If you are a keen student of the game you will know the name Ken Barrington but just how a good a player he was has already started to fade into the pages of Wisden. He was a boyhood hero so please let me expand on the man and his career.
The brief stats show that he played 82 tests for England and scored 6,806 runs @58.67 with 20 centuries. Only two players (Bradman and Steve Smith) have more runs at a better average and Smith’s career is of course on-going. Barrington averaged a world class 50.71 at home and an astonishing 69.18 away. Of his 20 test centuries only 1 was made in a losing cause.
Barrington was the son of a soldier, raised in barracks near Reading. Embracing the war years and the immediate aftermath times were tough, his mother took in officer’s washing to help make ends meet. A promising leg break bowler he found his way onto the Surrey ground staff as a youngster in 1947. Steady progression followed thru the colts, club and ground side, 2nd XI and finally the first team in 1953. Along the way the batting took over from the bowling, there is nothing new under the sun.
His timing in terms of county cricket was excellent as Surrey were to win the Championship 7 years in row from 1952-1958 inclusive. He came into a side boasting several internationals, an experience that was to stand him in excellent stead. Called up for England in 1955, too early by his own admission, against a talented South African bowling unit he was quietly dropped after 2 games.
At this point and taking guidance from the senior Surrey players, particularly Jim Laker, he resolved to change his game from being a free scoring shot maker into the relentless run machine he became. Big hundreds not flashy 60/70s became the mantra. One technical change saw him open up his stance and become more “two eyed” again, nothing new under the sun.
Finally back in the England side in 1959 against India he made it count and was to remain as the middle order rock until 1968. As his average would attest he loved playing away from England. Warm, sunny weather and hard pitches suited him just fine. Barrington had highly successful Ashes trips to Australia in 62/63 and again 65/66; he was England’s top scorer on both tours, although both series were frustratingly drawn with the Ashes remaining in Australia.
Barrington always enjoyed bowling particularly overseas under the sun, 273 first class wickets @32.61 demonstrated that he never lost the ability to bowl a decent leg break and he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to try variations. Richie Benaud taught him the flipper. 514 career catches reflected sharp reflexes in the cordon.
An amiable and friendly man he made friends wherever he went and was particularly popular on the sub-continent. There were the occasional brushes with controversy including him calling out Charlie Griffith for throwing, being dropped for slow scoring (that really hurt) and having a brush with depression that would be dealt with rather differently today. A smoker he suffered his first heart attack in Melbourne in 1968, which ended his playing career.
Subsequently he served as an England selector and either team manager or assistant on every tour from 76-81. In the days before coaches he was invaluable to the young players coming through; the likes of Gower, Botham and Gooch were all indebted at different times. It was on England’s troubled tour to the West Indies in 1981 that he succumbed, aged 50, to his second heart attack.
Ken Barrington was one of England’s finest batsmen and yet when the inevitable “best ever” discussions break out he is often overlooked, he would have graced any era.
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