4 JANUARY 1992, Page 39


High Winks

Frank Keating

GOOCH'S England cricketers have hardly landed in New Zealand and they are padding up for their first match. Acclimati- sation was a much more leisurely thing before the sponsors began to organise itineraries. It is only a quarter of a century ago that an England cricket side flew the whole way to an Australian tour. M.J.K. Smith's team were considered pioneering dare-devils when they arrived at Perth air- port for the 1965-66 tour. Three winters earlier, Dexter's lot had taken a flying-boat to Aden and then picked up the Canberra for its maiden voyage to Freemantle, via Ceylon.

That was the time Ken Barrington asked if he could fly at his own expense and meet the team in Colombo. His father-in-law, who kept a pub in Reading, was ill, and Ken wanted to wait as long as possible helping his wife, Ann, behind the bar. The feudal squires at Lord's would not even consider it. The first letter Ken opened in Colombo told him Ann's dad was dead.

The Canberra trip came to mind just before Christmas, when they announced the death of Gordon Pirie, the runner. He was travelling steerage on that voyage. He was considering emigrating to Australia at the end of a career that had him beating any sort of clock but inevitably coming sec- ond in championship races against other humans. Young Dexter, even then full of novel wheezes, spied Pirie and had him upgraded to first-class so he could direct the cricketers in PT and fitten them up. This was a revolutionary and most unpopu-

lar gimmick. Pirie began each day's session with a five-mile run round the decks.

Fred Trueman, understandably, took umbrage; the more so when Pirie put him down for extra fatigues because Fred's 'legs were looking particularly white and thin'. Trueman refused to budge an inch. 'Listen 'ere, Sunshine,' he snarled, 'these two legs have just carried me through more than 1,000 overs for the past dozen years. These two pins of mine have not let England down once in all that time' — and he with- eringly eyed the two scrawny shanks of the failed Olympian — 'which is a darned sight more than can be said for your bloody brace of spindles, Pirie.'

My worst trip to Australia for the cricket was a dozen years ago — Mike Brearley's last tour. It was the beginning of the pack- age tours for cricket buffs which are now big business. They are made up mostly of amiably harmless retired couples devoted to the game and the round trip takes in a couple of Test matches. The players humour them affably, and in private refer to them collectively as 'Winks' — as in 'Wankers Incorporated'. So, 12 New Years ago, I was sitting in this long-haul plane next to a delightful old Wink from the West Riding, a retired coun- try solicitor on his first ever flight. Suddenly we ran into a raging electric storm. The plane was tossed this way and that. Outside, the sky looked like the royal fireworks. The pilot said an engine had blown. All the lights went out. Then we were flying side- ways. Frenzied wails from passengers. The stewardesses looked as scared as us. The pilot said he was diverting to Jakarta to attempt 'an emergency landing. Those who were wearing dentures, he said, should take them out. Those who weren't being sick were praying in various languages. Now the plane was in a twirling free-fall; then loop- ing the loop. The pilot made two attempts to crash-land and aborted them both at the last minute. Third time lucky. We slewed, scraped and sparked along the midnight runway and stopped. Relief, vomit, shock, silence ... and then I realised this dear and dappy old Yorkshire Wink beside me, who had never flown before and must have thought we had just gone through a routine landing procedure, was still amiably rabbit- ing on as he had been unconcernedly for the previous 20 hair-raising minutes.. .

`. . and if only they could find a settled opening partner for Geoffrey we should be all right if we win the toss at Adelaide, and I'll tell you something else for nothing, Frank, I wasn't too happy about that Bob Taylor's glove-work last summer, and any- way our David Bairstow's twice the bat Tay- lor is .. . '