"Cricket is still to me, with all the encroachments, greed and selfishness of our present age, one of the few sane activities in an increasingly insane world."
-Michael Jayston "Trent Bridge Heroes"

Michael Jayston is a huge fan of the game of cricket- so I thought I should have a page devoted to it! Personally I have little knowledge of the 'niceties' of the game, but I'm working on it.

Michael Jayston on Cricket

The following is an excerpt from Michael's essay in Bloody Lucky: Writing on Cricket (ed. Graveney,Tom & Seabrook,Mike) entitled "You Can Take Glory With You"

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IF CRICKET as we know it is to pass from life into history we hope it will not be by the slow process of dispersion and decay. Radical methods of correction are needed to halt the process. Individuality must be encouraged, not stifled. We see in English football and tennis sterotyped ideas, bereft of imagination.

In the cricket sphere Botham has been the only home-grown genuine all-rounder to emerge for a long time. Not everyone can play with that degree of flamboyance, panache and skill, but if the seeds are sown in the right environment we could see a revival of English cricket.

We need decent wickets above all. On bad wickets an ordinary medium-pace bowler seems a world-beater. We need committees packed with ex-professionals, not staffed, as may of them are, with people who have bought their way to that position. We need captains who temper discipline with fairness. In 1960-61 (to visit the past once more) Frank Worrell and Richie Benaud captained their sides in one of the most exciting Test series ever seen. The attendance on the second day of the fifth Test was 90,800. Is it beyond the intelligence and capabilities of cricket's governing bodies to capture audiences of that magnitude again?

The essence of a great game, at the highest level, should be indeed not only the exhibition of technical excellence, but the character and personality of the players involved. When style and individuality are not encouraged the game becomes soulless. The sickness facing cricket is obvious for all to see. If it is not cured soon, cricket will become a third-rate game, played by automata, watched by the ignorant. The situation can be saved, but it will need a monumental effort by all those who love the game for this to be achieved. If the spirit of renaissance can be generated, there will be some hope of seeing, once more, sportsmanship, elegance and humour and a great game restored to its rightful place.

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The following is an excerpt from Michael's essay in County Champions (Heinemann/Quixote) entitled "Trent Bridge Heroes" Please do not repost without permission.

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Of all the players of whom my grandfather spoke, the name George Gunn occurred most frequently and was mentioned with awe and reverence. He had first played for Notts in 1903 and was the strangest figure that the game has given us. He possessed a genius for batting but his attitude and a quirk of temperament prevented him from achieving his full potential. He seemed to delight in annoying bowlers and fieldsmen. His contemporaries said he could score a century in an hour or in four hours under the same conditions, depending on his mood. Recuperating from TB in Australia in 1912, he replaced an injured batsman and scored a century on his Test debut.

There was one story about George Gunn of which I suspected my grandfather of embellishment, and it puzzled me until I was about ten years of age and first starring to attend matches at Trent Bridge. One day when rain showers had stopped play for a while I was sipping a Dandelion and Burdock in a sweet shop opposite the ground, when I saw an elderly gentleman slip on the wet kerb and fall into the road. I helped him to his feet and then across the road. He thanked me and gave me sixpence: "Here lad, buy yourself an ice cream." As he handed me the coin I realised that here in the flesh was one of the legends of whom my grandfather had enthused. I stuttered, "You're George Gunn." He laughed and then with a quizzical look said, "Now, young feller me lad, how the devil do you know that, you could never have seen me play." I recounted everything I knew of his career. He seemed modestly pleased that I knew so much about him, and after that first meeting, when I saw him from time to time, he always had a smile and a cheery wave of his stick for me.

That September, on the last day of the season, I had my cricket bag with me after a game at school. As I strolled round the ground I came to the nets, and who should be there but George Gunn. "Hello, it's the Good Samaritan," he said. "Have you got a cricket ball in your bag?" I said I had. "Come on, you can turn your arm over and we'll see how good you are. . . And you can see if I'm any good," he added. For a good half an hour I bowled to the great man. He didn't use a bat, he used his walking stick. He missed one ball during that time, whereupon he picked up a Stump. "This is a bit better," he said. "My eyes aren't what they used to be." He was then over seventy years of age. He could have gone on for much longer but I was tiring, and I jokingly said, "Don't you think you ought to declare, Mr. Gunn?" He looked at me oddly. "That takes me back a few years- what you just said." He then told me a story which I had only half believed when recounted by my grandfather, but which I have subsequently verified.

In 1919, a local amateur cricketer of meagre ability had the audacity to challenge George to a single-wicket competition for a £ 100 side wager; a considerable amount in those days. George, not being avaricious and knowing that the game would be completely one-sided, refused the invitation. The amateur persisted and badgered George for weeks. Eventually, George, out of sheer exasperation, agreed, reducing the wager to a fiver, but determined to teach the fellow a lesson. The match was played on the Trent Bridge practice ground from five until seven-thirty in the evening. George won the toss and decided to bat. At the end of the first evening he had scored exactly 300 runs. By the end of the second session he was 620 not out. At this point his opponent suggested that George might like to declare. George declined, saying he never declared in a single-wicket match, but adding that the amateur, if he so wished, could replace the stumps with a heavy roller which was six feet wide! The amateur shamefacedly agreed to this generous offer. It made not the slightest difference. George continued on his merry way and halfway through the third evening he had increased his score to 777.

He had run nine off one ball when the amateur finally cracked. Perhaps the realisation that he could be bowling to George until Doomsday eventually decided the issue in his mind. He threw the ball down, jumped on it, conceded the match and stomped off to the Trent Bridge Inn, from where he was seen emerging, many hours later, in a deplorable and maudlin condition. He never paid the wager. George did, however, top the national averages for that year and he maintained that the practice over those three days had had a lot to do with it. "I hope I didn't ruin his enjoyment of the game," he was heard to say, with a wicked twinkle in his eye. 0, rare and wonderful George Gunn.

The following is Michael Jayston's foreword to Cricket at the Grassroots: Humorous Memories of The Sussex Club Game" by Dick Redbourn (S.B. Publications, 1996)

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This book should be a very welcome addition to the library of every cricket lover, especially when there are so few books written about the richness of the game at amateur club level.

I am particularly pleased to write the foreword because I know, or have heard of, most of the characters of whom Dick Redbourn writes with such affection. The book abounds with hilarious incidents, one in particular concerning Tony Salisbury, having matches arranged for him until the end of October, so he could complete his thousand runs for the season.

There is a wonderful politically incorrect chapter entitled, 'Our long-suffering women', which makes me wonder how on earth we men managed to get away with the cavalier treatment of our ladies: marriages postponed until the season was over; wives in labor while their partners were playing in a 'vital' match. Most of Dick's stories are 'pre-breatherlyser'. Any team traveling to away games nowadays comprises at least three disgruntled players who are designated to drive the others, sometimes drawing lots for the dubious privilege. It's surprising that in Dick's day, considering the copious amounts of beer consumed, that there were so few accidents. Perhaps the police in those days were not on the look out for cars proceeding at 15 mph. It is interesting to note that the majority of anecdotes in this book hardly ever involved League cricket. There must be some psychological reason for this. Friendly games seem to inspire more eccentricity. Some League games are matches of attrition, wearing down the opposition, and with little humour and often a good deal of boredom. Non-League matches in many cases are much more of a challenge, risks taken, the gauntlet thrown downs and accepted, flamboyant batting. Games between teams who have been rivals for years can also be far more competitive than playing a League match for a piddling batting or bowling point.

Heroes and eccentrics shine out of this book; the great local batsman Gerry Jarman – one hundred centuries at club level, his record for the aggregate runs in a season for Rottingdean (1,741) standing for twenty years. Noel Bennett enters the list of eccentrics when for years he organized matches played on Christmas Day! Now there's glorious madness for you.

As with all books written about cricket this is primarily a book about humour, the understanding of human frailties, and the author is self deprecating about his own achievements.

There are enough rich characterizations and amusing incidents to make a television series. It's a shame that Richard Harris got in first with Outside Edge!

Dick Redbourn has written a book that gets to the very heart and soul of the game at amateur level. It will evoke many memories among other cricketers of similar times.

Above all it is a book written, not only with beautiful touches of humour but also in places with great understanding of the aspirations of club cricketer, who occasionally have their moments in the sun, when they make a catch to win the game or strike the winning hit. Glowing throughout the book is a deep affection for a great game. Dick should be very proud.

February 1996

Michael Jayston is a true cricket lover, playing regularly at local level for Rottingdean, and is now the Club's President. Professionally, a highly experienced and versatile actor, he has appeared in many films and plays over the years, and his best known television roles include: 'The Power Game', 'Tinker Tailor Soldier, Spy', and 'A bit of a do'. Most appropriately however, he has recently played 'Bob Willis', in the hugely successful TV comedy drama series, 'Outside Edge'.