Trevor Bailey, born December 3, 1923, is remembered as a dour, stonewalling batsman with the fitting nickname Barnacle. However, there was much more to his cricket — including an array of strokes seldom unveiled, incisive fast-medium bowling and superb close to the wicket catching.Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who was one of the greatest all-rounders to play for England.
“His forward defence, head over the ball, the blade immaculately straight — became, like Churchill’s victory sign — a symbol of defiance. From this one stroke could be told the character of the man. It was resolute and impenitent,” wrote John Woodcock.
The Australians were rather less effusive of his impregnable technique and often infuriatingly scoreless periods. They called him the ‘Barnacle’.
The memories of Trevor Bailey, and the associated anecdotes, hence revolve around his adhesive qualities, perversity of batting marathons performed through stubborn stonewalling. After all, catch-phrases, like the alliterative Barnacle-Bailey, go a long way in creating the perceptions in cricket history.
What such partial retelling undermines is Bailey’s immense value as an all-rounder, the best in England between the Golden Age of George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes and the maverick genius of Ian Botham.
The Birth of the Barnacle
The image of the ultra-defensive batsman that sticks to our minds was born during the famous Ashes series contested in the Coronation Year of 1953, a showdown that caught the imagination of the nation.
England had not won a home series against Australia for 27 years. By the second Test at Lord’s it seemed that tradition was destined to continue. Set 343 to win, England had finished the penultimate day tottering at 20 for three, having lost Len Hutton, Don Kenyon and Tom Graveney.
Bailey walked out the next morning after Denis Compton had fallen leg-before to Bill Johnston, the score reading 73 for four, with aeons left to play. At the other end was another footballer-come-cricketer in Willie Watson.
For Bailey, who was still on the books of Walsthamstow Avenue, it was a defining juncture. He had been part of the FA Amateur Cup winning Walsthamstow Avenue team of 1952. But this year, after the team’s exit from the Cup, he had been advised to give up soccer for good. He had also been afflicted by a bout of shingles — the aftermath of an accident. There was a different look to Bailey as he stood that day in front of an attack consisting of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Doug Ring, Bill Johnston, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson.
The partnership between Watson and Bailey lasted from 12.42 pm to 5.50 pm, a period that kept the country on tenterhooks. Watson was elegant in his resistance. Bailey simply got his front foot out to the pitch of the ball, stuck his nose down and looked as if he would not budge for a squadron of tanks, let alone the Australian attack.
As the score crossed 200 and then 225, there was a suggestion from Watson that they should go for the target. Bailey simply turned his back and walked away.
Watson departed for 109, leaving England at 236 for five. Ten runs later, Bailey drove Ring to the cover, and Benaud clutched the ball near his midriff. According to Essex teammate and life-long friend Doug Insole, “For what seemed an eternity, Bailey stood, swayed slightly to and fro, as if from shock, and then drew his gloved hand across his forehead in a gesture of despair.” He was mortified at his lapse of concentration. Even Wisden reported, “Bailey’s annoyance was plain for us to see.” He at last walked back for 71, scored in well over four and quarter hours.
Freddie Brown, Godfrey Evans and Johnny Wardle saw England to a draw through the last 35 minutes of knuckle cracking and nail gnawing tension. The papers of the following day crowned Watson and Bailey as the heroes of the nation.
But, that was just the prelude. Bailey’s reputation was about to be etched into permanence at Headingley in the fourth Test.
Once again, England finished the fourth day precariously, just 78 ahead in their second innings for the loss of four wickets. Compton and Bailey were at the crease — the former already hit on the left hand by a Lindwall lifter, and the latter nursing a bruised knee.
The following morning, Bailey walked out accompanied by Evans — Compton’s injured hand had become useless and he could no longer grip the bat. The wicketkeeper could score just one before holing out off Miller.
