Trevor Bailey's best Essex XI: John Stern

I was trying to remember yesterday why it was that I had once had a hand-written letter from Trevor Bailey. And then this morning it came back to me. He was the writer that I commissioned seven years ago to select an all-time Essex XI for Wisden Cricket Monthly, as part of a series that covered all 18 counties over the winter of 2002-03.

We re-publish Trevor’s piece below. He was a bit naughty because he picked Jim Laker, who played only 30 matches for Essex, and an all-Australian middle order which was slightly against the spirit of the exercise. But that, it seems, is in keeping with his pragmatic, canny personality.

I’m not old enough to remember him as a player but I suspect that the image of him as the archetypal old-school blocker undersells his abilities and contribution to England and Essex.

I have the April 2003 WCM open in front of me and the stats that accompany his by-line are impressive in any era: 482 matches for Essex; 21,460 runs at 34.50; and 1,593 wickets at 21.99.

I do remember him as a TMS summariser though. He was serious and succinct but generally fair-minded from what I recall though one comment sticks in my mind. There was a batsman called Ian Hutchison, who once fielded for England while on MCC groundstaff and played a bit for Middlesex in 1980s. He had worked at my school so I was vaguely interested in his career, such as it was. It was mentioned that he had scored a double hundred on the Nursery Ground at Lord’s playing for Cross Arrows, the MCC staff side. Bailey’s tart rejoinder: “I wonder what the bowling was like.” It’s obviously stayed with me all this time!

What has also stayed with me is Bailey’s nihilistic approach to vowel sounds. He would compliment a decent batsman’s technique by calling it: “Crect.”

Beyond the seamy side of Essex

TREVOR BAILEY goes for sheer pace and an Australian engine room to counter the use of outgrounds in his all time Essex XI (from Wisden Cricket Monthly, April 2003)

“FOR MUCH of the 20th century the Essex home fixtures were staged on eight festival grounds spread throughout a vast, sprawling county. Although I loved this nomadic existence, it was a serious handicap for an out-of-form batsman, as once the season had commenced there were no practice facilities available, except when we were playing away.

In addition our public park pitches needed to be well grassed if they were to last for three days. As a result seamers often received some encouragement in the early stages but the majority of the matches provided a good finish on the final day, which surely should be the main objective for any wicket.

This lack of a permanent home is one reason why Essex have produced only one world-class batsman, Graham Gooch. But he joined the club after Chelmsford had become the headquarters and possessed good nets, an indoor school and a small, batsman-friendly ground. Our pitches were probably why the county has produced so many seam-bowling allrounders of Test calibre: Johnny Douglas, Morris Nichols, myself, Barry Knight, Keith Boyce, Derek Pringle and Ronnie Irani. We all encountered helpful pitches to bowl on but perhaps more important were the runs we had to provide in the middle order to win or rescue matches.

My strongest XI is not a true Essex team as it contains five players who will be remembered most for what they achieved for other sides but I would fancy its chances against any county, anywhere, especially at Westcliff, Romford, Clacton, Southend or Ilford.

Gooch and Jack Russell are an ideal opening pair. Gooch was the more destructive and impressive batsman but Jack had considerably less support and was more defensive. Russell was unlucky not to have played more than his 10 Tests because he averaged 56.87, an indication of his class. The next three places in the batting order are filled by a scintillating Australian trio: Mark Waugh, Stuart Law and Allan Border. I have never seen a batsman with as much power and panache as Waugh. His stance alone was worth the price of admission. Compared with the other two, Law’s international record is mundane but it is difficult not to include someone who made scoring runs for Essex look so simple. In 1999 he scored 1,833 Championship runs at 73.32 with eight centuries. He scored 350 more runs than anyone else in the Championship while his closest Essex rival was 1,000 adrift. Border was a world-class left-hander who relished difficult conditions and hostile bowling. He was also great value in the dressing room and is my choice as skipper.

I was inclined to include Keith Fletcher as my sixth batsman but settled on three allrounders who all scored Test centuries. JWHT Douglas, who did more to establish Essex as a first-class county than anybody and captained them for 18 years, is the ideal No.6. If he had retired after the Great War, he would probably have gone down as England’s most successful captain, having led them to victory in both Australia and South Africa. It was generally believed that for at least three years Paul Gibb kept better for Essex than when he was with Yorkshire. Next is Nichols, who was a top-order left-hand batsman and also a fine fast bowler, who like his predecessor Douglas could swing and move the ball off the seam and never seemed to tire.

Essex have produced some fine slow bowlers, like Peter Smith, but we have never had one of the very highest class. This is why I have included Jim Laker, who was for more than a decade the best offspinner in the world, as the most accomplished slow bowler ever to play for my county. Although always associated with Surrey, Laker came out of retirement to play for Essex in his 40s.

The value of having the fastest bowler in the land, as Frank Tyson once demonstrated for England in Australia and Brett Lee did for Australia this winter, is enormous. I have given my Essex side two: Charles Kortright and Ken Farnes. Although never picked for England, Kortright was easily the quickest in the world in his era and turned in several devastating performances for both Essex and the Gentlemen. He told me that he never bowled bouncers and simply concentrated on attacking the off stump. Farnes was 6ft 5in with a lovely high action which enabled him to make the ball lift off a length. In the second half of the 1930s he was the fastest – and most feared – bowler in England.”

1 Graham Gooch (1973-97) 391m, 30701r @ 51.77, 94x100s, 200w @ 32.70, 3x5w

2 AC ‘Jack’ Russell (1908-30) 379m, 23610r @ 40.91, 62x100s, 276w @ 27.10

3 Mark Waugh (1988-2002) 82m, 6690r @ 59.73, 22x100s, 65w @ 42.08

4 Stuart Law (1996-2001) 92m, 8538r @ 58.88, 30x100s, 22 @ 57.27

5 Allan Border (capt, 1986-88) 40m, 2778r @ 53.42, 10x100s, 2w @ 116.5

6 Johnny Douglas (1901-28) 459m, 17915r @ 28.07, 18x100s, 1443w @ 23.32, 93x5w

7 Paul Gibb (wk, 1951-56) 145m, 6328r @ 26.58, 8x100s, 273 ct 63 st

8 Morris Nichols (1924-39) 418m, 15736r @ 26.31, 20x100s, 1608w @ 21.26, 108x5w

9 Jim Laker (1962-64) 30m, 248r @ 11.80, 111w @ 21.32 7x5w

10 Charles Kortright (1894-1907) 160m, 4182r @ 17.64, 2x100s, 440w @ 20.53, 35x5w

11 Ken Farnes (1930-39) 79m, 590r @ 9.36, 367w @ 19.30 28x5w

First-class matches played for Essex only

John Stern is the editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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