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'The wrist is a forgotten area of spin bowling'

Former England offspinner Pat Pocock recalls his career: escaping rioters in Guyana, being mentored by Jim Laker, and captaining Sylvester Clarke

Interview by Scott Oliver |

Pat Pocock (left), as Surrey's deputy president in 2014, presents certificates to members who had been with the club for 60 or more years

Pat Pocock (left), as Surrey's deputy president in 2014, presents certificates to members who had been with the club for 60 or more years © PA Photos

Taking seven wickets in 11 balls was a complete freak. Every time they nicked it, it went to hand; every time they played across the line, they were out lbw; every time it went in the air, it was caught. I can honestly say that I bowled much better in a match against West Indies in Jamaica, on a rock-hard wicket that was like marble and with a 55-yard boundary straight, when I bowled 50-odd overs and got 0 for 152. Every player in our side came up to shake my hand in our dressing room because I bowled so well.

Colin Cowdrey was a lovely man, a fine player, but he was not the strongest of characters and was very, very easily influenced as captain.

If I had to choose between sidespin and bounce, I'd pick bounce every time.

I played in Manchester against a very strong Australian side - Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Ian Redpath, Bob Cowper, Paul Sheahan, Barry Jarman - a fabulous side. I bowled 33 overs, 6 for 79, and I'm left out the next game. I'd just turned 21. I thought: what way is that to bring on a young spinner? They brought Derek Underwood in.

"Viv says he didn't wear a helmet. He bloody did: he wore one twice against Surrey when Sylvester Clarke was playing. Fearsome, fearsome bowler"

John Woodcock said that the three people in the world he'd seen that enjoyed the game the most were Derek Randall, Pat Pocock and Garry Sobers.

A few years ago a guy came up to me and said, "I've got a night at the Royal Albert Hall in September. Do you fancy doing the opening spot?" It was blacked out, with two pin-spot lights into the middle of the stage. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome former Surrey and England cricketer, Pat Pocock." I walk out - 3000 people there, black-tie job - and sang "For Once in Your Life" by Frank Sinatra. That gave me a bigger buzz than playing in front of 100,000 at Eden Gardens.

Getting knocked out by Unders was no crime, but in those days he was nowhere near the bowler that he became. In those days, they used to have the Man-of-the-Match awards split into two parts: bowler of the match and batsman of the match. Basil D'Oliveira won the batsman of the match and I won the bowler of the match [in Manchester]. We come to the next Test at Lord's and we were both left out of the side.

Jim Laker and Tony Lock were great bowlers, but the thing that made them even greater was, they bowled on hugely helpful wickets. Not only uncovered wickets but underprepared wickets as well. They turned square. They were masters of their craft, but even more so because of the pitches they played on. You had Laker and Lock, [Alec] Bedser and [Peter] Loader - great bowlers, bowling on result wickets, backed up with good batting, and because of that, Surrey won seven championships on the trot.

"The most unfortunate thing about my career was that I didn't play a single Test match between the ages of 29 and 37" © PA Photos

I got Sobers out nine times, but never in Test matches. I'd have liked to have got him out in a Test match.

I went over to Transvaal, only for one season, just to see the country. I enjoyed it enormously. The cricket was very strong; a bit lopsided - I didn't see many spinners - but lots of quick bowlers and batsmen.

A great big thick stone hit Tony Lock on the back of the head in Guyana [in 1967-68]. We'd just won the series and the crowd were rioting. Gold Leaf, the sponsors, were providing transport. I was with Locky and John Snow, and when the car eventually got through the crowd, there was a hail of bricks and sticks and pebbles and all sorts. We got in and the driver put his hand on the horn and drove straight at the crowd, with everyone leaping out of the way. We got about 100 yards before we stopped in the middle of more rioters throwing missiles toward the ground, thinking the players were still there. We were actually right in the middle of them, and we all slipped down under the seats and carried on.

The best three players I bowled at were Richards, Richards and Sobers. Barry first, then Viv.

