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Tuesday, 1 September 2020

New Month Old Post: Jim Laker, Mr. Ellis and the Eagle Annual

(First posted 12th April, 2016)

 “You can bowl, Hunt.” Mr. Ellis threw the ball at me, hard, his superior smirk turning into a contemptuous sneer. 

He had mistaken me for Dave Hunt. It was easily done, we were both thin and feeble, but to correct him would have gained yet more of his unwanted attention. He was right though: I could bowl, except he didn’t know it yet.

We were in the school cricket nets. Mr. Ellis had decided to demonstrate some batting strokes and for once had invited one of the sport-averse, wimpy weaklings to participate: someone whose ineffectual bowling would be easy to deal with. What he was unaware of was that, coached by the Eagle Annual, I could put quite a spin on the ball.

Eagle Annual 7 (1958)
It might have been an aunt or uncle who bought me Eagle Annual 7 for Christmas in 1958. It was far too ‘old’ for someone who had not been reading long, and the stories, adventure strips, factual articles and activities were mostly beyond me. I just looked at the pictures.

The original disappeared long ago, but I won this scruffy replacement on ebay for little more than the cost of the postage.

The Laker Grip
And there, on page 98, is ‘The Laker grip’, the drawing that fuelled my imagination all that time ago. It shows a hand with a cricket ball wedged between the first and second fingers, the way Jim Laker held it.

Jim Laker (1922-1986) was a Yorkshireman who played for Surrey and England, but sadly, never Yorkshire. To cricket statisticians, he is notable as the first bowler to take all ten wickets in a single test match innings, playing against the Australians at Old Trafford in 1956.


Jim Laker 1956
Jim Laker after taking
19 for 90 in 1956
In that particular match he took nineteen wickets for the loss of only ninety runs, 9 for 37 in the first innings, and 10 for 53 in the second: an incredible achievement. It says this in the text, although I don’t remember reading anything of it in the nineteen-fifties. All I remember is the illustration. It caught my attention because we had recently started playing cricket in the street.

I have a thing about objects in flight. Even now I scare my family by spinning knives in the air and catching them by their handles. The sharper the better, two revolutions rather than one, sometimes three, but never four: last time I tried four I caught the wrong end.  

And so it was with a cricket ball. How satisfying to be able to bowl with a spin to make it bounce up at an angle. I practised for hours with a tennis ball, and by some semi-conscious combination of shoulder movement, wrist rotation and finger friction at the point of release I could choose to turn it quite viciously either to the right or to the left. When at a later point someone bought me a proper cricket ball, hard and heavy, with a seam to give traction, you could sometimes hear it buzz when I let it go.

I know nothing of technicalities such as off-spins and leg breaks, and it never occurred to me it might be possible to make a ball curve in flight. We only played across the street, with a lamp post for a wicket and occasional pauses to let the Council lorries go past on their way to and from the depot. After things became all homework and television we stopped playing cricket completely. I don’t think I bowled again until that day a year or so later when Mr. Ellis decided to show off his batting prowess.

It was a beauty. As it left my fingers it whistled clean as the wings of a Pontefract pigeon. It bounced in front of him and jumped aggressively off to the left, just clipping the edge of his bat as he came forward to meet it. Anyone behind in the slips position would have caught him out first ball. Mr. Ellis poked disparagingly at the ground with his bat as if to flatten some non-existent lump or divot, thinking unevenness must have caused the deviation. 

He threw the ball at me a second time, a little more thoughtfully than before, and told me to bowl again. This time I turned it to the right and hit Mr. Ellis on the pads. In a real match he would have been out leg before wicket. He looked up almost in admiration.

“Well done, Hunt! Excellent! I wish I could move it like that. I bet you can’t do three in a row.”

So I surprised him with a straight one, as fast and accurate as I could send it, and this time it did seem to catch some irregularity in the ground, causing it to squeeze past his bat into the stumps. 

And true to character, when a little bit of assertive self-promotion might have elevated me to the glory of a place in the school cricket team, I kept quiet about not being who Mr. Ellis thought I was, and when the names of the second eleven were revealed for our annual grudge match against Hemsworth, a bemused Dave Hunt was one of the bowlers.

30 comments:

  1. What became of the real Dave Hunt, both at the match and afterwards? I wonder whether the whole episode did anything to educate Mr. Ellis as to not being so prejudiced against the presumed "weaklings".

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    1. Dave Hunt (not his real name) left school at 16 and I've no idea at all what became of him. He did at least undertake sports with some enthusiasm so I suppose he would have been all right in the match against Hemsworth. Mr Ellis (not his real name either), like most sports teachers, was a professional sadist.

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  2. You never forget little victories like that.

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    1. True, but I always tended to keep them to myself until I found the medium of anonymous blogging.

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    2. Whilst having nothing to contribute to the above blog entry, Tasker, not because of lack of interest but because of lack of having anything to say, may I, totally off topic, congratulate you on the astute comment left at TS's. As you know, being persona non grata over there, with no hope in hell of redemption, I have to come in through the backdoor. Wish those bloggers who hate my guts would give the option of voting other commentators up/down. That way it'd be easier to keep me quiet.

