DateLine: 8th December 2005
All of Rob Bailey’s Test match appearances came against the West Indies, a rare example of a batsman (rather than a bowler) being a horse for a course. His physical bravery, technical excellence and mastery of the hook and pull (as well as five seasons of heavy scoring for Northamptonshire) made him a good pick to face a formidable West Indian pace battery, and his 6 3” height meant he had to dance only occasionally to chin music. A diligent 43 on his debut confirmed his ability, and he was picked for the subsequently aborted winter tour to India. A poor trot for Northants meant selection eluded him in the 1989 Ashes (even with the take-a-ticket selection policy of that summer), although his loyalty in turning down a place on that winters rebel tour to South Africa was rewarded with a plane ticket inviting him to resume battle with the West Indies. Selected for the Third Test at Port of Spain, he was rewarded for his patience with a pair. But arguably worse luck was to follow in the next Test, as Bailey was not so much dismissed as ripped off by one of the worst Test Match umpiring decisions of the modern age (he was given out caught behind despite the ball clearly evading both glove and bat). Despite a 42 at Antigua in the final Test (in which he selflessly protected and shepherded the tail), he was never seen in England colours again, despite his scoring of 1,000 runs in every season between 1984-1995 making him one of the most consistent county batsmen of his generation. His ODI career had been even more of a stop start affair, with four matches in four different seasons in three different countries, although his average of 68.50 hardly merited his discarding.
Bailey ascended to the Northamptonshire captaincy in 1996, although a lengthy injury list, as well as the damp powder which overseas star Mohammad Akram ‘provided’ in 1997 were key factors in two disappointing seasons in charge, although Kevin Curran (Bailey’s replacement as captain) only lasted one season. As was typical of the mature and dignified nature of the man, Bailey took his sacking as captain with good grace and without making demands to leave. Northants released Bailey at the end of 1999 (a decision seemingly made purely on Bailey’s age), and he moved to Derbyshire. A century on his debut meant that he held the quirky title of being the first man to score a century in England in the new millennium. Bailey’s personal maturity and cricketing professionalism were very welcome (and not to mention in short supply) at Derby, and he averaged nearly 50 in First-class cricket in 2000. His highlight in that season was arguably in scoring 177 runs (without being dismissed) against, surprise surprise, the West Indian tourists. He was still capable of building big innings in his final season in 2001, although in a desperately poor team he had suddenly become susceptible to an early dismissal. However, with over 20,000 runs (at an average over 40), and 47 centuries in First-class cricket, Bailey could reflect on a very substantial career. His off-spin really was slow; although that did not affect its ability to be a partnership breaker, and his 121 First-class wickets at 42.51 (only a touch above his batting average) means he had a better record than many self proclaimed all-rounders of his generation. In October 2005 it was announced that Bailey had been promoted to the full list of First-class umpires for the 2006 season, and the composure and concentration he so frequently displayed as a batsman makes him ideal for this position.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)