Cricket: Stephen Brenkley talks to a man for whom the summer of forty years ago was golden

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The Independent Online
In 1957 England were the best cricket team in the world. They held the Ashes, had not lost a Test series for six years and could afford to contemplate omitting Tom Graveney. Not only did the selectors contemplate it, they sometimes went ahead and did it.

Indeed, though it seems difficult to imagine now, the uncle of the new chairman of the England selectors, David, was almost certainly having a drink after closing time in the last chance saloon when he went out to bat at Trent Bridge on 4 July in the third Test against West Indies.

"Nobody said as much but I knew inside that it was my last chance," he said. "I'd been left out of the winter tour, been 12th man for the first Test of the summer, made nought in the second. It was runs or else. I got in early on the first morning, the pitch was a paradise and to be honest the bowling attack wasn't the most formidable."

Graveney made 258, his highest Test score, put on 266 with Peter Richardson for the second wicket and secured his place (if only temporarily, for the selectors would feel able to dispense with his services twice more in his career). By then England were beginning to dominate the series. Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine, the spinners who had wreaked devastation among English batsmen seven years earlier, had been nullified.

"That was the key to it all," said Graveney with detailed relish, as though it had all happened yesterday. "It happened as early as the second innings of the first Test. I was 12th man but Sonny had taken seven wickets in England's first innings and looked as mystifying as ever. But in the second Colin Cowdrey and Peter May put on 411. Colin in particular adopted the method of playing Sonny with his pads. Sonny said later that he'd had him out leg before about 18 times. Maybe it would be different today but that was it for Sonny, really. He was never the same again."

Graveney himself proved that. On a raging turner at the Oval in the final Test, he made 164 in England's 412. Ramadhin was repelled and Jim Laker and Tony Lock bowled out the West Indies twice for 89 and 86.

The pertinence of this cricketing lesson of 40 years ago is not lost on Graveney with Australia about to bring over Shane Warne and Michael Bevan. He will be 70 in June, shortly before the Lord's Test, and is a long way from being ungenerous in his assessment of the modern England cricketer, but he knows the perils that await.

"The spinners could obviously have a big say in what happens," he said. "It's in the nature of every generation to say that things aren't as good now as they were but it's difficult to compare. We were brought up on wet wickets where technique had to be refined to get away with the turning and lifting ball. Now there is often a lot of bottom hand involved in batting and that doesn't give you control when the ball is going away from you. It's a different game."

And he added, by way of a avuncular advice to those in authority: "I do think we must pick six batsmen and five bowlers."