Here at mindthewindows.com Towers, there is a natural hierarchy. Our esteemed hairy faced baby editor Devon enjoys interviewing players and officials who are very much alive [EDITOR’S NOTE: disputed. I’m a cricket historian]. I, as the oldest and wisest (see my piece on Kevin Pietersen) am happy to delve into the past. [EDITOR’S NOTE: He’s old. Not sure about the rest]
While England and New Zealand do battle in their two Test series, most of us in the Land Of Pom are discussing and planning the Ashes. As a cricket fan who ignores almost all other sports, an Ashes summer is the Big One. Nothing else in cricket can compete. My life, since I ‘discovered’ cricket in 1985 (see below) can be chaptered according to the various England wins and losses in these great battles.
Great performances in an Ashes series count at least double. Sir Ian Botham had amazing matches against many teams, but his exploits over many Ashes battles are those that are still discussed. Seriously, if you are chatting to a cricket lover, and they bring up Beefy’s performance in the Lord’s Test of 1978 against Pakistan, you can be sure you’ve found yourself a proper fan!
But as the years pass, and new heroes are forged, we should remember past titans who wrestled with the game, and won battles thought impossible. The beautiful thing about our sport is that every match is documented for future generations to study. We can go to Headingley and imagine Hedley Verity taking 10 for 10. We can go to Taunton and imagine Hobbs equalling Grace’s record of 126 first class centuries. If we close our eyes we can imagine the excitement, feel the heat of the battle. The stats are there for us to devour. The arenas stay the same, despite stands developing. Only the players change, inherit, continue.
So here are three players from the past who are favourites of mine…
Clement Hill, Clem or Kruger was an early Australian batting pioneer. Most fans today have heard the words ‘Clem’ and ‘Hill’ together, but over here (in the UK) they imagine it’s an actual place, like that hill in Sydney, or wherever it is… Clem was a captain of an early bold Aussie side. His averages are not amazing by modern standards, but compared to others of his era are extremely impressive. He also held some incredible records-he was the first player to score 1000 test runs in a calendar year (1902), a feat that wasn’t equalled for 45 years, after Bradman, Hobbs and others from the Golden Age had failed to match him. He played in the same team as the legendary Victor Trumper, scored more runs than him (more than anyone else) and was a short and stocky left-hander who could score quickly when required. Batting at number three he captained Australia in 10 tests and won 5 of them He held the Sheffield Shield individual innings batting record (365) for 27 years.
But he is mostly remembered now for one incident off the field. For the 1911-1912 Ashes series, Hill was again made captain to do battle against Johnny Douglas’ England. The Australians won the first Test, but lost the next four to an England team including the great bowlers Foster and Barnes, and the legendary batsman JB Hobbs. Hill had a poor series, one score of 98 and a couple of other starts aside he ended up averaging around 27. (Only Trumper reached three figures for the Australians). During the series the Board of Control announced they were going to choose the tour manager to tour England in 1912 – normally the players themselves chose their favoured man. Hill and others wanted Frank Laver (described contemporaneously as “crude and unorthodox”). The senior players threatened to boycott the tour if their wishes were ignored.
Cutting a long story short, a war of telegrams commenced between Hill and selector Peter McAlister, based around a player Hill wanted in the team. The telegrams became more heated until the two met in Sydney, during the fifth Test. McAlister was sharply critical of Hill’s captaincy, stating, “I am a better captain than Trumper, Armstrong and yourself put together. You are the worst captain I have ever seen.” Hill asked McAlister to stop insulting him, but McAlister repeated the remark. Hill struck him across the face, and the two fought for ten minutes. Blood was spilled, splashing others present. Hill was unmarked.
The board asked for Hill’s resignation in writing, which was given and accepted that same evening.
The fans were outraged. When Hill arrived at the wicket for his final innings, he was given three cheers. Hill had tears in his eyes and only managed 8 runs. He never played Test cricket again.
Then like now, a cricket board robbed fans of seeing a favourite player play because of their own internal politics. Plus ça change.
