Monday 14 February 2011

Burn a little brighter now

A final, sort of free association addendum to the post below about Trevor 'The Boil' Bailey: as ever that era of the media brought to mind John Arlott, and then his unlikely, touching and longstanding friendship with Ian Botham, himself a current occupant of 'the comm-box'.

The outsider's view of that friendship is hostage to the public image of Beefy as a no-nonsense man's man whose rare collisions with the written word might occur via something by Tom Clancy. Yet that is to misjudge both men.

They met, according to Botham, when he was a 16 year old at Somerset and he was summoned to lug two of Arlott's hampers into the press box at Taunton. Arlott opened one, which was filled with wine, and asked Botham if he'd ever tried any. He proceeded to uncork several bottles and then the other hamper, which contained cheeses chosen as accompaniments. Botham had met the man he describes as his mentor. The friendship ended many years and many legends later when Arlott died on Alderney at 77. Botham was his neighbour at the time, and would visit him every day.

'At the end when the emphysema took over and he was struggling with speech he had an oxygen mask and I often had to empty his bag for him,' Botham told the Guardian in 2007. 'But he liked me being there because I knew to wait and let him finish his sentences between gasps. I didn't try to say the words for him because I knew how much they mattered.'

Anyone meeting Arlott when they were just 16 might have felt the same. As his obituary in Wisden noted, 'he was a man of deep humanity'. What's more interesting is what Arlott might have seen in Beefy. There was his talent of course, and his Falstaffian love of cricket and life. But there was much more than that. He could, by his own admission, be deeply selfish and annoyingly laddish, and conservative and reactionary. But he is also a man of great heart and loyalty, a man who has spent a lifetime raising millions of pounds for cancer research after spending just one afternoon at a children's hospital, a bloke who inspired equal loyalty in his friends and from others who've never met him.

Botham, you suspect, works quite hard to keep that side of himself hidden. Not everything can be public property. There's something else, too. Arlott did express a regret that he retired from commentary in 1980, and missed the chance to go through '81 with Botham.

Beefy was one of those players who stirred something in the spectator. In a fabulous piece on trying to write a book about the snooker player Jimmy White, Jonathan Rendall says: 'It doesn't really matter what people like Jimmy do; it's how they express it. They have "it", whatever "it" is, in the way that great painters, writers, poets and violinists have it. They're rare. So when they fall, they must be saved. It's a shame no one thought to save [Alex] Higgins - although technically there's still time - but I suppose the same could have been said of Dylan Thomas. That's my theory, anyway'.

Arlott was a friend of Dylan Thomas, as well as an accomplished poet and a connoisseur of wine and cricket and life; in short an aesthete, and he recognised another when he saw one. It's a shame that, with the demise of the pro broadcaster, a player like Beefy might not meet a man like Arlott in similar circumstances again.


John Halliwell said...

The tenderness suggested in the relationship between Arlott and Botham does give an added insight into Beefy's character, an insight which, perhaps, rarely, if ever, emerges when I think of him: the great all-rounder, whose Test record, certainly with ball, would have been even more impressive but for the back and weight problems he struggled with after the astonishing surge of the early years; the bulldozing, unstinting charity walker, the honest but boorish TV commentator who would have benefitted greatly from working alongside an Arlott.

Setting aside TMS, I'm not sure which combination of current TV commentators makes the heart sink furthest: Botham and 'Bumble', Gower and Hussain, Atherton and Botham, or 'Bumble' and 'Mikie'. The Old Batsman's lament for the absence from Test coverage of the pro broadcaster resonates here. Arlott with Compton, Arlott with Fingleton, Johnston with Benaud were wonderful combinations and provided far greater insights into the game.

Oh, if only the great John had remained at the microphone for the '81 series! What a shame one can only create in the imagination Arlott's description of Botham's hooking of Lillee, almost all the way into Warwick Road railway station.

Anonymous said...

great writing friend

Milo Minderbinder

John Halliwell said...

Thanks, Anonymous

fantasy bob said...

Excellent - Fantasy Bof has rarely read stuff that chimes more with his own thoughts.

John Halliwell said...

Sorry, Anonymous (and The Old Batsman), for a moment of barminess (a condition I'm very familiar with); with your comment I thought you and I were in dialogue. How presumptious of me! It is now clear after reading 'Fantasy Bob's comment that you were referring to the Old Batsman's piece, comments with which I totally agree. One day I shall get a proper grip on how this 'comment' business works. Sorry.

Pay per head services said...

at the beginnig I found the relationship between Arlott and Botham quite peculiar, but not that I see it in perspective, it is not that much haha