectors it came to him to deal with  Boycott when in June 1967 against an Indian attack weakened by injury the Yorkshire opener ground out a selfish and futile 246.  Boycotts’ disregard for all but himself was truly ‘not cricket’.

Pilgrim's Progress continues. Everyman and Mr Inconsiderate?

Looking back on it Third Man now realises how appropriate it was that the man, who symbolised Every Man and Woman that has ever taken the field to play cricket, held the responsibility to pass cricket’s verdict on a highly gifted player who put himself before his team. How fortunate cricket was that this Everyman had the courage and wisdom to drop the player for selfish and slow cricket.  It could not have been an easy decision.

It is said that Boycott has never forgiven Insole. If this remains the case, Boycott continues to demonstrate his blindness to the true values and spirit of the game and proves that Insole was right.

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Everyman’s Uncertain Qualities

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.

Peter Heine bowling in the last Test, but would our hero be there to face him again?

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.

Miller is caught by Trueman for 26 in Australia’s second innings. The leg trap’s position gives an indication of the pace of turn produced by this wicket.

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.

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