Alec Bedser

'Pace isn't everything'

It's not about how fast you are, it's where you land it. The man who led England's bowling for nearly a decade after World War Two looks back

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

'I've always been a realist'

Greats never lose their touch. Greatness is a matter of opinion really. It depends what standards you are looking at. Having bowled against the best, like I have, it is very difficult to if say someone's great or someone's good. Everton Weekes, Wally Hammond, Garry Sobers are some of the many greats in my book. Don Bradman was the greatest I played against.

The main thing in cricket is, you can't be selfish, you've got to play for the team. What else did it teach me? Just to keep trying.

Eric, my twin brother, played a big role in my success. We lived together all our lives - 87 years. We were identical in everything, did everything the same way. In 1949 he got some 2000 runs and 80-odd wickets. He should've gone to Australia on the next tour.

My liking for hard work comes from my mother and father. We were brought up with nothing. The years of the Depression were terrible. Every Friday my father would come back home out of a job and that was difficult. But what kept us together was family life, which is the most important thing.

It didn't make any damn difference if you were a cricketer or not in those days. Even when a great like Jack Hobbs walked by, no one took any notice of him.

My brother and I would walk to school, here in Woking [in Surrey, England]. We didn't have a cricket team at the school, so I hardly played cricket, and the little we played was on dirt. In fact, I didn't play on proper grass until I was 15.

I joined the British forces in 1939 and went to France in November. From there we went to the Belgian border, then south of Dunkirk. After that, North Africa and Italy. We had luck on our side and avoided the plight of some of our school friends who were taken prisoner at Dunkirk. Otherwise I might not have been alive - forget playing cricket. I came out of the forces in March 1946 and on April 15 went to The Oval, practised two weeks in the nets, played seven first-class county games (not having played for two-and-a-half-years), and got picked to play for England. My first Test match was against India, [Vijay] Merchant was my first wicket. I ended up taking 11 in that Test.

The Bodyline affair wasn't fair really. I was 14 then. No doubt [Harold] Larwood was a great bowler, but I didn't like it. I never imagined I could do that and it would've ruined the game if it had continued.

Nottingham, 1953, when I got 14 against Australia - it was the biggest moment. We won the Ashes. That year I bowled more than 1200 overs and got 162 wickets, including 39 against Australia.

We twins would travel at 6.30 in the morning from Woking to The Oval to reconstruct the Vauxhall End in the company of people like Arthur McIntyre and Geoff Whittaker. We had to do it to get some money. We weren't well paid then. I was on the staff of The Oval in the summer and got £2 a week - and £1 a week in the winter.

I've always been a realist - if you can't do it, don't worry about it.

No one ever told me how to bowl. The first time at The Oval, I ran in from about 12 paces. Then one day I bowled off ten paces in the nets and I thought I could bowl just as well with either run-up. I didn't practise in the nets but in those 1000-odd overs I bowled in the middle in the three-month season. That's the only real way to improve, out there in the middle.

I never felt pressure. When you are six years in the war, you don't feel that.

When we were young there were Amateurs and Pros and we weren't allowed into the Amateurs' dressing room or anything else. It probably wasn't right, but you don't allow that to interfere with what you are trying to do - you'd do it to the best you could, otherwise you'd be sacked.

We never did any of this chattering to each other on the field. None of that was allowed; captain wouldn't allow it. I wouldn't do it even if it was allowed. It's no good chatting with someone when he has just hit you for four. You've got to go along next ball and bowl him out - that's the best way to get on.

Today they bowl hardly 500 overs a season and they're tired. Our fitness came out of all the hard work we did when we were young. In my entire Test career I left the field only once. It was at Adelaide and the temperature was around a hundred. I went out but came back and bowled.

I just had to keep trying because if you didn't perform you weren't picked. Now you play four, five, six matches and hardly get a wicket and you still play. You have a contract system now and you get paid whether you play or not. During our time we had match money along with a small basic wage.

I got Bradman six times altogether. I got him for nought on two occasions and I think I'm right to say that I'm the only one to do that. It was always great to get him out. I practised the legbreaks to work him out and sometimes I was successful. Don was very kind. He gave me a lot of encouragement when I first went to Australia, and over the years we became good friends. When I asked him about my bowling after that first season against Australia, he said, "You might, perhaps, pitch the ball up a bit more, but if you can bowl balls like you bowled me at Adelaide, you don't have to worry about anything else. Just get on and do that."

A lot of rubbish is written in autobiographies most times.

First thing is to bowl where you want to. Don't care what pace you bowl if the batsman doesn't have to play. Never bowled fast in my life.

I never thought about money. There was no money. There was no celebrity culture then - no television and all that. Never had any money from playing cricket.

I went to Australia about 25 times. I made some lovely friends there. They're all so easily approachable and forthright and loyal, and they treated me wonderfully. Arthur Morris, Alan Davidson, Ken Archer, Neil Harvey - we still keep talking from time to time.

I don't know why people keep on about pace. Between 1950 and 1953, in ten Test matches I got 69 wickets at 16.9 without being a fast bowler. First thing is to bowl where you want to. Don't care what pace you bowl if the batsman doesn't have to play. Never bowled fast in my life. Bowled fast-medium, wicketkeeper always stood up. I always tried to pitch the ball up.

What's the good in looking at the TV screen all day if you can't go out and pitch the ball where you want to? You've got to go and bowl. I bowled as I saw it.

I have a lot of things to do to get through the day. Everything takes longer when you get older.

Freddie Brown was perhaps the best captain I played under. He understood a bowler. You've got to tell him what you want to do, and the captain should rely on you and that's the end of it. If he asks you to do something which you don't think you can, then you've got to be able to tell him that - that doesn't mean to say you won't try it. If the bowler is bowling badly he knows he is bowling badly.

Cricket gave me a good life. It's been great. Wish I could do it again.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo