The art of cricket photography

YOU are unlikely to have heard of Ken Kelly but he is, in his own specialised way, one of the most important figures in cricket.


YOU are unlikely to have heard of Ken Kelly but he is, in his own specialised way, one of the most important figures in cricket. Ken, an old pal of mine and now well past retirement age and no longer in the best of health, was a photographer in the days when only his agency had the contract to take pictures at Tests and when the equipment was old and cumbersome and as ill-suited for the job as you can imagine.

Cricket photography has come a long way, thanks to improved equipment and cameramen. It is now possible to take the best of action snaps with the feel of energy. — Pic. MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES-

The contract that gave Central News the exclusive rights was drawn up in the days when commercial values meant little to the administrators who thought that all forms of business dealing in cricket were too far beneath their toffee noses.

The main camera consisted of a lens so long that it was known as Long Tom, which was perched on the balcony at the grounds around the country, focussed only on the batsman on strike and moved from one chalk mark to another at the end of each over. It had its origins in the periscope of a war time German U-boat and frankly it looked as if searching for battleships should have been its proper use.

In those days there was no such thing as a close-up and all pictures, whether of a fine stroke or a broken wicket, included short leg, the wicket-keeper and all the slips. I am not saying they lacked artistic value, Ken Kelly's own book of his favourite cricket pictures shows how wonderful some of them were, but they were all the same.

Ken was in charge of this out-dated piece of equipment until the mid-1960s when he went to Australia and saw for the first time the more compact cameras being produced in Japan. He hurried back to London with the news and within a few months the old periscope was abandoned and newer and better cameras put in its place.

The long contract between MCC and the agency who had the sole rights, ended and a new generation of cricket photographers came to the fore. If you are a keen observer of the newspaper scene you will know all their names.

Ken Kelly was responsible for that photographic revolution which is now largely taken for granted. In his retirement he went back to his roots in Birmingham and transformed the museum which is part of the pavilion complex at Edgbaston. Under his hand it grew and grew until today it is possible to wander round for the whole of a long lunch and not see everything.

Many handsome pictures, of course, but bats, diaries, letters, balls, gloves and stumps all add something to the history of the game and most of it is the work of Ken Kelly.

He has had a satisfying life in cricket but sadly he is now too ill to supervise his new work of art but such was his impact on cricket that he deserves to be remembered.

Photography is a key part in recording, not just the day to day events, but the structure of the game, its development and its beauty; it is the first snapshot of history. Where would we be without some of those marvellous old pictures of W. G. Grace, Tom Hayward and Sid Barnes.

Even in the 20 years I have been touring I can recall a time when only a handful of photographers made trips to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka where the living was hard and the business of moving pictures back to England was hazardous.

Now, such is the ease of communication that there will be almost as many photographers as writers and the increase in the number and standard of pictures demonstrates both the improvement in equipment and cameramen.

Patrick Eager is still the best of the new boys. He innovated the use of the remote, overhead camera which produced startling pictures 25 years ago of, for instance, a circle of five slips placed by Bob Willis when his bowling was at its height and Colin Cowdrey flat on his back after being startled by Andy Roberts.

Patrick had an advantage that other photographers envied. His father was Desmond Eager, captain of Hampshire soon after the Second World War, and so his knowledge of the game and its probable twists and turns allowed him to anticipate some of the ploys which gave his pictures their particular edge.

He was followed by adventurers like Adrian Murrell who began on a tour of Pakistan without a hotel room but spent all his days and nights taking pictures, travelling to the nearest point at which he could develop, print and wire and then climbing back on to the cheapest means of transport and dozing all the way back to the venue.

He told me that during one Test at Faisalabad he never slept in a bed but that the two-hour journey back to Lahore where there were wiring facilities gave him the chance to doze and the two-hour trip back to Faisalabad always ended with him being awoken in the bus station just outside Ray's Hotel. From my own memories of Ray's I suspect Adrian may have been more comfortable in his bus seat.

By the end of the tour he was very, very tired but a little richer and, as the only freelance photographer willing to travel, much more admired in the depths of the newspaper industry where such heroism is important.

He went on to be a founding photographer with the agency now known as Getty Images who sell their pictures round the world and whose name you will recognise from The Sportstar and The Hindu with whom they have a long-term association.

That cheerful cove Graham Morris, another cameraman with a sporting background as well as an apprenticeship as a new photographer, followed the Murrell example on tours to India and Australia in the days when sending pictures was a much greater strain than it is now when the internet and improved phone lines make transmitting snaps within the power of all of us.

Graham's great advantage in his early days was his friendship with Ian Botham but as a young man making his way in the game he was able to gain the trust and help of many cricketers.

Here I ought to explain a thing or two about photographers. They are as far removed from the general character of newspapermen as you can imagine.

Some of them are artists, like V. V. Krishnan and N. Sridharan of The Sportstar and The Hindu, David Ashdown of The Independent and Dave Munden of the magazine Wisden Cricketer. David is another from a cricket family. His father played many years for Leicestershire and David was good enough in his teens to go on the Under-19 tour to West Indies with David Gower and Mike Gatting.

All of them have the same attitude to life; that it is simply an environment in which photographers are under-valued, abused and receive none of the credit they are due but, hey, let's get the work done and go celebrate.

So they will not be surprised that in a magnificent book Ground Rules, edited by Barney Spender, none of the pictures has a photographer's name attached to it and there is no attempt to acknowledge their work.

It is one of the most fascinating books I have in my extensive library but it is made great by the photographs; some action, some posed, some taken with that sense of timing which is as essential to a photographer as to any batsman.

The huge volume begins in black and white with pictures of Charles Bannerman, who scored a century in the first Test of all, by way of those essentially static photos from the Long Tom, to the magnificent close ups made possible by today's huge lenses. In the best of the action snaps you can feel the energy, particularly as Jeff Thomson stretches into his delivery stride or Shane Warne approaches the wicket.

There is the electricity generated by Chandrasekhar, the contortions of Paul Adams and, in case you have forgotten him since his fall from grace, the power of Mohammed Azharuddin. Catches taken in mid-air, Kapil Dev at the apex of his leap, a vibrant shot of Daniel Vittori, and even a shot of Mike Gatting with his arm round Abdul Qadir, not the smallest of his enemies during the notorious 1987 tour of Pakistan.

All down to the art of the photographer. It is a lovely book, but I wish it had done more to pay tribute to those unsung heroes behind the camera.