A Spin of the Ball

Since 1993, and That Ball, we who love cricket have been living in a world conjured into being by Shane Warne. But let us not forget that legspin was not merely a dying art but practically a dead one, discarded as a thing of the past, like late cuts, until Abdul Qadir came along. Single-handedly, Abdul Qadir saved legspin bowling, or so it seemed.

Year in, year out, I dedicated myself to watching every ball of every Test Match in every summer that it was physically possible to watch. And here were Pakistan in 1982, and this guy bounding up to the wicket and delivering balls that zinged and zoomed.

(Yes, I am aware he toured England in 1978, but that was an injury-racked tour on which he made no impression).

He was brilliant, but best of all he opened the door and let the light in again. Suddenly, leg spinners were everywhere. No-one who could equal him, but a constant stream of them, trying to stretch their fingers and flex their wrists, and I was learning a whole new vocabulary, like googlies and topspinners and flippers. I even tried to learn the art myself, in addition to my modest off-spinners, but I couldn’t get anywhere near it.

Shane Warne appeared after Qadir’s career was more or less over, and thoroughly eclipsed him in the public eye, though Graham Gooch rated Qadir the better bowler. We may have been living in the world Warne built since 1993, but without Qadir to lay the foundations, and recover legspin, the art may have become obsolete beyond recovery.

And now Qadir has died, aged 63 – I never knew that he was only almost exactly two months older than me – and I am sentimentally recalling a genius whose best bowling figures in Test Cricket, 9 for 56, is the seventh best performance of all time and the best ever against England, and wishing I could once again sit astonished at someone doing things with a cricket ball that I never imagined were possible.

A Boy named Deadly

I continue to slowly accumulate old Eagles through the odd fortuitous e-Bay purchase here and there. The latest lot filled in three issues from 1961 and sparked a powerful moment of delight.

For once, this had nothing to do with Eagle‘s array of great comic strips, though I was pleased to fill a little more of the mosaic of stories in ‘Storm Nelson’, ‘Riders of the Range’ and ‘Luck of the Legion’. (I also got more episodes of ‘Knights of the Road’ but that was a bad idea from start to finish).

What caught my eye was something on the sports page. There was a series on cricket, in which prominent cricketers of the period gave their thoughts on how to best perform their various roles in the game. When it came to fast bowling, the star of choice was Lancashire’s Brian Statham, who would go on, eighteen months later, to become (albeit briefly) England’s greatest Test wicket-taker, overtaking Alec Bedser.

Statham set out briefly but succinctly the basic requirements for fast bowling in the main article, and was asked to give his opinion of the action of a Kent sixteen-year old’s action. Four photos broke down the lad’s action, bowling left-arm round the wicket in the nets. Statham was approving, finding nothing at all wrong with the lad’s action, though he didn’t go on to predict a great future for the lad, not on such scanty evidence.

Besides, we all know that these lads who cameo like this are never heard of again, no matter how good their teenage action. Except that this one was. He would slow his action a little in the mid-Sixties and concentrate on left arm spin, bowled at a medium-pacer’s speed, of relentless, unerring accuracy, earning the nickname ‘Deadly’. He would play 86 Tests for England, taking 297 wickets, and become the third youngest player ever to do the Double of 100 Test wickets and 1,000 First Class wickets.

The sixteen year old boy being praised by Brian Statham was none other than Derek Underwood.

Richie Benaud R.I.P.

The first time I recall watching cricket was the First Ashes Test in 1968: long hours indoors glued to a black-and-white 405-line television set. The game captured me at once, and I’ve been under its spell ever since.

Only a few years earlier, Richie Benaud had been captain of Australia, a bold, attacking leg spinner  in an era when leggies were dying out. When his playing career ended, Benaud headed straight for the commentary box where, for the next five decades, he created and upheld a reputation as an insightful, thoughtful analyst who never once overwhelmed the viewer by telling him what he was seeing for himself.

It’s only two days since I woke up to learn that Stan Freberg had passed on, and only a month since we lost Terry Pratchett. This is becoming a seriously shitty year.

I have no actual memory of Benaud commentating upon the 1968 series. But the memory of Benaud that I do have is that he was always there. Every summer, as long as the BBC held the rights to Test cricket, no matter who the visitors, Benaud’s warm, smooth voice would be part of the summer months, when I would be watching all humanly possible hours. I simply can’t remember a time before him.

