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Bedser, a bowling giant, passes on

Published:Friday | April 9, 2010 | 12:00 AM
In this April 27, 1953 file photo, England and Surrey bowler Alec Bedser takes part in a practice session. England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke has led the tributes to former Test bowler and selector Alec Bedser, who died Sunday April 4, 2010 at age 91 after a short illness. - FILE

Tony Becca, Contributing Editor

When I was a boy, one of the first names in sport with which I was familiar, apart from George Headley, Alfred Valentine, Sonny Ramadhin, and Herb McKenley, was Alec Bedser.

In those days in the early 1950s, based on his deeds as a bowler, Bedser was a giant to me. In fact, I can still remember the chorus of a calypso which followed Bedser's 14 wickets for 99 runs against Australia at Trent Bridge in the 1953 Ashes series.

The chorus line was, "Rain came down to save Australia, match ended in England's favour, Alec Bedser, who taught you to bowl Australia?"

A few years ago, in 2004, I met Alec and his twin brother Eric in the pavilion at The Oval during a West Indies/England Test match, and the man, based on his size, particularly his shoulders and his hands, was indeed a giant.

Bedser died on Sunday evening at age 91 and up to the time of his death, he was the oldest England cricketer alive.

According to reports, according to journalists who saw him and those who opposed him with the bat, the right-arm fast-medium bowler from Surrey and England was deadly.

In 51 Test matches, Bedser took 236 wickets, the world record when he retired, at an average of 24.89. He took 11 wickets against India in his first two Test matches, he took five wickets in an innings 15 times and 10 in a match on five occasions, and his best performance in an innings was seven for 44, part of his 14 for 99 at Trent Bridge in 1953.

In that Ashes series, won 1-0 by England after some 18 years, Bedser took 39 wickets at an average of 17.48.

Ranked the greatest

Don Bradman, the late Australian, ranked as the greatest batsman the world has ever produced, rated Bedser as the greatest England bowler he ever faced.

Bedser's strength as a bowler was his accuracy, his bread-and-butter delivery - the one which swung into the right-handed batsman. The one with which he knocked the best, however, including the great Bradman, was the one which swung into the right-handed batsman, hit the pitch somewhere around leg-stump, and then cut back off the seam to hit the top of the off-stump.

One day when someone asked him - the man who, along with top batsman Peter May and master spin bowlers Jim Laker and Tony Lock, played on the Surrey team which won the County Championship seven times in a row - why he did not bowl faster, Bedser remarked: "It's not how fast you bowl; it's where you land it."

Bedser's run-up was no longer than 12 yards, but apart from where he landed the ball, his variety, his change of pace and movement off the seam, was the reason he pocketed so many scalps.

Alec Bedser was more than a great cricketer. He was a great man and a wonderful servant of the game. After hanging up his boots, Bedser served as manager of the England team, for 23 years as an England selector, for 13 years as chairman of the England selection committee, and as president of the Surrey County Cricket Club before he was knighted for his services to the game.

I never saw Bedser play the game. I believed, however, that I missed something special. As one selected by Bradman on his all-time X1, as one selected by Wisden in the England X1 for the 20th century, he obviously was a great cricketer.

Bedser is a legend, and cricket should never, ever forget him.