Sunday, 20 July 2014

Book Review: Touched by Greatness - the story of Tom Graveney, England's much-loved cricketer by Andrew Murtagh

Those of a certain age will recall Andrew Murtagh as a bustling, whole-hearted seam bowler for Hampshire in their successful period of the 1970s. With this book on the legendary England batsman, Tom Graveney, he proves himself an even better writer.

My earliest televised memory of cricket was a Test match in which England were playing the West Indies in 1966. It was the final match of the series in which we has been soundly beaten by a Sobers-inspired team of fine players. Yet for that last Test, Brian Close was recalled as captain and England recovered from a parlous 166-7 to make 527, largely thanks to Graveney, who made a quite magnificent 165, sharing a huge partnership with John Murray, who made 112. We then went on to win the game, which didn't happen that often against the West Indies side of that era.

I still recall the easy, languid style of Graveney as I watched on my uncle Geoff's old black and white television. That high back lift and high grip on the bat, as well as a technique that looked comfortable and organised. He always seemed to have so much time, a sure sign of a good player and his record confirms that he was much more than that.

48,000 first-class runs and nearly 5,000 in Test matches, both at a mid-forties average. Yes, he could play, but it was not so much the runs that he made as the way that he made them - it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it, as the old song goes. Tom Graveney had style, grace, elan and the ability to make a dull day's cricket that much better, simply by taking guard.

The surprise is that he didn't play more for England, but as we in Derbyshire know all too well, the selection of England sides for  many years after the Second World War was riddled with bias and snobbery. A man prepared to stand his ground, Graveney upset officialdom at times and their response was to omit him from teams, in favour of others who weren't in the same league.

It was England's loss, but very much his county's gain, as Graveney gave first Gloucestershire and then Worcestershire sterling service. While some international players coasted through their county commitments, Graveney was often the difference between his county winning and losing games, his form for Worcestershire a major reason for their championship successes of the 1960s.

He later became a respected commentator, very much in the Jim Laker vein of letting the pictures do much of the work and chipping in when it was worthwhile.  Then, and somewhat ironically in the light of much of what had gone on before, he was elected president of the MCC, where his genial nature and willingness to talk to everyone, irrespective of their background, won him many more friends.

A book on a player of such importance is long overdue and it is to the credit of both author and publisher that it has seen the light of day. Tom Graveney is 87 and not in the best of health but the easy conversational style of the author and the excellent collection of photographs transports the reader back to a time when the player was in his pomp and the game seemed far more innocent than it does today.

A worthy addition to any cricket library and perhaps my favourite book of this summer.

Touched by Greatness - the story of Tom Graveney, England's much-loved cricketer is written by Andrew Murtagh and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from all good book shops and is currently on Amazon priced £18.99

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