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Doug Insole: More than just an administrator

Doug Insole played nine Tests and scored 408 runs at 27.20 © Getty Images
Doug Insole played nine Tests and scored 408 runs at 27.20 for England. He was also a fine administrator © Getty Images

Doug Insole, born April 18, 1926, gained repute and honours as a cricket administrator and became the president of MCC. However, before that he was an all-round sportsman — one of the pillars of Essex in the 1950s who played nine Tests for England, and also a skilled footballer. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the career of the man who scored hundreds against every county side except the one he represented.

More than an administrator

His distinguished stature stemmed from the suave leadership he provided as a cricket administrator. For two decades he was a member of the MCC committee and a selector of the England cricket team. He later chaired the European Cricket Council and finally served as the elected president of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

Doug Insole’s most notable achievement was probably his role in successfully steering the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) through the turbulent times of the Kerry Packer Revolution. He came through with flying colours, banking on a common-sense approach and decisions laced with the right sprinkling of wisdom. It led to his being appointed a CBE in 1979.

However, before he put on his administrative hat, Insole was very much a cricketer more than a capable one. As a batsman he was unorthodox but effective and often prolific. As a fielder he excelled in the slips and sometimes kept wickets as well. He was a decent enough medium pacer to capture 138 First-Class wickets. And as a captain he was astute, popular, intelligent and attacking — inclined to be adventurous and exciting rather than conservative. One of the pillars of the Essex team of the 1950s, he was the major influence behind transforming the side into one of the best of the decade.

Insole made it to the Test side as well, although his forays at the highest level were limited to nine outings spanning across seven years. His role in the Test team was not always well defined. Often chosen because his batting was supplemented by his secondary skill with the ball, he was somehow never called upon to bowl in any of the Tests although most often he batted in the lower middle order. His Test career, much as a reflection of his batting abilities, remained ordinary. Yet, there were moments to remember – including being appointed vice-captain for a tour to South Africa.

The other feature of Insole’s career was that he was an amateur in an age when that breed was fast dying out of the game. When he scored 2427 runs at 42.57 with nine hundreds in the 1955 season to end as the top scorer in the English season, he was named one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year. The revered publication rejoiced in this ‘amateur batsman’ for becoming the first to reach 1000 and 2000 runs in the summer.

Finally, apart from his cricketing credentials, he was also a footballer of skill and repute who played in an Amateur FA Cup final.

The schoolboy cricketer in War and Peace

Insole was born at Clapton, Middlesex, on April 18, 1926. But the move to Essex came soon enough, and his family settled down in Highams Park when he was just four.

His introduction to the game was orthodox and endearing. His father, a keen cricket enthusiast, taught him the basics on the lawn in front of the family house. As he started his schooling at Selwyn Avenue Elementary School, Insole was recognised as a cricketer as potential at an early age of eight. By the time he moved to Sir George Monoux Grammar School at Walthamstow, he was turning enough heads to be selected for both London Schoolboys and Essex Scoolboys at the age of 13. He had a major backer in JF Elam, the Headmaster. However, there was no serious coaching to speak of.

The Second World War did put a spanner in the happy wheels. The school was evacuated to Leominster, Herefordshire in 1939. Cricket was not in the list of top priorities and the games that managed to take place were played on makeshift pitches with hurriedly assembled equipment. When the school returned to London in 1943, Insole was 17. He started playing club cricket for Chingford and scored consistently.

Lack of structured cricket instruction made Insole a predominantly onside player. With the methods bearing lots of fruit in school and league cricket, he continued with his developed style. Thus, when he arrived in Cambridge in 1946, the University coaches predicted that he would not score too many because of his inclination to hit across the line.

Cambridge and Essex

Technique, anyway, is overrated. Insole scored heavily in the trial games. In his First-Class debut against Yorkshire in 1947, he scored 44 against Bill Bowes, Norman Yardley and Alec Coxon before being run-out. He added 77 with the man soon to be a long-time colleague for Essex — Trevor Bailey.

There followed handy scores through the season, with the peak being 161 not out against Hampshire at Portsmouth. With the other batsmen of the line-up turning out to be less than successful, Insole earned his Blue.

Bailey, already an Essex recruit, introduced him to the county side. In that same 1947 season, Insole played for Essex for the first time. After hitting 70 and 62 against Middlesex and an unbeaten 72 against Hampshire, he scored 109 not out against Lancashire.

In the match against Gloucestershire that year, Cambridge suddenly found themselves short of wicketkeepers, with all the regular stumpers busy with examinations. Insole was asked to squat behind the wicket. He came off as more than impressive. The next year, he was handed the big gloves for almost all the matches of the University. He kept wickets against the touring Australian Invincibles and top scored in the first innings with 33 against Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller.

