Trevor Bailey: Combative and uncompromising cricketer hailed as the world's best all-rounder in the 1950s

Friday 11 February 2011 01:00

The decade of the 1950s remains England's most successful in Test cricket, and Trevor Bailey, who has died in a fire at his retirement home, was this country's premier all-rounder throughout that period. Further than that, he irritated the opposition (especially the Australians) to a unique degree, for there never was a batsman more patient, determined and obstinate. Among the less offensive descriptions of him to emanate from the frustrated throng Down Under was "Barnacle", though in their hearts the enemy acknowledged him as tough and uncompromising, qualities they themselves admired.

The son of an Admiralty civil servant, Trevor Edward Bailey was born in Westcliff, Essex on December 3, 1923, and never lived more than a few miles from his birthplace. His wife, Greta, had also grown up locally. By his own admission, Bailey revealed a petulant and rather selfish nature at prep-school, while at Dulwich College he was seen as reserved and shy. Enlisting in the Royal Marines during the war, which soon claimed four of his schoolfriends, he showed a cynical and rebellious side and claimed in later life that he was incompetent, defects scarcely credible to anyone who saw him march out to bat, chest thrust proudly and defiantly forward, head erect, sleeves rolled above the elbow, an England batting crisis about to be steadied over the next few hours as he repeatedly executed the forward defensive or let balls fly through to the wicketkeeper.

Before having to behold the shocking sight of Belsen concentration camp, and between surreal performances as defending officer at courts-martial, young Bailey had stirred interest on the field of play during his wartime cricket at Lord's, and was in the front rank of younger players under scrutiny as England tried to pick up the lost momentum of pre-war Test cricket. In 1946, he began a long career with Essex, always nominally as an amateur (he was employed in the secretariat), and was a Cambridge Blue in 1947 and '48. He earned a further Blue at football and went on to win an FA Amateur Cup medal with Walthamstow before 100,000 spectators at Wembley in 1952. A year later he helped his team draw with Manchester United in an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford. Later he became a director of Southend United.

His fame, however, was destined to come from his all-round cricket talents. He learned a lot by playing in three matches against Don Bradman's mighty 1948 Australians (including the one at Southend when the tourists belted 721 runs against Essex in a day: Bailey 2 for 128 off 21 overs). Next summer he was called up for the first of his 61 Test matches and in those four Tests against New Zealand he confirmed his place with wickets and runs, including 93 in the second (caught at slip via the wicketkeeper's boot), at Lord's, the ground where his most famous performance was to come in 1953.

That year of the Coronation and much else that was memorable was crowned in the cricket sense by England's long-awaited recovery of the Ashes from Australia. The first four Tests were drawn, and England had Bailey to thank more than once. The second Test, at Lord's, seemed lost as the final day began, but Bailey, annoyed that the morning papers had written England off, batted at his obdurate best, holding Australia at bay for over four hours as he made 71, linking with Willie Watson (109) that afternoon in one of the great rearguard actions.

He also saved the fourth Test, at Headingley, bowling negatively when Australia's target was down to only 72 in 50 minutes, having just driven his opponents close to tears with another exceedingly stubborn innings of over four hours, which this time brought him a mere 38 runs. His 64 carried England to a telling first-innings advantage in the fifth Test at The Oval, where that sweetest of victories was finally achieved.

The Australians were to see a lot more of him. His 68 at Brisbane in 1958-59 took him over 7 1/2 hours and placed him at the top of the slow-scoring tables in the record books. But many others suffered Bailey's defiance, too, notably Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 1954, when he contributed 27 to a fifth-wicket stand of 192 while Denis Compton (278) ran amok, and South Africa at Headingley in 1955, when he occupied the crease for two hours in making 8, once refraining for 79 minutes from scoring a run. Even some England supporters were overcome with dread at the sight of Bailey with his black, crinkly hair emerging from the pavilion, dead bat at the ready.

Not that he was totally predictable or lacked contrariness, for when 100 was on offer to the first batsman to hit a six in a particular Brisbane Test, Bailey, the Man Least Likely, took the prize. A fact which few then appreciated was that he had started out as an enterprising batsman. Some of his early innings for Essex were highly attractive, not least the biggest of his 28 first-class centuries, 205 against Sussex at Eastbourne in 1947.

For a time he was just about the best fast bowler in England, an ally at last for Alec Bedser, whose persevering medium-fast swing and cut carried his country's hopes at times almost alone through the postwar years. Bailey's pace and seam skills brought him over 2,000 wickets (23.13) in first-class cricket, with the telling ingredient of 13 instances of 10 or more wickets in a match (14 for 130 against Hampshire, Romford, 1957 the best) and five or more wickets in an innings on 110 occasions, an extraordinary record. His name is also on the coveted all-10 list, for he took 10 for 90 against Lancashire at Clacton in 1949, albeit with a little bit of contrivance by the bowler at the other end towards the climax.