"I had four people who helped me on my way up: Laker, Lock, Titmus and Lance Gibbs. Who have the players got today?"

I was one of the bigger spinners of the ball in the country. I used to bowl "over the top", so I made the ball bounce a lot. If you put spin and bounce, with control, into your skill set, then you're going to do well on good wickets.

The most unfortunate thing about my career was that I didn't play a single Test match between the ages of 29 and 37. If you interview any spinner that played for a long time, they'll tell you those were their prime years. When I was in the best form of my life, I didn't get picked.

I never got out as nightwatchman for England, and I'm quite proud about that.

Day in, day out, in county cricket, Fred Titmus was the best offspinner I ever saw. He was a fantastic bowler, with control and flight and a good swinger. But in Test matches, because he wasn't a big spinner of the ball - and bearing in mind you played on pitches that were prepared for five days, not three - you didn't often have to worry about Fred.

Since I was about five, I can't ever remember thinking I wanted to do anything else except play cricket. But all I was at five was keen. It was only about 12 when I thought perhaps I had a chance of playing professionally.

Pocock is congratulated for taking a wicket in Barbados, 1967-68

Pocock is congratulated for taking a wicket in Barbados, 1967-68 © Getty Images

I was very lucky. If you think that the average person in the England side today has probably played between 70 and 100 first-class matches - I played 554, so that's quite a lot.

I had four people who helped me on my way up: Laker, Lock, Titmus and Lance Gibbs. Among them they had 7500 first-class wickets. I had lots of help and advice. Who have the players got today? Is it surprising we've barely got a spinner good enough for Test cricket?

Mike Brearley was the best captain I played under, but the person I most enjoyed playing under was David Gower, by far. When I played under David, I'd had over 500 first-class matches. He knew that I knew more about my bowling, and offspin bowling generally, than he would ever know, so he just let me get on with it. I didn't want to have to fight my captain to get the field I wanted.

The most important part of your body for deceiving the batsman in the flight is your wrist. The wrist is a forgotten area of spin bowling.

When I was first picked for England I was very much aware that there were a lot of senior players around. There haven't been too many times in English cricket history when there were more great players in the side: Colin Cowdrey, Kenny Barrington, John Edrich, Geoff Boycott, Tom Graveney, Jim Parks, Alan Knott, John Snow.

"I got 1607 wickets and John Emburey got 1608, both at 26 apiece, but he bowled 2000 more overs to get that wicket"

Dougie Walters was a very difficult player to bowl at for a spinner.

I was Titmus' understudy. He was a quality bowler, but on that [1967-68 West Indies] tour he didn't bowl very well. I played against the Governor's XI, virtually the Test team, and got six wickets for not many runs. Then I played against Barbados, who had nine Test players in their side, and got another six wickets. Suddenly all the press are writing: Is Pat Pocock going to get preferred to Fred? I thought I might be in line for a debut, and then of course he had the accident.

Apart from Illy [Ray Illingworth], there's no other offspin bowler who's played more first-class matches than me.

Playing in Madras in '72-73, I bowled a slightly short ball to Ajit Wadekar, who got back and cut it for four. Next over, I bowled another one, slightly short, turned slowly, and again he cuts it square. I said to Tony Lewis, the skipper, "I want a man out on the leg side in the corner." He said, "But he's just hit you for two fours square!" I said, "I know, but I'm not going to give him any more balls to hit. I'm going to bowl a stump straighter and a yard fuller, but if I do, I want that fielder out there." He started to grumble and shake his head. It was his third Test match and I'd played a couple of hundred first-class matches. I said, "Don't argue. Just f****** do it. I've got a reason."

The best offspinner I've ever seen, on Test match wickets, was Gibbs, because the spin and bounce he got were second to none. He'd always hit the shoulder or splice of the bat.

Pocock sings to spectators after a county day's play at The Oval

Pocock sings to spectators after a county day's play at The Oval © PA Photos

I didn't ever want to play for any other county, but if I had done, I'd have liked to have played for Glamorgan - not only because I was born in Wales but when you play for them you feel as though you're playing for more than a county. You feel as though you're playing for a country.

