Saturday, 18 July 2015

Recognition required for the heroes of 1965

Derbyshire don't drop many balls these days, their dealings on and off the field usually being both timely and professional.

That being the case, I hope that they don't allow this summer to end without formal recognition of an outstanding feat from fifty years ago that will, in all likelihood, never be replicated.

In that summer, Derbyshire finished exactly half way in the table, ninth out of, at that time, seventeen first-class counties. Seven games were won, the same number lost, with fourteen being drawn. Nothing spectacular in that, but the feats of our opening bowlers made it a summer to go down in the annals of the county's history.

Harold Rhodes was first in the national bowling averages, with 119 wickets at just eleven runs each, while his opening partner Brian Jackson was second, with 120 wickets at 12.42...

Yes, conditions favoured seam bowling for much of the year, as evidenced by the fact that below them in the averages were the likes of Fred Trueman, Tom Cartwright, Brian Statham, Derek Shackleton and Jack Flavell, seamers to a man. Yet that should not take away from the fact that the Derbyshire pair outbowled the lot of them.

Harold was then in his pomp. His form that year suggested - no, INSISTED - that he should have gone on the winter tour to Australia, but the ceremonial calling of his action by umpire Sid Buller, in the match against the South African touring side at Chesterfield, put paid to that. The many contemporary Derbyshire players I have spoken to are convinced that Buller was set up by the cricket authorities as the fall guy, to ensure that Rhodes bowling was not going to earn him an England tour place, despite repeated calls for his inclusion by the media and by other players.

There was nothing wrong with Harold's action, as was eventually, far too late, proven. He had a physiological abnormality called a hyperflexion of the elbow joint, which saw that joint go past a straight arm as it came through and become straight at the point of delivery. That it was well within the regulations is undeniable. In the defence of the small handful of umpires who called him over the years, it created an optical illusion and they were allowed, as the law stood at the time, to call someone whose action was felt to be different.

Yet he was filmed from so many angles, sometimes with his arm in a splint and it made no difference to his bowling. Besides which, his action was a classical, side-on thing of beauty and anyone with any knowledge of cricket should have known that you cannot throw from that position. He was also remorselessly accurate in the finest Derbyshire tradition, something that the average chucker could never be.

The bottom line is that Harold Rhodes became a victim of the MCC's desire to clean up a raft of quick bowlers in other countries who did throw, They didn't want to be seen to insist on others getting their house in order and do nothing themselves, so they used an outstanding, legitimate bowler as the pawn in their game.

How Harold maintained his dignity through several years of accusations is remarkable, yet the irony was that the accusations over his action only resurfaced, after a gap of several years, in 1965, when he bowled no differently, but with greater success, than he had done in previous, injury-hit seasons. That the umpire who called him had watched him bowl on numerous occasions in that period is both telling and galling, as is the fact that the calling came at the point when the press clamour became almost deafening.

The bottom line is that Harold Rhodes was a great bowler, using that word well within the constraints of its accepted meaning. Brian Jackson was a very good one, a time-served league professional who came late to the county game but took to it like the proverbial duck to water. He wasn't especially quick, but was lively enough to beat the hesitant defensive shot and to trouble those who decided to take him on. In the words of one of his team mates to me, he gave a good few batsmen sore thighs, as he jagged the ball in quickly off a length, as well as taking their wickets with the one that went the other way.

Edwin Smith told me that the speed at which Harold Rhodes went through, when he was fielding at short leg, 'made me whistle, as it did a few batsmen'. Brian wasn't that quick, but was an admirable foil whose six years in the first-class game brought him 457 wickets at just eighteen runs each. Harold took 993 wickets in our colours at the same average, retiring early and not bothered about the other seven wickets that would have got him into a very exclusive club with a membership of just seven men.

We will not see their like again, but it is a pleasure to record that both men are still with us, Brian now 81 and Harold 79. I hope that the club does the right thing and formally acknowledges and recognises their remarkable feats of that distant summer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nudger said:

Can't quite believe its fifty years! I loved nothing better than to watch those two bowling in tandem at Queens Park in 1965. The sight of Harold bowling from the pavilion end with hostile pace still lives in the memory. l hope the county will recognize their outstanding achievement.