It’s not that I remember any particular phrases from him. He wasn’t that sort of commentator, drawing attention from the game to himself, though that didn’t mean he couldn’t summon up a very effective line when the moment deserved it. He was simply a presence. It was like sitting with an Uncle who knew everything you could want to know about what you were watching, and who would share the experience with you.

Benaud didn’t follow English Test cricket to Sky, holding to his belief that the game should not be kept from public gaze. Later, old age and issues with his throat prevented him from adding to the hundreds of games upon which he spoke. Now the voice is gone, and we are again deprived. I wish I’d been old enough to see him play. I’m glad I had so many decades to listen to him.

A bit (retro-) political… 3

That Mike Reid claim about ‘inadvertently’ causing offence with the ‘UKIP Calypso’ irresistably reminds me of an incident twenty-five or so years ago, in pre-Mandela’s release, Apartheid South Africa. Yorkshire and occasionally England) opening bat Martyn Moxon was coaching in the Republic during the English winter when, after a long, gruelling net session under the South African sun with a very promising young fast bowler, the Yorkshire captain headed for the Pavilion for some refreshing alcoholic drinks, only to be amazed when his young protege – who was black – hung back and didn’t seem to want to follow him to the bar…

To which my then-girlfriend, no cricket fan, commented: “With eyesight like that, it’s amazing he can even see a cricket ball…”

Travelling with Tinniswood: The Brigadier in Season

I am sure there was something else we celebrated, too.
What the devil was it?
Ah, yes.
I remember.
It comes back to me now. It was the visit of the Pope to Witney Scrotum.
I confess that when it was first mooted I had “my doubts.”
Would it bring on another of Prodger the Poacher’s strange “turns” and set him off once more exposing himself in the mobile library?
Would the sight of all those handsome, single, unmarried, bachelor priests be “too much” for Miss Roebuck of the dog biscuit shop?
What would be the reaction of that ranting, raving vitriol-tongued preacher, Doctor Jones-Jones-Ontong-Wooller in his tin hut chapel of the Church of the Third Wicket Down Redemption?
One thing was absolutely and totally assured – the Commodore was incensed.
“What do we want with a gang of Wops in the village!” he thundered.
I explained as patiently as I could that the Holy Father was of Polish extraction.
The Commodore glared at me silently for a moment, grinding at the stem of his self-lighting bulldog pipe.
And then he said: “That is as maybe. But I will wager you one silver half crown that the blighter’s almost certain to be a bloody Catholic.”
Ok, what is there to say about this? It’s another Brigadier book, the fourth in succession, the fifth in three years. It’s funny, inventive, dense with jokes, puns and allusions. The Brigadier and his lady wife are back home and a new cricket season is about to begin. We are back to the tales of far-fetched cricketing times and places. But, as may be expected, there is nothing to say about this book that hasn’t already been said about its predecessors
Tinniswood progresses his world a little. There are many opportunities for the Brigadier to call on his neighbour, chum and fellow devotee of the ‘summer game’, dear old “Bruce” Woodcock of The Times. (The joke here being, as I have just had to look up, that the well-known Times Cricket Correspondent was John Woodcock, whilst Bruce Woodcock was a boxer).
And among the denizens of Witney Scrotum, there is a greate emphasis upon the amatory intentions of Miss Roebuck of the dog biscuit shop towards Somerset medium pace bowler, Colin Dredge.
I saw the book one Saturday afternoon in London, having travelled down to attend the bi-monthly Westminster ComicsMart and see some of my friends in fandom. I bought it of course, read it on the train back to Manchester, thoroughly enjoyed it.
But my immediate reaction was unease at yet another Brigadier book, turned out so soon after the last one. Even then, I was dismayed somewhat at the speed with which this part of the canon was expanding. It made it feel as if what Tinniswood was writing was too easy. I don’t know the level of effort that actually went into writing these books: the free-wheeling flow from one idea to another was, in all likelihood, nothing like as easy to attain as it was to write.
But the point was that the profusion, allied to that sense of anarchy as to the Brigadier’s thought-processes which made every tale so wholly unpredictable, made the works feel as if they were easy, first draft work that just came naturally.
I liked The Brigadier in Season, laughed at it then, laugh at it now. But I wanted something more from Tinniswood. Something of more substance.
The jackets of these last three books had each indicated that Tinniswood was writing another Brandon family novel. Thankfully, that would come next.

