I just read a book about the 1966 West Indies tour of England, by John
Clarke and Brian Scovell. Clarke was the Evening Standard's cricket
correspondent and was commissioned to do the book on his own, but he
died rather inconveniently during the series and Scovell was drafted
in to complete it.
A bit of context may be helpful. MJK Smith, who had captained the team
to a 1-0 victory in SA the previous winter, was captain for the First
Test, which West Indies won by an innings. Colin Cowdrey took over for
the next three Tests, most of which he lost, and then Brian Close was
summoned for the dead *** match which England won in the same sort
of tone of renewed optimism as we saw at The Oval this summer. In all
25 players were selected, the only one to play in all five being,
amazingly, Ken Higgs. Tom Graveney was a surprising recall at the age
of 39, having last played for England on the 62-63 Ashes tour, but a
number of new players were also tried: Colin Milburn, Basil
d'Oliveira, Derek Underwood and Dennis Amiss.
Scovell was obviously the only one who could make the end-of-tour
comments, which I shall now quote extensively as an interesting
snapshot of where England were in September 1966, at least in one
reporter's view. I shall also take the liberty of presenting it as a
continuous piece of prose, though I am actually leaving out clauses
and sentences which are repetitious or wander down avenues of little
The backbone of the England batting was 39-year-old Tom Graveney,
whose 459 runs at 76.50 apiece put him way out in front of the England
averages. Graveney is turning out to be a latter-day Hobbs, getting
better as he grows older. He says himself that he has never batted
batter in his career than he has this season. He is by nature an
aggressive batsman and this series must have quashed forever the
belief that his temperament is suspect.
England's second most successful batsman - and he was dropped for his
pains - was Colin Milburn with 316 runs at 52.66. If Milburn continues
to score runs at his present rate next season he will have to come
back to the Test arena, irrespective of whether he has lost weight.
Behind these two as England's top hits came the South-African-born
Basil d'Oliveira, whose powerful shots lit up some of the gloomier
days of the series. His bowling was also of inestimable value to
England and I can see him playing in the England side for years to
Cowdrey's batting was a disappointment. Except for his 96 at Trent
Bridge, he failed to play a commanding innings. Boycott, too, failed
to provide the goods and if another grafting opener matures in the
next year or so Boycott's place must be in danger unless he eliminates
his weakness on and around the off stump.
Amiss is a promising newcomer but needs more experience before he can
be spoken of as a successor to Cowdrey and Barrington. Eric Russell
did not appear to have a straight enough bat to come back as an
opening batsman and we could well see Amiss moving up to this position
in a future series.
England's main weakness was in the fast bowling department. Higgs was
straight and used the ball well but he is not a speed merchant. He
doesn't terrify anyone. Snow was so badly thought of that he was
originally dropped for The Oval Test. Well as he bowled, he has a
long, long way to go before he can be considered a natural successor
to Trueman. Snow is a wholehearted cricketer, but appears to be just a
shade too slow to make the breakthrough by pace alone.
Barry Knight, like Derek Underwood, the left-arm economy bowler,
showed himself to be short of Test class. Good county cricketers, both
of them, but lacking in the highest grade. Underwood may come again,
but he will have to learn to spin the ball first. The off-spin
department was a letdown. Titmus, with five wickets at 38 apiece, was
the most successful of the three tried but he is over the hill now.
Allen played only at Old Trafford, disappointing on a pitch which
should have suited him, and Illingworth owed his part in the victory
celebrations at The Oval more to the recommendation of his county
captain than to his own efforts on the field. Still, he is a spirited
cricketer and this was something that as lacking from some of the
bigger names when the pressure was really on earlier in the series.
Forty years on, now that we know how their careers turned out, some of
the comments on the newbies seem really weird - but they serve as a
great reminder that it's often much too early to write people off or
suggest that they have little future. Even "over the hill" Titmus's
playing career did not finish for another 15 years.