Ashes: A century to celebrate after Perth gloom

See Patrick Eagar’s Perth portrait here

There was one Englishman who had something to celebrate in Perth. His name is Patrick Eagar and any reader of The Wisden Cricketer or cricket bookworm down the years will be familiar with his work.

Patrick is the best cricket photographer around. That would not only be my judgement but those of his colleagues among the ‘snappers’ and also of the many players he has photographed over almost 40 years in the game.

England’s drubbing at Perth in the third Ashes Test was Patrick’s 100th England v Australia Test. I only found this out during the match as he ever so modestly dropped it into a conversation. Patrick’s pictures from the series form a key part of our online Ashes coverage and, of course, in the magazine too.

It all started at Old Trafford in 1972. Freelance photographers like Patrick had previously been unable to work at England’s home Tests because the two big picture agencies at the time managed, with the collusion of the TCCB, to carve up the gig between them. Imagine buying a newspaper and finding that there were actually only two writers servicing the entire spectrum of Fleet Street titles. That’s what it was like.

Three things challenged this hegemony: The Cricketer magazine, for whom Patrick worked, wanted colour pictures and the agencies only shot black and white; Australian newspapers wanted photographers who understood the vagaries of the time difference and how it affected their deadlines; and Fleet Street papers wanted exclusives that might differentiate them from a competitor.

So Patrick began a 19-year association with the Sunday Times that started with England’s victory in the first Test of the 1972 Ashes. His memory is crystal clear. He talked of being at third man, behind the slip cordon, as John Snow dropped Keith Stackpole twice in the slips. A quick check of the yellow book reveals this to be 100% true. In fact, Stackpole was dropped three times in an over by Snow and Tony Greig off Geoff Arnold.

Arnold, the hangdog seam bowler, Patrick says, was a “a nightmare” to photograph because he was always looking at the ground.

More favourite subjects include Jeff Thomson, Dennis Lillee, Ian Botham (“you couldn’t take your eyes off him”) and Shane Warne (“things always happened when he was around”).

Asked about favourite Ashes pictures, Patrick cites one of Doug Walters, from 1975, where he taken a catch in the deep just in front of Patrick so the Australian team go to congratulate him they are all walking towards the camera. The fusarium scandal from 1972 and Dennis Lillee’s bowling action also merit a mention.

But Patrick’s craft is about more than snapping the action, it is about developing personal relationships, friendships too. Rest days mid-Test were “crucial”, says Patrick, in bonding with players, earning their trust to be able to take off-guard pictures that exposed their character and personality rather than just their cricket skills.

“There were some amazing days out,” he says. I am reminded of one such picture of Botham and Lillee, sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, taken on the rest day of the Adelaide Test of 1982-83 during a traditional party thrown by the famous local wine producer Michael Hill-Smith. One can tell from Patrick’s chuckle that everyone would have been well refreshed.

Helmets (you can no longer see batsmen’s faces), lack of rest days, increased professionalism and commercialism have made Patrick’s job different and more challenging but it hasn’t impinged on the quality of his work. We are lucky to be able enjoy it.

John Stern is editor The Wisden Cricketer. Follow him on Twitter @WisdenCric_John

Read more on the Ashes:

Sam Collins’ session-by-session at the Waca
What the Aussie press said on day four: columns of conviction
Benj Moorehead feels the joy in England’s pain
John Stern at Perth takes a walk round the ground and triggers wickets
The second day from Perth session-by-session
Why it’s good for English players and Anderson to go home
The real Australian selection policy: Alex Bowden
Aussie press round up, day one: columns of conviction
The A-to-Z of the Australian cricket in 2010 by Alan Tyers

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