For Paul Edwards, the mid-Seventies were all Arlottian poetry, Guyanese giants and “the little watchmaker”, as cricket took hold.
Saturday, May 31, 1975. Buxton. Clive Lloyd. This graceful giant of a man is demolishing Derbyshire’s bowling. His bat weighs three pounds and plenty, yet every ounce obeys him. Balls are not so much lost as permanently exiled. Lloyd is not simply taller than everyone else; he seems to become freakishly bigger on this club ground, almost a cartoon figure bestriding his miniature world. He finishes with 167 not out in Lancashire’s 477-5, innings closed after 100 overs. In the tea interval I bought my former English teacher, Andy Mayne, a half of bitter in the beer tent. He deserved much more. It snowed on the Monday, the first Monday in June.
Letters and reading lists had arrived that January, telling me I needed my own copies of works by the Venerable Bede and Alexis de Tocqueville, but I would ignore this worthy advice, for I already knew the books I wanted to buy; their authors included FS Ashley-Cooper, John Arlott and Alan Ross. University could wait; it was the cricket season.
It was a summer of confinement and freedom. The restriction came early when Dad decided that I should do some proper work and got me a job at the Department of Employment in Manchester’s Aytoun Street. For two spirit-numbing months I filled in forms with lists of figures and tried to make completed innings out of every group of 11. I left in something like mid-June, resolved that whatever I did with my life would have a trifle more purpose to it. Cricket writing, though? Never gave it a thought.
Which was odd, because I was already lost to the game. I had mourned the death of Neville Cardus in February and spent most of my dosh on cricket books from Gibb’s or Shaw’s or from a stall up Shudehill. In the days when even wartime Wisdens cost only a few quid I regularly arrived home with bags of treasure. “Where’s all this cricket going to get you?” asked Mum.
It was something of a Janus summer. The first World Cup portended increased international competition, particularly in limited-overs games, although the changes triggered by the Packer revolution lay nearly two years ahead. Exactly three weeks after pummelling Fred Swarbrook and his mates at Buxton, Lloyd was making another century, watched this time by 26,000 spectators in the World Cup final at Lord’s. The West Indies skipper helped his team score 291-8 in 60 overs, a monstrous score in those days and 17 runs too many for Ian Chappell’s Australia, who had beaten England in the semi-final at Headingley. In that game Gary Gilmour first took 6-14 as the hosts were bowled out for 93 on the greenest of pitches, before whacking 28 not out to rescue his team from 39-6.
And, as I revisit that old scorecard, suddenly there’s Chris Old pointing gleefully at the single bail he’s just dislodged to dismiss Rod Marsh. Dad and I are watching our TV in the lounge and wondering if the match can be won after all.
Yet for all the ruckus of the new, the gentle rhythms of the ‘75 English season would still have been recognizable to someone who had stopped watching the game a decade earlier. There was a four-match Ashes series to savour, although ‘gentle’ is scarcely the word to describe Tests which featured Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in their savage pomp. To combat this threat, England had called up David Steele, 33, bespectacled, a county pro. Dad christened him “the little watchmaker” but he accumulated four fifties in six innings and topped the Test averages. Steele was voted Sports Personality of the Year, as much for courage as achievement, but he could not prevent the Test series being lost 1-0, almost a decent result given the previous winter’s carnage.
England’s best chance of victory came in the Headingley Test, but the last day was abandoned after one part of the pitch had been dug up and another had been soaked with a gallon of crude oil in the middle of the night. The vandalism was committed as part of a campaign to secure the release of George Davis, who had been imprisoned for armed robbery. Australia would have resumed on 220-3, but still needing another 225 to secure the series. That game also saw the Test debut of that graceful slow left-armer Phil Edmonds, who took 5-28 in the first innings. I still have the audio-cassette I made of him dismissing Ross Edwards for a first-ball lbw, saying no shot. It makes bittersweet listening, though, because the commentator is the erudite Alan Gibson, whose drinking got him sacked for good from the Test Match Special team on the fourth evening of that game.
The Headingley match was almost as memorable for Dad, who, having endured a week of excruciating pain, had to go to hospital for an operation on the fourth day. All went well and we trooped in to see him on the Tuesday. “I thought when I went under the anaesthetic I’d be able to watch the cricket when I came round and now they’ve dug the pitch up.” He was soon back to his equable best, though. Dad never nursed a grudge for long, even towards the Germans, and they’d tried to blow him to bloody bits.
There were other things about that Australian summer. Even in a tour which began on June 25 and ended on September 3, Ian Chappell’s men played 10 first-class games against the counties and one against the MCC. We could follow them round the country. Also, the Sunday of each Test was a rest day. “I need it as much as the layers,” said a friend.
Already in 1975, I was as bewitched by cricket writing as by the game itself (playing proper cricket came later). On the morning of the first day of the opening Ashes Test, BBC Radio 3 broadcast The Sound of Cricket, an anthology of music and poetry presented by John Arlott. I treasured my cassette of that programme for nearly 40 years, playing it only rarely for fear that the tape would snap. I had it converted to CD just before last Christmas, so now I can listen to Arlott’s concluding comments whenever I wish.
“Where lies the last word?” he began, “On cricket there is no last word. It’s ancient, yet modern; in some ways, unchanging; in others, constantly in a state of change. Indeed, if it isn’t all things to all men, it’s different things to most men, for it takes on the character of the period when it’s played, the place where it’s played and the people who play it.”
When I become intolerant of the more extravagant claims made for T20, it’s often helpful to remember Arlott’s wisdom and prescience that blissful July morning when my world was young. Summer drifted by. While others worshipped Tony Greig, Jeff Thomson or Clive Lloyd, I was reading all I could find by JM Kilburn, Ray Robinson and RC Robertson-Glasgow. And I carried on collecting books with barely a scrap of discrimination. The venerable Bede never had a chance.
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