Would English Cricket Benefit From A Franchise System? : Or, The Perils Of Necromancy

Back to the future again … (Part 3 of The Visions of Dudley Carew).

(This week’s episode was directed by the late Ken Russell.)


Dusting off my trusty glass once again, I see Carew,  after dinner, slumped in his over-stuffed armchair, reading The Times.  Pensively, he reads the latest news of Mr. Attlee’s government and the latest schemes for post-Ashes regeneration.  He throws the paper down, charges a tumbler with some whiskey he’s managed to obtain through a friend of a friend (filthy stuff, but it will have to do), fires up the last of his stash of pre-war Sullivan and Powell Turks, gives his mirror a wipe with his sleeve and sees …

… a small bald man, dressed in what appears to be a demob suit, seated in an austerely decorated office.  The man rips off the latest to come in on his tickertape machine, wipes his glasses, puffs at a filthy pipe and begins work on a complex series of calculations and diagrams …

Carew swills his whiskey down, grimaces and writes …

“Production? That is in danger of being of being the whole aim now, the production of eleven players to fulfil the demands of the export target to Australia.  Lay down concrete pitches, not so much to give pleasure to poor children who have little opportunity of enjoying any form of organized cricket, but so that one stray boy of talent may be discovered, conditioned and exploited.  Turn all cricket into a kind of laboratory experiment with the microscope trained on it so that the gay, the careless, the happy may we weeded out and only material suitable for the Australian market be left.  The men must be produced, or Test-matches will continue to be lost – and where will cricket be then, poor thing?”

Another splash of whiskey (no soda this time).  He looks again into his mirror and sees a figure that bears a strong resemblance to that dangerous radical Freddie Brown standing at the gates of Wantage Road, enticing in an endless line of Special Registrations (he thinks he can make out the Lancashire fast bowler Bert Nutter and the Yorkshire wicket-keeper Ken Fiddling) to join his “New Look” Northamptonshire with the promise of 10 bob a week and a guaranteed benefit.  Brown and the little bald man swim before his eyes and begin to merge into one … he throws back his head, empties his glass and writes …

“Besides, the remedy is so simple.  The transfer system and the MCC’s special registration scheme have pointed the way; let cricket show itself enlightened and advanced and go one step farther.  Pool the players.  That’s the idea, neat, economical and very much in fashion.  Pool the players, chuck them all in a central pool and then dole out to each county in turn five batsmen, one all-rounder, four bowlers and a wicket-keeper.  That wouldn’t give any one side any advantage, would it?  That would do away with privilege and any old-fashioned notions of heredity.  Besides all the matches should be excitingly even and, indeed, if things worked out to the proper plan, they should all end in ties.”

He wonders fleetingly whether he shouldn’t start taking more water with it, decides that, on the whole, he shouldn’t and downs the rest of the bottle.  Taking his courage in his hands he peers again into his mirror and goggles at the vision …

The little bald man-cum-Freddie Brown has morphed into a plump Indian businessman, lying in a bath of rupees and rose petals.  A line of half-naked Temple dancers jiggling their pom-poms sashay into view.  An auction of some sort is taking place (oxen? precious stones? valuable spices?).  He has a fleeting view of  a game of cricket being played at night by men wearing crash helmets and pyjamas.  The batsman takes a wild swing, gets a top edge and the ball flies high into the stands (some kind of fakir’s trick?).  The crowd, understandably incensed by this fiasco, prepare to riot.  A colonial of some description (a New Zealander perhaps?), half-crazed on pep pills, bellows an incessant stream of gibberish like some kind of manic street preacher.  The batsman aims another wild heave at a half-volley, misses and the New Zealander screams “A DOT BALL!  THAT JUST DOESN’T HAPPEN IN CRICKET” …

… the vision begins to swim before his eyes … Bert Nutter and Ken Fiddling are standing in a cattle pen in their pyjamas, circled by dancing girls.  Freddie Brown, dressed in one of M. Dior’s latest A-Line creations, has bid $1,000,000 for the pair of them (plus a fish supper apiece every Friday), the auctioneer bangs his gavel and shouts “sold to the man with the pipe and the 200 yards of tulle in his frock” …

