Conserving the understated memories of six
county players of the 1950s provides a
crucial testament to the sweep of change
THE remembrance and preservation of things past is intrinsic in cricket. Well before other sports in this country the game appreciated the need to save and display its relics, ephemera and collectable memorabilia. But animate objects – a ball that bowled Bradman, the bat which belonged to Grace, a blazer Hobbs once wore – can only ever satisfy the eye. There has to be an oral archive too; a voice that jumps off the page or is recorded specifically to be heard again after it slips away.
In the past decade and a half cricket has relied heavily on Stephen Chalke and his old-school tools of pen, notebook and cassette tape to gather anecdotal evidence that would otherwise have been lost. What he gently unearths, especially from the journeymen pros who were witnesses to history rather than makers of it, always registers the sweep of change.
It is evident again in A Long Half Hour, which comprises extended conversations with six county players who Chalke says have particularly “caught my imagination”: Ken Biddulph, Arthur Milton, Geoff Edrich, Bomber Wells, Dickie Dodds and Eric Hill, each now dead.
Nothing particularly revelatory emerges. The strength of these mini, observational biographies lies in the way good clean prose and a playwright’s ear for the nuances of dialogue frame the subject so precisely in the mind of the reader.
There is Milton remembering a bowler who “had one or two glasses too many” during lunch and ran directly into the stumps as he attempted to bowl his first ball after it; Edrich, so mortified after Wally Hammond rebukes him for failing to walk that he gives his wicket away out of abject shame; the son of a clergyman, Dodds, always batting for God as well as Essex, who heard the Almighty tell him: “Hit hard and enjoy it”; and the loquacious vaudevillian Wells, capturing ’50s freedom fromrigid coaching: “You could bat and bowl as you liked.” Wells adds a postscript that in essence encapsulates the book’s motto: “It’s another world now,” he says.
So it is. But, thanks to Chalke’s diligence and enthusiasm, Wells and the others remain alive in A Long Half Hour to tell us about it.