I can imagine great difficulties for many. Especially two working parents with children and no garden. Very tough. But for us there have been more pluses than minuses. First, our increasing bank balance - no restaurants, bars, or cinemas. No air tickets. Very little petrol. Second, the opportunity to catch up with any amount of Test cricket on TV. Also past Open Championships, made the more exciting having forgotten who won! Meanwhile the saving grace has been our beautiful greyhound bitch whose essential walks and feeding have been keystones of our existence. The main downside has been reduced contact with the grandchildren, particularly the stop to our regular taxi services. .
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL.
There is a TV Programme, “Who do you think you are?” Which focuses on a person’s family tree and, with luck, the appearance of new forebears due to offspring conceived out of wedlock. . Any grand thoughts of a distant Auntie being related to some little known European royal family are usually dashed. All quite titillating but not really my cup of tea. But it has got me thinking, not so much “Who do I think I am?” but “What sort of a person do I think I am”?
First thing to say is that I am no saint. I have done some pretty silly things in my life but few that have harmed anyone but myself. I have only actively wished a modest level of harm to two men - one of whom is dead, God rest his soul- and I thank heaven that there is no such thing as reincarnation. The other is a well known personality who raised his profile in the first place by abusing the MCC Committee and pouring scorn on the game of golf as a pastime for the old and decrepit. Then he had the gall to turn up at Charity Golf days with wife and brand new sets of clubs, little doubt seeking a nice bit of publicity in the process. When we meet we simply swap the shortest courtesies - which pleases me to know that my antipathy is reciprocated.
I was pretty unreliable in my late teens, early twenties and a really shocking time keeper. I also had a rather cavalier approach to life and responsibilities.. I sent a “Wish you were here” postcard to the Sussex County Cricket Club from Copenhagen informing them that I was otherwise engaged and unable to play for them in their next match. I took against the best efforts and hospitality of. a Mr Dowty in his well intentioned efforts to get me to play for Worcestershire - particularly when I was made to wear a pair of overalls on a tour of his factory. I just reckoned that I was not cut out for overalls.
The net result of this kind of arrogance is that I have never been fully employed by anyone at any time in my life: probably because I was not the only one to feel that I was unemployable.
Not that I have ever been work shy. When I apply myself to a project of my own choosing, then it has my whole and undivided attention. Like when I formed my Sports PR business Ted Dexter & Associates which cured my time keeping weakness at a stroke. *
It was in my last term at Radley College when I had a hard game of rackets in the morning, scored 3 tries with two conversions for the 1st XV in the afternoon, was heard listening to operatic voices in the early evening, before repairing to the Grand Piano in the Mansion and knocking off a couple of Chopin preludes. “ Quite the Renaissance man it seems” said my Social Tutor and I admit I liked the sound of it, if not quite knowing what it meant.
The Encyclopaedia Brittanica description of Renaissance man, (or polymath) is as follows: one who seeks to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development and social accomplishment and in the arts. A point is made that you do not need to excel at any one activity. It is enough to tackle it seriously and see how far you get. I like the physical development bit obviously and I feel the social accomplishment bit is covered by my willingness to take on responsibilities all my life. Perhaps the arts bit is a bit shaky but a love for music and particularly opera and love of language - being fairly fluent in French, Italian, rudimentary German and Spanish may be some modest qualifications
Though not in the least proud of my time as Conservative Party Candidate for Cardiff South East in the 1964 Election (big swing to Labour) I was not afraid to take on such a formidable opponent as Jim Callaghan on the basis that the experience could surely do me no harm and possibly teach me some new lessons in life.
The physical development side is interesting. By the time I was growing and getting stronger in my mid teens, I was already fully aware that looking after my body was important. For that reason I have only ever had one or two puffs on a cigarette. When the first drugs came on the scene during our early married life, it was definitely a NO NO and we lost friends as a result.
Health wise, I always think of myself as a strong and vigorous character even though there have been a number of setbacks. I had a spell of pleurisy at public school and an operation to remove the inside cartilage of my left knee leaving a lifelong weakness. I had a bout of pneumonia in my early 30’s and then a fractured right leg in a car accident. i suffered Carpal Tunnel problems in both hands leading to three operations and leaving me with a 20% disability in my left hand. I have suffered a chronic inflammation of the tendon below the thumb in both hands.
