Early in this excellent biography, author Andrew Murtagh, himself a former professional cricketer, muses over the much-used epithet, ‘greatness’. How much ‘greater’, he wonders, was Shakespeare than say, Marlowe, or Beethoven than Elgar?
His point is to prove that greatness is an often subjective notion and nowhere is this more evident than in the sporting sphere. Here, the sobriquet is applied far too frequently to callow youths who simply happened to have performed well when a sporting contest in which they were playing was televised.
Murtagh decides, unusually, to ask his subject whether he believes he was a great batsman. “No,” responds the affable Tom Graveney with a smile, “but I would say that I played some great innings.” That’s a magnificent understatement.
During a career that straddled two generations (he opened the batting for England with Len Hutton and finished it batting with a youthful Geoff Boycott), Graveney was frequently accused of being too languid or appearing uninterested. This, it would seem, was the price he paid for being naturally talented, for being a man who made batting look so easy. Apparently he would counter such accusations with a smile and an almost resigned reply: “Ah,” he would declare, “but I scored a few.”
By ‘a few’, read 47,793 first class runs and 122 centuries, although Graveney remains too much of a gentleman to boast of his phenomenal run-scoring record. “The beauty of his play,” writes Sir Michael Parkinson in the book’s foreword, “was its simplicity, its lack of vanity. What you learn about style is that it can’t be taught.”
Considering several other Graveney biographies have appeared over the years, Murtagh has done a fine job by taking a slightly different approach to his task. It was not, he says, his intention to write a history book, “nor a no-holds barred, sensationalised biography, but a chronicle of changing social and sporting times seen through [Tom Graveney’s] eyes.” He has succeeded by producing a cricketing biography as stylish and engaging as the man about whom he writes so well.