As Jim Laker joined him at the wicket, Bailey carried on with a bat that took on the proportion of a barn-door by the minute. Lindwall and Miller bowled over after over. Laker suddenly rediscovered some of the skills that made him a batsman of no mean talent and considerable elegance in his earlier days. And Bailey was content with being exact in his defence. According to Neville Cardus, “Bailey defended on principle, half-volleys or good ones.”
Not only was Bailey steadfast at the wicket, there were other tricks of the trade he was audacious enough to invent and use. As lunch approached, he noticed from the non-striker’s end that Lindwall was about to peel off his sweater to start a new over. And on this beautiful summer day with cloudless blue skies, he motioned to Laker to appeal against the light. The umpires, the seasoned Frank Chester and Frank Lee, were mystified by the subsequent appeal. They met in the middle to confer and precious moments were lost. When they decided to reject the appeal and continue, there was no time for another over before lunch.
Laker fell for an excellent 48 — an innings studded with impeccable cover drives that, given the circumstances, had an amount of comic appeal. Tony Lock batted 38 minutes, Alec Bedser hung around for 41. Bailey was the last out after a vigil of four hours and 23 minutes, having faced 275 balls. He had scored 38.
His role in the match was not yet over. Australia, set 177 to win in 115 minutes, went after the runs with full spirit and confidence. And when Arthur Morris and later Neil Harvey tore into Lock and Laker, elementary arithmetic showed that they were ahead of the clock. And Hutton, in desperation, turned to Bailey.
It was just a tentative query from the captain who had kept him away from bowling because of the long innings. The answer was, “Give me the ball.” Bailey marked out a huge run up, and proceeded on a concentrated attack nine inches outside the leg stump, with six men to guard the on-side. Periodically, he had problems with his bootlaces. Graeme Hole swept him high, but Graveney clutched the near six high over his head on the edge of the boundary. Bailey sent down six overs that day, claiming one wicket for nine runs. When time ran out, Australia were 30 runs short.
In the final Test at The Oval, Australia scored 275. Bailey came in with England on 167 for four, the decider hanging on a knife’s edge. He batted with the tail, with Lock, Laker and Fred Trueman, and added a crucial 44 with Bedser to ensure a vital 31 run lead. He scored 64. “During my stand with Trueman, I realised for the first time the match was ours, because immediately Johnston had relieved Lindwall the ball began to turn sharply.” Bailey was known to be one of the finest judges of match situations. In Australia’s second innings, the Surrey spin-twins, Lock and Laker, skittled the visitors for 162. England won the Ashes amidst national euphoria.
And as a result, Bailey gained renown as a dourly defensive batsman, who could not be budged from the wicket. In his own words, as public interest grew in intensity with the unfolding drama, “I was now regarded everywhere as the most limpet-like of stonewallers.” He grew into the role. And with time, he revelled at infuriating opponents and spectators with his defensive play.
Even his bowling is often unfairly remembered for his medium paced negative tactics on that Headingley afternoon. And it was further conjectured that he could do anything for a win — or a draw.
Much more than a barnacle
Trevor Bailey was much more than a defensive batsman and a negative bowler.
When he was named by Wisden as one of the five cricketers of 1950, the almanac stated, “Bailey is a capable number five or six batsman. He would be content to play sound cricket, but circumstances have tended to make him an aggressive player. He is an attractive stroke-player, with fondness for the cut, but can score freely with the drive and leg side strokes.”
And when Michael Atherton was naïve enough to suggest that Bailey was merely a hack trundle, Doug Insole snapped at him, “You wouldn’t have said that if you had been on the receiving end of one of his bouncers.”
Indeed Bailey was much more than a trundler. He could be fast, disconcertingly so – although he consciously cut down his pace. At his best, he could cross over to the realms of greatness with the ball.
On a docile Kingston wicket in 1954, he opened the bowling – a task he was rarely called upon to perform – and took seven for 34 while demolishing West Indies for 139. Trueman, who was his partner with the new ball in the innings, and got two scalps. Bailey followed it up by opening the batting, and saw through till stumps with Len Hutton. The next morning, he became the first Test wicket of a 17-year-old debutant named Garfield Sobers. In the autobiography of Sobers, there is a picture of his youthful self-celebrating his first success. The caption reads: “My first wicket: the Barnacle himself.” England won the Test to square the series.