Carew seizes his mirror, raises it above his head and prepares to dash it to the ground …

In the morning he wakes, and once he has dispelled his thick head with a few cups of chicory coffee and the nearest thing he can manage to a prairie oyster, he writes …

“Now, that, of course, will not happen. In this chapter I have deliberately played the part of the Fat Boy and tried to make the flesh creep by pointing out what might happen if the hidden tendencies in English cricket at the moment were to get out of hand and sweep to their logical conclusions.  I don’t think they will get out of hand and I don’t think that cricketers, thank heaven, are very good at logical conclusions.  And yet dangers exist, and if doctrinaire materialism is allowed to get hold of the nation for another five years the worst forebodings of the 1945 pessimists may be fulfilled for something in England and the English way of life will for the time, at any rate, be twisted out of recognition.”

But his mirror was not broken (obsidian mirrors cannot that easily be destroyed) and, later in the day, heavy in heart and in the head, sensing that dark forces might be gathering again, he gazed into it again.  And this is what he found http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cricket/25702462

“La lutte continue!” …

On Tour With Compton No. 3 : How To Celebrate A Victory

So, further cause for our brave lads out in the heat of the subcontinent to celebrate today!  But will they know to how to do the thing properly?

There have been hints that today’s touring party do not lead quite as monastic a life as we have been led to believe.  Nick Compton has reappeared in The Cricket Paper, posing with some of his colleagues in the wake of victory in the last test, all clutching small bottles of beer.  I can’t help noticing, though, that they seem to be holding the bottles in an awkwardly dainty way, the better to show off  the labels (Kingfisher Lager, who one imagines have some kind of deal going with the ECB).

After the victory in Mumbai, Kevin Pietersen – perhaps inspired by the visit of Boris Johnson, in his well-cast role as Lord of Misrule – was allowed to leak a couple of tweets –

You having a good time????? DON’T stop the paaaaaaarty! #BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMx


Premature tweet for tomorrow am- I GOT A HANGOVER, whooooooooooaaaa! ☺

But after that there was radio silence – presumably because Andy Flower had been alerted and had confiscated KP’s ‘phone.

So let us return to Compton’s Grandfather’s account 0f the extended booze cruise that was the 1950-51 tour of Australia, conducted under the wise stewardship of Freddie Brown.  At first, Brown had turned down the chance to captain the tour, as he relates in his own autobiography …

“When I was wallowing happily in the bath the same evening, a member of the MCC committee said to me, ‘It rather looks as if you’ll be asked at the committee meeting tomorrow night to take the side to Australia’.

My reply was ‘I’m not interested’.  I gave as my reasons, firstly that my employers, British Timken Ltd., of Northampton, were sending out a side to South Africa under my captaincy to coincide with the opening of a new factory, and secondly, that I did not feel I had been given a really fair deal so far as the Trial match earlier in the season had been concerned.”

But, eventually, he relented (with the blessing of British Timken) and made sure to establish the right tone for the forthcoming tour on the voyage out.  Over to Compton Senior again –

“Wherever I played, or wherever I was there was always humour.  For me the game had excitement and colour, and always humour.  I remember an incident when we were on our way to Australia by boat in 1950.  John Warr, a great humorist of Middlesex and now the county’s captain, was a member of the MCC party, being taken out for his fast bowling.  One night was fancy-dress night and we were all strangely apparelled – I was W.G. Grace, I remember – by the time the before-dinner cocktail parties started in various parts of the ship.  We attended many of them, and they made us feel very happy.

John Warr was not by any means the unhappiest.  As well, he was Gorgeous Gussie*; though not with his height and sinewy limbs particularly gorgeous, he was certainly oddly fascinating.  His girl friends aboard had provided him with a little pleated skirt, exotic panties and a blouse with the right outline.  He was scented and made up, with plenty of mascara.  He carried a tennis racket, and swung it as he reckoned Gorgeous had swung.

