TOM GRAVENEY gave a wry chuckle at the suggestion that our interview should concern, in the main, his matches against Derbyshire.
“Ah, Derbyshire,” he said. “Well, I’ve got plenty of good memories, certainly from when I played at Queen’s Park. But it was never easy when I batted against their bowlers.”
So let’s set the scene. Thomas William Graveney, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and England. Born Riding Mill, Northumberland, 16 June 1927 but brought up in Bristol. Tall, rosy-cheeked elegant right-hand batsman who made 47,793 first-class runs in his flowing style, average 44.91 with 122 hundreds.
In 79 Tests he scored 4,882 runs, averaging 44.48, with 11 hundreds, the highest of which, 258, was made at Trent Bridge in 1957 against the West Indies. Served in Suez with the Gloucestershire Regiment in 1946, achieving the rank of Captain. Became the first former professional cricketer to be elected President of MCC in 2004. Died 3 November 2015, aged 88.
Those are the bare facts. What they cannot convey is the majesty of Graveney’s batting, a predominantly front-foot player whose aesthetic qualities belonged in the picturesque setting of grounds like Cheltenham, New Road at Worcester or Chesterfield’s Queen’s Park.
He was also a delightful man with phenomenal recollections of matches from long ago, the kind of strokes he played in a certain innings and a memory for statistics that was usually spot on.
“Derbyshire always had good bowlers. When I started they had George Pope and Bill Copson along with Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin and Bert Rhodes, Harold’s dad. Then along came Derek Morgan, Edwin Smith, Harold Rhodes and Brian Jackson. They were always difficult, particularly on some of the green pitches in the county. The problem was that they could get you out at any time. You’d feel set, get to 30 or 40, and then something would happen. If they didn’t get you they could nearly always keep you quiet. Les was an exceptional bowler. I faced the world’s fastest in my time: Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Roy Gilchrist and the South Africans Neil Adcock and Peter Heine. England had Frank Tyson, Fred Trueman and Brian Statham and although Les wasn’t as quick as these, he had a nasty break-back that came at you. Whenever I saw him I used to rub the inside of my thigh in anticipation! They also had good captains, Guy Willatt and Donald Carr and later on Charlie Lee and Morgan. I first came across Donald at an Officers’ Cadet Training Unit in Wrotham, Kent but I really got to know him very well when we toured India, Pakistan and Ceylon in 1951-52. He was vice-captain and skippered the team in the final Test against India at Madras.”
Graveney made Derbyshire’s acquaintance early in his career, at Bristol in July 1948.
He had been doing just about enough to retain his place, partly because Jack Crapp and George Emmett were sometimes with the England team against Australia. Derbyshire made 207, Gloucestershire being all out on the second morning for 202, Graveney caught Pope bowled Gladwin 0. Derbyshire were then bowled out for 210 and with 15 minutes left the Gloucestershire captain BO Allen sent Graveney in first with the fast bowler George Lambert to preserve his best batsmen.
“I wasn’t expecting to go in and I was out first ball, caught Dawkes bowled Jackson 0. It was the only time I bagged a pair – and on the same day, too. Derbyshire won, I was dropped and only got back in again when Emmett was summoned to Headingley for the Test only be made twelfth man.”
There was a measure of revenge when his brother Ken took all ten wickets in the second innings at Queen’s Park in 1949 and Tom made 95 at Bristol a year later and 89 at Gloucester in 1951. But these were as nothing when compared to his performance at Queen’s Park on Wednesday and Thursday 4-5 August 1954.
By now Graveney was in the England team and would tour Australia under Len Hutton’s captaincy the following winter.
During that wet summer, Derbyshire pressed hard for the Championship and Gladwin soon had Gloucestershire’s openers back in the pavilion. When Jackson bowled Arthur Milton three wickets were down for 32. Graveney – who came to the crease at 2-1 – and Emmett added 82 before Emmett was bowled by Jackson for 50. With the score 114-4, the veteran Crapp joined Graveney and a tense struggle developed between the past and present England batsmen and the home attack: Jackson, Gladwin, Morgan, Bert Rhodes and Smith. “I had to be careful at the start because we were in a bit of a fix but gradually Jack and I got on top of the bowling. After tea, we were able to open up a bit.”
In the last two hours of the day, Graveney increased his score from 94 to 204, he and Crapp adding 205 in 202 minutes before Crapp was caught at the wicket off Arnold Hamer for 95, with two sixes and 11 fours. By the close, Gloucestershire were 366 for six, a big score in a three-day match and next morning they batted until noon, declaring at 399 for nine. Graveney made 222 (four sixes and 26 fours) before being caught by Rhodes off Gladwin.
A personal memory might not come amiss.