Then there was Johannesburg in late 1956, with a buoyant South Africa requiring 204 to win in the fourth innings. By the end of the day Bailey had taken four and the hosts were reeling at 40 for seven. They managed to get to 72, with the Essex all-rounder taking five for 20 from 15.4 eight ball overs.
And finally the superb Lord’s outing against West Indies in 1957, when he demolished a line-up of Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes, Rohan Kanhai and Garry Sobers with 11 wickets for 98 in the match.
There was Alec Bedser, later Fred Trueman, Brian Statham and Frank Tyson, sometimes Peter Loader. Bailey was the perennial backup, providing lethal sting of an unknown, lethal variety, seldom seen in a first or second change.
As a schoolboy cricketer, Bailey performed the rare feat of establishing a reputation during the War years.
Born at Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, Bailey played cricket on the beach while reading Sherlock Holmes and Alexander Dumas in his spare time. He was soon introduced to Charles Dickens and HG Wells as well, and his love for books would stay with him all his life.
He also played a lot of cricket on his own, throwing the ball against the wall and batting with a sawn off stump. Most of his personal games were ‘Tests’ between England and Australia, with his favourites Harold Larwood and Don Bradman in action. The imaginary matches were meticulously recorded in scorebooks, and later Bailey recalled, “My Bradman scored a lot of runs.”
Bailey was admitted to Alleyn Court Preparatory School – and it was perhaps the most fortuitous event of his life. It neatly coincided with the looming guidance of Denys Wilcox, just down from Cambridge as headmaster, who had captained the University team and Sussex. Wilcox taught him the fundamentals of batting. By the time he was 11, the master believed that the boy had the ability to become a First-Class cricketer.
Playing his last season for the school at the age of 13, Bailey scored 1109 runs at 138.20 and took 52 wickets at 7.03. He was also the winner in events like high jump, hurdles, throwing the cricket ball and the quarter mile.
At 14, he played for Essex Club and Ground. Captain Brian Castor, county secretary and something of a martinet, approached him before the match. When asked him what he bowled, Bailey did not hesitate to say ‘fast’. In his first over, a very quick ball was snicked by the tentative batsman and dropped at slip by Castor. Bailey’s reaction and flow of language delighted the young Essex professionals in the team.
Moving on to Dulwich, he played for the XI in his very first year. He started as a fast bowler and gradually worked his way to being a major batsman as well. The team remained undefeated in 1938. It is rumoured that Bailey’s inclusion was made at the instigation of a distinguished Dulwich Old Boy — PG Wodehouse.
At the end of the season, Wodehouse treated the entire team to dinner at West End, followed by a show at the London Palladium.
However, Bailey’s instinctive defensive methods at the crease did make themselves manifest in the summer of 1939. Wodehouse watched Dulwich play St Paul’s, reportedly the last ever game of cricket the writer saw outside a German camp. He reported in The Alleynian, “Bailey awoke from an apparent coma to strike a boundary.” The innings still haunted the novelist 22 years later, and he told journalist Alistair Cooke, “T Bailey played a dreadful innings.”
However, Bailey headed both the batting and bowling averages in 1939 and 1940. Along with future Kent cricketer AWH Mallett, he laid the foundations for the golden age of Dulwich cricket.
At Dulwich, Bailey was helped in his cricket by former England leg-spinner CS Marriott and two veteran professionals, Bill Brown and George Fuller. Two county cricketers Billy Griffith and Grahame Parker also joined the staff. There were three other masters who played in the Minor Counties championship. There could not have been a better school to attend for an aspiring cricketer.
When Bailey was made a CBE in 1994, he wore his school tie for his moment with the Queen. He knew how important those days had been.
