Bowler Alec Bedser Dies at 91
By HUW RICHARDS
Published: April 5, 2010
Cricket’s season routinely opens in a lower key than other sports, and there will be further reason for a subdued atmosphere when Surrey begins its County Championship campaign at the Oval in London on Friday. Flags will be at half-staff in memory of the man who bowled what cricket’s greatest batsman reckoned was the best ball he ever received.
It was bowled by Alec Bedser, who has died at the age of 91, to Donald Bradman in an Australia-England test match at Adelaide in 1947. Bradman — whose batting average of 99.94 runs in five-day tests is arguably the most remarkable statistic not only in cricket but in any sport — recalled that it flew straight for three-quarters of its trajectory, swung across him before pitching, then broke back to take his middle stump. It epitomized the skills that brought Bedser 236 wickets, then the all-time record, in 51 matches for England from 1946 to 1955.
His international career was delayed until he was 27 by army service in World War II. He made up for lost time by taking 11 wickets in each of his first two matches, against India in 1946, and carrying an England battery short of quality pace bowling through the early postwar era.
He kept his best for England’s most cherished rival, taking 104 wickets in 21 matches against Australia, including 39 wickets in five matches as England reclaimed the Ashes at home in 1953, the summer he turned 35.
He dismissed Bradman six times, more than any other bowler in tests, and established a complete ascendancy over Arthur Morris, Australia’s left-handed opener. Morris was good enough to be chosen by an expert panel for a recent all-time Australian XI, but Bedser dismissed him 18 times — a test record until Australia’s Glenn McGrath similarly dominated England’s Mike Atherton in the 1990s — in those 21 matches.
In an era when international players still played large amounts of domestic cricket, Bedser was also a force for Surrey, a key member of the teams that won an unparalleled seven consecutive county championships from 1952 to 1958.
He was the last of England’s “holy trinity” of fast-medium bowlers, following on from Sydney Barnes before World War I and Maurice Tate between the wars. They represented perhaps the most archetypally English of all cricketing skills. English bowlers of extreme pace are rare, favored by neither the weather, the playing conditions nor the demands of a long season.
Barnes, Tate and Bedser were just short of fast, more than making up for it by their control and ability to make the ball swing through the air before deviating viciously after pitching. It is a tradition exemplified in more recent times by Angus Fraser, England’s leading wicket-taker in the 1990s.
Fraser was also heir to another Bedser tradition — long-suffering semi-humorous grumpiness about the bowler’s lot. It was Bedser who, on hearing in 1948 that Bradman had been knighted for his feats as a batsman, joked that ‘the last bowler to be knighted was Sir Francis Drake,” the 16th-century English admiral who allegedly completed a game of bowls before taking on the Spanish Armada.
Bedser’s own knighthood came late in life, conferred in 1996 by Prime Minister John Major, a lifelong Surrey fan. Aside from his on-field achievements, it rewarded a long career in cricket administration. Bedser served for 23 years as an England selector, including 13 seasons from 1969 as chairman, the first former professional player in that role.
He was, though, anything but a radical figure. In the mid-1970s he was among the founding members of the Freedom Association, a rightist pressure group formed by Ross and Norris McWhirter, editors of the Guinness Book of Records.
As a lifelong bachelor, by far his most important association was with his identical twin, Eric, a cricketer very little short of test quality, who looked so much like him that longtime Surrey teammates struggled to tell them apart. The impossibility of doing so — and the inexhaustible energy that took Alec through stints of about 1,500 six-ball overs per season — led the humorous writer Richard Gordon to suggest that there might really be four of them. Eric died in 2006.
The International Cricket Council president, David Morgan, led the tributes to Bedser on Monday, Reuters reported from London.
“It was an honor and privilege to have known Sir Alec, whose contribution to cricket, not only in England and Wales but also globally, must never be underestimated,” Morgan said in an ICC news release.
“He was an outstanding practitioner of seam bowling and some of his contemporaries believed him to be the greatest bowler they ever faced. The game will mourn his passing.”
The chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, described the former Surrey player as “a true legend of the game".
“Sir Alec Bedser deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest England bowlers of all time, a master of the craft of seam bowling,” Clarke said.
“He was team manager when I was captain,” Brian Close, and former England captain, said. “He was absolutely wonderful in that role.”