Trevor Bailey, one of the last of the great players in the outstanding England teams of the 1950s, had many friends and admirers but that never stopped him telling the tale with direct honesty in simple blunt unforgettable words.
A couple of years ago we were having tea at Lord's when I broached the subject of a Test side that should have won everything and in fact won nothing. “What went wrong, Trevor,” I asked.
“The captain was a fool and the manager was a drunk,” he said and left it at that. No need to say any more. You should not misunderstand me now that Trevor is gone, dead in a fire at his flat in Westcliffe in Essex aged a lively 87. (Incidentally, if the fire was his fault he would have said so. He did not reserve his words for others but could be equally damning about himself.)
Generous and kind
He could be just as generous and kind. I had to ring him when Denis Compton died. “What made him different?” I wanted to know. “He was very orthodox, but daring and that got him a lot of runs because he also had wonderful timing,” he said. “And he was great to watch.”
Of Ian Botham's brilliant 149 at Headingley he commented: “That was one of the greatest innings of all time and any of the giants of the game would have been proud to play that innings.”
Bailey was a fine all-rounder, but nothing like the modern men Botham and Andrew Flintoff. He was a grafter who still holds the record for a slow fifty, scored in six hours.
His quickish bowling was similar, precise in length, swinging in for the most part and pitched so exactly on leg stump that scoring quick runs was impossible.
He saved the 1953 Ashes Test with a prolonged innings and then as fine a piece of defensive bowling as is possible.
In all he played in 61 Tests, averaged 29.74 and took 132 wickets at 29.21. He should have been England captain but Peter May and Len Hutton had greater claims and he bore a massive burden at Essex where, for a while, he was captain, an important all-rounder and assistant secretary. In those innocent days he won a medal with Walthamstow in the FA Amateur Cup and in cricket he won two astonishing nicknames.
The newspapers called him ‘Barnacle' Bailey because he played so many defiant innings particularly against Australia and his team-mates named him ‘The Boil' after the shouts of the Essex Cockneys who used to encouraged him by shouting “Stick in there Boiley.”
After he retired he had a column in The Daily Telegraph and a permanent place on the Test Match Special team, complaining about the modern player like his co-commentator Fred Trueman.
None of us will forget him in a hurry. He taught cricketers how to bat long, he taught broadcasters the value of a terse sentence and he showed me so much about cricket that I will always think of him as my guru.