My hearing is impaired by a military thunder flash going off near my left ear in training. I was peppered with small metal splinters to both forearms and chest when a machine gun misfired during my National Service in Malaya. It was lucky that I was looking through binoculars at the time which saved certain eye damage. I have had three major surgical interventions to my lower back. I have suffered from cancer of the prostate. I suffer from high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation I am currently under scrutiny (fourth CT scan coming up) for a suspicious swelling of lymph nodes in my groin. But here I am aged 85 still playing golf, still trying to remember that good posture is the answer to many aches and pains. 20 minutes every other day on an exercise cycle keeps the blood flowing. And walking the dog is surely the best medicine for an ageing body ever invented.
I have never suffered from depression, thank the lord, and remain as always optimistic - even about Brexit despite the current unholy mess it has caused in Parliament. Somewhere along the line I became a perfectionist. It is not a particularly admirable trait and I now try consciously to break away from some of it’s absurdities.
So what does it really take to be considered a Renaissance man. I suppose I had better list my credentials. PHYSICAL Public School Cricket and Rugby teams. Runner up in Rackets Final at Queens Club. All Round Athlete. Leading sprinter and held the discus record.
Cambridge University 2nd XV Rugby. Golf Blue. Cricket Blue. Later Test Cricketer and Amateur Golfer Handicap Scratch. SOCIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT 60 years married is easily top of the list. Head boy at Radley College. Cricket Captain. Captain of Cricket and Golf at Cambridge. Captain of Sunningdale Golf Club. Member of the Royal and Ancient at St Andrew’s. 11th Hussars, 2nd Lieutenant National Service in Malaya. 30 times Test Cricket Captain. Chairman of TCCB Cricket Committee. Chairman of MCC Cricket Committee. President of MCC. Appointed CBE. FLYING: Fixed Wing; Private Pilots Licence. Instrument Rating. Twin Engined Rating. Helicopters. Private pilots Licence. Training on Gyrocopters. ARTS. Lifetime book reader. Author. Journalist. Linguist. Music lover. Repairer of defunct Pianola ( still giving pleasure half a century later) Sketchy record in business but good enough to buy myself a pension with a 250,000 pound pot. Over 2000 songs collected and downloaded in my Iphone. Lover of Opera. Am I a Renaissance man? I like to think so but it is for others to judge.
That helmets have made a difference to cricket is beyond dispute. At Test match level, no less a luminary than Michael Atherton says that batting performances “before” and “after” are simply not comparable. So what has changed?
Those batsmen who have played all their lives in a helmet have never had to learn the skills that we bare headed batsmen were forced to acquire from day one. It was drilled into us to “ALWAYS” keep our eye on the ball. Ducking the head was the preserve of tail-enders only. I can recall very few nasty blows to the head in pre-helmet days. Nowadays it is a rare day of Test cricket which passes without the ball cannoning off helmets as batsmen take their eyes off the ball and duck. Then comes the obligatory testing for concussion symptoms, possible replacement pf the helmet. They really are a pain in the neck, in more ways than one.
Sometimes people suggest that bowlers are faster these days which I dispute. There were no helmets when England faced the great Australian “Tommo”, once timed at 100 mph. Nor when the Australians were put to the sword by the fearsome Frank Tyson in 1954. And even if those critics are right, I will remind them that under the old lbw law, before the front foot rule, the ball was released from 3 to 4 feet closer than now. Especially by the draggers. That gave them an added advantage of getting more bounce off the pitch. The most extreme example was the very tall Australian Test bowler Gordon Rorke in 1958 whose skid marks from the “drag” extended right through the batting crease with his front foot landing another SEVEN feet further on.
So how did helmets creep into the game? When Mike Brearley walked out to bat at Lord’s with a prototype contraption covering his temples,I thought it was just a one-off by a player who obviously had no faith in his own technique. But it may have been the thin end of the wedge
A change in the lbw law was also critical. This allowed an l.b.w decision against a batsman playing no stroke, even if the point of impact was outside the line of the stumps. This was a well meaning attempt to stop batsmen simply padding away spinners with impunity. What it actually did was to benefit the quicker bowlers slanting in from wide of the crease. However this “advantage” was soon balanced by the front foot law. Nevertheless, right or wrong, batsmen felt they had to play forward more, putting their heads in danger. Hence the dreaded helmet. And there is at least one unintended downside.
