In the half-century since Frank Tyson boarded the SS Orsova he has led a full and fulfilling existence. As a teacher, writer, broadcaster and coach he has never been short of things to do or other people who wanted him to do them.
Yet the journey he took on the passenger liner out of Tilbury and what happened when he reached his destination before arriving back home - 29 weeks in all - influenced and perhaps defined the rest of his life. He became forever known as "Typhoon Tyson", one of the fastest and most destructive of all bowlers, a byword for carnage. In short, Typhoon blew them away.
His epic feats were spread over only six weeks, he never came close to repeat-ing them, he never played another full series. But Tyson will remain a legend of the game, one whose brutal speed stunned Australia and was instrumental in England's unlikely retention of the Ashes. They won 3-1 after being 1-0 behind.
Tyson, a cerebral man who does not conform to the accepted wisdom on the nature of fast bowlers, kept a diary of his experiences. It is about to be published for the first time, and although it has been expanded and given a fancy title, it is still essentially the thoughts and feelings of a young professional bowler stepping into the unknown.
His passage on the Orsova, his travels through Australia and his devastating plunge into the heart of its batting, were faithfully chronicled in an exercise book. As it turned out, he bowled them out during the day and wrote about it in his room at night.
Tyson was prompted to show his diary to a wider audience because it is the tour's 50th anniversary, because there are still lessons to be learned from it, and you suspect because 11 of the players on that tour are dead. "The theme of international cricket has changed so dramatically that I thought it would be instruc- tive, perhaps illuminating, to do a book saying 'this is what it was like then' and contrast it with now," he says. "Everything, the whole social background of tours has changed. Then it was as if, as Lord Cobden said at the lunch before we left, we were an expeditionary force to spread the word of cricket. We were ambassadors. It was that sort of feeling and the anniversary which made it opportune."
Tyson has also got lucky, since the 50th anniversary coincides with an air of anticipation that England are at last ready to beat Australia again (and that in Stephen Harmison they may have discovered their modern Typhoon: Hurricane Harmison). This opinion may have been slightly revised by events in India, where Australia have just dismantled the hosts, but Tyson believes that England can compete properly again.
For more than 40 years he has lived in Australia, pursuing his multi-faceted career, as a French teacher, as an observant broadcaster, as occasional author, as director of coaching in Victoria. At 74, he has long been retired on the Gold Coast but keeps his coaching hand in, visiting India, where he coaches the coaches, and occasionally being persuaded to do one-on-one sessions.
His diary, complete with Tyson's own photographs and contemporary press cuttings, naturally reveals a different age. It took the MCC, as they were then, three weeks to reach Australia on the boat, and there were another seven weeks before the First Test.
In day-to-day jottings he gives an insight into his colleagues which it would not have been possible to do in the immediate aftermath. Thus, we learn that he thought Peter May was the archetypal public schoolboy, wonderfully coached, always under control. "If he ever loses mastery over himself, his remorse amounts almost to psychological self-flagellation."
But Tyson offers observations on Australian cricketers too, including a couple of anecdotes about Keith Miller which were missed when the great all-rounder died two weeks ago. "How I admire Miller. He saw me looking worried and asked after the cause of my anxiety. He then helped to put matters into perspective by enquiring if I could remember what I was worrying about a year previously. When I answered that I couldn't he made the wonderfully perspicacious observation which put everything in true proportion: 'Then why were you worrying then and why are you worrying now?'
"The lessons are still there from the 1954-55 tour if England want to look at them and absorb them," Tyson said at his home in Sorrento, Queensland last week. "I came to the conclusion that Australia is a country where cricket is still a young man's game, methodical in approach."
There is an air of slight melancholy to the book, partly because Tyson was never as potent again. There is also a subplot. On the Orsova he met a girl from Sydney called Margaret, and they saw each other regularly in Australia. There were tears when he left. He has never seen her again and has been married for 47 years to Ursula, whom he met fleetingly on that trip and who came to England the following summer.
Fifty years ago this weekend, incidentally, Tyson and a few other England players went to a party thrown by some air hostesses. Tyson took off his shoes, which were found the next day in Denis Compton's room.
Tyson visits England often, still speaks with a Lancashire accent, and while he is now steeped in Australian cricket lore his favours have not changed. "I have to support England, but it's more from sentiment than realism."Reuse content