As we entered the saloon for dinner, Gorgeous Gussie threw a ball up, swung lustily, and revealingly, and produced what looked like an ace.  It flashed across the tables and, on its way, took with it a full soup spoon which the kindest of old ladies was at that moment raising to her lips.  There was a liberal spray and mist of ship’s soup about her as she threw her hands up in surprise.

“Sorry, fault!” Gorgeous cried ecstatically; then, recollecting himself, John gave the amplest apologies, which were most graciously received.

The evening was far from over.  Freddie Brown was a Maori chief, having in his hand the chiefly staff called a Taiaha, made of leather and wool, with which he quietly belaboured those about him.  He looked very Polynesian indeed.  Jim Swanton was a stage grander, and was dressed up very convincingly as King Farouk; indeed the similarity was so close that most listeners to or viewers of cricket would have been startled to see him.  He was strutting about regally, as a king should, with his chin up and a sophisticated air.  This was too much for the less civilised Maori chieftain, who walked up to the Egyptian king, and felled him with a blow of his Taiaha on the place where the crown should rest.  For a moment the king was not amused, and the assembly of fancy-dressed figures, with Gorgeous Gussie swinging her racket in encouragement, saw the portly chief and the even more portly king scrapping amiably on the dining-room floor in mid-ocean.”

For younger readers, this would be the rough equivalent of Stuart Broad, dressed as Maria Sharapova, serving a tennis ball into an old lady’s soup, and  Alastair Cook  and Derek Pringle (both in blackface) wresting on the floor of the aeroplane  over to India.  I think it would take quite a lot of news management to keep that one quiet.

*Gorgeous Gussie (or Gussy) Moran, famous at the time for appearing at Wimbledon in a dress designed to reveal a pair of frilly knickers.

J.J. Warr (Middlesex and England)

On Tour With Compton Pt. 2 : How To Deal With The Press

If, as expected, England complete a Famous Victory tomorrow, they may be tempted to let their hair down a bit (except for Monty Panesar, I suppose).  I doubt whether there are many dwarf-throwing bars in Mumbai, nor pedaloes, but, even if there were, my understanding is that the team will be pretty much confined to barracks and their celebrations will have to consist of raiding the mini-bar, pigging out on Quality Street and staying up past their bedtimes playing Championship Manager.

Things were very different on the 1950-51 tour of Australia (which we lost 4-1), as our next extract from Denis Compton’s autobiography demonstrates.  England were captained on this tour by Freddie Brown, described by Tom Graveney as being ‘a very-stuck up individual – at least when he was sober’ (so hardly stuck-up at all).  The English press were more-or-less what we would now call ’embedded’, in that E.W. Swanton would usually have a few stiff ones at the close of play with FRB and could be relied upon to keep shtum about any off-field incidents.  The Australian press, unfortunately, were a different kettle of fish and were inclined to take a mean advantage by putting the worst possible interpretation on events.

For instance, when, as he recounts in his own autobiography, FRB was involved in a car crash on the evening of the fourth day of the Adelaide Test and had to miss the fifth day, there were suggestions that drink had been involved, whereas he had simply been “dining with General Sir Willoughby and Lady Norrie at Government House”, in the company of the tour manager Brigadier Green.  So you can see why Compton might have gone to such lengths to throw the reptiles of the press off the scent, when the following incident occurred:

“It was Christmas-time in Melbourne, and I was at a party at the home of Bill Gluth, an old friend of mine, with Freddie Brown, Godfrey Evans, Cyril Washbrook and Major-General Jim Cassels and others.  It was a pleasant, hot southern summer’s night, and at about eleven o’clock we were all sitting on the lawn.  The drinks were going round hospitably and Bill said to me, ‘Denis, would you like another drink?’ 

I gave a Christmas reply and answered, ‘Yes, please’, and as I did so I half turned towards my host.  Unhappily, just near where I was sitting, there was a tap of the kind which many a gardener has in his lawn for convenience in watering it and the garden.  I struck my right eyebrow on the tap and ripped it open, and very quickly I could feel the warm blood truckling down into my eye. 

