Thursday, 12 December 2013

An Interview with Harold Rhodes part four

How fast were you at your quickest? Who was faster than you?

Frank Tyson was frighteningly quick for a few years, as was Fred Trueman, but I wasn't far off. I was never timed when I was at my fastest, but a rudimentary test conducted by a couple of school masters suggested I was bowling around 94mph in the early 1960s.

The thing was, you couldn't bowl fast all the time. We played so much – I bowled around seven to eight hundred overs a season – that you kept yourself back for days when the wicket offered you more help, or for the last day of a game when you were pressing for a win. That's when the accuracy that I mentioned earlier came in – you relied on line and length and occasional quicker balls to keep people guessing.

Walter Goodyear was our groundsman at this time and the accuracy of the likes of Cliff and Les was extraordinary. At the end of the season, he said that he only had to take around a yard of turf out and replace it, as the rest was pretty much pristine. They were remorseless in giving the batsmen nothing to hit and bowling perfect lengths.

It was difficult too, because there was none of this quick drying cement that they use to fill footholds today. Les used to create massive 'bomb craters', as we called them, when he bowled, so you had to make sure that you didn't land your front foot in, or on the edge of one of those, or you could easily turn an ankle.

How fast was a bowler of a later vintage, Alan Ward?

When he came on the scene in the mid-1960's I was in my 30's and he made me look slow, at that stage, in comparison! He was a very quick bowler indeed and there were a few county batsmen who didn't fancy facing him at all.

He never fulfilled that potential though. I don't think he really had the heart for it when he came up against better batsmen who could handle him and when he had the bad days that all bowlers endure. Injuries came along and Alan disappeared far more quickly than he should have done. It was a shame, really.

I was interested to read that you rarely bowled bouncers. Was that to maintain control and avoid giving easy runs away?

Yes, it was. It goes back, I suppose, to seeing Frank Tyson 'waste' the new ball as I mentioned earlier. It was a bonus if it took a wicket, but those who hooked usually saw it as an easy four, while those who didn't just ducked under it and it usually meant that you were wasting your time and energy. I always used to think that bowling a bouncer showed that the batsmen were rattling me, so I didn't bother.

Our batsmen used to get annoyed sometimes, as they wanted me to dish out some of what they had to put up with. I preferred to try and win the match and to do so had to keep runs to the minimum and take wickets as inexpensively as possible.

How did the salary of a professional cricketer relate to an ordinary working man at that time?

When I was capped in 1958 my salary was £600 a year (around 12K today). That was the same as Cliff and Les, as well as all the other capped players, You got no more for experience or good performances. You certainly didn't play county cricket for the lavish lifestyle, but Arnold Hamer told me that it would create memories, and it was all about the people you met and had a beer with at the end of the day.

That's a side of the game that has slowly disappeared and it's a shame. You learned a lot from talking to other players and most of us got on pretty well.

The issues over your bowling action are well known and the general consensus appears to be that you were offered up as a scapegoat at a time when there was a crackdown on obvious offenders around the globe?

Without a doubt. The cricket authorities were clamping down on throwers from around the world, all of them having the same thing in common. They all had an open-chested action that 'stopped' as they released the ball from a splay-footed stance. They all had a really quick ball, which was the one that was dangerous, of course. People like Charlie Griffith, Ian Meckiff and Geoff Griffin were called and with good reason when you see the photographs of them in action. With West Indians, Australians and South Africans being called, there was seen to be a need for English cricket to be 'cleaning up' its act and I was the fall guy, if you like.

My action was always side-on, what has always been regarded as the 'classic' style, and to throw from that position would have been impossible. Yet I was called to see a film that had been taken of my action from a mid-on position in the stand and I agreed it didn't look good. Similar films of such great bowlers as Harold Larwood and Ray Lindwall did them no favours either and it was the angle, rather than the action, that was the problem.

I asked the people at Lords to film the man who was regarded as having the best action in the game from the same place, so they filmed Fred Trueman. He looked as if he threw too, which proved my point!

The law at the time I was first no-balled allowed umpires to call bowlers if they felt there was something DIFFERENT about their action and that's why Paul Gibb no-balled me. Yet when George Cochrane, a specialist from Derby Royal Infirmary, proved to them that I had hyper-extension of the elbow – that the arm went past straight - they still didn't clear me. This was in 1961 and it was seven more years before they finally did. It was too little, too late.

In 1965, I was top of the national bowling averages and the media were calling for me to return to the England team. I firmly believe that the people at Lords got umpire Syd Buller to one side and told him that he needed to help them out of a tricky situation and no ball me in the South Africa tour match at Chesterfield.

I knew Syd and we got on pretty well before then, but he was never the same afterwards. Ironically, he umpired in my previous Test match, when I bowled 46 overs! He never saw a thing wrong with my action, nor had he at many other county matches at which he had officiated.

It was all very, very strange and immensely frustrating.

I know that West Indian spinner Sonny Ramadhin was a thrower, but kept his sleeves buttoned to stop people seeing his elbow clearly. Was that never suggested to you as an option?

No it wasn't and I wouldn't have done it, because I was totally convinced of my innocence. There were other spinners whose quest for turn saw their elbow bend more than was allowed though, Tony Lock perhaps being the best known.

It must have been frustrating to spend so much of your career, when your record suggested you should have been an England regular, trying to clear your name?

Yes. It was very stressful for my family too, but as I said earlier, it has always been difficult for Derbyshire players at international level. Even Mike Hendrick and Bob Taylor only got recognition because of Kerry Packer, and Les, Cliff and George Pope should have earned greater opportunities.

Did it take you a long time to get over that?

You know, I always listened for my name, every time an England side was announced, hoping that my chance might come. Although the officials at Lords didn't finally clear my name until 1968, by which time I had slowed down a lot, I was picked for many touring sides. I went around the world as a cricketer, but never with England, which hurt me, as lesser bowlers went in my place.

Even E.W. 'Jim' Swanton of the Daily Telegraph picked me for his touring sides. He was listened to at Lords and was a member of the 'inner circle', but it made no difference.

Your Derbyshire colleague Peter Eyre also came under scrutiny for his action. Did that create a special 'bond' between you?

Peter and I have been good friends for years and still see each other regularly. His case was silly too – he was double-jointed, like Brian Statham of Lancashire and it was that additional flexibility which gave a false impression when he bowled.

Peter's action was side-on like mine and the pity is that the people running the game – including former England bowler 'Gubby' Allen – appeared to have no idea of the mechanics of bowling. Had they done so, they would have known that we couldn't possibly throw from our positions at the bowling crease when we let the ball go.

Presumably the events produced more than their share of black humour, as such things tend to do?

Oh yes. The Derbyshire lads called me 'Percy' after the TV gardener, Percy Thrower. Around 99% of people in the game knew I bowled within the rules, but there were a few others around who were far less legitimate.

There was a spinner at Somerset, David Doughty, who was widely reckoned to throw in a brief career. In a game against Kent, the umpires decided he should be removed from the attack at the time that Colin Cowdrey came to the crease. He asked why they were taking him off and were told that they thought he was throwing.

Leave him on” said Colin. “He's not throwing very well!”

To be continued...

1 comment:

John Cross said...

Such memories Peakfan. I was there at Chesterfield on that day in 1965 - I was 18 yrs old at the time. No one could believe what had happened - you could hear a pin drop, this was followed by roars of disapproval once the penny had dropped as to what had happened. I always thought that it had been an 'establishment' frame up even though it was denied at the time. It's great to hear Harold Rhodes' views.