As the War broke out, the Bailey family moved to a flat in Dulwich. It was deemed safer than the Essex coastline and was also convenient for Bailey’s father who worked in the Admiralty. As it happened, the Luftwaffe raided London for the first time on the night of their arrival. But ultimately, it proved a convenient arrangement for Bailey.
During the cricket-deprived War days, Bailey’s performances as a school cricketer impressed many onlookers —among them Douglas Jardine and Andy Ducat. In 1942, his final season in Dulwich, The Cricketer declared him to be the finest boy bowler of the year. His 1941 batting average of 121.57 was a record in Public Schools cricket.
The effect of 721
On leaving school Bailey joined the Royal Marines and became a training officer in charge of landing craft. However, he was more of a pacifist and never grew to enjoy the mayhem around him.
During this period Bailey broadened his cricket education playing with or against future England colleagues Alec Bedser and Denis Compton. He also turned out alongside Bob Wyatt, Les Ames, Learie Constantine and CS Dempster. In particular, the most impactful performance during the period was his 112 run stand with Ames snatched an eight run victory for England against the Dominions.
In January 1945, Bailey obtained an early release from the Marines to become a schoolmaster at Alleyn Court. He made his debut for Essex in the summer of 1946, while also taking up the role of an assistant secretary of the county club.
In October 1946, on the advice of Wilcox, Bailey went up to St John’s College, Cambridge, to undertake a two-year degree in History and English. There, he predictably earned his Cricket Blue. At the same time, in 1947, he played 10 matches for Essex, scoring 205 against Sussex at Eastbourne. It would remain his highest score in First-Class cricket. The second hundred was scored in 80 minutes, demonstrating that he had not always been dour and dull at the wicket.
Significantly, he also won two soccer Blues, playing on the right wing, with Doug Insole, his future Essex captain, at inside right. This was remarkable since Dulwich had been a rugby school, where he had played little of no football. He continued his association with soccer by playing for Leytonstone in the Isthmian League and then for Walthamstow.
It was on a visit to Germany with the Cambridge football side that Bailey got burdened with his other nickname. The announcer on the public address system tripped on the names of the foreign players and blurted, “Boiley at the outside-right.” The name soon became popular and within a few days East End supporters were chanting, “Come on, Boiley”. Thus, Bailey became “The Boil”.
Not wanting to interrupt his studies at the University, Bailey made himself unavailable for the tour of West Indies in the winter of 1947. However, international cricket was about to strike him with a rude shock.
When Bradman’s all-conquering Australians came over to play at Fenners, Bailey gave a good account of himself with an unbeaten 66 in the second innings as the University men were beaten by an innings. The following day, the visitors were scheduled to play Essex. Bailey hitched a ride on the Australian team coach to get to Southend, a trip that he later described as a considerable culture shock.
At lunch the following day, the Australians were 202 for one. By the end of the day they piled up 721. Bradman got 187, Bill Brown 153, Sam Loxton 120, Ron Saggers 104 not out. Bailey finished with 128 runs from 21 overs, with the wickets of Brown, and Keith Miller. The latter supposedly missed a straight ball, unwilling to feast on a battered attack. The young all-rounder did not bat because of a broken finger.
The match had two effects on Bailey. Firstly, for the rest of his life, he insisted that Bradman was in a different league from any other batsman. More importantly, he realised that he was never going to be a quick bowler in the truest sense – never in the league of Lindwall and Miller. He worked on his action, cut out the ‘windmill’ circle of the bowling arm, developed a change of pace, used the full width of the bowling crease. He ran in at an angle vastly different from his earlier straight approach, and also experimented with his grip on the ball. After this, he remained a fast-medium bowler.
Bailey enjoyed a spectacular summer of 1949, achieving the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets for the first of the eight times in his career. In August, he took all 10 wickets in the innings against Lancashire at Clacton.
He made his Test debut against New Zealand, taking six for 118 in the first Test at Headingley and hitting 93 in the second Test at Lord’s and again getting six for 84 in the third at Old Trafford.
