Saturday 16 December 2017

Sir Alec Bedser

Only England bowler to be knighted, and who troubled Bradman

SIR Alec Bedser, the England cricketer who has died aged 91, vied with Sydney Barnes and Maurice Tate as the greatest fast-medium bowler of all time.

His supreme triumph came in 1953, when his 39 wickets at 17.48 apiece in five Tests enabled England to reclaim the Ashes for the first time since the Bodyline series of 1932-33. The other nine bowlers used by England that summer managed only 52 wickets between them.

Bedser's immaculate control of line and length, his ability to intersperse late inswing with deliveries that either held their course or drifted away, and his stinging pace off the wicket made him a formidable proposition. His most dangerous weapon, owing much to his huge hands, was his leg cutter -- in favourable conditions virtually a fast leg break.

Bedser had bowled Don Bradman for nought at Adelaide in 1947 with a delivery that the Don considered to be the finest ever to take his wicket. In the next Test, at Sydney, Bedser began a sequence in which he took Bradman's wicket in five successive contests, an unequalled feat.

It would be quite wrong, though, to present Bedser's career as an uninterrupted succession of triumphs. Only after the severest trials did Bedser attain his mastery.

In the first Test at Brisbane on the tour of 1946-47 he slaved in a heatwave for two-and-a-half days, bowling 41 eight-ball overs to take two for 159 while Australia amassed 645.

Conditions were even worse in the fourth Test at Adelaide, with the temperature on the field reaching 134 degrees. Bedser had to retire to the dressing room to be sick, only to re-emerge white-faced to continue bowling; he lost six pounds that day.

Fortunately Bedser, 6ft 3in tall and massively strong, had been built for Herculean labours. Every English summer between 1946 and 1953 Bedser sent down more than 1,000 overs; today few bowlers reach half that mark.

In addition, there were Bedser's mighty endeavours in Australia (1946-47 and 1950-51) and South Africa (1948-49). The effort took its toll. There were periods when Bedser could seem distinctly ordinary -- and he suffered for years from the absence of a regular Test partner at the other end. Eventually Brian Statham (from 1951) and Fred Trueman (from 1952) afforded aggressive support.

Already 32 in 1950, Bedser was nevertheless at the peak of his skill. From 1950-51 to September 1954 he snapped up a further 131 Test wickets at only 17.22 each.

Alec Victor Bedser was born in Reading on July 4 1918, 10 minutes after his identical twin Eric Arthur Bedser. The twins grew up with a cautious attitude to life which allowed no scope for frills or frivolity. At school, even when separated from each other, they made the same mistakes in their work.

Both of them were good enough football players to be chosen for Surrey Boys; they shared a dream of playing for Arsenal. Cricket, however, remained their first love.

As teenagers, both Bedsers bowled fast-medium. Deciding, however, that some variation was required in the fraternal armoury, they tossed a coin to decide which twin should take up another mode of attack. Alec won, and thenceforward Eric concentrated on off-breaks.

In April 1938 they joined the Surrey ground staff. Within weeks the twins were playing with Jack Hobbs in a charity match.

At the outbreak of war the twins joined the RAF. For a time they were stranded in France, before being rescued by a Surrey member who took them most of the way to Dunkirk in his car. Later Alec became a flight sergeant, having refused promotion to warrant officer because it would have meant separation from Eric. As though anxious to emphasise that they were sprung from the same egg, they invariably wore the same clothes, revelling in the resulting confusion.

They lived together in the house at Woking which they had helped their father to build in 1953, and even shared a bank account.

Alec Bedser continued to play for Surrey until 1960, playing a vital part in the county's run of seven consecutive championships from 1952 to 1958.

He served on the England board of selectors from 1961 to 1985, and as chairman from 1968 to 1981. Despite difficulties with Geoffrey Boycott, Tony Greig and Ian Botham, his record as chairman compares favourably with that of many other holders of the office, with 10 out of 18 series won. He was, however, one of the selectors who left Basil d'Oliveira out of the side in 1968, after the South African government had indicated that a black man would not be acceptable on tour.

Alec Bedser was appointed OBE in 1964, CBE in 1982, and in 1997 became the only England bowler ever to be knighted. Eric died in 2006. Neither twin married.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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