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March 1955. Alan Davidson had just become a father for the second time, but he was miles away from home in Jamaica, morose and limping because of an injured ankle. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day when the celebrated American singer Nat King Cole tried to lift the spirits of the Australian all-rounder.
The often exciting lives of touring cricketers come with the downside of prolonged absences from home and far from perfect family equations.
There can of course be triumphs off the field.
For instance, the 21-year-old Neil Harvey stumbled upon the 16-year-old Iris Greenish at a dance at Johannesburg’s South Africa Party Club during the 1949-50 tour. After the girl’s father told the newspapers that he would not consent to the engagement until she had turned 18, Harvey played out time and married her on his return from the 1953 Ashes tour.
Similarly, during the same Ashes tour, Colin McDonald met Lois Ahlston, an Argus artist. They were engaged in August 1955 and married at the end of the 1956 tour at Chelsea’s St Columba’s church, with Ron Archer acting as the best man and Ian Craig and Len Maddocks as ushers.
However, not always are tours such happy occasions for the heart. Davidson, the famed colleague of Harvey and McDonald, was one defining example.
Especially in the days of yore, with email, Skype and webcam yet unheard of, wives were often left at home and becoming a father was frequently an experience of yearning rather than joy. More often than not, the cricketer was informed of his fatherhood in short, economical telegrams cruelly shorn of words or cheer.
Davidson’s first son was born while Australia were playing the fourth Test of the 1953 Ashes series in England. The boy was named Neil, after his father’s great colleague [Neil Harvey] in the Australian side.
Things did not improve as he progressed along the family path. Davidson was not around for the birth of his second son either. Australia were playing Jamaica during the Caribbean tour of 1955 when he received the telegram from his bank colleagues. To make matters worse not only was he away from home, he was also not playing cricket. Having severely damaged an ankle, he cut a morose forlorn figure, walking around Courtleigh Manor on crutches and re-reading the telegram: “Congratulations on new son. Sorry about sympathy pains.”
A guest at the hotel was the celebrated Nat King Cole. And when the American singer came to know about the homesickness of the left-arm pace bowler, he tried to comfort him by singing, “Pretend You’re Happy When You’re Blue”, followed by “Dinner for One Please James.”
It did not help.
Later Davidson confessed, “Made me feel 10 times worse, actually.”
(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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