From a spectators point of view there is a lack of connection between the audience and the player. It is hard enough to know who is at which end, even on TV. From the boundary, nigh on impossible. The only batsman I recall batting without a helmet was the then Captain of the West Indies. Richie Richardson. He wore just a wide brimmed white sun hat and, as a fine hooker of the ball he never ever looked in the lightest danger. Would I have switched to a helmet? I really don’t know. If there was the slightest chance of it impairing my batting - the answer is no. I might have tried one - and then, who knows? It would certainly have improved my playing of slow bowling because I could have practised sweeping without fear of getting a top edge in my face. The ability to sweep is a key part modern batting skills and I would love to have had that in my armoury.
The next time I saw a “helmet” - actually it looked more fitting for a motorcyclist- was a West Indies Tour match against Derbyshire. I had no clue about the identity of the home team batsman protected by a huge heavy duty plastic wrap around visor. The pitch was quick and bouncy and the West Indian fast bowlers were letting loose.
Half a dozen times the ball simply bounced off the face guard and the batsman continued serenely without a sign of any injury. I honestly thought that the days of short-pitched fast bowling were numbered. But I was wrong. Fast bowlers still dominate Test cricket in UK other than on India’s slower, turning pitches.The reason seems to be that batsmen have altered their technique - and not for the better.
What made modern batsmen pick the bat up before the ball is bowled is a bit of a mystery.
And I find it hard to raise an argument in it’s favour. It may help the less talented ones but not much more than that. The most noticeable change is in the stance and head position. Feet wide apart, bat raised and the head upright peering through the bars of the helmet. Here I do argue the toss.
The most obvious flaw is the lack of lateral movement of the feet. Secondly the shoulders are already turned making it much harder to bring the bat down straight. The natural timing that came with swinging the bat up and down is lost. Just as well for some players that the new “super bats” are more forgiving than of old.
There are pluses and minuses when it comes to pulling and hooking. Protected by the helmet these strokes can now be made in front of the face. We always had to get inside the line which made it easier to judge the ones to play or leave alone. All of which would be acceptable if the helmet actually did what it is supposed to do - protect from injury.
Actually there are more injuries, not less. There is the tragic case of the young Australian who was killed by a blow behind the ear. He went to hook, head in line, turned away in the process and paid a dreadful price. This prompted further protective add-ons at the back of the neck which may or may not do what they are supposed to do. The Australian Captain Smith was not wearing these when he was pole-axed, flat on his face in 2019 at Lord’s by Joffre Archer. It has also been put to me that batting with the eyes canted at 30 degrees - as I did and most of the past Test batsmen did - is no longer an option with the face bars straight across. I further doubt the validity of this because we all know when we peer through a wire mesh fence that the closer we get the less we can see the wires.
I remember when I first saw it written that the eyes must be level in the stance. Tell that to Jack Hobbs or Wally Hammond. It was in a little coaching strip in some newspaper under the name of the greatest of wicket-keepers Alan Knott - an unorthodox but talented lower order England run scorer. I asked Alan a supplementary question - does that mean that the two eyes have to be equidistant from the approaching ball? He had no answer even if he had the slightest clue what I was talking about.
It was really a tease, because I went on to shred the need for level eyes in ball games. Citing the fastest ball game in the world ie Rackets where the best players will still middle the ball with their heads down, sideways and every other way. They certainly do not wear helmets. Maybe they and squash players should in fact wear goggles because the balls, hard in rackets and softer in squash are small enough to penetrate the eye socket. There have been blinded players. For all I know, perhaps they do wear some sort of protection.
Going back to batting, there will always be genii like Smith and Kohli who defy all the rules and, who knows, there may be a host of schoolboy batsmen who are already copying them successfully. Aesthetically Smith looks a mess unlike Kohli who is more orthodox but who gains advantage from his helmet by standing a yard outside his crease. I have not seen him face the current Australian attack on hard pitches. That could be a titanic clash, indeed.
Just how professional are our professional cricketers?. Maybe not as professional as they think they are? We have fast bowlers who do not swing the ball and waste the new ball by not making the batsmen play. Spin bowlers who rotate rather than “spin” the ball. Batsmen who play some shots well but others rank badly. Bowlers who seem satisfied to bowl a maiden without a single ball straight or full enough to hit the stumps. I could go on.
