Legends on Campus: Trevor Bailey

Before he became one of the world’s best all-rounders, he sparkled on college and university pitches

Trevor_Bailey© Saajan S. Mahamuni

Trevor Bailey is often considered one of the best all-rounders ever produced by England. He was not as flamboyant as the Greigs, Bothams and Flintoffs, but he was mighty effective. Perhaps more than most others.

Trevor was the younger son of Bertram and Muriel Bailey. His brother Basil was eleven years his senior. By virtue of staying on Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, Trevor learned to play cricket on the beach. He was good at sports and pretty ordinary at studies. He summarised his childhood fairly well through this line, “The simplest arithmetical problem baffled me but I was never bored as there was simply no time; I adored all ball games.”

Having won scholarships to attend Alleyn Court Preparatory School, Trevor was lucky to have Denys Wilcox as his cricket coach at the school. Wilcox was a prominent First-class cricketer and a future captain of the Essex team. Trevor learned the basics of cricket from Wilcox. He later said, “It could not have come at a better time for me. He was a marvellous tutor at cricket and football and crazy about both games.”

By the time Trevor was 11, Wilcox was fairly confident that there was a future First-class cricketer in this promising young boy.

Trevor was always keen to explore every facet of the game. Wilcox was mighty proud of Trevor but had a recurring argument with his favourite pupil; Wilcox wanted him to concentrate on his batting. He argued that as the standards of the cricket improved, his batting would suffer if he wanted to combine his run scoring abilities with his fast bowling. Trevor didn’t agree with this opinion and continued with his aspirations of becoming a quality all-rounder.

At 13, Trevor enjoyed his best season as a schoolboy cricketer. Alleyn Court won 8 of their 10 matches and Trevor was the star with both bat and ball. He scored 1109 runs at an average of 138 and took 52 wickets at an average of 7.

Like many great sportspeople, he was very good at other sports too. He was an effective inside-forward whose dribbling skills impressed one and all at Alleyn Court. At the annual school sports day, he won eight events, including high jump, hurdles and throwing the cricket ball, which is not quite as common a sport these days.

His brilliant form as a cricketer didn’t go unnoticed at the Essex headquarters. At the age of 14, Trevor managed to play his first match for Essex Club and Grounds, captained by Brian Castor, the county secretary.

Trevor followed Wilcox’s footsteps and landed in Dulwich College. In 1938, at the age of 14, Trevor made his debut for Dulwich’s First XI. His selection in only his second term was a record in Dulwich history. He was called in to strengthen the bowling attack. He later recalled the occasion of his Dulwich debut, “I bowled as fast as I could and a couple of wickets came my way. My batting position was number 10 and I would never have made that side had I not been a fast bowler.”

A writer in The Alleynian (his college yearbook) thus described Bailey’s debut season of 1938, “A very young cricketer of distinct promise came into the side late in the season, but justified his inclusion. If he is willing to learn, practise hard and keeps a broad outlook, it is possible he will turn out to be a great cricketer.”

At the start of the next season, Bailey was not sure of retaining his place in the first XI. Dulwich’s famous son, P.G. Wodehouse, insisted that they persevere with the bright young lad for a little longer, and Wodehouse’s was a voice that the college could not ignore. Father Charles Marriott, a one-Test wonder and the coach of the Dulwich team, was a fine leg-break bowler and wanted Trevor to become one. Trevor was interested. He did bowl leg-break in a match but it proved to be a disastrous experience for him. He took a wicket and conceded plenty of runs.

He went back to bowling fast and formed a formidable pair with Tony Mallett. They would rip through opposition batting line ups in no time. By 1941, Bailey was chosen as the leader of the Dulwich College team. He was doing rather well and deserved this bit of praise from a writer in The Cricketer: “Bailey’s development is prodigious, for in addition to shouldering the task as captain with great spirit and success, his own performance, not only as a batsman, but as a genuine fast bowler, has been convincingly excellent.”

Dulwich lost only 1 out of their 11 fixtures in 1941, the solitary loss coming against a very strong M.C.C. team. Bailey the captain was the star performer. He took 40 wickets and scored 851 runs. He maintained his form in 1942, his last year as a Dulwich College cricketer. “The Cricketer” declared him to be the leading boy bowler of the year.

For the next few years he played a lot of matches for a variety of teams. He made sure that all his skills were honed at the same time. The turning point came when he, once again, followed Wilcox’s footsteps and became a part of the Cambridge University cricket team. He made his first impact against the Free Foresters in 1946, scoring a brisk 39 and taking three wickets.

His big break for Cambridge and into First-class cricket came in 1947. He was consistent as a bowler and in the second match of the season took a 5-for against the visiting South Africans. He picked up the prized wicket of Dudley Nourse. Later in the season, he scored an unbeaten century against the Yorkshire team that had Bill Bowes in their bowling line up.

In 1948, he faced the ‘Invincible’ Australian team. The Aussies steamrolled them in a couple of days’ time but Bailey impressed in the second innings. He scored an undefeated 66 against the likes of Miller and Toshack.

By this time, he had already made his mark as an Essex cricketer and reached new heights in the following decade. During the 1950s, he established himself as the leading all-round cricketer in the world.

In 1964, sixteen years after being the lone Cambridge player standing undefeated in the face of the Invincibles, he captained the M.C.C. team against his beloved Cambridge University team.

He did represent Cambridge University once again, three years in a row from 1966. This time he was part of the Cambridge University Past and Present team which took on the International Cavaliers.

Trevor Bailey never forgot Denys Wilcox, and always used to keep his mentor updated about his cricket career. In 1953, Wilcox lost the battle against leukaemia. In that very year, Bailey helped England regain the Ashes after 19 years.

Decades later, in 1994, he wore his school tie when, as a world-famous cricketer, he received the CBE from the Queen at the investiture at Buckingham Palace in 1994. He never forgot his roots as a cricketer and the debt he owed to his teachers.

Written by Mayukh Ghosh