At the heart of Edgbaston since England’s 499th Test
England v India, England 1,000th Test, which starts at Edgbaston tomorrow will be a feast of cricket but also a major feat of organisation. Keith Cook will be at the heart of the latter from his well-equipped office in the pavilion - rather different to England v India at Edgbaston in 1974, England's 499th Test, much of which Cook spent locked in a vault beneath the stadium. Brian Halford reports.
For the next five days, as the cricketers of England and India lock horns in England's 1,000th Test match, one of the most important men at Edgbaston will be Warwickshire cricket operations manager Keith Cook.
"In the morning I answered the phones and during the Tests we used to get a lot of calls from people taking issue with the BBC television commentaries. TV coverage was still quite new and people had not yet twigged that it was nothing to do with us."
His job, to ensure that the teams, match officials and broadcasters have everything they need. It is a crucial and wide-ranging role which needs to be in the safest possible hands - and hands do not come any safer than those of Cook, one of the most highly-respected men in cricket and a Warwickshire employee since 1973.
Small Heath-born Cook has been a major component of the Bears' hosting of Test matches for many years. And the safeness of those hands was spotted very early at Edgbaston, as illustrated by his role, as an 18-year-old office boy, when Mike Denness's England took on and trounced Ajit Wadekar's India in 1974.
While David Lloyd's double-century and seamers Geoff Arnold and Mike Hendrick were powering England to victory by an innings, Cook was down in a dungeon, counting cash.
"I joined the Bears three days before the 1973 Test so 1974 was the first Test I had really been part of," he recalls. "I was an office junior working under the great Leslie Deakins.
"In the morning I answered the phones and during the Tests we used to get a lot of calls from people taking issue with the BBC television commentaries. TV coverage was still quite new and people had not yet twigged that it was nothing to do with us. They'd ring up and dispute something that John Arlott had just said.
"We also got a call at 7am every morning from someone on a very crackly line who introduced himself with: "Bombay calling, Bombay calling... please, what is the weather like in Birmingham." I never had any idea who it was."
Then, after a morning in the office, during the afternoon session, while the crowd roared on England's players out in the middle, Cook went down below.
"During the lunch interval, accompanied by two stewards, I would go and collect the cash from all the turnstiles. Almost everybody paid cash in those days and the vast majority of people paid on the day, so there was a lot of cash to collect. We'd collect it all up and take it back to the office through the crowd - nobody ever gave us any trouble.
"Then during the afternoon session I was taken down to a vault underneath the East Wing and locked in. It was just like a prison cell - a windowless room with a chair and a table, steel doors and then a barred gate. The bags of cash, mainly one pound notes, were brought in and I counted them all out.
"Then it was collected. At no point was I searched so they must have trusted me. At the time I was earning £650 a year so if even a few notes had 'gone astray' I could have seriously enhanced my salary but not for a moment did I consider taking even a penny."
Receipts for that 1974 Edgbaston Test amounted to £9,675, a small amount affected by the loss of the entire first day to rain and then the match ending in less than three days playing time. The biggest crowd during the match was 10,000 for the third day - a far cry from this week's Test for which 20,000-plus crowds are expected for the first two days and the third is a sell-out.
"Things have moved on a bit!" Cook said. "Test matches are always very busy but I've got fantastic colleagues and I think we make a pretty good back-room team. Along with kit man Robin French and head of media Tom Rawlings, between us we will offer a warm welcome and try to give people everything they need.
"It is always one of the busiest weeks of the year and I'll be at the ground from about 6am to 10am each day but it's just a privilege to be part of the amazing atmosphere of Test matches at Edgbaston."
England v India, 1st Specsavers Test match, Edgbaston
England take on India in the first of a five match Specsavers Test series at Edgbaston, starting on Wednesday 1 August.
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