After a weekend in Liverpool (with only radio coverage of the Second T20 International between South Africa and England – “It’s gone miles… He’s hit that one too.. That’s another record for International Twenty20 etc” for 90 minutes or so), it was lovely to be back in London again and this evening’s entertainment was just one of many reasons why. In the very agreeable National Film Theatre, with Clyde Jeavons our host and David Frith our guide, hundreds of cricket tragics sat entranced as we were transported over a century back in time to see some 17 cricket clips and one extended documentary from the earliest days of the Game’s moving picture history.
The evening opened with Ranjitsinhji in the nets prior to the Sydney Test in 1897 in beautifully restored black and white but with no ball visible nor any sound! As is traditional, a guest was requested to bash a mallet into a bat for the necessary sound effect, a duty performed this evening by Alan Oakman, whom we later saw holding one of five close to the wicket catches in Laker’s match of 1956.
Along with all the usual suspects (Bradman and Ponsford, Lindwall and Benaud, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Trueman and Bedser), it was wonderful to see characters like the giant Warwick Armstrong, intimidating Englishmen like me across 88 years of history and tiny Bobby Abel, trotting along behind WG Grace. Batsmanship through the ages had changed little, with the greats of any era using their feet to transfer weight forward and back before playing the ball beneath their eyes with bat-speed sufficient to send the ball fizzing to the boundary. Bowling appeared to have changed more, but the common factor through the ages remains that power through the crease as evident in the spin of Warne as in the spin of Fleetwood-Smith.
The highlights for the Trumpet were the heartbreaking footage of Hedley Verity in his match at Lord’s in 1934 (the last time England won an Ashes Test at HQ before 2009) and Archie Jackson, rake thin, all innocence and unfulfilled talent, looking like an Australian VVS Laxman. Verity was to lose his life on active service in Italy in 1943; Jackson was to be taken away by tuberculosis at the ridiculous age of 23.
Emerging into the still mild London air on the banks of the Thames, the Trumpet reflected again on what the Greatest Game gives to its followers and thanked the long dead men he had seen tonight for their part in making the Game as glorious as it is.