Alan Oakman: The forgotten Ashes hero
'The man who held five catches at Old Trafford'. That was how Alan Oakman was introduced to the guests at a dinner in England in late 1956. Jim Laker was present as well. He whispered in Oakman's ear: " You're not still living on that, are you, Oaky?"
Oakman still lives on that. He had played 22 seasons of cricket for Sussex. He was a decent off-break bowler who enjoyed two successful four-year long periods bowling. At that time, his batting didn't quite work out well.
When his bowling went off the hook, his batting improved drastically. He could never make both batting and bowling work together. It was unfortunate for an honest, hard-working first-class cricketer.
Oakman made his debut against Australia in the Headingley Test of 1956. Peter May and Cyril Washbrook batted beautifully on a slightly tricky pitch to take England's total to 325. Oakman could manage only four. Then, Jim Laker and Tony Lock took 18 wickets between them to inflict an innings defeat on the Aussies. Oakman contributed by taking a couple of catches off Laker's bowling.
When the selectors decided to pick the team for the Old Trafford Test, they discarded Oakman in favour of David Sheppard. Then Tom Graveney sustained a bruised finger and Oakman was selected in his place. Oakman didn't have a phone at home and Gubby Allen, then-chairman of selectors, had to call the Hastings Police Station to convey the news. A policeman came on his bike to give Oakman the news.
Oakman somehow managed to reach Old Trafford on time. England batted first and, by the virtue of centuries from Peter Richardson and David Sheppard, posted a mammoth 459 on the board. When the Aussies went in to bat, Lock aand Laker started usual proceedings. Sheppard was fielding at short-leg but he had just scored a century against Miller and Lindwall! So, Peter May asked Oakman to go there.
That was the turning point behind the highlight in the 6 feet 6 inch tall man's short Test career. He alternated between slip and short-leg as the visitors struggled against the sharply turning ball.
Keith Miller came in to bat and said to Oakman, " If you don't look out, I'll hit you in the bollocks." Oakman wasn't wearing a box. He doubted Miller, though. In reality, Miller could only stab at one to give Oakman an easy catch.
England were over halfway to a victory when the weather intervened. Finally,when the sun shone through the clouds after an interval of over two days, Laker's spin started to bite.
Oakman took five catches as Jim Laker took 19 wickets for 90 runs in the match. Meanwhile, Tony Lock could only take one wicket in 69 overs. Oakman noticed that at the start he was applauding Laker's wickets but towards the end he was just folding his arms.
Oakman played in only two Tests, both against Australia in an Ashes series, and England won both by an innings. He didn't score many runs but took seven catches, five of them in the famous 'Laker match'.
One can still visualise him laughing and saying, " I am still living on it, 61 years later."