Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Basil Easterbrook, forgotten legend

Some blog posts have no real point or timely purpose. They just contain random thoughts that might amuse. This is one of those.

I went googling this afternoon, as hacks with stories to research do these days. I presume in the old era of Fleet Street such a search would mean a trip to the British Library, perhaps with a few snorters in Ye Old Stabbe on the way back. Indeed, as recently as 2001, when I was working briefly on the then largely internet-free Daily Telegraph, I remember asking the chief sub how I could check a fact and being given the phone number for the library. I presume even the Telegraph has moved on now.

Anyway, I was hunting information about batsmen who have made 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May, since Somerset's Nick Compton has passed 900 and may yet get to four figures before the month is out. If he does - and surely by me drafting a feature on those who went before him, it has ensured that he will fall short - he would be the first man to do it since Graeme Hick in 1988 and only the third since 1938. It is a bit of a cricket nerd's wet dream.

Compton and his runs have no further role in this post, but while hunting precedent I came across a couple of pieces written in the 1970s for Wisden Cricketers' Almanack by one Basil Easterbrook. It was a name that rang some distant vague bell and having liked what I read, I went hunting for more information.

It turns out he was one of those hard-working regional pressmen who are sadly a dying breed these days. Rarely bylined in the nationals, he was nonetheless a familiar and respected member of football and cricket press boxes around the country and always to be seen when England were playing at Wembley or Lord's.

He was also the source of some excellent anecdotes and since my main purpose in life is to gather such humorous stories, I may as well paste a few of them below.

From his obituary in The Independent

"Like most of his generation, he was unenthusiastic about the advance of commercialism but he was once put in charge of the Press Box hospitality at Worcester by a new and happily naive sponsor. The hacks were duly impressed on the first lunchtime when a bottle of Chablis arrived at each seat. Easterbrook beamed.

"The next day more wine arrived accompanied by a fly-past from the Red Arrows. Challenged to top this, on the last day, Easterbrook smiled and pointed out of the window to where, under the shadow of the cathedral, the groundsman's hut had gone up in flames."

And: "Ordered on one occasion to spell out his words more concisely and clearly when dictating a report over the telephone he began, carefully: 'This is Basil V. Easterbrook.'... 'What league is that?' asked the copytaker."

From an article on Keith Miller

"In 1953 when Miller led Australia against Yorkshire at Sheffield, Easterbrook was just about to leave for the match when the manageress told him that Mr Miller and Mr Lindwall were still in their room. The Australian team coach had gone and Easterbrook knew it would not be easy to find taxis in Grindleford, a small, picturesque village.

"Australia were in the field, Miller would have to lead the team out and Bramall Lane would be packed. Then Easterbrook recalled that the local funeral parlour had a limousine. He hired it, they got to Bramall Lane with the gates closed on 30,000 and minutes to go before the start. Miller, furiously changing in the limousine said: 'Pay the cab, Bas, and collect it from Davies [the Australian manager].' But Davies refused to pay the £2.

"In 1972, Easterbrook was at the Old Trafford Test against Australia when Miller came by and thrust £5 in his pocket: 'That was for Grindleford, Bas.' When Easterbrook protested it was too much, Miller said: 'Well, Bas, there's been inflation and it's a long time.'"

And then this, written by Easterbrook in the 1971 Wisden: 

"There are many of cricket's best untold stories in the making of a duck. I remember one occasion when Yorkshire were playing Oxbridge. A wicket had fallen. Slowly gracefully from the pavilion emerged a slim willowy figure most beautifully attired - the next man in. His flannels could only have been cut in Savile Row; his boots were new, his pads spotless. On his head, set at a carefully cultivated, devil-may-care angle was a multi-coloured cap. Clipped round his neck to protect his throat from the rude winds of early May which do not spare even university towns, was a silk scarf.

"On his way to the crease he played imaginary bowlers. With wristy cuts and flicks, perfectly timed drives, and daring late glances and hooks he despatched the imaginary ball to all parts of the ground. "The Yorkshire players watched his approach in silence. He eventually arrived at the wicket and looked around, imperiously, like a king come to his rightful throne. He took guard, and then spent a full minute making his block hole, shaping and patting it until it was ready to his satisfaction. Another look around the entire field - and he was ready to receive his first ball.

"Freddie Trueman bowled it and knocked two of the three stumps clean out of the ground. As our young exquisite turned languidly and began to walk away, Freddie called to him sympathetically, 'Bad luck sir, you were just getting settled in.'"


Friday, May 11, 2012

Rain/frost/incompetence stopped play

It's a fairly pleasant, sunny afternoon at Chelmsford and a cricket match has suddenly broken out between Essex and Kent. This came as a surprise for me, having seen little more than drizzle for the past two days. Indeed, my entire season has been pretty much washed out.

As I wrote in this morning's Times, 2012 is shaping up to be one of the wettest cricket seasons on record, up there with 1879 (described as too wet even for coaching), 1888 ("June was detestable, July indescribable", according to Wisden), 1903 (almost half a metre of rain fell in the season), 1912 (June and July had twice the annual average rainfall, August was worse) and 1954 (lost revenue cost the counties £1.6 million in today's money).

On the first day of the match I am covering this week, there were fewer than ten overs possible between showers. Yesterday, there were only ten balls. That is still ten balls more than I had in the entire match between Surrey and Durham two weeks ago, which was abandoned without any play, while Monday's one-day game at Lord's looks arid by comparison as only two hours were lost.

For a sportswriter, I'm not seeing an awful lot of sport this year. Even when the weather is hot, the players are not. In January, I was in the UAE to cover England's Test series against Pakistan, in which thanks to our boys' inability to play spin, four days of the series were not needed.

In February, I was sent to Paris to cover the Six Nations rugby match between France and Ireland. The temperature plummeted to -10C and it was called off ten minutes before the scheduled start because of a frozen pitch.

And then there was the Boat Race, which was completed despite the best efforts of fate, which threw a swimming protester and a broken Oxford oar into the mix.

I'm starting to wonder whether I might be a bit of a sporting Jonah, chaos following wherever I go. At this rate, expect an asteroid to strike Wimbledon, the Open golf to be washed out by a tsunami up the Irish Sea and the Olympics to be terribly inconvenienced by a plague of locusts.