Tom Graveney’s cricket delighted the cockles of the heart in many a manner © Getty Images
Tom Graveney’s cricket delighted the cockles of the heart in many a manner © Getty Images

Tom Graveney, who passed away on November 3, 2015, was one of the most elegant batsmen of all time. Arunabha Sengupta pays homage to the cricketer who was known for his charm on and off the field.

“In an age preoccupied by accountancy, he has given the game warmth and colour and inspiration far beyond the tally of the scorebook,” wrote JM Kilburn about Tom Graveney.

Graveney’s cricket delighted the cockles of the heart in many a manner. His cover drive, tinged as it was with his Gloucestershire roots, sent many a rheumy-eyed fan on nostalgic trips down memory lane. No one had played this most universally pleasing of cricketing strokes as well as he since the great Wally Hammond. And few have matched him in this regard ever since. Tom Graveney passes away at 88

Then there were the final fairy tale days of his pomp and glory, that too after reaching an age when most cricketers are wont to hang up his boots and recollect their good old days far too frequently and with far too much pink in the tints of their glasses. Graveney, however, had no need to stretch his memories beyond the framework of facts. He was busy working miracles on the pitch.

Recalled to the England side at the age of 39, he came out at No. 3 at Lord’s and played a majestic innings of 96 against Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. He hooked the fearsome fast bowlers disdainfully off his front foot; the drives remained crunchy and effortless as ever.

In the following Test at Trent Bridge, he blasted 11 fours and a six to score 109, rescuing the England innings from 13 for 3. And in the final Test at The Oval he was absolutely regal in his brilliance. He spent six hours at the crease, once again reviving England from yet another collapse. From 166 for 7, he put on 217 with wicketkeeper John Murray before being run out for 165. It was a breath-taking effort and won England the Test. Tom Graveney: The man who played his best cricket after he turned 39

Monumental those feats might have been, but our man was far from done. In the following summer, Graveney constructed another masterpiece at Lord’s — 151 against Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and EAS Prasanna. It led to an OBE from the Queen in the New Year of 1968. Graveney celebrated the honour by creaming 118 against his favourite West Indies attack in Port-of-Spain — a century he considered his best ever. During the Ashes that followed he hit 96 at Edgbaston and scored 63 at The Oval in that memorable triumph over the Aussies and rain. In the fourth Test at Headingley, in the absence of Colin Cowdrey, he led England for the first time.

Travelling to Pakistan, just a few months shy of 42, Graveney scored 105 at Karachi, putting together a rollicking partnership with Colin Milburn. He was seriously considered as a candidate for captaincy, but ultimately the selectors opted for Ray Illingworth. Finally, with his favourite West Indians visiting again in 1969, he hit 75 well compiled runs at Old Trafford in an innings win. That was unfortunately his last Test.

He had done quite well in his first tenure for England. His 55 Tests had brought 3,107 runs at 41.98 with 6 hundreds. Even in the early days, his twirly back-lift, the booming strokes and the flourish at the end of the cover drive gladdened many a heart. But, as Frank Keating put it “the batsmanship of Our Tom was of the orchard rather than the forest, blossom susceptible to frost but breathing in the sunshine.” His successes were many and laced with elegance and grace, but punctuated by ordinary efforts when England needed him most.

However, from the day of his unexpected recall, Graveney rode his dream second coming to notch up 1,775 in 24 Tests at 49.30 with 5 hundreds. The second phase of his career soared to heights that the first had always promised but never really scaled.

During the first Test of his return, he had been taunted from beyond the boundary: “Heh, Graveney, haven’t they got a pension scheme in this country?” No one dared raise such irreverent queries any more. He had proved to be of a rare mature vintage.

However, Graveney’s final exit was clouded by controversy. He travelled to Luton during the rest day of the Old Trafford Test to take part in a match between Tom Graveney XI and Bobby Simpson XI — a match played for his benefit — thereby earning £1000 and the wrath of the selectors. He never played for England again. “It was a miserable way to finish,” he recalled.

Life was another story, though. His charm and dignified bearing made him one of the most admired and likable men of cricket. Decades after his retirement, people till spoke of him as “A superb cricketer and a lovely human being.”

After his cricketing days, Graveney remained on the green fields; although hitting a stationary ball. Like Hammond, the man he was so often compared to, he was a scratch golfer. At the age of 57, he finished fourth in a national long driving contest. He played for many years with a handicap of one, and once appeared in a televised match alongside Johnny Miller against Nick Faldo and Henry Cooper.

Later, he became chairman of MCC in 2004 and was inducted into the International Cricket Council Hall of Fame in 2009.

One would have loved a second coming in his life as well, as he had enjoyed in his cricket. But fate has its own book of laws.

However, he did enjoy a long innings and remained to the end, at least to the many who watched him in his prime, the very definition of grandeur and grace in the art of batting. As Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote in 1997, “All opinions are subjective, but in his long career I believe truly that there was no more elegant or charming batsman.” Many who have seen him bat agree to the whole-heartedly.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)