Seven Warwickshire players have played for England in the Ashes at Edgbaston. The third was David Brown in 1968 when bad weather scuppered England's victory bid but could not prevent Colin Cowdrey delivering some world-class batting and Geoffrey Boycott some serious chuntering. Brian Halford reports.
The 1968 Ashes Test at Edgbaston started slowly. Very slowly.
The first day was washed out, so nothing happened. On the second day, the rain relented and the game started – but still for quite a long time almost nothing happened. After captain Colin Cowdrey, playing his 100th Test, won the toss, England batted and openers Geoffrey Boycott and John Edrich added 80 in 56 overs.
Then Boycott fell lbw to spinner Johnny Gleeson and, at last, things started to happen.
Geoffrey wasn’t over-impressed with having go out and run for Colin. There was a lot of chuntering. He never stopped grumbling. He preferred to run his own runs – as many as possible.David Brown
Warwickshire fast-bowler David Brown was playing in the match, and in fine form after taking a five-for in the previous Test at Lord’s. He recalls that, after Cowdrey went in at number three, things livened up on and off the field.
“The opening stand was very slow, though all Test match scoring rates in those days were quite slow,” said Brown. “If a bowler went at more than three runs an over, he was having a bad day. Nowadays if you go at three an over you are doing well.
“It wasn’t the easiest pitch to bat on. If you bowled tidily it wasn’t easy to score, but Colin played really well. He had a great Test match. It was his hundredth Test and he scored a hundred and it was a fine innings especially considering he was only just past 50 when he pulled a hamstring and needed a runner. “
And that’s when it got a bit noisy in the England dressing-room. The laws of cricket say a runner must be a batsman already dismissed in the innings, so that left only one option – 27-year-old Yorkshire opener Geoff Boycott, much to the amusement of the dressing-room.
“Geoffrey wasn’t over-impressed with having go out and run for Colin,” said Brown. “There was a lot of chuntering. He never stopped grumbling. He preferred to run his own runs – as many as possible!”
Cowdrey’s classy ton put England on top but the match never escaped the clutches of the weather. On the last morning, England scented a victory push with Australia 44 for one, chasing 330, but then the rain returned.
“They were probably going to save the game but you never know,” said Brown. “John Snow and I caused them some problems and we might have pressed for victory but the weather closed in again and finished it.
“It was always special for me to play for my country at Edgbaston though, even though I didn’t get a hatful of wickets and only took to the crease once and got a zero. Three balls and one minute – then it was all over courtesy of Alan Connolly!”
The rain that thwarted England’s victory bid also denied the Warwickshire player a chance to add to the trouble he had given Australia over the years. The Aussies rated Brown highly, having been on the receiving end of his five-fors home and away.
“My record against the Aussies was my best against anyone,” he said. “I got a five-for in Sydney, one at Lord’s and other bits and pieces, but we never won the Ashes which was irksome because we should have done. In Australia in ’65 we were 1-0 up and they dropped Graeme McKenzie who was a pretty potent part of their attack, at Adelaide.
They brought in a quick bowler from Queensland but he got injured just before the game and McKenzie came back in and got five of us out. They won the game, drew the series and retained the Ashes, but we ought to have won.
“It was always special against the Aussies. They played hard on the field but were a very fair side to play against. We always got together with them after play and any banter between the players was semi-light-hearted. There was never any aggro. One or two of their batsmen walked and one or two didn’t, the same as us, but we never had any hassle. They were good to play against.
“I hope it will be like that again this summer and some steps have been taken to put a stop to what’s been going on recently. There’s just no need for it. It’s not part of the game.”
Many teams and players have shown over the years that is possible to play hard and win but also behave properly. One example, Cowdrey.
“Colin was a good captain and tougher than people thought,” said Brown. “He came across as having a soft approach but he was no pushover. He played games pretty tough. He was also a very good slip fielder. He was a lot more athletic than people thought and you were always happy to see him in the slips when you were bowling.”
For a fast bowler, it’s hard to overstate the joy of having reliable slip-fielders – or the angst when, having plugged away all day in searing heat, you find the edge only to see the chance go down.
“I was lucky to bowl to some great slips like Colin Cowdrey, Phil Sharpe and Rohan Kanhai over the years,” said Brown. “But every bowler will recall one or two that got away. Tom Graveney was a fine slip-fielder and I remember once we had the West Indies in trouble at Sabina Park, the game with the riots. Tom went off for a pee and Basil D’oliveira went to slip for an over. Gary Sobers edged me straight to Basil and he dropped it.
“Gary went on to save the game for them and you look back and think if Tom had stayed on we would probably have won the Test and I might have got some more wickets.”
Of all the sports in the world, only in wonderful cricket, perhaps, could the destiny of a big match be shaped by a player popping off to point Percy at the porcelain…