Of course Freddie Brown and I had enough experience of the Press … to know that if they got hold of the story that Denis Compton had a cut eye, or a damaged eye, or a black eye, they would very quickly draw the most improbable inferences, from his having been mixed up in a brawl to being challenged to a duel by an angry husband.  We discussed it for a while and decided that I should put on a pair of dark glasses and the next day catch a later plane to Sydney. 

I got to Sydney all right and … in my dark glasses I went unobserved to the hotel and straight to bed.  By this time Keith Miller, who was with the Sydney Sun, had got wind of what had happened and had organised a little surprise for me.

Next morning I had just woken up and was still unshaved, lying in my bed, when somebody knocked at the door, said ‘Denis’ loudly, and then flung it open, and as I turned took a photograph of me.  It was a photographer from the Sydney Sun.

The photograph was front page in the Sydney Sun and in the press in this country.  It is an interesting photograph.  It could correct any over-flattering impressions which certain rather better known pictures in underground stations and other places may have created in people’s minds about how I look.  In this one I looked like a gangster, or a murderer at large.  It’s an adults only picture.”

Unfortunately, news management was in its infancy in 1950 …

“I wasn’t much helped by a statement which Brigadier Green, our manager, decided to make; by the time he’d finished seeing the gentlemen from the Press I had lost any chance of making anyone believe that which I said had happened really had happened.

In a moment of aberration he told them, simply, without circumstance, that Denis Compton had caught his eye on a waterspout.  Because it was higher, he evidently considered a waterspout more credible.

I could see unbelief in people’s eyes: “Waterspout … waterspout indeed …”.

I’m sure that, if anything untoward were to happen tomorrow night, Andy Flower and Team England would be able to put a much more positive spin on it than that.

I will not say it was a good camp, but, as camps went, it wasn’t bad : Freddie Brown at war

The time lag between my having a thought (a rare enough event in itself)and it turning into a post on this blog is increasing rapidly – largely because my daughter is back from her Ibizan jolly and spends every evening communicating madly via Facebook, MSN and so on (and we’re a one – functioning – computer family).  If  Pepys had been writing his diary on a computer and he’d had a teenage daughter, the diary would have been a great deal shorter.

So, I’m afraid my report from my fact-finding tour of Luton will have to wait for another day (though it’s going to be good stuff, believe me  – well worth returning for).  However, to prevent the blog dying on its feet,  let’s indulge in a feeble Mike Read style link and bring together two of my preoccupations.

On last week’s Who Do You Think You Are? Kate Humble discovered that her grandfather had a distinguished war record in a POW camp.  Someone else who spent part of the war in such a camp was … Freddie Brown.  I’ll allow him to narrate his own story, with a minimum of editorial interference. 

(FRB was, by the way, serving with the RASC (aka the Galloping Grocers)).

“In June, I was put in the bag at Tobruk along with Bill Bowes and Tim Toppin, a fellow Musketeer.  One of the many South Africans caught with us was R.H. (Bob) Catterall, who gave us hours of pleasure with his ukelele.  In due course … we were flown to Italy, and finished up at Chieti, half way up the Adriatic coast.  I will not say it was a good camp, but, as camps went, it wasn’t bad.

[They manage to obtain some cricket gear through the Red Cross and arrange a match] on the tarmac road which ran through the middle of the camp … Some batsmen went in with ordinary gloves, but there were no refinements such as abdominal protectors.  Not that this worried Tim Toppin, who always bats without one, and moreover in gym shoes and without gloves at all.  Unarmed in this fashion, he once batted for Worcestershire against that great Australian fast bowler McDonald [McDonald and Gregory were roughly the 20s versions of Lillee and Thomson], and seemed to think nothing of it. 

To capture the right atmosphere at the match, we had a band playing … the umpires wore white coats; and the crowd sat in deck chairs.

We had time for only two cricket matches at Chieti, and I recall that in one of them the Italian Orderly Officer, flanked by his two guards, walked right down the middle of the tarmac – and the wicket – seeking to discover the cause of these mysteries … Throughout his walk he was hooted down by the spectators who told him in no uncertain terms what he and his guards could do with themselves.