The 93 at Lord’s was a knock many considered brighter in terms of strokeplay than the Denis Compton century scored on the same day. It is curious to note how drastically things would change in the next five years. When in 1954, Compton played that innings of 278 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge, Bailey was his partner for a long while. In the midst of extraordinary stroke-play, Compton took a single and the crowd was treated to another of Bailey’s forward defensive blocks. And John Arlott’s voice announced on the radio, “After Lord Mayor’s carriage comes the dust cart.”
Bailey started out well on his first tour to Australia in 1950-51, combining superbly with Besder and capturing 13 wickets in the first two Tests. However, when Lindwall fractured his thumb with a snorter, a blow was struck directly at the heart of England. It took a while for Bailey to recover. However, he did get better in time to score his only Test hundred at Christchurch during the New Zealand leg of the tour.
It was after the Ashes series of 1953 that Bailey grew into the grim, defensive batsman and one of the leading members of the team. He was appointed Hutton’s deputy for the series in West Indies in 1953-54. Apart from his bowling success on the tour, he was soon acknowledged to be one of the game’s leading thinkers.
Frank Tyson recalled that Bailey’s acumen as a psychologist often came to the aid of Hutton. “Trevor was an original who thought up new ideas and was so conversant with the laws of cricket that he foresaw solutions before the problems occurred. The imperturbable man could easily have been the Sigmund Freud of cricket.”
In the Australian tour of 1954-55, Bailey’s contribution was of no less importance than the heroics of Peter May, Colin Cowdrey, Frank Tyson and Brian Statham. He fought hard in the defeat at Brisbane, scoring 88 stubborn runs. After that he was always there as an incisive change bowler to back up Hutton’s pace theory. His most important role was to keep the dangerous Neil Harvey tied down while Tyson and Statham combined to bowl the rest of the batsmen out.
On this tour he also created a disturbance in the orderly system of the universe when he heaved Ian Johnson for six. This got him the £100 offered by a local businessman for the first six of the tour by an Englishman. “He can hardly have envisaged Bailey as the recipient,” wrote Alan Ross. One observer commented that the umpire went up and spoke to the conscience-stricken Bailey. There were some who said that he offered to take Bailey’s temperature.
His other great successful tour was in South Africa in 1956-57, when he opened the batting with Peter Richardson against the ferocious attack of Neil Adcock and Peter Heine. This particular series saw him bowl England to victory in the first Test at Johannesburg, after which he refused the post-match celebratory beer in favour of English tea. It also showcased some other facets of his cricket.
With Richardson he struck up a superb association at the top. During one Test, Heine struck Richardson a blow on the head. Wicketkeeper John Waite expressed some concern, but Heine himself was less courteous. He approached the English batsman with belligerence, letting loose a stream of African expletives. Bailey, from the non-striker’s end, calmly observed, “Peter is perfectly all right. Heine isn’t quick enough to hurt him.”
At Durban, the two put on a century partnership before lunch. The understanding was so good that they adopted the personas of past masters, Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. The calls came through “one, Sir Jack” or “two, Herbert”, much to the surprise of the Springboks. When Richardson asked, “Why do you get the knighthood?” Bailey responded, “Well, because I’m a better player than you.”
The summer of 1957 saw one of the greatest performances from Bailey in First-Class cricket. Playing against Hampshire at Romford, he made 59 out of a first innings score of 130. When Hampshire batted, he took six for 32 in a total of 109. In the second innings, he hit an unbeaten 71 out of 141. And finally he bowled Hampshire out for 116 with figures of eight for 49. Incredibly, he was not chosen for the series against India even as he rode the crest of form in the county circuit.
The last tour
On his third and final tour of Australia in 1958-59, Bailey opened the batting once again. However, his only performance of note was a genuine Barnacle-like 68 at Brisbane compiled over seven and a half hours. In this innings he manufactured the crisis situation rather than helping England out of it. The Australian public, watching live telecast of Test matches for the first time, were no doubt driven to the limits of sanity by the demonstration of strokelessness. Bailey did little more on that tour. Especially with the ball his return of four wickets in the Tests was more than a disappointment. He did not play for England again.
