A story from Rob Smyth’s very nice book The Spirit Of Cricket (Elliott & Thompson, 2010) makes me want to sink into a warm tub of distilled essence of John Arlott and not emerge until time has come full circle and we’re back safe and sound in the Good Old Days again.
Colin Cowdrey was 41 when he was recalled to the England Test side in December 1974. He hadn’t played Test cricket for nearly four years. England were 1-0 down in the Ashes series, and being battered by the Aussie pace duo Jeff ‘Thommo’ Thomson and Dennis Lillee. The second Test was to be played at the WACA in Perth, then home to most lethally quick pitch in Australia.
Cowdrey arrived in Perth after a 50-hour flight. When asked about Thomson and Lillee, he urbanely replied: ‘I can’t believe they are as fast as Gregory and McDonald in the twenties, and I played them.’
Here’s Rob Smyth’s account of his innings:
When he arrived at the crease in the first innings – ‘It was the signal for tears to prick the eyes of all but the stony-hearted,’ wrote Christopher Martin Jenkins – he walked up to Thomson, shook his hand, and said: ‘Good morning, my name’s Cowdrey.’ … Cowdrey got unflinchingly behind the ball, taking the inevitable blows without complaint and batting for more than two hours in each innings, even though England were again blown away.
Goodness. How can anyone not love Test cricket?
Appropriately, Cowdrey – later Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge – gave his name to an annual ‘Spirit of Cricket’ lecture at the MCC; the lectures are, without exception, worth reading and/or listening to.
Speaking of ‘Lillian Thomson’, I’m very fond of Lawrence Booth’s provocative summation of the Aussie take on Bodyline in his book Arm-ball to Zooter (Penguin, 2006):
Fifty years on, [England fast bowler Harold Larwood] was still getting hate-mail. And Australians – the same ones who would chant ‘kill, kill’ as a rampant Dennis Lillee ran in to bowl – were still moaning.
One last cricket thing: you ought to read David Hopps’ excellent Guardian piece on British-Asians in English club cricket, and not only because it name-checks Hopps’ club Thorner CC and the Leeds district of Harehills (just up the road and just down the road from Clutterbuck HQ respectively).