Why does this cricket team select itself? In batting order: George Emmett (capt.), Peter Bowler, Ian Ward, Roger Twose, David Shepherd, Roger Tolchard, Jeff Tolchard, Chris Read (w.k.), John Childs, Jack Davey, Len Coldwell. Seven of them played Test cricket. A serious clue to the county they represent is that guest 12th man is recent tearaway English fast bowler whom the then chairman of selectors Ted Dexter once addressed as Malcolm Devon.
In celebration of young Monty Panesar’s resplendent bowling for England this summer, I had thought of ruminating on an all-time team of Sikh cricketers, but I found I didn’t have too many research engines after I’d come up with Bishan Bedi and Douglas Jardine’s pal, the Yuvraj of Patiala. To be sure, the success of two newcomers to the England side this summer, Panesar and the Bolton-born, second generation Pakistani Sajid Mahmood, might have done wonders for British multiculturism — just as the triumphant return to the colours of wicket-keeper Chris Read has been warming to club cricketers in the county of Devon, designated by Lord’s as a ‘minor county’ for well over a century and never remotely likely to be considered ‘senior’.
Don’t all write in if I’ve missed a Brixham Bradman or a Lynton Larwood, but I reckon the bonnily combative little gloveman Read nicely completes my all-time dumplings’ XI. All were born in the county, except our captain Emmett, son of a British army sarn’t major and born in Agra in 1912, but a nut-brown Devonian through and through, who had, like the others, to move from the deep south-west to play for a championship county. Emmett was one of the cricketing luminaries of my Gloucestershire boyhood. His opening partner here, the nicely named Bowler (Derbyshire & Somerset), was born in Plymouth, as was Ward (Surrey & Sussex). Twose (Warwickshire) was born ‘in the back of a Torquay taxi as his mother was being rushed to hospital’; spinner Childs (Essex) and the Tolchard brothers (Leicestershire) were also Torquay born; Shepherd (of Gloucestershire) remains Bideford’s favourite son; jolly Jack D (also Glos.) was from Tavistock, Coldwell from Newton Abbott, and Read, of course, from Paignton.
Most had one brief moment, perched gloriously at the top of the tree. For example, in retirement running a seaside café back at Teignmouth, Len Coldwell would recall his glow on that Lord’s Saturday in front of 25,000 when he bowled England to a nine-wicket victory in 1962; just as Roger Tolchard contentedly continues to dine out on his sweltering near six-hour innings for just 67 runs which in 1976 helped England to their first Test win in Calcutta; Peter Bowler’s 20,000 first-class runs (mostly, it must be said, deft nurdles to fine-leg) should have won him at least one England cap, while just as much exasperation at the selectors had Roger Twose qualifying (by marriage) for New Zealand, for which, through the mid-1990s, he played 16 Tests. My old hero, George Emmett, knew he was on a hiding to nothing when he replaced Len Hutton for his single Test in 1948. Diminutive George of the whipcord wrists and dancing feet scored 34 hundreds for ‘Glorse’, but he should have doubled that tally for, incredibly, he was dismissed in the nineties a record 31 times. Careless, cold-sweat quivering, or just sunnily carefree? Because George was a Devonian, I’d unquestionably go for the latter.