BYWAY 3: TWO CAR PARKS AND TWO FLYERS – THE SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENT FOR AUSTRALIA 54/55
July 27, 2023
1954 marks the end of a period when MCC touring parties were selected and announced in at least two tranches. This staggered process may have had its origins in the quirks of amateur ability. It may also have been a concession to Pelham Warner, who liked to take account of the Gentlemen v Players game as a tour trial, and also preferred to take his time over the final choices because, as he put it in a letter to Len Hutton during the Coronation Ashes, ‘someone may suddenly arise’.
But Warner had sat on his last selection committee. He was the chairman of selectors for Hutton’s tour to the West Indies the previous winter, but he had not been on the home panel for several years. MCC Committee minutes suggest that one of the selectors reinstalled onto the home panel in 1954, Walter Robins, was behind the initiative to select the entire party at one meeting. The announcement was made as early as 27 July, during a round of county matches.
There are so many stories to tell about the selection of Hutton’s party to Australia, some of which are touched upon in Part III of Who Only Cricket Know: the attempted coup against Hutton himself as captain, the replacement of Bailey by May as vice-captain for disciplinary reasons relating to the Caribbean tour, the blackballing of Trueman for similar reasons, the inclusion of Vic Wilson as an extra seventeenth man to cover for Compton, who travelled out to Australia late (nearly crash-landing in transit at Karachi) after extra treatment on his troublesome knee. But perhaps the most colourful anecdotes take place in or near two car parks.
After the crucial selection meeting on 25 July, chairman of selectors Harry Altham travelled back from London by train. His son-in-law Podge Brodhurst was waiting in the car park of Winchester Station to give him a lift home. Podge used to tell the story that, when they stopped at the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill outside the station, Harry held out a piece of paper with seventeen names on it. ‘I thought you might like to see this,’ he said. ‘Particularly the two names at the bottom’. A remark about these two ‘flyers’ having been selected on the grounds of class not recent form caused Brodhurst to suspect the hand of Gubby Allen.
On the day the touring party was due to be announced, Colin Cowdrey had been playing for Kent against local rivals Surrey at Blackheath, a game he remembered being ‘fought out with all the chivalry and mercy of, say, Culloden’. He remembered having to pass through the opposition dressing room to get to and from the car park, where he was packing his kit in order to drive off for the next day’s championship game at Northampton. He heard over a stranger’s car radio the headline news that Lock and Laker had not been selected and remembered that the atmosphere when he walked back through the Surrey players ‘could have been cut into cubes and sold as solid fuel’.
Cowdrey then returned to his car where he says he listened out for the full announcement ‘out of sheer academic interest’. It turned out Lock had been overlooked in favour of Wardle; Laker in favour of the Glamorgan off-spinner Jim McConnon. As a 21 year-old without a championship hundred to his name or experience abroad, Cowdrey did not expect to be picked. But he was one of the two names at the bottom of Altham’s list. As the Surrey players began to come out into the car park, ‘I was out of the ground and off to Northampton before anyone could challenge me’.
Lock had cause to ‘well remember’ that evening on what was usually a lucky ground but had now become ‘the blasted heath’. He was so upset that he could hardly bear the commiserations of his team-mates. He changed quickly and rushed to his car, driving home in desolation: ‘I had so hoped to go that the news knocked all the stuffing out of me’. He and Laker responded by taking more than a hundred wickets between them in the last ten championship matches, helping Surrey to another title.
When Surrey were playing Kent, Northamptonshire had been playing Middlesex. Over post-match drinks, Keith Andrew and Frank Tyson listened to the announcement on ‘a battered Vidor portable radio’ lying on the plank table of the dressing room. The list was read out in alphabetical order, so Andrew found out he was reserve keeper to Godfrey Evans within five seconds. It took a little longer for Tyson to learn that he was the second ‘flyer’ at the bottom of Altham’s list.
Cowdrey made it to Northampton and felt he made a start in justifying his selection by surviving for an hour against Tyson’s ‘exceptional speed’ before his middle stump was sent flying. He forgets to mention the second innings: Cowdrey c Andrew b Tyson 0.
And, of course, both the ‘flyers’ became two of the main heroes of the tour. There is a famous photograph of Tyson on the platform of Northampton station, with not even a pipe-smoking porter paying him much attention. As Gideon Haigh puts it: ‘He could be a young soldier in mufti. He could be a film-noir gumshoe. But he’s a young cricketer waiting for his train to London, without agent, ghost-writer, life coach or spiritual guru in sight’. Nor indeed the impending Typhoon.
On a personal note, Blackheath became a ‘blasted heath’ for me this season as I broke my thumb there. The gracelessness of the bowler who delivered a waist-high full toss was in stark contrast to the care and attention I was given at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich and then the A&E and Plastics departments of St Thomas’ Hospital. But at least I was still able to take a photograph of the car park as it is now.