Rob Batiste island favourite cricketers

45 years on the Guernsey Press sports desk Rob recalls the exploits of his favourite cricketers over the years.

Style and substance will always have a role to play

by Rob Batisite       Guernsey Press      13th May 2022

The game of cricket and specifically evening cricket was with me long before joining the Press in 1977. As a kid I had been knocking about on the boundary of a King George V Field where old Jack Martel would sit every night in his big blue car watching the eight-ball over contests involving his Rovers favourites, the fast-emerging Cobo ‘clowns’, Harlequins, Pilgrims and the fading forces that were Optimists and Pessimists.

KGV of the mid-1960s was not the finely manicured and prepared field it is today. Hemmed in on three-and-a-half sides by tall poplars, the other half by the Babbe’s vinery and an old, sparse pavilion that really was not old at all, but internally cold and basic, totally lacking any charm. A hundred yards or so away, out in the middle, lay a black strip of ugly Tarmacadam that would not only provide pace and bounce but, with its ridges, much danger. One of my earliest KGV memories was seeing Simon Hollyer-Hill, a very fine and brave opening batsman, being led into an ambulance with his spectacles smashed and blood everywhere. In those days, players were lucky to have the outfield mown once a week and if rain intervened with the States Works rota, it might be a fortnight or more, by which time a ball could virtually disappear in the long grass.

Inter Insular team of 1965

Pierre Le Cocq Terry Nicholls Tony Shepherd

Micky Mechem Ricky Mills Bob Kimber

Phil Sarre Robin Roussel Brian Anthony (c) Simon Hollyer-Hill Alan Bisson

My two early cricketing heroes were from this 1960s period and three of them make my selection of favourites today, although before getting onto individuals let’s fill a few paragraphs on how the cricket has changed in half a century. Put simply – a lot. What was always a fair contest between bat and ball with, due to the nature of the early artificial wickets, the balance probably favouring the fast bowlers who were not hurt and sanitised by the modern restrictions. Now, the opposite is true. The batsman holds sway – note I go out refusing to use the batters term – and who would want to be a fast bowler in the modern game.

Despite all the changes, many for the worse, fundamentally cricket is still the same. And under blue skies and the right environment with two evenly matched sides, is there anything to beat it? KGV is a fantastic setting and only improving by the year while, up at the College Field, that combination of Victorian-style pavilion, coupled with the vastness of a playing area encircled by mature trees, is something to behold. Even if the game may seemingly be going potty and losing charm, there will always be a College Field to save it from ugliness.

How about the players though? How have they changed? On that question, they have certainly never been noisier as cricket embraces the ‘gobbiness’ of softball, with silent concentration no longer deemed acceptable. To its detriment it has to have chat, it has to have unending encouragement. Yuk. Yet, the game so badly mismanaged and guided at national level with its slide in popularity, survives here and shows signs of kicking on after a prolonged dip. One of the greatest faults of modern cricket is that young players have so little opportunity to learn the game properly as previous generations did.

Those greats of the past learned so much about the skills and variations of cricket, by playing against any number of dozens of visiting teams who would visit each summer. That avenue of cricket learning has sadly been lost and not through any fault of the administrators. As a consequence, too much of domestic cricket is soft and unchallenging and because it lacks the numerical depth of football, cannot withstand the elite disappearing from the local competition as happened with GFC in football. Cricket, I think, I hope, has now learned that lesson, and some very good cricket is played by some cricketers who stand up to comparison with any generation. In that I include the outstanding Matt Stokes, an all-rounder of true quality, not quite the standard of an English Championship professional, but not far off it. As Jersey’s national side threaten to disappear over the horizon, Stokes is one of only a couple of Sarnians who they would take with them happily. Needless to say, ‘Stokesy’ makes my team of favourites which is not all about selecting the very finest, but singling out those I have mostly admired, for all different reasons.

Here we go then … As Cobo was my team – then and still now – I have to choose two batsmen who first caught my eye as a kid in short pants. In the 1960s and through to the late 1970s, Micky Mechem was at the heart of Cobo’s elevation to serial league and knockout contenders and challenge Rovers’ dominance. With his trademark flying square cut, his compactness and good technique made him an Island player, or contender for an Island place, season after season. At the other end in a Little and Large opening partnership, would be the affable, often reluctant conformer and chirpy Alan Lewis who arrived here wanting to play in white tennis shorts. He built innings as big as his character and will always be remembered for his part in the ID-wicket destruction of Jersey at the FB Fields in 1974. In the middle order I have gone for pure style. I would argue to late into the night whether anyone before or since matched the elegance and timing of Robin Roussel, the nonchalant leg-side strokeplay of Stuart Le Prevost and the all-round batsmanship (battership does not work) of the little Indian, Ami Banerjee. And if the wicket was bouncy, the opposition attack fiery, as it was in the great Barry Middleton days, only one keeper/batsman had the skill and courage, to stand up to it – M C C Webber. Here was someone who, for the team’s good, would allow short balls to rip into his rib cage rather than show weakness of mind. 

I have only one out-and-out quickie, true No 11, in this selection, but if you wanted someone to run in all day, play the role of meanie, while swinging the ball often viciously into the pads, and give next to nothing away, then Miles Dobson was your man.

Now to the bowling all-rounders. Why pick one when you can pick four? Gary Rich was no Warren Barrett or Ralph Anthony, but he was my Cobo colleague for 20 years and he was someone you could rely upon, a great club man. He would be the spinner and if some left-arm slow variety was required Ricky Mills could provide it. Multi-skilled, ‘Millsy’ would be the brains of this team, and with Stu Le Prevost is included, that shows how I rate his cricketing leadership and reading of the game. Top class. Room for one more. When I watch Matthew Stokes I am instantly reminded of Pierre Le Cocq, he also of the Elizabethan parish and, in his pomp, just as classy whether he had a ball or bat in his hand. And, to cap that, a true gentleman of the game who played the way it is supposed to be. No histrionics from Le Cocq, in fact it is a team light on them, although big AI would happily debate an issue with rivals out on the middle, but invariably with a big smile across his face. I could, for sure, choose a stronger Island XI but it would only be a marginal call and I would not enjoy watching them individually as this group. So, to all of them still around, thank-you for making my summers that more satisfying.

THE TEAM (50-over batting order)

1 M J Mechem

2 A Lewis

3 R C N Roussel

4 A Banerjee

5 S Le Prevost

6 M Stokes

7 P Le Cocq

8 M C C Webber (wkt)

9 R Mills (c)

10 G Rich

11 M Dobson