Sylvester Clarke was the most feared man in world cricket. Viv Richards went into print saying he didn't like facing him. Viv says he didn't wear a helmet. He bloody did: he wore one twice against Surrey when Sylvester Clarke was playing. Fearsome, fearsome bowler. I played against Roberts, Holding, Daniel, Garner, Marshall, Patterson, Walsh, Ambrose - all of them. I faced Sylvs in the nets on an underprepared wicket, no sightscreen, no one to stop him overstepping. There was nobody as fearsome as Clarkey was. And everybody knew it.

I captained Surrey because I felt I had to. I'd done it 11 years before I was given the official captain's job. I enjoyed the game too much and I didn't want anything to take my enjoyment away. But I looked around and thought there was no one else who could do it. We came second, which isn't too bad, although I did have a guy called Sylvester Clarke up my sleeve.

"I got Sobers out nine times, but never in Test matches"

Laker became a good friend. We worked together on commentary. He didn't come up to me and say, "You've got to do this, you've got to do that", but a few times a situation would arise and he'd come up and make a suggestion.

In the first two-thirds of my career, The Oval was a slow, nothing wicket. You could hardly ever, as a spinner, get the ball to bounce over the top of the stumps. A nightmare. It was the slowest thing you could possibly bowl on. If it did turn, it hit people halfway up the front leg. Then they relaid all the surfaces and it went from one of the slowest, lowest pitches to this rock-hard thing that didn't get off the straight. We even had a stage with Intikhab [Alam] playing and he couldn't get it off the straight. Sometimes we played county games twice on the same pitch to try and get it to turn.

Greigy [Tony Greig] was the only player in the side who'd have done that [run out Alvin Kallicharran in Guyana]. Umpire Douglas Sang Hue had no option but to give him out. He hadn't called time and he hadn't picked the bails up. There were a few in the side that thought it was beyond the pale, but no one said it. Sobers told Greigy he should leave the ground in his car with him, otherwise he might not make it back to the hotel in one piece.

In Karachi, the students burned down the pavilion while we were still inside. The match and tour were called off.

"I never got out as nightwatchman for England, and I'm quite proud about that" © Getty Images

Tom Graveney playing a T20 game would be like entering a Rolls-Royce in a stock car race.

I got 1607 wickets and John Emburey got 1608, both at 26 apiece, but he bowled 2000 more overs to get that wicket. His home ground was Lord's, which, in those days, was an infinitely better place to bowl spinners than The Oval. He was a fine bowler, but he was defensive and I was attacking, and on some wickets I felt I had the edge over him.

One year, Boycott had got 1300 runs in nine innings. We were playing Yorkshire at Bradford, and I had Graham Roope on Boycott's shoelaces on the off side, right on top of him. I ran up, bowled him off stump. As he walked past Roopey, he said, "I can't play that bowling, me." Roopey told me that, and I said, "Roopey, that ball did absolutely nothing. It didn't drift, didn't turn, he just played inside the line."

As soon as I'd played representative cricket for England Schools - I used to bat No. 5 - I thought I might have a chance.

Kenny [Barrington] was a selfish player, but anyone who played like he did was always going to be more consistent than someone like Ted Dexter. He used to restrict himself to three shots, and that's why he didn't get out, whereas Ted played every shot in the book. Kenny's going to be more consistent, but Dexter will win you more games.

Closey [Brian Close] got one run in 59 minutes [at Old Trafford in 1976] and had the shit knocked out of him. He was in a terrible state when he came in. I got in as nightwatchman in the second innings and I didn't get out that night. Next morning, I'm walking out with John Edrich and he asked me, "Which end do you fancy?" I told him I'd have Andy Roberts' end as he was a bit of light relief. John pisses himself laughing: "I tell you now, if Andy Roberts is light relief then we've got problems."