Until books of a general nature started coming through, some of us played bridge from 9.30 in the morning until 9.30 at night.  Bridge is a wonderful game [oh no it isn’t – ed.], but when you play it solidly for three years you begin to tire of it …

[When the Allies invade Italy, Brown and his men are moved to Germany, and then Czechoslovakia – where they have] a small hockey pitch which we used for seven-a-side soccer and eleven-a-side rugger, the Red Cross providing us with shirts, shorts. stockings and boots … we started a series of  games, soccer and rugger alternately, at 9.30 in the morning and carried on with an hour’s break for lunch until 4 o’clock.

The last year of our captivity was spent at Brunswick, where the camp was more comfortable …

[No doubt as a result of all this sporting activity] when I was captured in 1942 my weight was 15 st. 3 lb. ; when I was released it was down to 10 st. 5 lb.  I  put on a stone in my first month of freedom, and was back to normal in about six months.  In June I was married ; in August I played in Lord’s again, for a Lord’s XI against Central Mediterranean Forces.  Happy days indeed”.

No doubt, things weren’t always this jolly, but, as an exercise  in making the best of a bad job, this strikes me as fairly heroic – and an example to the younger generation!

A tea-time snifter, and its beneficial effects: Graeme Swann and Freddie Brown

Another Ashes Test is upon us again, but – before it fades from the memory entirely – I’d like to return for a moment to the First Test.

At tea-time – if you’ll remember – things looked a liitle bleak.  Swann, in particular, looked to be struggling against the short-pitched bowling of this fellow Siddle.  When they came out, however, intestinal fortitude seemed to have been restored, and the rest is recent history.  Various explanations have been advanced – I’ve put forward Divine Intervention, R. Ponting has implied sharp practice – but is it possible they’ve been following the example of Freddie Brown* in similar circumstances?

Shortly before tea-time on the last day of the last Test against South Africa in 1951, England required 74 to win with not a great many wickets to fall, when FRB came to the wicket.   He immediately gave three chances, all of which were missed.  In his own words “What Chubb (the bowler) said as we walked into tea together was an improvement even on his previous rude remarks” .

At tea, however, FRB and Willie Watson (the other batsman) discussed tactics and – crucially – “just before I left the dressing room I had a large whisky and soda to give me the Dutch courage I needed”.

FRB was soon merrily hitting boundaries and England romped home with time to spare.

I’d guess Swann might be more of a Stella Artois than whisky and soda man – but I think the basic principle remains a sound one.

*For those fed up with hearing about Freddie Brown, I have almost finished reading his book, and this vein of gems is almost exhausted.


Know thyself – the Gender Analyzer

Pootling around the internet I came across this – Gender Analyzer – which claims to able to determine the gender of the author of a blog.  I  tried this on myself a while ago and it said that there was a 64% chance the blog was written by a man.  Tried it again today and the figure had risen to 70%.  Suspect the sudden increase is due to the introduction of so many uncut doses of Freddie Brown (no ambiguity there).

(Thanks to the Culture and Anarchy blog – Culture and Anarchy blog – for this.  I came across it originally because the author – the editor of the Pre-Raphaelite Society blog – was writing about her first visit to a cricket match).

Monty Panesar, Bob Clarke, Freddie Brown and the missing “cricket brain”

Geoffrey Boycott on TMS, about Monty Panesar – “He doesn’t understand the LBW rule, he never has.  He plays cricket, but he doesn’t understand it.”  Boycott is not the first commentator to remark on Panesar’s lack of  a ” cricket brain”.  This sems to be a persistent problem with Northants bowlers – back to Freddie Brown –

“As anyone may by now have guessed, Bob Clarke has not got a very acute cricket brain.  He has been known to enquire – at the moment when he is going out to bat – which way an off-spinner turns the ball.  He seems unable to remember the direction of the break.  I also recall that after one match, when  our players were chatting over a pint of ale the talk concerned a particular performance by one of our bowlers earlier in the day.  One of our professionals remarked that he thought this bowler had sent down a remarkable number of long hops, to which Bob Clarke added the opinion “Yes, he did, and a lot of short ones too”.”   

also “there are times in the field when his concentration wavers and he does not appear to be playing in the same match as his colleagues.  He wanders haphazardly about,  and very often I have felt impelled to scratch a mark with the spikes of my boots to indicate just where I wanted him to stand”.

