Trevor Bailey 1923-2011
by Robin Marlar
The Essex stalwart was one of England’s great allrounders, with a pivotal role in the mid-1950s. He died in a house fire in Southend, where he lived all his life.
One of Trevor Bailey’s many virtues was an acute sense of reality, the ability to see things as they are. It is the key requirement of sportsmen with the personal power to direct affairs and thus change the course of a match. They are the envied, the ones with ‘brain’.
The Leeds Test match of 1953 against Australia was going down the pan. Recall the context. Pressed into touring action prematurely after the Second World War, England went down in Australia in 1946-47, were annihilated by Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948 and managed what Jim Swanton memorably called one “elusive victory” in the 4-1 defeat of 1950-51 (Bailey’s first tour of Australia). At last they were given a pundit’s chance of recovering the Ashes in 1953, coronation year. Nationally it was a desperate need, long overdue.
Dear Len Hutton, unwisely, still thought England could win in the fourth innings and deployed slow bowlers who were, as so often then, getting through their overs quickly and conceding too many runs. That afternoon at Headingley Sussex were batting at Hastings. “Give it to Trevor!” we shouted at the radio commentary in the dressing room. In fact Bailey all but snatched the ball from Hutton, slowed the over-rate as only he could and, with a display of tactical genius – or sharp practice, depending on your point of view – proceeded to ‘win’ the draw in a long spell of superbly well-directed fast-medium bowling down the leg side. England went on to win the final Test at The Oval and, for the first time in 20 years, the Ashes.
Uproar followed the Headingley Test. The Australians, already not admirers, hated him ever after. So did traditionalists, the massive ‘not cricket’ brigade. That spell cost him the England captaincy. He would have been good. More than once I advocated his appointment.
Many of us, realising how much the result meant to him, especially in view of his epic defence with Willie Watson on the last day of the Lord’s Test (they shared 163 runs in four hours), immediately established a core of respect and affection which has lasted, through thick and thin, in my care for 57 years. The manner of his passing in a house fire will haunt me forever.
A child prodigy, Bailey excelled at Dulwich College before serving with the Royal Marines. After the war he went to Cambridge to read history. He appeared superstitious to say the least. “He is so vain he’ll have a comb in his pocket,” vowed Austin Matthews, one of our bowling coaches at Cambridge. In 1954 we played in what was effectively a Test trial against the first touring Pakistan team, during which this amazing slip catcher put down a couple in the covers off my bowling. It cost me a five-for and perhaps further selection. No matter: Bailey was unquestionably a cricketing giant by then.
Lately he has been described as a bowling allrounder. We used to debate that. In fact his game was founded on the most perfect forward defensive stroke, played straight and with total confidence for ball after ball. Indeed, forever!
His has been described as a high bowling action, ideal for the outswinger. Not quite: compare it with that of Fred Trueman. Bailey, because he was relatively short, perfected a bowling leap which involved a huge scrape on the turf ahead of take-off, to the despair of groundsmen the world over. This he combined with a time-perfected wrist which enabled him, a natural inswinger, “to push my outer”. He was therefore a craftsman.
In 1954 his supreme 7 for 34 in Jamaica, on a pitch which had exceptionally greened, allowed Hutton – who scored an amazing double-century in the heat – to emerge with the series drawn. Thus Hutton kept the captaincy for a successful Ashes defence the following winter. They were heady days and Bailey was at the heart of them.
For an epoch he and Doug Insole were Essex cricket: on the field, in the secretary’s office and in the committee room. Bailey made the season double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets on eight occasions and is the last man to score 2,000 runs and take 100 wickets in a summer. He is one of five with more than 25,000 runs and 2,000 wickets.
Later Bailey was a Test Match Special summariser for 25 years. His success on air was prompted by his concentration on the cricket, his analysis always both revealing and pertinent. Comparisons he avoided, not surprising when the time of two runs an over had been succeeded by three, four or even – if recent Australians have been involved – five an over and when over-rates were sliding from 20 to as low as 12 an hour when Clive Lloyd’s West Indians were in their pomp.
Nonetheless it is possible to evaluate the careers of cricketers. In the last 70 years Bailey, Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff are the three England allrounders with a genuine claim to greatness. All, you will notice, made match-winning contributions, most emphatically against the Australians, always the enemy of choice. Bailey, the cricketer who from his Southend home took the train to Fenchurch Street and then the tube to The Oval for his first Ashes victory, undoubtedly had the broadest bat of them all.
Trevor Edward Bailey was born on December 3, 1923 and died on February 10, 2011, aged 87.
Robin Marlar was captain of Sussex from 1955-59 and is a former cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times
To read Doug Insole‘s piece on Trevor Bailey, click here