Ken Barrington was one of the greatest run-machines the world has ever seen. If a cut-off of 2,500 Test runs is used, Barrington ranks third in the history of the sport after Don Bradman and Herbert Sutcliffe © Getty Images
Ken Barrington was one of the greatest run-machines the world has ever seen. If a cut-off of 2,500 Test runs is used, Barrington ranks third in the history of the sport after Don Bradman and Herbert Sutcliffe © Getty Images

Arguably the greatest ever middle-order batsman England has ever produced, Ken Barrington was born November 24, 1930. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the career of a legendary batsman, an incredible mentor and a colourful character.

There were two Ken Barringtons.

The first had stopped play once at Eden Gardens. As a kite had escaped the careless hands of a spectator at Eden Gardens, he chased the kite, and handed it back to the spectator with the elegant, graceful smile that so characterised him. He pretended to walk after a non-edge in mock disgust, only to resume his innings later with a wide grin. He won friends irrespective of match results, and is still remembered fondly by everyone remotely associated with the sport.

The second Ken Barrington was one of the greatest run-machines the world has ever seen. If a cut-off of 2,500 Test runs is used, Barrington ranks third in the history of the sport — after Don Bradman and Herbert Sutcliffe. It will not be an exaggeration to classify a career tally of 6,806 runs at 58.67 as once-in-a-generation. The audience craved for his square cuts and cover drives, and his concentration and fighting spirit are topics of cricket folklore.

As a kid, Barrington was a fast bowler who could bat a bit; he later took to leg-breaks, and was told “you will never make a living in cricket”. Aspiring to persist with his ambition, Barrington went on to become a member of the Surrey groundstaff, where he was spotted by Andy Sandham. Since Surrey already had star spinners like Jim Laker and Tony Lock in their line-up, Sandham asked him to concentrate on his batting. It was then that Alec Bedser predicted that Barrington would go on to play Test cricket.

After a brief stint with the army (which involved some leg-breaks on the matting wickets at Germany), Barrington joined Surrey in 1950. He quickly rose to the forefront, scoring 354 runs in the 1951 Minor Counties competition, and followed that up with a tally of 1,097 at 57.73 in 1952.

He was an automatic selection for the Surrey First XI in 1953. However, after a string of failures, he was sidelined; however, he came back in 1954, scoring his maiden county hundred against Gloucestershire; this involved a 198-run partnership with Jim Laker, of all people — who went on to score his maiden county hundred as well.

He continued to score prolifically in the County circuit, and made his Test debut at Trent Bridge against South Africa in 1955; he scored a duck on debut, and followed it up with 34 and 18 at Lord’s – and was promptly sent back to the first-class circuit until he emerged four years later. In the interim period he was perfectly happy to go back to Surrey and help the country in its golden run (Surrey won the County Championship from 1952 to 1958).

In the series against India at home Barrington scored 4 fifties in 6 innings, scoring 357 at 59.50. He even took 5 wickets at Old Trafford for good measure, and he was selected to tour West Indies in 1960. It also won him a place in the Wisden Cricketers’ List of the Year.

He began the West Indies tour with a 128 at Bridgetown. He was hit in his groin by Chester Watson on 97, but he progressed on a fast pitch to register his maiden Test hundred. In the next Test at Port-of-Spain the West Indians bowled with even more hostility; Barrington saw through the bouncer barrage — he went on to say “if these bowlers don’t watch out they’re going to kill someone” — and was hit on the head by Hall when on 87. However, Barrington batted on resiliently, scoring 121  and adding crucial runs with both Ted Dexter and Mike Smith; after West Indies were shot out by Fred Trueman and Brian Statham (supported by Barrington’s miserly leg-breaks), Barrington top-scored (again) with 49, and then took 2 wickets to help win the Test by 256 runs.

The rest of the series was not a peaceful one for Barrington. The West Indians, especially Hall, singled him as their main target. However, Barrington showed incredible courage for someone so inexperienced in the Test arena. Hall hit him multiple times in the third Test; he could somehow manage to play the fourth Test due to bronchial asthma; he was hit on the elbow by Hall almost immediately — and though he could not play any stroke he hung around when he came back after retiring hurt; and in the final Test, after retiring on being hit on the knuckles by Hall, he came back to counterattack, scoring a brave 69. England held on to their lead and won the series — their first time on West Indies soil – and Barrington emerged a hero, scoring 420 runs at 46.66.

He followed this performance with two impressive, but not exceptional home series against South Africa and Australia, and went on the twin tours of India and Pakistan in 1961-62 (the fixture was odd; the entire India series was sandwiched in between the first 2 Pakistan Tests). England had a depleted side, missing Colin Cowdrey as well as both Trueman and Statham. It was on these tours that he really came to his elements, both with his dogged, determined batting over long sessions and his incredible sense of humour that helped him gel with the crowd.

Barrington scored 139 and 6 at Karachi; 151 not out and 52 not out at Bombay; 21 and 172 at Kanpur; 113 not out at Delhi (making it 4 hundreds in 4 Tests); 14 and 3 at Calcutta; 20 and 48 at Madras; and 84 at Dacca. England won 1-0 in Pakistan but lost 0-2 to India, but Barrington was hailed a hero all around. He became so popular with his on-field mimicry of other cricketers that the crowd took to him instantly. There was a pitch invasion on a tour match at Poona, where someone from the crowd gifted him with a pair of sunglasses which he wore for the rest of the match. In between all this, he amassed 229 at 76.33 in Pakistan and topped the charts with 594 at 99.00 in India.