As a batsman?  “Bob Clarke is completely unorthodox.  Some of his shots are out of this world. To see him wind up to a slow long hop outside the off stump, heave prodigiously, miss,and swing round to finish facing fine leg is a sight that invariably brings down the house”. 

As – inevitably – Clarke was “One of the few local born players” he was “a firm favourite with the Northamptonshire crowds” – and he does seem to have embodied a lot of the true Northamptonshire spirit.  And what, for that matter, would Kevin Pietersen have done with that slow long hop outside off stump -paddle-sweep  it to short leg?

Freddie Brown again : henhouses and flit-guns

The Ashes draw near.  For months now the analysts will have been poring over videos of the Australians, analysing their every weakness in the greatest possible detail.  Meticulous plans will have been laid as to how  best to dismiss them.  Every possible permutation in selection will have been mulled over.  The specialist coaches and fitness experts will have been working 24/7.

 Things were very different in 1948, when Bradman’s Invincibles were about to arrive on our shores.

Over to Freddie Brown again:

“Walter Robbins, who was one of England’s selectors in 1948,asked me if I was going to play any cricket that year.  I replied that I hadn’t seriously thought about it.  His answer was that the selectors would like me to do so, as they thought I might be useful against the Australians.  So it was arranged that I should play for Surrey in the Whitsun match at Trent Bridge.

[Brown immediately “pulls an achilles tendon”, which puts him out of action for several weeks].

The next event was my selection as captain of the Rest XI in the Test Trial.  One of the selectors suggested it might be a good thing if I got some first-class practice before the Trial – an opinion with which I very readily concurred.

[He arranges to play for Surrey v. Gloucestershire}.

There was no play on the Saturday and I went back to Birmingham … Using a flit-gun to sweeten up the hen-house on the Sunday, I lost a chunk out of my spinning finger when the plunger snapped out.  Back I went to the Oval, full of remorse and apologies, I could not play at all of course.  Soon I was taken out of the Test Trial and Walter Robbins played instead.”

For Heaven’s sake, Swann – stay away from the henhouse.


Freddie Flintoff, Freddie Brown and “that riotous living”

I see Andrew Flintoff appears to be in the soup again after missing the team bus for a visit to the war graves in Flanders. 

(I have to say (parenthetically) that this strikes me as being a rather dubious enterprise (and possibly Buchanan-inspired?).  The Australians, I believe, set a precedent by visiting Gallipoli en route to the Ashes in 2001, but then I half-suspected the thinking behind that was the belief that the loss of Australian life there was due to British blundering.  I’ve never heard anyone suggest that the loss of life at Ypres was down to the Australians.  And – great game though it is – it is only a game).

Anyway, Hugh Morris has “refused to deny that the incident was alcohol-related”. 

This is not the first time, of course,  that English cricketers have been accused by the reptiles of the press of being alcohol-impaired.  Freddie Brown (one-time captain of Northants) – in his bracing work Cricket Musketeer (Nicholas Kaye, 1954) – defended the  team he was captaining during the 1950-51 tour of Australia in the following robust terms:

That “Riotous Living”

“Why had the MCC fared so poorly in the early part of the tour?  The main reason why we were not more successful up to the first Test was our absolutely pathetic fielding …

There were comments in the press that the reasons for our bad showing up to the first Test were due to riotous living.  Such poppycock I have never heard equalled …

One of the most fatuous accusations made against the behaviour of the team concerned the incident of the ‘horizontal cricketers’.  It was during the second Victoria match, when I was watching from the pavilion.  MCC had a long time in the field and, believe me, on a hot and sultry day in the Melbourne cricket ground there is hardly a breath of air.  Quite naturally, at the fall of a wicket our players took the opportunity to rest themselves by sitting or lying on the grass.  Back went this report to England that our players could not even stand up.”

And plenty more in this vein.  Freddie Brown is a subject I’d like to return to a later date, but – to be going on with – here’s a picture to give you the flavour of the man.

Cricket Musketeer

Cricket Musketeer