Quick single: He came like a king

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Hammond’s walk was the most handsome in all cricket, smooth in the evenness of stride, precise in balance. It was a flow of movement linking stillness to stillness. It was, as much as any feature of athletics, the poetry of motion.

JM Kilburn’s effusive description of Wally Hammond, walking to the crease at Lord’s in 1938, continued: “He came like a king and he looked like a king in his coming.” Kilburn acknowledges that Hammond essentially did not look any different that day than he normally did walking to the crease, although there was “an added quality”. It’s not that real or imagined otherness of the day Hammond went on to score 240 that interests me, but that he could be recognised by his walk.

The cricketers, if in silhouette and without context of match or location, that could be identified from their walk to the crease, is not, I think, great in number. Two immediately come to my mind. There’s Viv Richards, hips swaying, shoulders rolling. And I think I could pick out Alan Border: short steps and head tilted upwards to the sky and turning, like a meerkat looking out for airborne predators.

I am sure that if you watched a team all summer, you could come to recognise each player from his or her non-batting or bowling movements. For those of us following the game at a distance, or seeing a little of a lot of cricketers, there needs to be something very distinctive for the silhouette test to work.

With Jonny Bairstow’s recall to the England Test team, we have two players to view in the Ashes contest with very individual ways of running. Bairstow, in the field, works his limbs like someone unfamiliar with cross-country skis, trying to escape a polar bear over snow. Steve Smith, running between the wickets is a flurry of arms, legs and bat.

In the six months that I have had the picture at the head of this piece on my wall, I have come to enjoy it for an associated reason. In this case, though, it’s not movement that identifies the player, but fixed posture. Each of England’s three slip fielders (and to a lesser extent, the gulley) has a characteristic stance: feet position, bracing of the knees, prominence of backside, tension in the arms and shoulders. I am convinced I could recognise them separately from the context of the opening delivery of the 2005 Ashes. Are there other slip-fielders you find similarly recognisable?

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

3 responses to “Quick single: He came like a king”

  1. brianc576 says :

    I thought this was excellent, Chris.

    I think most people of our generation would be able to see Allan Border walking to the wicket in their mind’s eye as a result of your lovely and original characterisation. I certainly can.

    Re the fielders in the picture, like you I can instantly recognize the slips (although this partly comes from knowing who the England slips would have been on that day) but I’m not sure about the gully. Is it KP?

    I can also easily identify Vaughan at extra cover/mid-off. The sunhat and the crouching stance do it, although a more recognizable pose would also include him pointing. I watched lots of England under his captaincy and that was him: wearing a sunhat and pointing, constantly pointing. All captains do it, but it’s stuck in my mind about Vaughan more than most, probably because there was always such a sense of reassuring authority about him, coupled with a feeling that he wanted to move the game on. For me no England captain since has come close, although Strauss was, of course, very successful with an outstanding side.

    The Jonny Bairstow description was also great. Presumably you meant ‘skis’ rather than ‘skies’, although the latter could almost work just as well.

    • chrisps says :

      That’s an acute observation about Vaughan – instantly conjures him up in my mind. I wonder if any other captain has been as self-conscious of their appearance in the field? Jardine, Greig, etc may all have been highly distinctive, but I feel each was being true to their self. Vaughan, interpreting what he has said about himself, was acting a role.

      It is KP at gulley. He was shifted around the field in that series as he dropped three or four chances early on. Who knows, if he had become a member of the slip cordon, he might have been more accepted. Am I right that he didn’t field in the slips for England?

      The sky is the limit for Bairstow this summer, but I had meant for him to be skiing!

      Chris

  2. Brian Carpenter says :

    I thought it was KP. From the height, apart from anything else. His debut, of course.

    And I remember all those chances he dropped that summer.

    I certainly can’t remember him fielding in the slips, but I can’t imagine that he would have been any better accepted if he had. He was just too much of a polarising personality for that, although I maintain there will have been faults on many sides. Hearing Swann on the radio these days (hard to avoid) gives you an idea of how he might have been capable of rubbing someone such as KP (or anyone else) up the wrong way.

    Vaughan’s self-consciousness went beyond his mere appearance. He’s spoken a few times of the need to give the impression of calmness and control, even when he himself was racked by negativity and uncertainty under the surface. A good captaincy lesson, I feel.

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