However, he was far from finished with cricket. For Essex he scored more than 2,000 runs and took more than 100 wickets in the very next season. In 1960, he played a leading role in defeating Yorkshire, the county champions, by scoring a 60 not out and 46 and claiming seven for 40 and five for 61.
Bailey represented Essex till 1967, and was the captain when the county side from 1961 to 1966. He had the satisfaction of leading the county to a win over Australia in 1964. It was sweet revenge for the humiliation suffered in 1948.
In 682 First-Class matches, Bailey amassed 28,641 runs with 28 centuries at an average of 33.42, and took 2,082 wickets at 23.13 apiece. Only nine men have achieved the double of 20000 runs and 2000 wickets in the history of cricket. Bailey, Fred Titmus and Ray Illingworth are the only ones to do so since the Second World War. William Astill, WG Grace, George Hirst, Wilfred Rhodes, Maurice Tate and Frank Woolley are the old timers to have achieved the feat.
In his 61 Tests, Bailey scored 2290 runs at 29.74 with that one hundred against New Zealand, and took 132 wickets at 29.21.
Along with Wilfred Rhodes, Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and Tony Greig, Bailey forms a select band of English cricketers with 2000 runs and 100 wickets.
According to his opening partner Richardson, Bailey was the concrete around which dashers could build their innings. Bailey could not only save England in moments of extreme crisis. He could do so by getting under the skin of the opponents. Tyson marvelled at his ability to wind up fast bowlers, by playing the bouncers off the front foot, making contact just in front of the helmet, moving his head to one side and impishly smiling at the assailant.
With the ball he was a thinking operator, with the ability to gauge the weakness of the batsman and to effectively cut out his scoring opportunities. He had a potent out-swinger, could cut the ball both ways, and sometimes send in a slower ball — a genuine off-spinner.
According to the retrospectively calculated ICC Rankings, Bailey was the best all-rounder of the world for most of his career. As a bowler we find him as high as number eight in 1957.
Additionally Bailey was a fantastic fielder, especially close in, with the ability to snap up match changing blinders. Once in Melbourne in 1951, he was fielding at gully to Freddie Brown when he flung himself to the left to catch Lindsay Hassett. And at Lord’s in 1956, he caught Neil Harvey at leg-slip, right handed and with a full dive from an authentic leg glance off Trueman.
Bailey’s links with cricket continued well beyond his playing days. He had already carved a niche for himself as a sports columnist for Financial Times during his playing days. In 1968 he embarked on a long-running assignment as broadcaster on Test Match Special. Christopher Martin Jenkins later recalled how he brought the Dickensian tone of Mr Jingle of Pickwick Papers in his comments at the end of the day’s play. “Very good bowler, bad day” “Good county bowler, struggling at this level.” Martin-Jenkins recalled that once he had called Bailey the greatest distiller since Johnny Walker.
He also wrote for both the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, and about football for The Observer.
Apart from the pieces for the papers and magazines, Bailey also wrote a number of books. These include his splendid autobiography Wickets, Catches and the Odd Run along with Greatest of My Time; Sir Gary: a life of Sir Garfield Sobers , History of Cricket, From Larwood to Lillee (with Fred Trueman), The Spinners Web and Greatest Since My Time.
During his playing days, Bailey advertised Brylcreem, Lucozade and Shredded Wheat, and also claimed to be the first cricketer to have a sponsored car. Teammates marvelled at the way he refused the entertainment of the evenings and retired to his room to work on match reports. His hotel bedroom was referred to as “the office” because of the typewriter, sheafs of papers, and orderly set up.
Additionally, the cine films he took on tours became lasting treasures for historians of cricket.
Trevor Bailey, died on February 10, 2011, succumbing to injuries after a fire broke out at his home. He was 87.