Retro Sport: Twenty two yards from Big Al’

Alan Bearne

Alan Bearne - Credit: Archant

My mum and dad were waiting for an old school friend to arrive from London, when they heard a car draw up outside.

My dad rushed out, opened his arms, and shouted: “Lovely to see you!”

Out of the car climbed a tiny little man who responded: “I don’t often get a welcome like that! Can I sell you a bible?”

Twenty minutes later, my dad had bought a bible and offered the little man a job selling fruit and vegetables!

This was my first meeting with Wally Bearne, the secretary and mentor of Chelston Cricket Club.

Over the next few years I grew to know Wally well, and, in 1964, he invited me to join his cricket club.

For the next six years, I opened the bowling, at Cockington, with his son Alan.

Most Read

Alan was big, bulky, and friendly, with a ready smile, and a boyish sense of humour. Sometimes, if I met him in town, he would give me an affectionate slap, with a porky forearm, and leave me gasping for breath.

If he was a lovable teddy bear off the pitch, he was a fearsome grizzly once he stepped on to it!

Hundreds of cricketers in Torbay, our editor included, will never forget the terrifying sight of Alan Bearne bowling down the hill at Cockington Court.

Opponents would tell me that, when they faced him, they knew there was no escape from impending pain. The same feeling that a dormouse might feel while in the beak of a buzzard!

The geography of the bowl-shaped ground meant that Alan’s run-up began above the batsman’s eye level. Once those size 14 boots started padding down the slope towards you, there was no escape.

Most bowlers deliver the ball from a side-on position, but Alan’s arrival at the crease was far more dramatic!

After a rather slow run up, he would suddenly leap into the air, throwing both arms above his head, like a demented priest invoking a pagan deity.

From a completely chest-on position, he would then hurl the ball at the batsman with a loud wheezing sound that betrayed the effort just expended.

The batsman had a choice. If he played forward, the ball would arrow up at his throat, and, if he played back, it would target his forehead.

The pitch at Cockington, suited Alan perfectly, and he rarely wasted that advantage.

In today’s Devon League cricket, such pitches would be frowned upon, but, back in the 1960s, you fought your war with whatever weapons were available!

Clubs would sometimes complain to our captain, Bill Traylor, and Bill would say: “It’s the same for both sides!” ...but only one side had Big Al to call upon!

In 1969, Chelston beat Paignton 1st X1 in an early round of the Rothman’s Devon Cup.

Paignton’s professional that year was Dickie Bird, the former Yorkshire batsman who, in later life, became the famous umpire. He had travelled the world playing cricket, but had never faced Alan Bearne at Cockington.

The first ball he faced that day flew 3ft over his head. Dickie smiled, walked down the pitch, and patted it with his bat.

The second ball flew up off the bat handle, and caught the peak of his cap. The ball was caught by the wicket-keeper, and his cap was caught by second slip!

In later years, I met him and asked him if he remembered Alan, and that incident.

He grimaced and replied: “Ba Gum! I’ll not forget that lad!”

Alan played for Chelston for over 20 years, and took well over 1,000 wickets.

In 1962, he took 111 wickets, and in 1964, he took 110. But, wait for it!

He took those wickets at an unbelievable average of 4.80 and 5.30. No! That’s not a misprint!

In private, Alan was intelligent, witty and complex. We played soccer together several times, but our shared passion was for cricket.

One day, in 1971, after I had moved to Paignton Cricket Club, I met him in the Drum Inn, and we discussed old times.

“Still bowling down the leg-side, Manny?” he said.

“I hit the stumps a lot more often that you do!” I replied.

Over our third pint, we signed a pledge to prove who was right.

We would meet every five years, set up stumps, and have a six ball bowl out!

We held our first bowl out in Cockington Car Park in 1976, and Alan won 4-2.

I never had the chance to level the scores because, tragically, Alan passed away in the summer of 1980.

I feel privileged to have been able to recount his considerable achievements, 40 years later.