Not all of this is really new. In my five years with responsibility for the England Test team, I would count the balls that might have hit the stumps in the first 10 overs. I never reached ten, I handed on my inspired piece of research to the dressing room but nothing ever changed.
All this in the light of a sobering Test defeat by New Zealand not so long after the Stokes miracle innings against Australia and a tense Series drawing victory at the Oval.
I wonder how many people get to have a say at the post match discussions. Do the batting and bowling and fielding coaches all sit in with the manager and the Captain ~ and the Vice-Captain? If so it may be a case of management by Committee resulting in no clear path forward. Commitee decisions usually have a blurred imprint in my experience.
Most to worry about is Joe Root’s lack of runs. Even when he does get a few, it is a stuttering process with no rhythm. He is taking twice as long as before to score. I think he knows what is wrong but is finding it difficult to put it right. His clean cut footwork used to be the key. Now there is an impression of him running around with many movements going nowhere. He used to be one of those rare batsmen who put 20 or 30 on the board without you noticing. No longer.
A really flat pitch when he can stay long enough to sort things out may be the best medicine. But the last pitch was about a friendly as you could wish for in the first innings but that opportunity was missed.
I would recommend practising the seldom discussed art of “waiting”. It is completely counter-intuitive but there is a long established observation that the longer you wait, the more time you appear to have. Maybe it is because you only have time to make a single movement coupled with the obvious advantage of knowing exactly where the ball is.
I have seen slow motion film of Gary Sobers playing Dennis Lillee at Melbourne when he made a double hundred. Don Bradman thought it the best bit of batting he had ever seen, The 80~90 mph ball was over a third the way down the pitch before Gary even twitched.
Root apart, there were so many other unnecessary batting errors. Stokes running down the pitch first ball after a self induced break in play when he called for new gloves. Pope slashing flat batted at a wide good length ball, not once but twice.
I wonder who takes him to task or does he just get a cuddle and a few sweet nothings. Thinking back, I think myself lucky to have played when the Captain was boss at every level. If I played a rash stroke, I did not need to look toward the dressing room to know that Peter May would be shaking a clenched fist in my direction.
England were thrashed by Windies (an abbreviation I abhor) in Barbados. Then came the post mortems. Most agreed that leaving Stuart Broad in the dressing room was a mistake. So far so good. Some even mentioned that, with the exception of James Anderson, our bowlers had performed below par. But they were not saying THAT at the end of the first day when the West Indians lost a number of wickets cheaply. Then the scribes went on to castigate the England batting - in both innings.
None mentioned the fact that the pitch and weather conditions combined made batting extremely taxing on the second day. Roach was bowling fast, lifting off-breaks from round the wicket to our left handers, Burns, Jennings, Stokes, Curran, Moeen and Anderson. It was hardly less taxing to the right handers, Bairstow, Root, Butler, Foakes and Rashid.
Being bowled our for 70 ish was the game loser which no amount of Boycott grit and determination was going to fix.
By the time Holder started his epic innings, the pitch was flat with no turn or swing: his team was already way in front allowing the batsmen all the freedom in the world.
In our second innings we fared much better while the quick bowlers were on, with Roach a far more straightforward proposition. Burns showed he could more than just defend against pace and gave as good as he got More in hope than anything Holder switched to his one part-time spinner. and this is where England made the one key error. They failed to attack the slower bowling and got winkled out. Of course Holder still held the whip hand because no amount of fours and sixes was going to make him start to defend given England' huge deficit.
I firmly believe that, had we played Broad and won the toss, the result would have been reversed. But fate has a way of ensuring that small mistakes are punished doubly and trebly.
I am reminded of the Australian team in 2005, when the great McGgrath trod on a ball in the warm up on the first day at Edgbaston when they had already decided to put England in to bat. Rashly they proceeded to bowl first despite being without their trump card - and the whole of the Series was turned England’s way.
And talking about good days to bat or field. Only recently at Lord’s there were the most difficult batting conditions throughout the match with heavy overcast EXCEPT one glorious sunny afternoon when all-rounder Woakes cruised to a delightful century in the easiest conditions of the match. England will do a lot better in West Indies when conditions are fair to both teams.