More than 50 years after being a key player as England retained the Ashes in Australia, fast bowler Frank Tyson finds his loyalties divided as a new series looms. Bill Bridge reports.
AS A PROUD son of Lancashire and a cricketer whose devastating fast-bowling for England in Australia earned him the nickname "Typhoon" you might expect Frank Tyson to advance a case for the land of his birth to beat the old rivals in the forthcoming Ashes series.
But with the experience of 75 years behind him, Frank Tyson's thoughts are not as straightforward as that. Many of those years have been spent in Australia – he emigrated shortly after his career was ended by injury – and as one of the leading coaches in his adopted country he appreciates the differences between the teams.
"I'm torn between emotion and realism," he confesses. "I would like to think England have a chance of winning – this is probably their best chance since 1987 – but realistically you have only to look at the way Australia prepare for a major series to see they have an edge.
"Their coach John Buchanan played only two state games and failed when he came to Middlesex but he is the best in the world at preparing players. This series will not be about Buchanan against Duncan Fletcher, it will be the English system against the Australian system.
"Have England anyone like young Michael Clarke? Damien Martyn is the most correct player on both sides. Australia have Ponting, Hayden and Langer; put them man-to-man against Vaughan, Trescothick and Strauss and there would be little between them as individuals.
"Have you a Clarke – or a Gilchrist coming in at No 7? Have you disciplined bowlers like McGrath and Gillespie, men who can change the momentum of a game, swing a match in two sessions? The fast bowlers could be the key to the series. Gillespie can bowl in a restricted or aggressive style depending on the demands of the game-plan."
Tyson points to differences in their approach to coaching as the fundamental differences between the two countries.
"Coaching in Australia aims to maximise a player's talent," he says. "In England it seems to me the coaching of the national team is moulded by the demands of the counties.
"Take Marcus Trescothick: a wonderful, innovative player but he does silly things. He does not get his front foot close enough to the pitch of the ball for starters. If he had been an Australian he would have worked on that with his coaches over and over until he had it right. He would also have worked on swinging the bat on a wider arc to hit the ball harder."
"In Australia, coaches are not inhibited by fixed ways of thinking. We try things and if they work they are adopted. We didn't invent coaching but we are more inclined towards using the imagination, trying methods that had not been used before, than coaches elsewhere," says Tyson.
It is in attention to fine detail that Australian have the edge, he insists. He has just been in India, where he regularly coaches, attending a cricket seminar in Bangalore and one of his colleagues there – an Australian – told him he had spent hours watching tapes of England playing their Test series in South Africa over the winter.
He was assessing tactics, the decisions taken by Michael Vaughan and the reactions of the England players to various situations. The results of his labours are now with the Australian camp in preparation for the Ashes series.
When Tyson talks cricket – or anything else – he does so with a seriousness born of a career in teaching and a flawless understanding of and enthusiasm for his subject.
When he first arrived in Australia to begin his new life as a teacher, his salary was four times that of a county cricketer in England and he rose to become head of languages and housemaster at Carey Grammar School in Adelaide.
He twice led Victoria to the Sheffield Shield in his years as director of coaching and contributed to the establishment of the Australian National Coaching Accreditation Scheme in 1974.
He has written 20 books on cricket and described the game on radio and television for 36 years.
"I loved the broadcasting but hated the travel – Perth one day, Adelaide the next – and the living in hotels rooms," he declares.
His latest book (*) is a graphic account of that tour 50 years ago when, under the captaincy of Len Hutton, England travelled by ship to Australia and retained the Ashes after being humbled in the first Test.
Tyson was then 24 and had completed his National Service, earned a degree from Durham University and travelled Europe with two college pals. All that had not prepared him for what he describes as "a fantastic adventure."
"It was," he says, "a revelation to eyes like mine."
Drawing from the diary he kept during the tour and using many of his own photographs, he has produced a volume which is much more than a cricket book. It is the chronicle of a young man's eyes being opened, beginning with the luxury of shipboard life for a collection of cricketers travelling from a country where war-time rationing was still in force and discovering life on the sunny side of the world.
There are descriptions of the places they went, the people they met and the things they saw.
"I am sorry in some ways for the modern players – they miss out on seeing the country when they go on tour. Some of the friendships I made on that tour in the Fifties are still in place today," says Tyson.
Of the 1954-55 series itself he recalls that the major batsmen – Hutton, Bill Edrich and Denis Compton – made little impact, most of the runs coming from the young Peter May and Colin Cowdrey with a couple of crucial flurries from Johnny Wardle.
Wardle and Bob Appleyard – who had the best bowling average on either side in the series – were far better spinners than their Australian counterparts.
The pace of Brian Statham and Tyson, backed up by the accuracy of Trevor Bailey, effectively won the series with little contribution from Alec Bedser, who suffered with shingles for much of the trip and was another of the recognised stars who failed to live up to reputation or expectation.
Tyson still has sympathy with Fred Trueman, who was not selected for the tour – "he would have bowled as well as I did in Melbourne and Sydney if he had been with us," he says – and he harbours the belief that Vic Wilson was not given a fair crack.
"He was roughly treated," he says. "We had a problem finding an opening partner for Hutton. Edrich was tried, so was Reg Simpson but they did not impress, then Vic was given his opportunity but he came up against Keith Miller on green wickets three times and that was his chance gone, although he was 12th man in all the Tests. It was a pity, he was a good cricketer."
For the rest, Tyson recalls a wonderful period in his life, living every day to the full on and off the field.
"We expected a hard tour," he says, "but it was harder than I thought it would be. Len had told us we had to be 10 per cent better than the Australians to win over there to overcome their advantages in being used to the weather and having the crowds behind them."
They rose to the challenge and returned home heroes – although Northamptonshire, Tyson's county, voted against a proposed civic reception for him and team-mate Keith Andrew. By then, a seed had germinated in Tyson's mind.
It was Australia for him.
"It had struck me while I was over there that it was a wonderful country to bring up a family, with the open spaces, the climate and the job opportunities," he says with the certainty of a man who made the right decision.
So a fertile cricketing brain was lost to the English game: Australian children and cricket were the beneficiaries.
* In The Eye Of The Typhoon (Parrs Wood Press, Manchester, 20).