Scott Oliver tweets here

 

LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Nandan on | November 8, 2016, 12:49 GMT

    There u have the English selectors who then would select drop select players. How could Pocock be dropped from 1967 to 1969. Understandable when Illy was captaining he could not be picked but then after Illy's test career was over he ought to have been regular and then when picked for India tour of 1984 he was successful.It also speaks of David Gower's handling of personnel.

  • POSTED BY SG on | November 5, 2016, 15:14 GMT

    @BOBBY_TALYARKHAN The sneering you are referring to is the attempt by me to call a spade as a spade and nothing more or nothing less. So if Clarke is all that he is that you and others claim why do the video clips sing a different story ? Do you realize that the video clip is the only neutral piece of evidence in this matter ? Can you concentrate on that aspect and tell us why there is a disparity instead of hurling jibes? Or is that too much to ask for.

    @HEADBANDENATOR Iam aware of the opinions of past players and those who saw him bowl. Cricket as a sport hugely suffers from Nostalgia bound exuberant story tellers who invariable embellish and exaggerate events. Me being fact driven its hard to accept these stories at face value.

    @NURSERY_Ender Thanks for calling me youthful ... wish it was true though. The thing is anyone who has been on this planet and clocked enough time would know about human tendencies to exaggerate things closer to their hearts and agenda's.

  • POSTED BY Will on | November 4, 2016, 20:48 GMT

    @SG70 The rare You Tube clips of Sylvester Clarke show him, rather sadly, at his least capable. "Fearsome, Menacing, Lightening Fast, Genuinely quick and aggressive"? All of them, plus his being feared by some of the most capable batsman on the circuit. I would venture that a straw poll amongst late 70s early 80s openers to find the most ferocious bowler they faced would have Clarke at the top of the list.

  • POSTED BY Tom on | November 4, 2016, 16:33 GMT

    SG70 ON NOVEMBER 4, 2016, 12:53 GMT @NURSERY_ENDER, @PARTAB, @P_B Either the Youtube clips are lying or there is something else going on because I cannot for one moment bracket Sylvester Clarke as "Fearsome, Menacing, Lightening Fast, Genuinely quick and aggressive etc etc ... " Nowhere anything near to that infact. ------------------------------------- I'll take the evidence of my own eyes and the views of cricketers who actually faced him (including a former work colleague, as it happens) over some youthful know-it-all looking at youtube. He may not have been *the* fastest or best but he was sure as hell fast; he had a nasty streak bordering on insanity (no wholly sane person would throw a boundary marker at the crowd in response to being pelted with fruit) and many found his fastest deliveries very hard to pick up.

  • POSTED BY SG on | November 4, 2016, 12:53 GMT

    @NURSERY_ENDER, @PARTAB, @P_B

    Either the Youtube clips are lying or there is something else going on because I cannot for one moment bracket Sylvester Clarke as "Fearsome, Menacing, Lightening Fast, Genuinely quick and aggressive etc etc ... " Nowhere anything near to that infact.

  • POSTED BY Tom on | November 4, 2016, 11:40 GMT

    P_B. ON NOVEMBER 4, 2016, 8:59 GMT @SG70 I saw Clarke play a couple of times and I wouldn't describe him as medium anything.

    ------------------------------------------------------ Absolutely. Lightning quick and with, to put it mildly, a suspicion of throwing

  • POSTED BY tonybi5722901 on | November 4, 2016, 9:18 GMT

    Entertaining article with insights into the game in his day, always revealing hearing old pros talk about cricket. The game changed dramatically when wickets became covered and there was more variety prior to that, certainly more spinners. Comparing "then and now" is a constant source of interest and Pocock's remarks about those two great Surrey and England spinners Laker and Lock are revealing with regard to the wickets that they bowled on. But I'd love to be able to see them now playing for England, truly great players.

  • POSTED BY Paul on | November 4, 2016, 8:59 GMT

    @SG70 I saw Clarke play a couple of times and I wouldn't describe him as medium anything. He was a genuinely quick bowler and aggressive. Not by a long chalk the greatest the WI had in their locker at the time, but I wouldn't have wanted to face him, especially after suggesting he wasn't that quick!

