One of the extra pleasures of the Old Trafford Test for me was that I got to spend an evening in the company of Gideon Haigh. I'd said a quick hello to him during a lunchbreak at Edgbaston, but on the Saturday at Old Trafford, after the best efforts of Manchester's Metrolink to keep us at the ground had finally failed by driving us away in search of a cab, Gideon came over for a meal and much chat, a certain amount of it on the subject of cricket, wouldn't you know? For those who are not devotees, I had better perhaps tell you who Gideon Haigh is. He is: 'a brilliant cricket writer' (Matthew Engel); 'Australia's finest cricket writer' (Frank Keating); 'one of the very best cricket writers in the world today' (er... me).
Anyway, one thing I'll tell you about him which I'm sure he won't mind is that Gideon knows more about the history of the game than anyone else I've ever met. I mean, in minute detail. Cricket people are quite used to the business of chewing over the games they've seen years ago, in childhood even, and incidents from them that have stuck in their minds: that time Eldine Baptiste ran out Geoff Miller at Lord's with a direct hit from the furthest corner of the ground; when Gatting caught Allan Border but failed to control the ball; the stand between Sobers and Holford; Graeme Pollock's innings at Trent Bridge; Hugh Tayfield taking 9 wickets at the Wanderers in 1957 - and 13 in the match - to beat Peter May's England; and so forth. The thing about Gideon is he can do this about games he hasn't seen, games that took place before he was born. How does he do it? As the man said:
He reads... He reads everything.I may have relayed before to readers of this blog that there is in our house a room full of cricket books. During Gideon's visit that was one topic of interest and discussion. In some connection, I mentioned the tour of Australia by Jack Cheetham's South Africans in 1952-53, and Cheetham's book about it, Caught by the Springboks. Gideon knows it. He tells me, 'There was a famous catch taken by Russell Endean in Melbourne...' He, at least a dozen years short of being born at the time, tells me - whose initiation into cricket included reading, and reading again, and re-reading, the story of this series - about Russell Endean's catch. Jack Cheetham:
[Keith] Miller now realised that his only hope of making runs was to take chances, and just after he passed his half-century, he leant into a ball from Tayfield and hit it hard and high towards the long-on fence. Russell Endean moved over five yards to the line of flight but it was such a good shot - that I started clapping a six hit. With Johnny Waite's applause "well hit - Keith," ringing in his ears, Keith said "...he's caught it!" True enough Russell had - with split-second judgement, he had calmly leaped in the air, catching the ball in his right hand just as it was about to pass over the fence. It was a miraculous catch, and the crowd roared its approval, whilst Johnny Moyes who was commentating at the time, could not, I believe, stop talking about it.Johnny Moyes:
As for me, I was staggered by the amazing splendour of it all, and I believe, from what I have been told, that it seems that I might, in my excitement at this cricket miracle, come right through the microphone. Truly I was entranced by this Endean catch, one of the historic catches of Melbourne or any other ground, a feat which will never be forgotten, and which will become part of cricket history.December 1952. Another world. But last Saturday night it was rubbing shoulders with the Ashes Test, Old Trafford 2005, after a rain-ruined day - and with the pulsating outcome of that match as yet a thing of the future.
Time present and time past: talking cricket with Gideon Haigh.