Sri Lanka’s men of letters recall English cricket’s class divide

Frank Keating, in The Guardian, 3 April 2012

Last week’s letter to the editor from Surrey reader David Robinson stirred memories of English cricket’s medieval class divisions when an ornate cluster of forenames and initials determined rank and precedence. How flamboyantly the abundance of initials sported by the current Sri Lanka Test side – from the Jayawardenes (DPMD and HAPW) to the luxuriant UWMBCA (Uda Walawwe Mahim Bandaralage Chanaka Asanka) Welegedara – trump England’s ancient scorecard aristocracy of such as JWHT Douglas and Sir HDG Leveson Gower.

 UWMBCA Welagedera -Pic by Getty Images

Welagedara’s literally hits for six Sri Lanka’s all-time initial charts, beating the notable five of his new-ball predecessor WPUJC Vaas. History’s only England player to equal the four of Essex’s all-rounder and sometime Olympic pugilist John William Henry Tyler Douglas is Lancashire’s VPFA (Vernon Peter Fanshawe Archer) Royle, a one-cap wonder of 1878 who excelled at fielding in the deep and became a country parson.

My generation instinctively twigged which were gentlemen and which were players – amateurs or professionals – although among all the fond and florid bunches of initials what always tickled our fancy, I remember, was how many blunt Yorkshiremen frugally sported just the one, as in W Rhodes, H Sutcliffe, L Hutton, M Leyland, G Boycott, R Illingworth.

Thursday’s start to 2012’s county championship is bound to inspire a host of reflections throughout the summer on the half-century anniversary of 1962’s official ending of cricket’s amateur/professional divide and, with it, the very last of those historically vivid and conspicuous Gentlemen v Players matches which rung down the curtain those 50 Septembers ago at the Scarborough festival.

Two or three times in my 1950s boyhood we had family holidays in Scarborough and I was allowed the odd cherished day on my own without my sisters to make my way with a bag of plums up over the cliff-walk slopes and down to the green, seagull-squawking field, lined on one whole side by that forbidding five-storey Victorian terrace. Contented, carefree times – my West Country hero Graveney always seemed to score a century just for me – although it was many years later, of course, that I learned of the real secrets of Scarborough when the Gents played the Players.

The former were always put up at the Grand with their wives, and had to dress for dinner and know to pass the port correctly. (Mike Brearley on his only visit in 1961 was considered infra dig to turn up with no dinner jacket). Down the road the Players were put up at the more matey Balmoral – always known, naturally as the Immoral. It was long before the fame of Alan Ayckbourn’s theatre, and the Players would always be booked tickets in the stalls at the resort’s Music Hall. The chorus line and the cricketers mixed always merrily and, sometimes, scandalously.

WJ Edrich remains a Scarborough legend. Nothing bothered him, neither Australian fast bowlers nor pompous English grandees. He’d won a DFC as a bomber pilot on daylight raids over Germany through the war and at cricket he alternated, sometimes as an amateur and, some summers, a professional. To the very end, WJ remained a delightful, and delighted, late-night carouser. Just before his death in 1986 at his 70th (and last) birthday lunch in London he confirmed to me the truth of a fabled tale: “If I was booked at the festival for a week then, simply, I scarcely slept for a week.” One 1953 morning in the Grand he half-woke, still in his dinner jacket, curled up at the end of the bed of his one-time England captain Norman Yardley. Bill’s ears were being fondly scratched by a blearily contented Mrs Yardley. She was presuming to comfort their dog, who always slept at the end of the bed at home in York.

With a sudden spontaneity of alarm, Mr and Mrs Yardley were both wide awake and upright in horror. Edrich, who was booked into the room next door, was severely told there’d be hell to pay. Though the man who’d helped win the Ashes that summer went batting that very morning and tonked up a cheerful 133 crowd-pleaser to win the match for Mr Yardley’s Gentlemen, it was the beginning of the end for his career as Test player, alas.

Our last family holiday at Scarborough was in 1957 and it was a thrill to see Trueman and Tyson bowling in tandem. Fiery Fred and the Typhoon. Not that I remotely knew of the tensions between the two on the field – but I did many years later from John Arlott’s classic memoir of Fred who, of course, had lost his England place to allow the tearaway Tyson to win the Ashes in Australia in 1955. Here, two years on, was rivalry rejoined – and that morning by all accounts the seaside air turned blue when good, bluff Godfrey Evans, captaining the Players, told Fred to open the bowling from the Pavilion end so the spring-heeled Tyson, would have the zephyrs behind him on that windy morning.

“If you think I’m going to bowl into a wind like this bugger blowing this morning, and after all the season’s work I’ve done, then you can bloody think again, because I’m not!”

“C’mon, Freddie, we all think Frank should bowl with the wind behind him because he’s faster.”

“He’s only bloody faster than me if he’s bowling with a soddin’ gale behind him!”

Fifty-five years on, consult the archive: Tyson FH, with the wind, 13-4-22-2; Trueman FS, into it, 14-1-44-0. By gum, a travesty.

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