There's a new man coming out here to bat in the cricket memories series. Tom Deveson, who has already played an innings at another normblog venue, remembers a mammoth England partnership:
I didn't see a ball of this innings. We didn't have a TV set, we lived 70 miles from Edgbaston and anyway I was in school all day. So this was an unforgettable experience provided by newspaper – Crawford White in the News Chronicle – and by radio, where Test Match Special had just begun its first full season of ball-by-ball-commentary. But even that was mainly at third hand.
I had turned nine a couple of days before and wanted to become Peter May when I grew up. After school and on Saturday, you could switch on our big pre-war radio, wait some time for it to warm up, find the station while avoiding Hilversum and Athlone, and listen through the crackle to Rex Alston, John Arlott, Kenneth Ablack, with the first Caribbean voice I'd heard, and the plummy Jim Swanton. During school, however, you could only guess what was happening.
England had been dismissed in the first innings for 186, Sonny Ramadhin taking seven for 49, and West Indies had replied with 474. Collie Smith, who was to die tragically young two years later, scored 161, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott got 171 between them, and by close of play on Saturday England were still 186 behind, with Peter Richardson and Doug Insole already gone.
On Monday, the bolder boys in class 2A at Goldington Road County Primary Junior Mixed School came up with a plan. At carefully chosen intervals they asked to visit the urinals. These were old, outdoors and smelly, but they were next to the hut of Mr Harlowe, the caretaker. And he had a radio. As the day went on, the mounting score was passed surreptitiously around the classroom, forming a whispered counterpoint to history, arithmetic and composition lessons. Brian Close had gone but Peter May and Colin Cowdrey were still there. By 6.30, the score was 378 for three. My brother and I imitated Ken Ablack's line: And the clock ticks slowly on.
It was still obsessively exciting the next day, as the fourth wicket partnership reached 400. I wasn't audacious enough to risk Mrs Jackson's displeasure, but I'm still grateful to Roger Honey and the others who did, and still glad they didn’t get found out. Someone came up with a wicked joke: May's out! Pause. June's in.
There was a lot I didn't know then - that Frank Worrell ought to have captained the West Indies instead of John Goddard, that Ramadhin shouted himself hoarse appealing countless times for lbw against defensive pad-play, that May and Cowdrey would come out of the D'Oliveira affair 11 years later with far less credit than Tom Graveney. All I knew was that Horatius had kept the bridge and that we - England were to take the series with three innings victories - were now world champions. I wrote a long letter to Peter May and he sent me his autograph. I've still got it; sometimes you like to hang on to a bit of innocence.
This is what the books say:
Beginning his match-saving effort at 5.40 p.m. on Saturday, May batted till 3.20 p.m. on Tuesday, and helped to change the total from 65 for two wickets to 583 for four. No man could have done more for England than the captain, whose record innings of 285 not out lasted five minutes short of ten hours. May hit two sixes, 25 fours and 111 singles. The perfect stylist and excelling with the cover drive, he made very few false strokes for such a long stay. - Wisden 1958
The May-Cowdrey partnership of 411 was the highest ever for England and the third highest in Tests anywhere... Ramadhin bowled 774 balls in the match, a world Test record, beating Hedley Verity's 766 against South Africa in 1939. - Bruce Harris, West Indies Cricket Challenge 1957
Colin and I had spent many hours discussing Ramadhin - as we discussed all aspects of the game. It is a fascination of cricket that one is always learning. We agreed that we must keep going forward and that he must be played as an off-spinner. - Peter May, A Game Enjoyed
It is said that the advice of Bill Bowes, the old Test player, to treat the bogeyman as an off-spinner and play him off the front foot was that heeded. May, the England captain, and Cowdrey employed the policy to the letter. The ball repeatedly beat the forward defensive stroke and hit the front leg, thrust forward as a shield. Soon throats became sore from appealing for lbw decisions to umpires, as customary in England, reluctant to give them with the point of contact far from the stumps. - Tony Cozier, The West Indies: Fifty Years of Test Cricket.
But this was more than a drawn cricket match. It had strong psychological connotations. England believed that they had the measure of Ramadhin, and whether they had or not, believing was half the battle. - Gordon Ross, A History of West Indies Cricket
Never again will he have the power to mesmerize the England batsmen. May and Cowdrey have discovered how to play him. In doing that, and in driving the lesson home, they have destroyed the Tourists' attack for the whole series. The result is that West Indies, who so decisively beat England on their previous tour, will draw two Tests this time and lose the rest. - Robert Rodrigo, Peter May
[For links to the other posts in this series, see here.]