Cricket: 'The toughest of the tough'

Graeme Wright recalls enduring image of Cyril Washbrook
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The Independent Online
"THERE IS no life that can be recaptured wholly; as it was," Bernard Malamud wrote towards the end of his own life. But a picture of two cricketers challenges Malamud in the way it can make "pure clay out of time's mud".

One is Leonard Hutton, the other Cyril Washbrook, who died last Tuesday, and they are going out to open England's innings against Australia in the First Test of 1948. Awaiting them is the fearsome bowling of Lindwall and Miller, but you wouldn't know it from their bearing.

Washbrook is the shorter of the two, and at 33 the older. He is also broader in the shoulders, his head firmly set, chin up, ready for the fray and there is the "pouter pigeon thrust forward" of the chest that Neville Cardus got spot on. His cap is pulled low over his forehead, not quite as jaunty as some books would have you believe, but it's the face that commands attention. It is the face, as John Arlott said, "of a man who knows what he is doing - and knows he knows."

You can appreciate why C L R James described Washbrook as "one of the toughest of the tough", and believe Washbrook himself when he said of captaining Lancashire, "I was the Boss and they [his players] knew I was the Boss." It is easy, too, to understand Peter May's response when joined by the 41-year-old Washbrook at Headingley in 1956, his side 17 for 3 against Australia. "I have never felt so glad in my life as when I saw who was coming in."

England were one-down in the series. Washbrook, in his first Test for five years, put on 187 with his captain, scoring 98 to set up victory and turn the series.

The romance, though, lies in his being an England selector that summer. While helping choose the side for Leeds he went out to order some beer, returning to find he had been drafted into the side. "Surely the situation isn't as desperate as all that?" he asked his co-selectors.

They thought it was. They also knew Hutton's partner in three consecutive century opening partnerships against Australia in 1946-47, and a world- record first wicket stand of 359 against South Africa in 1948-49, would not fail them.

Missing out on university, the 18-year-old Washbrook went to Old Trafford, accompanied from the station by Sydney Barnes, at 60 as uncompromising as ever. "There's not much chance for batters here," Barnes told him. Yet Washbrook hit 152 against Surrey in his second match, the first of 76 centuries. Six summers lost to war probably cost him the 100 hundreds he was worth.

"Like an echo from a vanished world," said James, he "reminded us that in the right hands a bat is a sword, not a shield."