It was not merely a case of a cricketer having a reputation for combativeness, for Bailey's figures are truly weighty. To those 2,082 wickets must be added 28,641 runs at 33.42, and eight times he achieved the season's double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets. In fact he is the only player since the Second World War to couple (in 1959) 2,000 runs with 100 wickets. He was, in short, just the man to have in your side, especially as he was also a wonderful catcher in the slips or at leg gully, often hurling himself sideways like a goalkeeper rather than the centre forward that he had been.

His accomplishments in the field were all the more creditable when his unusually small hands are taken into account. His many hand injuries included a broken thumb at Sydney, courtesy of Australian fast man Ray Lindwall and a badly split webbing when fielding a hot Compton drive.

There was much irony in his Test career, for having taken pity on Lindwall at Sydney in the final Test of the 1954-55 series and given him his wicket to complete 100 against England – to the blatant disbelief of watching Australians – four years later Bailey was delivered of a pair of ducks at Melbourne by the kindly Lindwall, who was still slinging them down. Thus closed the fighting Englishman's Test career.

Bailey went on five Test tours and left his mark on all but the last. His sole Test century (134 not out against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1950-51) came on the first of them, and his best analysis (7 for 34 in the deciding Test against West Indies at Kingston in 1953-54) on the second. He thought the best innings he ever played was a long way from the highest or the longest: it was a 41 against South Africa in 1956-57 on a very difficult Port Elizabeth pitch in a match which England lost.

Sometimes in his 10-year Test career he opened the batting; more often he was in the middle order; and sometimes he wasn't chosen at all, so rich was the pool of England's resources in those years. But his very presence was always reassuring, and English cricket-lovers were left to wonder why TE Bailey was never asked to captain his country.

Too much like Jardine (and the tumult created by him was still fresh in mind), thought some. Yet Bailey was Len Hutton's vice-captain on the 1953-54 tour, and therefore perceived as captain-elect. What seems likely to have scuppered his chances was the distorted newspaper serialisation of an additional chapter to his book Playing to Win, which came out soon after that West Indian tour. David Sheppard succeeded Hutton, to be followed by Peter May, and England's triumphant progress continued until May's team ran into an Australian brick wall in 1958-59. In the mean time, Bailey had returned more record figures – 7 for 44 – in the 1957 Lord's Test against West Indies before launching his last Test series with that notorious go-slow at Brisbane. Batting at No 3, he faced 425 balls during his 68 and scored from only 40 of them.

Bailey had painstakingly made 2,290 Test runs (29.74), taken 132 wickets at almost the same average, and held 32 catches, some of them memorable. But England had no further need of him now, leaving Essex to enjoy his services exclusively for a further nine seasons, in six of which he captained the county. His term as club secretary stretched from 1955 to his final season, 1967, when he was in his 44th year.

He developed his business pursuits and also wrote analytically on cricket and football for the Financial Times for 25 years, adding vocal comment as an astute summariser on BBC Radio's Test Match Special for many seasons until dumped, together with another veteran on air, his former England bowling partner Fred Trueman, in 1999.

Older listeners were upset at the unceremonious nature of Bailey's departure, for his Mr Jingle assessments – "Good ball, bad shot, fine catch' – got straight to the unvarnished truth midst the waffle all around him, His broadcasting, like his cricket, was usually based on understatement, and always conveyed conviction and authority, if with a faint whine to his delivery.

Even when carrying an impressive paunch, Bailey continued to organise cricket matches and play in them, the Cavaliers tours in particular featuring many famous names. He enjoyed his conversational duties as group escort on numerous England supporters' tours to the countries where his was still a household name. And in 1986 he wrote an absorbing autobiography, Wickets, Catches and the Odd Run, which was matched in 1993 by a biography from the pen of his Essex contemporary and namesake Jack Bailey.

In it his biographer observed thatit had often been said: "If there isno crisis, Trevor will create one."So when a CBE came his way in 1994, one wondered if it stood for Crisis: Bailey: England.

David Frith

Trevor Edward Bailey, cricketer, commentator, journalist, author and administrator: born Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex 3 December 1923; played for Cambridge University (1947-48), Essex (1946-67) and England (1949-59); CBE 1994; married 1948 Greta (two sons, one daughter); died Westcliff-on-Sea 10 February 2011.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments