The Death of a Gentleman

For cricket followers of my English generation, born at a time when Tom Graveney was, as so often, biding his time away from the Test side, he is remembered chiefly as one of the team of commentators and presenters (Tony Lewis, Ray Illingworth, Jack Bannister and, of course, Richie Benaud, were others) who presided over the later years of BBC coverage of Test cricket (once again, for my generation, these can be precisely defined as the years after the retirement of Peter West in 1986).

Graveney was self-evidently a kindly man, steeped in cricket and with a western accent rich in its gentleness. And, as part of a cricket education, you gradually became aware of how much he meant to so many people.

At Worcester, of course, but earlier on the grounds of Gloucestershire, where for Jonathan Smith, at Bristol in 1952, he was 'coming down the pavilion steps now. And what a familiar sight he is, rosy faced, the elegant, tall right hander from Gloucestershire. And even against the fastest of fast bowlers Tom Graveney never seemed hurried. It was even the case when Hall and Griffith and the other West Indian quicks were battering the English top order. When the English top four seemed caught in the headlights, Tom somehow always had time. Time, ah, time: that's the thing. In sport, Having Time is class'.

I never saw Tom Graveney bat, but I knew what he looked like and admired him for what I knew him to have been. I remember two instances when I saw him. The first time he was walking round the boundary at Cheltenham in 1992, greeting and conversing with many of his long-time admirers. Both he and they have grown old, but time hasn't dimmed the richness of their memories.

Years later I saw him outside Trent Bridge with his wife, before a Test match day. Struggling with his bags, like many another mortal, but inhabiting a realm made different by his experiences. He is outside a ground on which he has made a century for England against Sobers and Hall and Griffith and Gibbs; where, years earlier he made 258, also against the West Indies. He wears his achievements lightly, but he also wears his England player's tie, proud forever of having represented his country.

Though he has gone, Tom Graveney will continue to exist in the memory as someone who encapsulated all that is special, unique even, about the English county game. Yes, there are his achievements in Test cricket, but there is a sense that, more than all those, he is Bristol, he is the old Wagon Works Ground at Gloucester, he is Cheltenham, he is Worcester, and the shadow of the cathedral.

Subscribe in a reader