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David Allen – a quality off-spinner who played 39 Tests for England

David Allen enjoyed excellent success in 1960 and 1961 as well, the latter season seeing him scalp 124 wickets and also inch past 1,000 runs with his only century in First-Class cricket © Getty Images
David Allen enjoyed excellent success in 1960 and 1961, the latter season seeing him scalp 124 wickets and also inch past 1,000 runs with his only century in First-Class cricket © Getty Images

David Allen, who passed away on May 25, was a Gloucestershire off-spinner who played 39 Tests for England, and would have played far more had his career not overlapped with Fred Titmus and Ray Illingworth. Arunabha Sengupta pays tribute to the man who is remembered for facing the last two Wes Hall deliveries at Lord’s as Colin Cowdrey stood at the non-striker’s end with his left arm in plaster.

A tale of two Tests

Colin Cowdrey stood at the non-striker’s end, left arm strapped in plaster, resembling a veteran of the Korean War. The golden cross dangling from his neck, the terrifying form of Wes Hall walked back to his bowling mark to start his furious run. Five runs remained to be scored, one wicket in hand. When Cowdrey had made his heroic walk to the wicket, Gloucestershire off-spinner David Allen had met him on the way, and had summoned enough bravado to say: “If I can somehow get a boundary off the first ball, we will run for anything off the next.”

He did not quite manage a boundary. Twice Hall steamed in and sent down thunderbolts that seemed to ignite the air with pace like fire. Twice Allen got his bat and body behind the ball, his entire frame shuddering from the impact. Twice the thud of impact resounded around the ground. Twice the full house at Lord’s heaved a synchronous heart-felt sigh of relief. The great Test match of 1963 ended in a draw.

David Allen, who passed away on May 25, 2014, was a good enough tweakerto play 39 Tests for England – during a period when worthies like Fred Titmus, Ray Illingworth and John Mortimore vied for the slot of the off-spinner. However, we will forever remember him for those two epic deliveries that he managed to keep out at Lord’s that summer day.

He had a pivotal role to play in England’s other famous Test match of the early 1960s – and again the memory is not really of Allen’s bowling. Curiously, it was his being taken off the attack that proved crucial at Old Trafford in 1961. Allen had not been given a bowl in the first innings as Australia had been bundled for 190. But, hehad batted with a lot of gumption in scoring 42, adding 86 with Ken Barrington, helping England to lead by 177 after the first innings. In the second, he dismissed Bill Lawry, and then came back to skittle out Ken Mackay, Richie Benaud and Wally Grout within two runs of each other. With Australia nine down, the lead paltry, Alan Davidson resorted to the ploy of going after the spinner. And a couple of big hits later, Peter May took Allen off. The last wicket put on 98. When England batted again, Allen was out to one of the many rippers sent down by Benaud from round the wicket, caught magnificently by Bobby Simpson in the slip. England lost by 54 runs.

The turning tale

Allen was born in the Horfield area of Bristol in the autumn of 1935. The Nevil Road ground at Gloucestershire could be reached with a loopy delivery bowled a bit too full. He grew up watching Wally Hammond drive imperiously through the off side, and, perhaps more importantly, Tom Goddard float in his off-spinners. The great Gloucestershire spinning legend called it a day in 1952, and Allen made his tentative entry the next season.

He seemed to peak at exactly the right time. England lost 4-0 in Australia in 1958-59 andthe immortal Jim Laker hastened the end of his superb career with a spate of controversial writings. In his first season as a regular, in 1959, Allen picked up 84 wickets at 15.73. His rivalry with Gloucestershire’s John Mortimore had by then been accepted as a fantastic double act . As a result, he went to West Indies in 1959-60, picking up useful wickets and proving a stubborn batsman down the order.

Allen enjoyed excellent success in 1960 and 1961 as well, the latter season seeing him scalp 124 wickets and also inch past 1,000 runs with his only century in First-Class cricket. With these feats seemed to slide seamlessly into the slot meant for the off-spinner in the England side. However, there was too much talent around. Titmus, Illingworth and Allen would compete relentlessly for the next few years, with county colleague Mortimorealso making it to the top level on occasions.

Yet, Allen managed to play 39 Tests – and tour every Test playing nation of the day. He was uniformly impressive with the ball in India, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa, taking five wicket hauls in each of those lands. The Titmus-Allen spin combination that won the 1964-65 in Durban was a high-point of his career.He enjoyed memorable moments in Australia as well, scoring 50 from No 10 and capturing four for 47 in the innings win in Sydney at 1965-66.

While Titmus and Illingworth were more universally recognised as all-rounders, Allen’s Test average of 25.50 was superior to both. He hit five half centuries in his 918 runs, with 88 at Christchurch in 1966 being his best, while an unbeaten 79 and five wickets at Birmingham against Pakistan in 1962 perhaps the most satisfying all-round effort.

Allen ended his Test career with 122 wickets at an average of 30.97. In First-Class cricket, his tally was 1209 at 23.64 – 882 of them for Gloucestershire during a long, two-decade association. There were 9291 runs as well, scored at 18.80.

During his young winters Allen used to switch to football, playing in the Downs League. Late in his life he was a member of the Gloucestershire committee and was elected president in 2011, thus keeping in touch with the game to the very end.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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