Brian Viner: Raise a glass to Voce – his century is up

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

To pass the time on long car journeys, I play a game with the registration plates of passing cars, taking the first and last letter and then trying to think of a sporting star with those initials.

I even have a complicated scoring system, whereby I award myself extra points if they're foreign, female or dead. So for MC, for instance, Mark Cavendish gets me one point, but Maureen Connolly gets me 10. All of which perhaps explains why the late Bill Voce (five points) is dear to my heart, because until I thought of him somewhere on the M40 a month or two ago, my own initials had yielded only Barry Venison (one point).

When I got home, I did some reading up on Voce, who was born 100 years ago today. It is a centenary which I hope gets a mention amid all the excitement at Headingley, because Voce was one of England's stellar performers against the Aussies, and although he frequently played second fiddle to his great friend and fellow Notts man Harold Larwood, not least on the Bodyline tour of 1932-33, Voce was responsible on the 1936-37 tour for one of the most sensational passages of play in Ashes history.

At Sydney in the second Test, in a series which England had begun as massive underdogs but led after an unexpected 322-run win in Brisbane, captain Gubby Allen declared at 426 for 6, wanting to get Australia batting on a damp wicket. Voce had been one of the chief architects of the win at the Gabba, taking 6 for 41 on an excellent pitch. At Sydney his impact was even greater. With the seventh ball of the first (eight-ball) over, Voce had Leo O'Brien caught at slip, for nought. With his next ball, he claimed a more valuable wicket, that of Don Bradman, caught at short leg without scoring. Off the second ball of his next over, Stan McCabe was out caught, also without scoring. Australia were three down for one run, Voce having taken all three wickets in four balls, and limped on to a first-innings total of 80.

Voce's figures were 4 for 10, to which he added 3 for 66 in the second innings, and England won by an innings and 22 runs. That the Aussies bounced back from a 0-2 deficit to win the series 3-2 was partly down to a back injury sustained by the tall, powerfully built, immensely strong Voce, and it's easy enough to spot the parallels between him and Andrew Flintoff, especially as cricket history is all too fond of repeating itself. Like Flintoff, Voce could also be destructive with a bat in his hand, and was an excellent fielder.

I should add that Voce was decidedly fond of a beer or seven. According to Duncan Hamilton's masterly new biography of Larwood, captain Douglas Jardine told his team-mate Les Ames before the opening Test of the 1932-33 series that England's chances of winning depended on Larwood and Voce, both heavy drinkers, and he wanted them chaperoned. "Ames nodded convincingly," writes Hamilton, "but was unsure about how he could curtail the drinking of two men capable of draining a lake dry. Ames tagged along with Larwood and Voce in the hope of slowing down their alcoholic consumption. But he merely got drunk himself."

It is reassuring to know that there is nothing new about England cricketers going out on the lash, slightly less reassuring to know that there is nothing new, either, about Australia overturning an England series lead to retain the Ashes. But either way, I shall raise a beer this evening to the achievements and memory of Bill Voce, who died in 1984, aged 74, and who in 1932 (again according to Hamilton), at the end of an epic drinking session in Cardiff with Larwood and the rest of the Nottinghamshire team following a disappointing draw against Glamorgan, orchestrated a pissing contest on the home team's placid track. I hold no brief for the Barmy Army, but it's a story worth telling to those who insist that the barmies have undermined the traditions of a game hitherto played, and watched, with complete decorum.

Lescott saga may spell sad end of Moyes' revolution

There was a time when the loudest and most forceful voices in football were those of the game's great characters, men like Brian Clough, Malcolm Allison, Bill Shankly. These days, nothing and nobody speaks louder or more forcefully than money, which is why Joleon Lescott, sooner rather than later, will make the journey up the East Lancs Road to join the so-called revolution at Manchester City. Along with most Evertonians, I consider Lescott's near-certain departure, even for the inflated sum City will be forced to shell out, a matter of the utmost regret.

David Moyes has achieved miracles at Everton without being able to splash out in the transfer market, as exemplified by the astute purchase of Lescott himself, but what he has not yet been forced to do is sell on against his will players he has brought in.

It would be sad not just for Evertonians but for football itself if the Lescott saga marks the beginning of the end of the Moyes revolution at Goodison, slower, less newsworthy but infinitely more impressive than the one Mark Hughes is overseeing at Eastlands.