      What's your voice like? Listening to my taped voice, it sounds what I'd expect from someone reading your kids a bedtime story.

      Thumbs up,
      U

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    3. Ursula with nothing to say! Goodness! I must try harder: perhaps be more controversial. What's my voice like? Well, see (and hear) 'Reel to reel recordings' and 'Recording Artiste'

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  3. Lovely story and a good moral to it for an ex teacher like me.

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    1. It amused me at the time but I doubt Mr. Ellis changed his ways.

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  4. So smirking Mr Ellis never knew your name--I love it that you never told him. :)

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    1. No, not then, but Dave Hunt was a pretty fast runner, and therefore Mr. Ellis asked me at least three or four times to play rugby with the better rugby group in sports lessons. I was quick enough to say I wasn't Dave Hunt then.

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  5. I love this story! It had to feel great to surprise Mr. Ellis with your hidden talent. Did Dave Hunt remain on the team?

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    1. As replied to Meike, I don't really know. I don't even know if he actually played or managed to get out of it.

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  6. The mistaken identity reminds me of tales from my brothers' school. My mother was reading through one of their end of term reports and she said to brother J "this doesn't sound like he is talking about you at all". My brother calmly said that the master always confused him with another boy who he named for her. With that my mother screwed up the report and opened the range and threw it into the flames saying that all school reports were a waste of time anyway and this just proved it.

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    1. I hope she said that because it was a poor report rather than outstanding. I've often wondered what we would find by comparing sets of reports - the same comments over and over again no doubt.

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  7. I need understand nothing of the game, and understand and love the story.

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    1. Thank you. It went through a previous draft at a writing group I go to and I realised the cricket bit needed to be accessible to the general reader, and it seems I've now managed that.

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  8. 'Clean as the wings of a Pontefract pigeon.' I like that

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    1. They have the best racing pigeons in Pontefract (Castleford, Wakefield and Featherstone pigeon keepers would disagree) and their wings whistle when they fly fast. I came up with the expression after noticing Gervase Phinn "she clung to him like a Whitby limpet" - a phrase he self-plagiarises more than once.

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  9. I'm still stuck on your penchant for spinning knives up into the air! I wouldn't trust myself not to cut off a digit.

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    1. You could begin with wooden spoons. They're ideal because they are heavier at one end than the other (think of juggler's clubs) so the bowl part stays much in the same place while the handle whizzes round and you can predict where it will be. The rest is timing.

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  10. When I was a child I loved playing cricket, but school games were horrible due to the occasional sadistic teacher. Mr Ellis was in the wrong job, but it seems to me that there was a whole culture against children ;)

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    1. I wrote on another post that to be a games teacher you had to be able to convince them you were good at sports and you had to be a total sadist. Mr. Ellis was touch and go on both counts. He rarely participated in any game or sport for more than a couple of minutes and on rare occasions he did excuse people from rugby.

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  11. Well, you have taught me something today Tasker. I never knew that Jim Laker was a card carrying, bona fide Yorkshireman. Excellent riposte for Mr Ellis. What a tosser! He was meant to be guiding the lads, bringing out the best in them but he behaved like Brian Glover (Mr Sugden) in the football match in "Kes".

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    1. I'm probably not alone in that because I didn't enjoy competitive team sports I didn't like sports teachers whose job it was to get you to play them. The teachers then disliked those who didn't want to participate. Cricket wasn't too bad because much of it is individual skill, but Mr Ellis's favourite game was of course rugby.

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    2. Rugby? That's a surprise. I thought he would have been into synchronised swimming and netball. I think that many modern PE teachers are much more sensitive about youngsters who are not keen on sports - with action plans and everything. Less bullying and sneering than there used to be.

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  12. Your post has struck a chord/nerve with me. I was bought The Eagle as a child and have an original lurking somewhere in the house. I also have a 'Best of the 1950s' Eagle Annual. What really got to me was your statement that sports teachers were professional sadists. Our's at grammar school (who's name also started with an E) was particularly so and was responsible largely for me having part of a lung removed at the age of 16. On the subject of cricket I, too, was a reluctant choice for the team because I could bowl (though nowhere near as proficiently as you) but, unfortunately, I couldn't bat or catch a ball that wasn't coming directly at me. It was years after (when trying to play tennis) before I realised that one needed two working eyes to catch and bat and I only had one!

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    1. OOPS! sorry about the "our's".

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    2. I might have made it sound as if I was better than I really was. Your games teacher sounds a real b------. I don't suppose they all were, probably just most. Even Mr. Ellis sometimes used to let me help the school gardener sweep up fallen leaves.

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  13. Interestingly, the editor of the 'new' Eagle, which was published from 1982 to around 1994, was called Dave Hunt - and that was his real name. (I worked on the comic as a freelancer in the mid '80s.) Funny how Eagle and a Dave Hunt both pop up in your post.

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    1. Ha! That is absolute coincidence. I didn't want to call the other chap by his real name so I used the pseudonym Dave Hunt. I never read new Eagle, so it's not even a subconscious coincidence.

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