My father never played cricket! Coming from solid Irish stock, he had barely heard of the game; my brother and I taught ourselves to play by dint of endless games of cricket in the back garden. That is why he was non-plussed by my stated desire to play professionally. “Yes, but what are you going to do when you get a proper job?” he remonstrated. So we compromised. He would not stand in my way provided I went to university and got a degree. In those days, the two – a university education and a summer of playing cricket – were not mutually exclusive so I set about the task of choosing a suitable seat of learning. I lighted upon Southampton University for the sole reason that they were the current British university cricket champions.
My stated aim of pursuing a combined honours degree in cricket and English was rejected by the admissions office…but I did it anyway. The English department were good to me; they made allowances, they gave me help and expert tuition, they marked my essays generously and I escaped with a 2-2. There, I also met my future wife, Linda, though the English department cannot take credit for that. She was a social scientist. The cricket went well too. We won the national competition a further two times, making it a hat-trick of triumphs, unprecedented for a provincial university. The captain was a chap called Martin Harrison, whose father, Leo, was the county coach at Hampshire. Martin suggested that I come down to the club to attend a few nets. And the rest is history. A lifelong association with Hampshire CCC was born. Recently, I was elected as a Life Vice-President of the club, an honour which I appreciate and intend to make them pay for by living long.
For ten years, I played cricket for Hampshire (four of them during the varsity vacations and six as a full-time pro) – and I got paid for it. In truth, my career was not as successful as I would have wished but I had my moments. Playing at Lord’s, winning the championship in 1973 and The John Player League in 1975, facing Jeff Thomson against Australia in 1975 and Michael Holding against the West Indies in 1976 were among the highlights. Lowlights included a king pair against the West Indies in 1973, facing Andy Roberts in the nets and being run over by an errant sightscreen at Guildford shortly after scoring my career best 165 against Surrey. I never managed to nail down a regular spot in the county side for the simple reason that I was not quite good enough. I was often asked why I did not try my luck at another, less strong county. What, and pass up the privilege of playing in the same team as some of the world’s greats, Barry Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts? It was, as the current cliché goes, a no-brainer.
At length, it was time to get a ‘proper job’. Contacts at the club sent me up to Malvern College. They were looking for a master to run the cricket and teach English, in that order, I subsequently recognised. I may not have been the most inspiring or knowledgeable tutor of our rich literary heritage but I was, I believe, competent enough and the job put me in touch again with my love of the English language and the endlessly fascinating way it can be applied and manipulated. The cricket, of course, I loved and it was joy to work with Roger Tolchard (ex Leics and England) as my coach at one of England’s premier cricket schools.
I was at Malvern for 30 years, eighteen of those as a housemaster, and as a colleague remarked, “You get less for murder these days.” When it came for the time to move on, it was not golf, but writing, that beckoned. Everyone has a métier manqué, I reckon, and mine was with the pen. Write about what you know, was always my advice to pupils stuck for ideas for their essays, so my subject was always going to be cricket. Or more specifically, my subjects were always going to be cricketers.
I have had three books published:
A Remarkable Man, on George Chesterton (short-listed for the MCC Cricket Society Book of the Year)
Touched by Greatness, on Tom Graveney (long-listed for the MCC Cricket Society Book of the Year)
Sundial in the Shade, on Barry Richards (long-listed for the MCC Cricket Society Book of the Year
I have another book coming out next year: Judge Things For Himself, the story of John Holder, Test match umpire.