Hill worked in horse racing as a steward after cricket, and died aged 68 after being thrown from a tram in a tragic accident.
A Pommie bowler who was an early crowd favourite, Maurice ‘Chubby’ Tate was an honest simple soul who bowled and batted with the personality and humour of a Freddie Flintoff. A man born with little wealth to a cricketing Dad (Fred), he enjoyed cricketing and personal riches, but poor decisions off the field left him and his family with little material riches off. His natural smile and his famed big feet (they weren’t actually that big) endeared him to crowds everywhere (particularly in Australia), and in Sussex they still talk about him with smiles and love.
Fred Tate, the father, played one solitary Test in 1902, and is himself part of Ashes folklore. Fred dropped a simple and costly catch-a mistimed pull from captain Joe Darling, and then allowed himself to be bowled with just four needed for victory resulting in a loss. The exact spot of the dropped catch was where Clem Hill took a fantastic running catch. One player immortal, another needed to create a son to immortalise his name. The shame that this performance brought on Fred cannot be underestimated. It was a big story. Fred was never picked again, and despite an excellent First Class career, ended up a penniless publican. This one sad game defined him.
Whether Maurice burnt with a desire to avenge his dad is not known. What is known is that Maurice started playing for Sussex as a hard hitting batsman and an occasional spin bowler.
Then came one of those famous, documented moments of cricket. Bowling in the nets to his captain, Arthur Gilligan he let go a quicker ball that smashed the stumps, leading to the famous quote, “Maurice, you must change your style of bowling immediately”. Which he did, becoming a tireless and mean fast medium-fast bowler of off-cutters that seemed to accelerate off the pitch. He literally became unplayable, and recorded season after season of wicket taking mayhem! He took over 200 wickets several times, took more wickets in an Ashes series down under than anybody before or since, smashed centuries for Sussex (he once hit 5 in one season) and bowled over after tireless over, with those fabled huge feet!
But it couldn’t last, and on the famous Bodyline tour of 1932-33 he was ignored by the management, and was eventually dropped by Sussex, which hurt him most of all. A lovely man, who never successfully and venally cashed in on his fame, he captivated the public wherever he played, and was a son who avenged his father’s shame completely.
My third Ashes Hero is the least heralded, the most unsung, but he deserves his place in this pantheon for his personal contribution to your writer. Les Taylor was a tall right arm seamer who came up from the mines to bowl the delivery that won an Ashes series. He only played two Tests, for the victorious 1985 Ashes winning team, yet to me he is a legend. Why? I will explain…
I was 14 in 1985. I had no special interest in the forthcoming summer of cricket, but I had recently acquired a TV for my bedroom, and was enthralled by TV dramas. I had already watched some series based on the Roxy Hotel, and enjoyed it (it was probably rubbish, but having independence to choose what to watch made it special). The next drama series to be shown was the Australian TV serial Bodyline. So I watched it, and fell in love with cricket. Big time! I watched every ball of the six Test Ashes series, fell in love with Botham, Gooch, Ellison et al, and when England picked a seamer from Leicestershire (my county), and one raised in the next village to me… He was a superstar.
Les didn’t fit the role of a superstar easily. He had joined Gooch on the rebel tour of South Africa, which made him appear a bit naughty, but with his moustache, and his sporadic appearances for England on the following tour of the West Indies he earned the nickname Lord Lucan, which wasn’t cool. But he bowled the delivery that won England the Ashes, MJ Bennett, c&b Taylor for 11, and that was amazing for a young boy in the first flush of cricketing love!
As a batsman he was awful. Just awful. These were the days when tail-enders played like tail-enders. No batting buddies for these guys. On one occasion Leicestershire needed 20 to avoid the follow-on. Les Taylor arrived at the crease to face Sylvester Clarke bowling at 90 clicks plus. David Gower, the Leicestershire captain, shook his head. “I just can’t do it,” he said, and declared.
When Les retired, he settled into his life as a postman. No big deal, no post-cricket depression. Just a solid good man, who served his time as a professional sportsman.