Frank Keating

Kelly’s eye

Kelly’s eye

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Dotted about the house is the occasional sporting print. Flash, bang, wallop, what a photograph! At the top of our staircase is Herbert Fishwick’s imperishable study at Sydney in 1928 of Hammond’s pluperfect cover-drive -— coiled power, poise, omnipotence, and with the famous blue handkerchief peeping from his pocket. Among the family snaps and sepia descendants on the walls of the downstairs cloakroom is Neil Leifer’s bespoke, breathtaking birdseye shot of Cleveland Williams canvas-flattened by Ali at Houston in 1966, a memorable Neil Libbert evocation of that golden afternoon at Wembley in the same year, and a Patrick Eager 1/500th-of-a-second first-ball freeze-frame of Warne vs Gatting at Old Trafford a dozen summers ago. I’m writing this being watched by a classic Chris Smith of Coe at Moscow in 1980, a Chinese ping-pong player by Eamonn McCabe, a Daley Thompson by Tom Jenkins, Colin Elsey’s slimed-in-mud Fran Cotton at a lineout in Wellington in 1977, Dermot Barry’s immortal shot for the Irish Times of Alan Duggan’s clamorous cornerflag crash-landing to score at Lansdowne Road four decades ago, Steve Powell’s mesmerising, taunting Maradonna vs six Dutchmen in 1982. And three Ken Kelly’s — a commemorative Tom Graveney off-drive at Cheltenham in the 1950s, Botham wolfishly clocking his 300th Test wicket at The Oval in 1984, and a ravishing close-up action portrait of turbanned Indian left-arm spinmeister Bishen Bedi at work in 1974, for my money the finest cricket photograph of a bowler ever.

Ken Kelly was probably Ireland’s most notable gift to cricket. Pa from Cork, Ma from Connemara, they set up home in Leeds. Ken was born in 1921 at 197 Kirkstall Lane, Headingley, and there aren’t many better cricketing addresses than that. In his very backyard, as apprentice to Yorkshire Evening News cameraman Jack Slater, 14-year old Ken saw Don Bradman make his epic 304 in a day — ‘more sharply than anyone else on the ground through the magnified lens of our Long Tom camera’. Those lenses of up to 50-inch focal length had been made in the war by Zeiss or Dallmeyer for German air reconnaissance and then converted by English newspapers for primitive sports photography and crammed into unwieldy long wooden boxes which housed a single glass slide and a half-plate reflex camera. They looked like dangerous mediaeval cannons precariously perched on pavilion balconies. In the 1939 war, Ken hauled his up and down mountains under fire as an expert commando ‘spotter’ in Sicily and Yugoslavia. Demob had Ken crouching behind his Long Tom for the Birmingham Gazette & Despatch group, following Warwickshire and England all over. He liked everyone and everyone loved him (especially the Royal Photographic Society’s awards panels). In 1965, thrillingly, he bought his first Japanese 35mm, with a 400mm lens. The very first shot he fired with it had his friend M.J.K Smith, England’s captain, clinging on to a glistening leg-trap catch. By the 1990s, in his button-bright dotage the old picture-poet was loving curator of treasures at Edgbaston’s cricket museum, but still the now fashionable arty-farty highly paid sports snappers of the world would beat a path to Ken’s pavilion eyrie to savour his gnomic, smiling savvy and always generous counsel. If Dennis Amiss hit 25,000 runs at Edgbaston alone, I bet Ken shot twice as many frameable classics there. But last week, alas, good Ken ran out of film. He was 84. Cricket at Birmingham will never be the same.