Phil Edmonds the slow left-arm orthodox bowler turning 27 this year. Wilfred Rhodes played his last Test match in West Indies at the age of 52, you know 30 years a Test cricketer was of a crafty brain and wheeling left hand. Derek Underwood, of the big feet and big heart, played his first Test at the age of 21. And his last? They are the institutional members of their branch of the bowling union: with Blythe and Tony Lock and Verity standing just shoulder-high to the giants of their trade. What of the wine maturing within Edmonds? Is there a vintage there that will become rich and rare? Or something light which, like a passing player, may briefly enrich the cellar and then, all gone, is hardly missed?
No one, bearing in mind his destiny, could accuse Phil Edmonds of being lucky in either the time or the place of his birth. Lusaka is hardly in the Pudsey class as a nursery for cricketers. And the 1970s have hardly been the age of the slow bowler: one-day cricket has turned both bowlers and batsmen into whirling dervishes. Those who would argue that pressure within an activity like cricket bears upon and finally breaks the weakest element would see the demise of slow bowling as a necessary adjunct to progress.
Phil Edmonds with his glorious high action and his elegant loop and heavy spin brought all the talents of the classics into the game: from the outset, he was clearly an exciting prospect. And yet so many of his kind have been snuffed out in the vicious circle. Green pitches and the need to contain rather than buy out the sloggers have restricted the opportunities for slow (as opposed to slow-medium) bowlers to bowl. No one can understand the unfulfilled promise. But for Packer removing Underwood from the scene, it was easy to imagine Edmonds settling for a truncated career.
Happily, he has always shown signs of being lucky. As a schoolboy, especially at Cranbrook, he needed little enough of it for his was already a name much talked about not least by Peter West, an admirable ambassador at large for that school. However, anyone is lucky who comes into cricket by the Light Blue route. This winter the two Cam-bridge men on the tour have demonstrated once again how important Cambridge and Fenner’s can be in turning boys into men.
Phil Edmonds had played for Middlesex in his first year at Cambridge and there is no surer sign of incipient excellence. At University he took his wickets and made the point. In 1974, the year after coming down, he won his cap and then in the winter, he was elected Young Cricketer of the Year by the Cricket Writers Club. That body of opinion hates to be wrong and there is usually an inquiry when young players so honored fail to make the Test team in a short time. Edmonds only kept them waiting a year.
In the World Cup season of 1975, he made his first Test appearance, at Leeds when England went to Headingley with left-handers and Greig’s off-spin hoping to find Australia still suffering from their acute attack of the debilitating mental disorder known as fusarium complex. The selection was inspired. Edmonds, his fingers supple and his mind as yet uncluttered with the problems of his art in a new and more testing medium, bent the ball sharply in his first over.
The Chappells panicked and Australia was routed. Edmonds took 5 for 17 in his first 12 overs. Was there ever a more glittering opening performance? And this is the age of the archetypal seamer. When that other Chappell, Philip, and his gang dug up the pitch there was no chance for England to be put to the ultimate hurdle in cricket — overthrowing for good and all Test opponents caught off balance. All the signs were that Australia had unscrambled their batting senses: 220 for 3 chasing 445 with Edmonds taking just one of the wickets, albeit the important one of Greg Chappell. That was the end of a golden run for the young cricketer.
At The Oval, the Australians found a wicket on which they could bat as they wished and as only Australians can they turned on Edmonds and murdered him— no wickets for 118, and many of those scored off bad balls, notably the long hop, the short leg’s least-valued friend. But that day even Underwood, the miser, was taken for two and over. Edmonds vanished from the Test scene.
In the next season, Middlesex won the Championship and although Edmonds’ bowling was always a factor there was more interest in his batting position, for at one stage it looked as though he might emulate even the great Rhodes by marching up the batting order to No. 1. There was a huge hole in the England side. Yet in Edmonds, the batting spark was not there in abundance. Nor was a place in the team to India, the land of the spinner. How could there be when Fred Titmus the old ‘un had outbowled him statistically? Even in this dark hour, there was something: it was in that year that Edmonds, who had himself made short legs suffer, developed a reputation as a brave close fielder.
And no laurel is more respected wherever cricketers who have played at the top foregather. ‘He’s tough — he won’t go off unless he can help it,’ said Clive Radley, newly-arrived in Pakistan, after Haroon Rashid had practically hit Edmonds’ forearm into the Karachi pavilion. Last summer Middlesex again finished on top of the pile, although not uniquely, and again Edmonds, now a senior player, contributed in full measure. But if his selection for Pakistan came as a surprise it was because he seemed to have lost the snap in his action and to have become a man going through the motions rather than making things happen.
He continued to make runs, but not in one-ton lumps. And John Emburey, Fred Titmus’s successor as Middlesex off-spinner, took the headlines week after week. When the team arrived in Pakistan it seemed that the doubters would be vindicated: with Edmonds, it was still the unsolved case of the frequent long hop. However, the atmosphere of the tour seemed to concentrate Edmonds’ mind. Off the field, he read avariciously. There was little else for an intelligent man to do. And then suddenly the practice sessions began to become sharper.
All three Bs began to work on his action— Mike Brearley, who knew him best; Ken Barrington, who was determined that he should succeed; and Boycott, who knows a thing or two about the left-hand tradition. Although they failed with the batsmen almost to a man, their treatment seemed to work with Edmonds. The follow-through became crisper, the whole action less like a sponge pudding.
The loop that had been lost as the arm slowed suddenly reappeared and with it more accuracy and a rhythm to encourage the snap of the fingers. In the final Test Phil Edmonds unquestionably saved the entire series for England — as Geoff Boycott and Brearley had saved it in Hyderabad — by taking seven Pakistan wickets. Seven wickets! In Pakistan! It was a record-breaking effort and it ensured the draw. Success in a foreign field makes a different kind of soldier.
If the foundation stone of Edmonds’ Test career laid at Leeds was knocked out of place by the Australian bats at The Oval it looks to have been restored at Karachi. In terms of sheer talent, Edmonds ought to be England’s number-one spinner if Underwood is really lost and gone forever. And not only the top slow bowler but an all-rounder capable of contributing more with bat and in the field than Fred Titmus, who taught him so much of cricket’s lore.
There are still ten years of Test cricket in Phil Edmonds. But only if he wants them. In the ultimate analysis, the wickets have to be taken in the mind. Those who admire from afar must hope the potential will be fulfilled in plenty. It will after all be a victory for the spinner and that would be for the greater good of the game. Read More – Tony Greig’s Incredible Story of Meeting Sir Don Bradman in 1971