Magazine article The Spectator

Bat and Baton

Magazine article The Spectator

Bat and Baton

Article excerpt

IT can be an enclosed world, sportswriting, but some of us get out now and again to admire the delights of neighbouring parishes. So it was with great joy last week that I heard Simon Rattle, indisputably the greatest Englishman alive, conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in a pair of glorious concerts at the Festival Hall.

There is a sports connection with the great Prussians - at least there is for me. In November 1987, when Rattle made his debut with the Berliners, I fell into conversation during rehearsals with his father, Denis. 'You write about cricket and music?' he asked. 'Lucky man. You must be the new Cardus.' It was hardly an original line then, and I've heard it 100 times since, but that afternoon, in Cold War Berlin, it made me feel very tall.

Rattle senior turned out to be a great cricket-lover, and that night, after his son had conducted Mahler's Sixth Symphony, he took me to one side in the Green Room. The Rattles lived in Liverpool, where Simon was born, but, in his childhood, Denis had gone to Chatham House, a Ramsgate grammar school, where he played for the first XI against the might of Kent. He batted against the great leg-break bowler, AP 'Tich' Freeman, who took more first-class wickets - 3,776 - than anybody in the history of the game except Wilfred Rhodes.

'Freeman had just come on and had taken a wicket with his first ball,' said Denis. 'I was sitting next to Les Ames [the Kent and England wicketkeeper] at lunch, and I was petrified, so he told me what to expect. …

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