Dementia can affect anyone, equally, and there’s no hierarchy of tragedy. There are however some people for whom I find the condition particularly poignant, as if dementia had set out solely to rob them of themselves. Speaking personally, I find it most affecting when someone I’ve admired for their use of language or for their prowess at sport are afflicted with the condition. Trevor Bailey was a man I admired both as a cricketer and as a writer and broadcaster, the memory of whom I celebrate.
Trevor Bailey was England’s best all-rounder between the retirement of Wilfred Rhodes in 1926 and Ian Botham’s debut in 1977. In a 21-year career between 1946 and 1967 he scored over 28,000 runs and took over 2,000 wickets, a feat which can never be equalled in today’s game. Yet, as every cricket fan knows, the numbers rarely tell half the story. In Bailey’s case they don’t tell a quarter.
There was a certain inevitability about Trevor Bailey’s sporting life. As a schoolboy Trevor Bailey’s sporting gifts won him a scholarship to Dulwich College where, aged 14, he was picked to play for the First XI alongside the 18 year-olds. The day the team was put up on the notice board he spent the morning inventing excuses to leave classes, just to check that his name was still there. A few years later he was Captain and, having led the XI to victory over its keenest rivals, he received a cheque from an alumnus – PG Wodehouse, no less - to take the team out for dinner at the Café Royal. Champagne and all. Those really were the days.
After war service Bailey played for Essex, never a fashionable club. He was soon playing for England alongside other amateurs such as Peter May and Colin Cowdrey. Unlike them, however, he displayed none of the carefree elegance expected of amateur player. He played instead with the dogged intensity of the experienced professional. When the chips were down, as they frequently were against Australia in those days, Bailey could be relied upon to battle it out. At Lord’s in 1953 he batted for over two sessions on the last day to deny Australia victory, and in Australia he later made the slowest 50 on record – it took him all of 357 minutes and it’s a record no-one wants to see beaten or, more accurately, wants to have to watch being beaten. As an amateur who played like a professional, Bailey won first the respect and then the affection of hardened professionals. Once, when the great Fred Trueman flattened him with a bouncer, he came round to the sound of Fred saying “Sorry about that, Trev lad, there’s plenty I’d rather hit ahead of thee”. Even the ranks of Tuscany, as Macaulay put it...
On retirement Trevor Bailey became the cricket reporter for the Financial Times and a broadcaster on Test Match Special. He wrote much the best biography of Sir Garfield Sobers and produced an autobiography which combined his native shrewdness with a fine line in self-deprecation. But it was as a broadcaster that he really shone. Unlike several of today’s semi-articulate former cricketers who try their hand at broadcasting he had a command of language equal to that of the great professionals, Arlott, Johnston and Gibson. As a summariser he was accurate and to the point. Cricket, he observed, is a “situational” game, and no-one ever read a situation more clearly. He would assess options and outline the possible outcomes in a way that intrigued and entranced the listener, and do it in a broadcasting style which ranged between the iconic and the terse. A “good shot!” from Bailey was, after all, underwritten by those 28,000 runs and 2,000 wickets.
Trevor Bailey died in 2011, having faded from the public eye after leaving the BBC in 2000. His feats as a cricketer dominated the obituaries, but it’s the man himself one admires. From an amateur background he studied both cricket and broadcasting until he could match the best of the professionals. He took the game absolutely seriously both as a player and a broadcaster but, if asked, would say he regarded himself as having been very lucky indeed. Cricket can, he realised, only be taken seriously because, in the wider scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter all that much. It’s an insight to treasure, and one which should be more widely understood in this era of hype and hysteria about sport.