Travelling with Tinniswood: The Brigadier Down Under

“Who is this?”
The barman smiled smugly.
“Stone the crows, you must be a stranger,” he said.
“Of course I’m a stranger,” I said. “It’s the only way to cope with living in this godforsaken country. Now who the devil is this creature?”
At this the barman spoke two words, which were to engrave themselves indelibly on my heart and change the whole course of my stay Down Under.
“Kingsley Kunzel,” he said.
Kingsley Kunzel!
In the annals of Wisden his name reigns supreme.
I quote:
“Most centuries scored whilst drunk…  Kingsley Kunzel… 17.”
“Most inebriated batsman to have been given out ‘seen the ball twice’…  Kingsley Kunzel.”
Kingsley Kunzel!
How well I recalled the Australian tour of ’21, when, after the luncheon adjournment in the match against Derbyshire at Chesterfield, he was given out “sick hit wicket…33.”
With what pleasure I conjured up memories of the opening match against Worcestershire, when, despite suffering most grievously from the effects of Ansell’s Tummy, he was able with the aid of three runners and an auxiliary stretcher bearer to score an undefeated double century before opening time.
And, joy of joys, there he was lying at my feet blithely sipping a quadruple gin and lung tonic.
The third Brigadier book was again written both as a series of monologues and for publication, which followed fairly rapidly. What distinguishes The Brigadier Down Under from its predecessors is that it follows a constant theme, wrapped up in contemporary events, namely the England tour of Australia in the winter season of 1982/3 (won 2-1 by Australia).
It’s all because of the blasted lady wife and her confounded Bedlington terriers, and her decision to go to Australia and search out her long lost brother, Naunton. Which coincides with the Ashes Tour, led by Colonel ‘Mad’ Bob Willis.
The Brigadier is not mollified. The lady wife fails entirely to understand that one doesn’t watch cricket in Australia, one listens to it. At a cold, grey dawn, in the depths of an English winter, on the talking wireless. Nevertheless, the lady wife is insistent. Australia is a long way away. It is a foreign country, a ‘land of ravaged desert, shark-infested ocean and thirst-racked outback.’
Most of all, though, it is full of Australians. And especially Richie Benaud. The Brigadier is not a prejudiced man, but…
Well, actually he is, as we are very aware by now. And forthright of opinion to boot, especially when it comes to the subject of Australians, who he treats with his usual disregard.
The England team also come in for some rough treatment, though there’s a distinct degree of affection in the military titles the Brigadier vests in this motley party. As well as Colonel ‘Mad’ Bob, there’s burly Sarn’t Major Botham, Lt. the Hon David Gower of the 4th Leicestershire Lancers, Bombardier Fowler, dear old ragged Sapper Randall and more, names to arouse memories of a cricketing past.
Not to mention the sacerdotal calling on Monsignor Tavare, he of the quiet demeanour and portable confirmation kit, though my favourite line in the book, and possibly the entire Brigadier series is when Vic Marks is described as having the ‘familiar expression of someone who has just been told he is to spend the rest of his life as a junior lecturer in soap technology.’
It’s more of the same, focussed upon a different atmosphere: still full of inexhaustible jokes, puns, misunderstandings and malignments. It becomes increasingly clear why Richie Benaud never found the Brigadier to be funny, whilst Michael Parkinson would definitely have neded a sense of humour and a degree of humility (which no-one has ever described him as possessing) to accept his portrayal.
And it is no doubt due to Clive James’ unAustralian complete lack of interest in cricket that he did not take offence at his inclusion in these pages.
Tinniswood’s range of invention in this admittedly-limited sphere reaches either a peak nor a nadir on page 60 of the paperback edition when he lines up six prominent cricket writers/editors/broadcasters into one horrendous pun on a once-famous Sixties pop band.
As the sleeve photo to the hardback volume demonstrated, The Brigadier Down Under was written in close collaboration with the England touring team, Tinniswood having toured Australia to ‘research’ the book, though his account is distinctly different from any of the others I have read about that tour.
It’s more of the same, only different, and the same advantages and drawbacks to the previous books apply in equal measure. But it was very popular then.