When the unfancied Englishmen toured Australia for the Ashes, few gave them a chance against Richie Benaud’s formidable side. However, it was largely due to Barrington’s 582 at 72.75 that they held on to the series 1-1. His aggregate was the Ashes record for an Englishman since Walter Hammond in 1928-29, and Barrington scored his first 2 Ashes hundreds in the process (including 101 and 94 at Sydney). The Ashes series firmly cemented Barrington’s place in the English squad. He took his form to New Zealand, and almost immediately slipped into a different mode against the weaker opposition: when he hit some fours to the on-side, the crowd on the off-side protested, and he immediately hit a six on the off. He also had a run of 6 consecutive Test fifties (63 and 132* at Adelaide; 101 and 94 at Sydney; 126 at Auckland; 76 at Wellington), and when he attempted a seventh to emulate Everton Weekes’ world record tally of 7, he came as close as scoring 47 and 45 at Christchurch.

He struggled against West Indies at home, and was really eager to tour India next season after his previous success. In the first Test at Madras India accumulated 457 for 7. However, as Barrington came out to bat, Micky Stewart and Jim Parks were down with severe stomach bugs high temperature, and had to stay back at the hotel; additionally, Fred Titmus and Barry Knight had declared themselves unwell as well. Under these circumstances, Barrington batted for 5 hours with Brian Bolus (Bapu Nadkarni returned figures of 32-27-5-0 to complement Chandu Borde’s 67.4-30-88-5), and some attritional batting of the driest form helped England save the Test. However, Barrington injured himself after the Test, and had to return home.

Australia won the return Ashes series 1-0 in a series that included Barrington’s career-best innings of 256 — the third-highest Ashes score by an Englishman after Len Hutton and Tip Foster — up against Australia’s 656 for 9. Barrington made 531 in the series at 75.85 and followed it up with 508 at 101.60 in South Africa. In the Cape Town Test, Eddie Barlow refused to walk when Peter Parfitt had caught him; when England’s turn came, Barrington feigned getting out (as mentioned earlier), and 3 runs later, walked when he was given not out. Surprisingly, the gesture earned him more flak than praise, but he that did not demoralise him: he went on to take 3 for 4 as the tenth bowler. He made 137 and 163 against New Zealand, and for the first time in his career his batting average crossed the 60-mark.

England could not regain the Ashes (they drew the series 1-1), but Barrington shone again, scoring 464 at 66.28: after scoring 60 and 102 in a lost cause at Adelaide, Barrington batted at Sydney like he had never done before in Test cricket; he hit the Australians all over, reaching his hundred with a six off only 122 balls. However, it was during this series that he felt an odd sense of fatigue, and he skipped the subsequent New Zealand tour. In the home series against West Indies, Hall, and especially Charlie Griffith, targeted him with their bouncer barrage, and Barrington had to pull out midway — once again due to fatigue.

He returned next year with a bang, scoring 3 fifties in 3 Tests against India, and 3 hundreds in 3 Tests against Pakistan. The third of these hundreds at The Oval was his 19th career hundred, putting him at par with Len Hutton and next to only Walter Hammond’s 22. He also became the first English batsman to score hundreds on all 6 of England’s major home Test venues.

Barrington was welcomed in West Indies next year with the chants of “Charlie’s waiting for you man. He’ll kill you.” Little did he know at that stage that he will breathe his last in those islands.

Despite all the mental disintegration he batted dazzlingly in the first Test at Port-of-Spain, reaching both his fifty and his hundred with sixes and scoring a fighting 143 against some hostile fast bowling. He celebrated his hundred on the ground with vigour uncharacteristic of a 37-year old man, and once again, he had managed to score 4 hundreds in 4 Tests; his average had soared above the 60-mark yet again, and once again he was instrumental in the 1-0 series win for England.

Barrington was dropped from the last of the Ashes Tests in the summer; trailing the series 0-1 England decided to drop Barrington (who had averaged 56.67 in the series) for the last Test as they needed to “score quickly”; England romped to victory by 226 runs, but little did people realize that Barrington’s Test career had ended. Barrington was included in the squad for South Africa, which was subsequently cancelled because of the Basil D’Oliveira incident.

Next year, while participating in the first -ever double wicket tournament (Barrington was paired with Colin Milburn) he collapsed on the ground. He was diagnosed with thrombosis, but he managed to have a full recovery. He announced his retirement on medical advice on his return to home.

After retirement Barrington served England as a national selector. He was a part of the committee that was responsible for several major decisions in the mid-1970s, including the appointment of the aggressive Tony Greig as captain and recalling the 45-year old Brian Close to face the West Indian fast bowlers.

He also managed several English sides overseas – to Australia, India, Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies. On the West Indies tour of 1980-81, marred by the protest against Robin Jackman’s inclusion in the English squad, Barrington was the assistant manager — a deputy to Alan Smith — and a mentor to the young talent like Graham Gooch, David Gower, Mike Gatting and Ian Botham, with whom he shares a birthday.

On the first night of the Bridgetown Test Barrington had another heart attack and passed away.

It was ironic that he would die in the same city where he had scored his maiden Test hundred. Gooch scored a brilliant fourth-innings 116 (out of a team total of 224) and had mentioned that he had started the innings with tears in his eyes in memory of Barrington and “I kept thinking of him and managed to make a hundred”.

Barrington was the epitome of English cricket. He played cricket the way it should be played – hard, gritty, dour – but definitely not without the fun bit. He enjoyed the sport, gave it his all, and remains one of the true greats of the sport: a champion batsman – especially under adverse conditions – and a great character.

(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)