Doug Insole: All round sportsman and worthy administrator

Doug Insole, who passed away on August 5, 2017, was revered as an administrator, but there was much more to this brilliant all-round sportsman.

Doud Insole (April 18, 1926 - August 5, 2017) © Getty Images
Doud Insole (April 18, 1926 – August 5, 2017) © Getty Images

Doug Insole, who passed away on August 5, 2017, was revered as an administrator, but there was much more to this brilliant all-round sportsman. Arunabha Sengupta pays tribute to this memorable cricket personality.

Doug Insole will be forever revered as an administrator.

His principal contribution to the cause of the noble game was during his stint as the chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB). It was in that capacity that he steered conventional establishment-backed cricket through the turbulent times of the Kerry Packer revolution. He came through with flying colours, employing a striking common-sense approach and arriving at decisions laced with the right sprinkling of wisdom. It led to his being appointed a CBE in 1979.

That also exonerated him of his other major decision, that as the Chairman of Selectors of England in the 1960s. It was not really his decision to leave out Basil D’Oliveira for the South African tour of 1968-69. In fact, it was also not his decision to include him down the line. These options were discussed, deliberated, negotiated, approved, and authorised by important, and often impotent, men dealing with the extremely convoluted diplomatic situation. However, it was Insole who came out and said that there were rather better candidates for the South African odyssey, even after Dolly had scored that famous 158 at The Oval. It was the one black mark on his career.

His other momentous decision as the Chairman of Selectors was sensational and colourful. It was to drop Geoff Boycott for his slow batting after the Yorkshire opening batsman had scored 246 not out against India. Boycott never forgave him. Even in 2012 he maintained that Insole “should have spelt his name with an A”.

Later Insole became the Chairman of the European Cricket Council. He joined the MCC committee as far back as in the mid-1950s as a player. He served the committee across 38 years until 1994, and later became the MCC President fora year in 2006.

But Insole was much more than just an administrator. He was a fantastic all-round sportsman.

As a cricketer he was mainly an unorthodox batsman, effective and often prolific. As a medium pacer he was decent enough to capture 138 First-Class wickets. As a fielder he was brilliant in the slips and sometimes even kept wickets. And as a captain he was intelligent, attacking and popular, always adventurous and exciting.

Starting out as a wicket-keeper batsman of Cambridge, he became one of the pillars of the Essex team of the 1950s. Insole was the major influence behind transforming the county side into one of the best of the decade.

The other feature of Insole’s career was that he was an amateur in an age when that quaint breed was fast dying out of the game. When he scored 2,427 runs at 42.57 with 9 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 that summer.

He managed to playonly 9 Tests, across a period of 7 years, and suffered from the slightly confused role description. He was ostensibly chosen because his bowling supplemented his batting, and England supposedly needed him as an all-rounder. But, strangely, he was never called upon to bowl in Test cricket. His batting, used mostly in the lower middle order, remained largely ordinary. Yet, there were moments to remember — including being appointed vice-captain for a tour to South Africa.

His Test career was largely a start-stop one.

In 1949, he got three hundreds, against Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Middlesex. This won him a place in the England side for the third Test at Nottingham against the visiting West Indians.

It was baptism by fire. The score read 25 for 4 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. In the second innings 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 domestic form in the 1954 and 1955 seasons got him back into the Test team. He played against South Africa at Headingley, 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.

The success in the county circuit continued in 1956 and it suddenly 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 4 and 8.

Insole topped the England batting averages for the series with 312 runs at 39. On the tour he managed 996 runs at 47.42 with 4 hundreds. Yet, he played only one more Test.

When the West Indians visited again in 1957, Ramadhin cast a spell once morein 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.

Insole managed 408 runs from 9 Tests at 27.20. He continued to turn out for Essex and was hugely successful in 1959, with 2,045 runs at 45 with 5 hundreds. However, after that his form dipped and gradually he faded away from the First-Class scene.

In 450 First-Class matches, he 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 sides apart from Essex.

But, as a sportsman, Insole was more than just a cricketer.

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.

Yes, there was much more to Doug Insole than just someone who flourishingly donned the hat of a cricket administrator. Apart from his achievements in the sporting world, from 1975 until 1991 he was also marketing director of the construction company Trollope & Colls.

Insole passed away on August 5, 2017. He was 91.

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