On that Wednesday, I sat in teenage misery, fully appreciative of the majesty of Graveney’s batting but wishing it could have been played in circumstances less damaging to Derbyshire’s Championship hopes. An elderly man nearby noted the dejection. “Never mind, lad,” he said. “The result of this match won’t matter in time (Gloucestershire won) but you’ll never forget Graveney’s innings.” More pertinent are the memories of the then 20-year-old off-spinner Edwin Smith
“It was magnificent. I think I went for about 50 in 19 overs and apart from Les and Cliff we were all under the cosh. I remember he hit me back for a tremendous six straight over the pavilion and into the house behind it. But I got him for a duck in the second innings, although they were chasing runs for a declaration. The ball struck the top of his pad and went on to hit his wicket.”
This was one of six occasions when Edwin – elected Derbyshire’s President for 2018 – took his wicket – three at Chesterfield and once at Derby, Bristol and Worcester, where he held on to a brilliant caught and bowled.
“He was one of the finest batsmen I bowled against and I would bracket him with Peter May and Colin Cowdrey as the best English batsmen in that era. Tom was a mainly front foot player but Peter was strong everywhere, a brilliant batsman who hit with exceptional power. Tom was a lovely bloke. In May 1956 I played for MCC against Yorkshire and Surrey at Lord’s and stayed in London for about ten days. I shared a room with Tom and we got on very well. The funny thing was that a week after his double-century at Queen’s Park, we bowled Gloucestershire out for 43 at Cheltenham and we were 44-0 at lunch. People coming on to the ground late thought we had been batting all morning for 44. But Tom wasn’t playing in that game.”
At Derby in 1959, Graveney, now captain of Gloucestershire, injured his arm when he fell on the stairs and when Milton was also hurt Derbyshire allowed their opponents the use of their twelfth man, the young spinner Gordon Beet. He held four catches three in the second innings when Derbyshire, chasing 229 against the clock, were all out for 174. A delighted Graveney gave Beet £5.
Graveney made another hundred at Queen’s Park in June 1960, when he shared a partnership of 256 for the second wicket with Tom Pugh, an Old Etonian who was to succeed him as captain and, although popular with the players, was not worth his place. This was Pugh’s only hundred in first-class cricket, 137 with one six and 16 fours, but how he remained at the crease was a mystery. It was easy for the crowd to see the frustrated expressions on the faces of the Derbyshire fielders and some of the players recalled it as the only time they saw Les Jackson lose his rag. He could deal with being hit for four by a batsman of Graveney’s class but Pugh was a different matter, as Smith recalls.
“It really was remarkable. There was endless playing and missing, top edges going over the slips and mistimed shots going for four. We missed him when he was on 26 and I think Graveney was as baffled as we were. But give Pugh credit, he stuck it out and made a century.”
Similar views were expressed by Tony Brown, who was in the Gloucestershire team:
“There was Tom Graveney at one end with his eloquent batting, and Tom Pugh at the other, hitting it here, there and everywhere. Pugh was a champion rackets player and batted accordingly. He was used to a high, bouncing ball, so when they pitched short, like that day at Chesterfield, it played to his strength. Instead of three slips, they should have had three third men.”
Pugh was a flamboyant character, suave and good looking with Etonian poise.
He dabbled in acting and was on a short list of six for Dr No, the first Bond film. The part went to Sean Connery and this was the closest Derbyshire came to playing against 007.
Graveney was run out for 135 and this was one of only three hundreds he made against Derbyshire, the other being 100 at Worcester in 1963, and his overall record against the county, some 1,700 runs, average 43, reflects consistency rather than total dominance (Geoff Boycott, for example, averaged 67 for 2,693 runs.)
However, in the mind’s eye, it’s the beauty of that cover drive and the sheer elegance which remains, as opposed to the scoreboard.
Graveney enjoyed his most successful seasons after he left Gloucestershire and when he arrived at Chesterfield with the Worcestershire team in June 1970 there was genuine regret that this was to be the last occasion he visited the county as a player. He made 64 and 46, both not out, which was appropriate because even the most partisan supporter did not really want him to get out. Gerald Mortimer, the Derby Telegraph’s cricket correspondent, captured the moment:
“Graveney added a new dimension to the game. Of all the batsmen produced since the war, none can have given such universal pleasure. Graveney has taken the arts of batting to such a peak of perfection that it is hard to believe that there has even been a player who so typified the beauty of cricket…Bob Taylor could have stumped him for 28 (in the first innings) but it would have been in a way sad to have denied Chesterfield spectators what may be their last glimpse of Graveney.”
Since then other stylists have graced England’s cricket fields – David Gower and Ian Bell, while Joe Root’s all-round game can have today’s spectators purring with pleasure.
Graveney cut across the generations. He would have flourished in cricket’s Golden Age and white-ball’s modern reverse sweeps, scoops and ramp shots would have taken on a touch of elegance should he have felt it necessary to play them.