In his last year at the University in 1949, Insole took over as captain and led the side to a seven wicket win over the strong Oxford side. For Essex, he thrived on missed chances to score 219 not out against Yorkshire and added two more centuries that season to head the county averages. He was awarded his Essex cap.

And the following year he was joint captain with TN Pearce and led the list of highest run-getters for the county. Three hundreds, against Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Middlesex, won him a place in the England side for the third Test at Nottingham against the visiting West Indians.

Start-stop Test career

It was baptism by fire. Hines Johnson and Frank Worrell had taken the first four England wickets for just 25 runs when the debutant walked out to bat. Insole put his head down, struggled against Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine, but stayed long enough to add 50 with captain Norman Yardley — his own contribution being 21. However, soon the guile of Ramadhin proved too much for the young batsman and he was out leg-before. England had just erased the 335 run deficit in the second innings when Insole batted again, and he was stumped by Clyde Walcott off Ramadhin for a blob. It would be exactly five years before he would play for England again.

In 1951, Insole became the full time captain of Essex and hit 2,032 runs. He continued to score over 1000 runs in each season till 1960.

His splendid form in 1954 and 1955 got Insole back into the Test team. He played against South Africa at Leeds, scoring 47 in the second innings, adding 101 with captain Peter May —  but it was not enough to hold on to his place in the side. In the same year, 1955, he also led the Gentlemen against the Players at Lord’s. A measure of his cricketing acumen can be gleaned from his performance against the great Surrey side at Ilford in May that year. He used the seam to great effect to capture five for 22 with his medium-pace, his only five wicket haul in First-Class cricket.

The success continued in 1956 and that saw Insole being appointed vice-captain to Peter May in the England squad to tour South Africa in the winter. He played all the five Tests and was instrumental in saving the third at Durban with a second innings 110 not out against the web of spin cast by Hugh Tayfield. His showing against the fearsome duo of Neil Adcock and Peter Heine was also commendable. He followed up the Durban heroics with a fighting 47 and a top score of 68 in the next Test at Johannesburg. South Africa won the keenly contested match by 17 runs thanks to a nine-wicket haul by Tayfield in the second innings.  However, when the hosts squared the series 2-2 at Port Elizabeth, Insole fell for four and eight.

The Essex captain had topped the England batting averages for the series with 312 runs at 39.00. On the tour he managed 996 runs at 47.42 with four hundreds. Yet, he played only one more Test.

When the West Indians visited in 1957, Ramadhin once again cast a spell in the first innings at Birmingham. Insole, batting at No 3, could manage 20 before being castled by the tweaker. In the second innings, he was bowled by Ramadhin for a second ball duck. Peter May and Colin Cowdrey famously saved the game and turned the series around. But, that was the last the England side saw of Insole.

Nature and numbers

Insole managed 408 runs from nine Tests at 27.20. He continued to turn out for Essex and was hugely successful in 1959, with 2045 runs at 45 with five hundreds. However, after that his form dipped and gradually he faded away from the First-Class scene.

In 450 First-Class matches, Insole scored 25,241 runs at 37.61 with 54 hundreds. He also scalped 138 wickets at a healthy 33.91. By the time he retired he had made centuries against all the county side apart from Essex.

Insole batted with an open stance, a strong bottom-hand and relied totally on his excellent eye. He was vulnerable to the ball moving away, mainly due to his inclination for hitting across the line. However, he still managed the 54 First-Class centuries through sheer concentration and tenacity. As a captain, he was prone to declare and set up an exciting last day rather than gain points through yawn inducing stalemates.

Someone who idolised Denis Compton, Insole was not foolhardy enough to copy the style of the gifted Middlesex master, but emulated him in a lot of other ways. Like Compton he was a footballer of ability. Before his University days, he played for Walthamstow Avenue as an inside-right. He continued to play in the same position for Cambridge. In 1955, he featured as a reserve in an England International Trial.

He also played for the Pegasus FC, as founder member and the first captain of the side.  In the winters of 1954-55 and 1955-56, he played for the Corinthian Casuals as an outside-right. It was for this club that he turned out in the 1956 FA Amateur Cup final, before they lost to Bishop Auckland in a replay.

Chairman of selectors for England in the 1960s, Insole had to be involved in a couple of tough decisions. One of them was dropping Geoff Boycott for slow batting after the opening batsman had scored 246 not out against India. The Yorkshire man never quite forgave him, stating as recently as in 2012 that Insole “should have spelt his name with an A.“ The other spate of decisions was the furore over first the non-selection, and later the selection, of Basil D’Oliveira for the South African tour of 1968-69.

During the later years, Insole guided the TCCB through the Packer crisis and served as president of MCC for a year from October 2006.

(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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