Published on November 12th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta0
CS Ashes Anecdotes: Len Hutton’s banana brainwave
England were 2-1 up in the series, thanks to two extraordinary spells of furious pace by Frank Tyson.
The Ashes was still up for grabs as the series moved to Adelaide. And it was a battle of attrition from the first day.
The Australians fought their way to 323 after being 8 down for 229. After a good start for England on the second afternoon, Bill Edrich and Peter May fell in quick succession on the third morning. Skipper and supreme opening batsman Len Hutton was joined by a young Colin Cowdrey and the score was advanced by 99 before Bill Johnston removed the older man for 80.
It was at this critical juncture, the score reading 162 for 3, that Denis Compton walked to the wicket. The great days of this flamboyant batsman seemed more and more like distant memories of the past, as his dodgy knee and indifferent form continued to keep the English fans on tenterhooks.
Compton, the elderly knight of English batting, and Cowdrey, the modern face of the classical willow, now started stitching together another useful, albeit rather painstaking, partnership. In the pavilion, Hutton watched, face riveted in tension, with twelfth man Vic Wilson sitting next to him. The man touring Australia as a cover for Compton’s knee.
Before boarding the SS Orsova, Hutton, mindful of Compton’s injury, had bet selector Gubby Allen the princely sum of £1 that Wilson would average more than Cowdrey. After all, it was Allen’s recommendation that had got Cowdrey a ticket for the tour.
Now, after 40 on debut at Brisbane, 54 invaluable second innings runs at Sydney, and 102 at Melbourne, Cowdrey was fast becoming the backbone of the batting, alongside the other supremely talented young man Peter May. And Wilson had not managed to feature in a Test match and would never do so. Hutton was not complaining.
But the spectators of Adelaide were. The incredibly slow rate of scoring was getting on their nerves. There arose a din of barracking, growing more severe by the minute. And the youthful Cowdrey, experience yet to rein in the reactions, was instigated to play a couple of very rash strokes.
And then came Hutton’s masterstroke. Not only does he stand as the very best post-War opening batsman ever produced across the globe, he was also the canniest of captains.
Wilson was dispatched to the ground.
As Cowdrey remembered in his autobiography MCC, “I looked around at the end of an over to see Vic Wilson, the twelfth man, calmly walking out to the middle. As I had not signalled to the dressing-room for anything, nor was it the drinks interval, I could only assume that Compton had indicated that he wanted some fresh batting gloves.
“Wilson, however, kept walking straight to my end. I was mystified. He reached into his blazer pocket, produced two bananas and gave them to me. I said, ‘What the hell are these for?’ Wilson replied, ‘Well, the skipper thought you might be hungry. He watched you play a couple of wild shots just now. It rather suggests he is keen for you to stay out here batting a little longer.’”
The two bananas were exactly what the young Kent batsman needed.
Cowdrey made 79. England won again. At the end of the series, Cowdrey had 319 runs with a hundred and two fifties. Wilson did not get a look-in.
Hutton, a Yorkshireman, never eager to part with money, happily paid that wagered £1 to Allen.