I’ve always been lucky that cricket has loved me every bit as much as I have loved cricket. And, as I was saying to Beefy and Bumble last week at one of my famous parties (or was it the week before), The Ashes has been the series that has loved me most.
Every four years England play Australia over five Test Matches for the legendary Ashes. The eponymous remains are of a bat burned by a distant cousin of mine, WG Grace, when England lost the Bodyline Series in 1923 (sub – check this bit please). The MCC have always been good enough to schedule the Lord’s Ashes Test at a time when I can both attend and hold charity auctions and concerts of the kind that my dear old pal Bob Geldof was to popularise in the 80s. In 1972, however, I had to take a break from tireless fundraising as events were to take an unexpected turn, even for yours truly.
As usual, England captain Ray Illingworth, knowing that I had recently been elected as the youngest MP in history, had just received confirmation that my treatment for a major feature film had been accepted by Francis Ford Coppola (it fell through – the studio just didn’t share the vision Frankie and I had for the movie, tentatively titled “Apocalypse Now”, a scaled down version Frankie rather threw together a few years later) and could boast the kind of sporting pedigree that only a former national 100 metres record holder could boast (and without the use of drugs, I’ll thank you to note), had invited me into the dressing room to give my usual short motivational speech to the team. I’d spotted Knotty – a close personal friend – looking green around the gills just after he’d supped on some special tea I’d brought in specifically for him as I knew how much he enjoyed a spot of Earl Grey (and the Earl was a friend). Sure enough, he had to cry off on the Monday morning. Bob Taylor wasn’t in town, so England were in a jam and no mistake!
Illy (ironic that name – you wouldn’t believe it in one of my bestselling books would you) looked at me and I could see what he was thinking. I didn’t need to be asked twice. As I ran speedily towards my car to retrieve my whites, pads and wicketkeeping gloves from the boot and an old England cap that dear old Godfrey had lent me once and I hadn’t quite got round to giving back, I just couldn’t believe what was happening – I was going to keep wicket for England! At last.
Chappelli is a mate now, but back then, he could be a bit iffy, so Illy insisted that Knotty’s indisposition be hushed up – so it’s his name that appears in the books as catching Bruce Francis off the bowling of my big pal from Middlesex, Johnny Price. But if you look closely at the youtube clips, you’ll notice that England’s keeper doesn’t quite have the telltale eccentric movements that some good judges feel kept him out of the very top echelon of keepers. Because that’s not the slightly over-rated stumper from Kent, that’s Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare behind the stumps, unobtrusively chatting between overs with Basil and Greigy.
But please, and I really mean this, don’t tell anyone.