Travelling with Tinniswood: Tales from a Long Room

During the course of a long and arduous career in the service of King and country I have had the honour in the name of freedom and natural justice to slaughter and maim men (and women) of countless creeds and races.
Fuzzy Wuzzies, Boers, Chinamen, Zulus, Pathans, Huns, Berbers, Turks, Japs, Gypos, Dagos, Wops and the odd Frog or two – all of them, no doubt, decent chaps ‘in their own way’.
Who is to say, for example, that the Fuzzy Wuzzies don’t have their equivalent of our own dear John Inman and the delicious Delia Smith, mother of the two Essex cricketing cousins, Ray and Peter.
I have no doubt that the Dagos have their counterpart of our Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, and I am perfectly certain that the Wops, just like us, have lady wives with hairy legs, loud voices and too many relations.
Indeed it is my firm opinion that all the victims of this carnage and slaughter were just like you and I – apart from their disgusting table manners and their revolting appearance.
Poor chaps, they had only two failings – they were foreigners and they were on the wrong side.
Now as I approach the twilight of my life I look back with pleasure and pride on those campaigns which have brought me so much comfort and fulfilment – crushing the Boers at Aboukir Bay, biffing the living daylights out of the Turk at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, massacring the Aussies at The Oval in 1938.
Enter the Brigadier.
Peter Tinniswood’s second memorable character, who would become better known by far than Uncle Mort, in his field of operation, had made his debut on Radio 4 in 1980, in the voice of Robin Bailey (ironically, Uncle Mort in I Didn’t Know You Cared on TV), in a series of thirteen ten minute monologues. Tinniswood had thought long and hard about whether to turn the Brigadier into a prose character, but as soon as he did, the character became a phenomenon.
Tales from a Long Room are cricketing stories, or perhaps you might call them fables: fantastic, preposterous, completely unbelievable. The Brigadier rambles on about astonishing implausibilities: the first and only M.C.C. Tour of the Belgian Congo in 1914, or Queen Victoria’s potential career as a First Class Cricketer, or Himmelweit, the only former German Prisoner of War to play County Cricket, or Scott and Amundsen’s game on the Polar Icecap, en route to the South Pole.
The tale of the Groundsman’s Horse has a particularly well-disguised final line.
By themselves, these dotty accounts would be worth the reading, but Tinniswood more than doubles the humour in the narrator.
The Brigadier is in his latter years, a devotee of the beautiful game. He has served his country in distinguished manner in areas of this world whose horrendously primitive and underdeveloped lands are compounded by having them crawling with Johnny Foreigner. His is devoted to fine claret and Vimto, to chilled Zubes (a now-obsolete throat sweet) and escaping from the blasted lady wife and her confounded Bedlington terriers. He lives in a world of muddle where the famous of similar name are inevitably related, no matter how disparate. Through his discourse we learn of the feats of the most improbable of cricketers to have wielded the willow or caressed the crimson rambler.
In short, this is a book for cricket aficionados who have a bloody good working knowledge of the history of the game and not merely its famous but several of its less widely-celebrated names. Hell’s bells, even I don’t get all the references!
The Brigadier is a crusty old soul, a Little Englander enough to make Nigel Farage look like a candidate for the Socialist Worker’s Party, a mass of prejudice in every respect and a buffer of the third water living in a world of his own that crosses with our own only accidentally, and with the frequency of a ‘maximum’ by Mr Geoffrey Boycott (and you’ll need to know a bit about cricket just to understand that gag).
So, basically, if you’re not into cricket, forget it. But if you are, you’ll probably find this hilarious, because the jokes – which achieve the density and texture of Tinniswood’s best work with the Brandons – come thick and fast, and they are the kind of jokes that are only possible from someone who knows and loves his subject, and loves it with the clear, pure, and abiding love of someone who can take the piss out of it unmercifully without ever once going soft.
There are thirteen tales herein, representing series 1, which would go on to be adapted for television and retain their purity and fantasy. Not all the tales are of a standard. ‘Cricketers Cook Book’ lacks a developed narrative strand, though it is replete with a series of effortless foods punned from cricketers’ names, as does ‘The Ones that Got Away’, a series of spoof Wisden obituaries. These reek a bit of barrel-scraping, but the Brigadier is on strong ground when he has a story to be told.
The book is a classic, but it’s a classic that was a product of its time. Its contemporary cricketers are probably known now primarily by the degree to which they have become Sky commentators and experts, and thirty years on, the archaic references to music hall, light comedy and early radio stars that dot the descriptions will probably pass over the head of a majority of the audience.
But if you have the knowing, as it were, this collection is still very funny. It gave Tinniswood tremendous cachet, and marked him, for the rest of the decade as a cricket writer. As we will see, though, it wrenched his career off-balance, and the rest of his work would be substantially affected.
Not at first, it seemed.