Playing Long

Even though I only remember him as a selector rather than as a player, Alec Bedser was one of those cricketers from an era before my own that I knew, from reading the reminiscences of his contemporaries, had been exceptional.  The fact that he was one of a pair of identical twins and was quite a prominent figure in English cricket for many years after his retirement made him doubly interesting.

I wrote this after he died in April 2010.

I never saw Sir Alec Bedser bowl.  He retired from first-class cricket more than five years before I was born, and, by then, his outstanding Test career was a distant memory.  I only remember him as a somewhat curmudgeonly chairman of the England selectors, making it known after Ian Botham resigned the England captaincy in the early summer of 1981 that he would have been sacked anyway, and unwittingly laying the ground for some of the most inspirational individual performances in Test history.

But his passing matters to me because of what it says about what English cricket was and what it has lost.  Bedser was a product of an era before limited-over cricket – even of the 65, 60 or 55 over variety, let alone 20 – had been introduced to the professional game.  The only way to play was to play long, three or five days, engaging the physique and the brain against the best the opposition had to offer.  And the mature Bedser was a key player both in the greatest domestic team English cricket has known and in the England side which came closest to dominating the cricket world in the way we have since seen other teams – from the Caribbean and from Australia – do.

Bedser embodied, as few alive still can, an era when the game was far more central to the English way of life than it is now, or ever will be again.  A time when England produced truly great cricketers, and truly great teams.

Of course, much of the change which cricket has gone through, and is still undergoing, has, for all its artifice and embellishment, been vital in widening the game’s appeal.  A modern sport cannot exist forever in the sepia-tinged glow of elderly men’s memories.

But they’ll do for now.

Different Shades of Green, 6th April 2010

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