Monday, April 05, 2010

Sir Alec Bedser R.I.P.

Alec Bedser has died at the age of 91. He has a claim to be the greatest swing bowler of all time. He and his identical twin brother, Eric, had their cricketing careers abbreviated by the war in which they served in the RAF. but in 1946 after playing only 7 County matches for Surrey, he was selected to play for England against India. In two test matched he took 22 wickets.

He played in 51 test matches, taking 236 wickets at an average of 22.9. His best season was 1953 when he took 39 Australian wickets at an average 17.48. England beat (a Bradman-less) Australia for the first time since the 1932-3 'Bodyline' tour. Bedser was the master of the leg-cutter, a ball that started outside the off stump, swung in the air to the leg and then cut back after hitting the pitch to take the off stump. Even Bradman had no answer to it.

After his retirement he and his brother set up an office stationary company that was later assimilated into Rymans. It left them fairly well off. They had started life more humbly in Reading, the sons of a bricklayer. They lived first in two rooms belonging to an aunt on Horsell Common, and then at Knaphill. They were the third generation of the family to live in the Woking area. Very far from spoilt, the twins grew up with a cautious attitude to life which allowed no scope for frills or frivolity. From the age of five they walked a mile each way to Maybury Junior School. Later, at Monument Hill Central School, they impressed with their industry.

At 14, they began work as clerks in a solicitor’s office in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which left them with little spare time; even on Saturdays they were not free until 1.30pm. Alan Peach, a former Surrey all-rounder, opened a cricket school at Woking. The twins devoted every moment to the school, learning their trade with long stints of bowling. Peach recommended the Bedsers to the Oval, and in April 1938 they abandoned the law to join the Surrey ground staff. In the summer their wages were £2 a week plus minimal match fees; in the winter they were paid £1 per week as a retainer. There was a rigid hierarchy: young players were not allowed to start a conversation with, or even to enter the dressing room of senior professionals.

It was a sterner age and it rubbed off on Alec Bedser. Later, when he became Chairman of the England selectors he dropped the master batsman, Tom Graveney, for daring to play in a Charity Match on the Sunday that was the rest day in the middle of a test match. Graveney never played for England again until Bedser retired as Chairman. His time as chairman was marred by their failure to select Basil d'Olivera for the MCC against South Africa after receiving threats from the South Africans that a 'colored' player would not be welcome. He somewhat redeemed his position by choosing d'Olivera as a replacement when Tom Cartwright withdrew injured. Prime Minister Vorster, thereupon cancelled the tour.

Alec Bedser was appointed OBE in 1964, CBE in 1982, and in 1997 became the only England bowler ever to be knighted. He was President of Surrey County Cricket Club in 1987-88.
Eric died in 2006. Neither of the Bedser twins married.

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