  • POSTED BY Richard on | November 4, 2016, 8:07 GMT

    Interesting comment about Ken Barrington. I've read, too, that he was something of a nervous wreck whilst in the dressing room waiting to bat, chain smoking. He was, though, a very reliable batsman (we need someone like him to bat at no.3 now !) and, it should not be forgotten, a very useful leggie whose talents were never fully utilised by England. In Pocock's era every side had at least one off-spinner and one slow left armer - that's not the case today.

  • POSTED BY Vijayendra on | November 4, 2016, 7:58 GMT

    Wow. What a terrifically entertaining interview. Hands on my heart, I never heard of Pocock before, but he must have been some player to get Gary out so many times over! No mean feat. Have a happy life ahead sir. Thanks for the entertainment.

  • POSTED BY Partab on | November 4, 2016, 7:34 GMT

    To be fair to Pocock he has not said Sylvester Clarke was a great fast bowler. He only says he was a feared fast bowler. And history has recorded how menacing he could be. Wisden's tribute to him when he died in 1999 drives home this point. Similarly Roy Gilchrist was a feared fast bowler capable of striking terror in the hearts of batsmen even if he might not have been a great one.

  • POSTED BY Colin on | November 4, 2016, 7:05 GMT

    @ mikeindex, I agree there were more that I could've added to the list! An example of people that just drifted out of the tem is Geoff Miller. Now, I've seen him bowl and he doesn't look amazingly better than anyone but he actually did very well for a while and his overall numbers (30 with the ball and 25 with the bat!) are very good eh? How did he not play more? How did Emburey play above him when he was available? Pocock seems another example. In the 60s too it seems like there was a off spinner merry-go-round with Illingworth playing the odd test, Titmus in and out, Allen and others too. Can you shed light on these seemingly odd selection choices?

  • POSTED BY SG on | November 4, 2016, 0:35 GMT

    Ahhh ... another player from a long bygone ERA feels everything was better in his days and that players are ordinary now. Really tired of hearing these rants. So I went to youtube and looked up Sylvester Clarke ... hardly anything that will make you stop and watch. Typical Medium Pace 130K ish bowler but boy does he have a reputation or what. I just dont understand how people from that ERA can just lie thru their teeth especially when things have moved on now and we have witnessed faaar faaar faster and more menacing bowlers than Sylvester Clarke play Test Cricket. And obviously some of the greatest spin bowlers to have ever played the game have been those who played after Pocock retired.. I just dont get why they have this burning desire to prop up everything from their ERAs ... perhaps to stay relevant ?

  • POSTED BY jaswant on | November 4, 2016, 0:00 GMT

    Cricinfo's writers are great,they are like human encyclopedia. By now I am familiar with most of the names. Scott Oliver as usual gets you to read from top to bottom.This article is not only beautifully written,but the information are many. How many people knew that Viv batted with a helmet? I did not. The Kallicharran run out by Tony Greig I think happened in Trinidad and not Guyana. With all of Sylvester Clark's fire,he only played eleven test matches. Lance Gibbs was dynamic,he held the record of having 309 test wicket at one time. I never realized that Pat Pocock only played 25 tests. His name is popular to me,I remember him during my high school days.

  • POSTED BY Philip on | November 3, 2016, 23:11 GMT

    What a delightlful read. Brings back memories, as I read about Graham Roope. Kenny a selfish batsman? Who would have thought so,,, but he surely had been shaming if he played only three balls. Virtually every name from the bygone era (England Team) has been mentioned. Andy Roberts a light relieft? You must be joking. Sylvester Clarke, just awesome. Philip Gnana, Surrey.

  • POSTED BY KJSurin on | November 3, 2016, 22:28 GMT

    Once watched the late Sylv Clarke bowl aginst Gloucs at the Cheltenham festival. The keeper stood half way to the boundary and the occasional ball was going over his head. He got 4 wickets in his first spell.

