‘An Elizabethan team to take on the world’     by Rob Batiste

Published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 23rd May 2009

IT’S often been written that a strong Yorkshire side means a strong England test team. That, I would suggest, is an out-dated claim. When England won the Ashes in 2005 a Yorkshireman may have masterminded the Aussies’ demise, but, other than Matthew Hoggard, there was no other Tyke in the national side.

To say Guernsey cricket is strong when Elizabeth College 1st XI has one of its better summers is perhaps over-stepping the mark. But it is entirely fair to say that without the presence, influence and development powers of College cricket since the inception of the inter-collegiate game in 1862, the local game would be an awful lot poorer. Having read last week’s piece on the ‘Boys from Yokohama’, the Blad brothers, a cricket fan said to me ‘it’s all very well saying they were the most successful opening partnership the college ever had, but would they both get in an all-time College team?’

R Goodall and N Van Leuven open the innings against Victoria Coll in 1964

Out came the notepad and within the time it took me to walk out to the College square, be bowled first ball and trudge back, I had 10 names on my pad. ‘Definitely not,’ was my conclusion. Carl Blad, as good a player as he undoubtedly must have been, would not make the first team. He would be stuck with the seconds down at the Memorial Field.

Finding 11 names to grace such an XI was not difficult, squeezing 18 into 11 was. The balance of the side was important, too, and there would have to be one good spinner and a keeper who could bat. For those two places my thoughts immediately focused on the best College side I have seen, the one Keith Howick so astutely led from the front in the early seventies. They were so good that the team, under the control of cricket coach Tony Taylor, topped the Afternoon League of the time – a league that comprised the two best clubs, Rovers and Cobo, plus the collective strength of a then thriving GlCC. Standing behind the stumps in 1971 and later to become one of the island’s best all-time batsman/keepers, was the man who by his initials alone – M.C.C. – was born to be a top cricketer, namely Mike Webber. He scored 588 runs that summer, only nine fewer than Howick.

JV Blad
K Howick
A Bisson

Mike Fooks is the other worthy challenger for the gloveman’s spot in the side, while the solitary spinner’s place goes to John Le Lievre, who, before focusing on squash, had won a place in the full island team as an ‘offie’ good enough to open the College batting. In this side they would bat at eight and 10 respectively, such is the strength of the batting choices and the playing records of some classy performers. The new ball would be shared by men divided by 30 years and more. Miles Dobson never achieved an awful lot as a fast bowler in his College days, but he was part of that powerful 1972 unit – and in years to come he was to develop into arguably the best opening bowler Guernsey has seen. At the other end is the pacy William Watling, whose 1938 performances led him to attract the interest of The Cricketer magazine and suggest he would not be out of place at Lord’s. The man could bat very handily, too. In his first game for the College firsts, at the start of the 1937 season, ‘WC’ took eight GlCC wickets. In his second, again v GlCC, he hit 106 not out at number six, then took seven wickets as the club were shot out for 80. He went on to hit one more ton that year and win the Dr Robinson belt and bat for bowling. In 1938 he took six for 14 in a win over Victoria and in his last year, months before he was killed in action, he won the Royal Irish Cup as the outstanding all-rounder. But, as an all-rounder, it is hard to believe Watling was any better than a player who came along two decades later – Pierre Le Cocq. Good enough to open both batting and bowling for the full island side at different times, Pierre’s technique was flawless by local standards. He hardly ever wasted a ball bowled at fast-medium and with the bat there were few better at building an innings and not wasting a start.

S Mackay
P Sarre
R Roussel

Le Cocq bats at seven in this side, which leaves six batsmen, four of whom could bowl with telling effect. At the top of the order are the school’s two greatest run machines, John Valdemar Blad and Keith Howick. Between them they fill five of the 24 centurion inscriptions in the College Field pavilion. Howick’s three tons remain a record, as does Blad’s 209 not out and 338 unbeaten runs in two games against Victoria in 1914. At first wicket down, is the stylish and yet authoritative Alan Bisson. Guernsey did not perhaps see the best years of him after he left college for university and then learned his trade in the tough Yorkshire League. At four I have gone for Stuart Mackay, the best of the best modern-day College sides, the one that also comprised very notable talents such as David Marshall – a centurion v. Victoria in 1989 – Neil Garrett and Rob Turville. For style and grace it is hard to imagine any Elizabethan striking the ball more sweetly and with better timing than Robin Roussel, who hit 107 not out in 1953 and shared in a massive stand with C. L. Fitzgerald.

R Roussel and C Fitzgerald against Victoria Coll in 1953

I just wish I had seen a glimpse of the No. 6 and, another great all-rounder of early-60s vintage, Phil Sarre. It sounds as if he was a bit of a Botham in that he was not one for hanging around. Pierre Le Cocq called him ‘an enigma’, ‘He seemed to score nought or a hundred,’ said Sarre’s contemporary, His 122 not out against Victoria in 1963 came off 43 overs and when it came to the return match he helped himself to four wickets for seven runs as Victoria, hopelessly out-classed that summer, crashed to a big defeat. Indeed, Elizabeth’s 1963 seam attack was surely their best of all time.

P Le Cocq
M Webber
W Watling

Apart from the pace of Sarre, John Deri-Bowen bowled very swiftly and if they did not get you out, Le Cocq would. That summer all three made the full Guernsey team and Deri-Bowen (6-2-16-2) and Le Cocq (9-4-16-1) shared the new ball as they played important roles in a 92-run win over Jersey. Sarre bowled first change. There is a case for Deri-Bowen to make the best XI, as he could also bat. On the same day that Sarre got his 122, Deri-Bowen came in at six and struck a quickfire 90. But, whichever XI you plump for one thing is for certain, Guernsey would love to have them at their disposal when they take on the world, as they have been doing this past week.

J Le Lievre
M Dobson
J Deri-Bowen

Best XI

  1. John Blad
  2. Keith Howick
  3. Alan Bisson
  4. Stuart Mackay
  5. Phil Sarre
  6. Robin Roussel
  7. Pierre Le Cocq
  8. Mike Webber (w/k)
  9. William Watling
  10. John Le Lievre
  11. Miles Dobson

12th man: John Deri-Bowen.