  • POSTED BY Soumya Das Gupta on | November 3, 2016, 19:28 GMT

    Another brilliant write up and interview with a former player these are must reads for the new generation following the game. I remember Pat Pocock so well, although I didnt see him at his peak. In the 1984-85 tour of England to India. He had a really nice action and the ball was delivered in such a nice arc. I wondered why he hasnt played a lot for his country. Pocock and Edmonds were the primary spinners in that tour. Seend offspinners like Emburey, Hemmings, Croft who played for long periods of time after Pocock . Pocock was in my memory as the best attacking English offspinner. Graeme Swan is obviously the best English offspinner I have seen.

  • POSTED BY Maximillian Von Kleist on | November 3, 2016, 19:26 GMT

    Man oh man this was a lovely honest read

  • POSTED BY ian on | November 3, 2016, 18:48 GMT

    US_Indian: a rather sour and humourless comment from you (also inaccurate in my informed opinion... see below!) that is entirely out of kilter with the funny and interesting comments reported here by 'Percy' Pocock. Now, to put you firmly in your place - you won't mind as you really do have an endearing streak of humility and are willing to accept that not everyone shares your generous views - Pocock was a very good attacking off-spin bowler with a low boredom threshold. Bowling on unresponsive pitches at the Oval, he put great deal into his action attempting to extract turn and bounce. I saw him bowl hundreds of overs and overall his fc record stacks up nicely. 1,607 wks @ 26.53. rpo 2.54. In Tests he played against pretty tough opposition, mainly on tours (mostly full of hair-raising events off the field... like the assassination of Indira Gandhi) and still did a good job. 67 wks @44.4, rpo 2.68. Emburey was just a bit better on rpo. That was the main diff. A whole-hearted cricketer!

  • POSTED BY Mike on | November 3, 2016, 17:12 GMT

    @CAMBERWELLCARROT1979 as one who watched a lot of county cricket in the 60s and 70s I would not onl;y agree with your comment but add Mortimore, Allen, Carrick, Cope, Acfield and Langford to your list, to name the first half-dozen who came to mind. @US-Indian I can't agree with your assessment, I would certainly rate him ahead of Emburey though he did occasionally stray in length and line through trying too hard to attack. An example was that time he got 6-79 and was promptly dropped, when I think a lot of people felt he really should have got 6-40 in those conditions. The reasons for d'Oliveira's dropping were a little more complicated!

  • POSTED BY Asker on | November 3, 2016, 16:21 GMT

    An average bowler just in the grade of another pat - who was not consistent in his own team talking big things-you played because there was dearth of talented off spinners in England those days, i would say Emburey was a much better bowler than you hence you didn't get that many opportunities. Dont whine be happy that you got something to talk and write about and feel proud about. Not many get a chance to play for their country.

  • POSTED BY Colin on | November 3, 2016, 16:13 GMT

    I was born in '79 and throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s there were plenty of spinners in the county game and looking through scorecards, it always puzzles me why some spinners in England seemed to be in the side for a while then drift away. Not being there or watching it means I don't understand the context or the wider picture. I think that any of these spinners would walk in the side now. Any of Pocock, Deadly, Emburey. Edmonds, Marks, Hemmings, Cook, Miller and a few others would be more appreciated now!

  • POSTED BY Sanjay on | November 3, 2016, 14:36 GMT

    Brilliant interview, lovely anecdotes. And what a fabulous player. 1607 wickets alone tells a story but I had no idea Mr. Pocock was a singer too!

  • POSTED BY michae7471641 on | November 3, 2016, 14:25 GMT

    I remember Pocock being selected by England during 1976 against the West Indies, when David Acfield was the best off-spinner in county cricket and at his peak. At the time, I had little idea why Pocock had got the nod and just assumed that Alec Bedser and his Surrey connections had rather a lot to do with it. But the truth was probably that Percy's general steadiness and good-humoured nature were the real reasons. Acfield's head would have noticeably gone down after a few swipes from Richards or Greenidge, whereas Percy would simply dust himself down and start again. Good team man, reliable and a funny bloke to have around. Probably Bedser got it right, although I'm still not quite sure.