THE news that seasoned criminal George Davis has had his conviction for a bank robber y back in 1974 finally quashed by the High Court as unsafe, 37 years later, reminds me of one of the best pieces of journalism I ever read.
In 1975, at the height of the George Davis is Innocent campaign, I was taking a career break and bumming around Europe when I saw a headline in a newspaper on a stand saying something like “English Media’s obsession with dug field”.
Being obsessed with cricket and journalism I had to buy a copy with the few francs I had left.
The newspaper was the International Herald Tribune, a joint venture by American newspaper publishers to produce a newspaper for its ex-pats and travellers in Europe. It had its own office in Paris and told of World events from an American point of view.
The headline referred to the digging up of Headingley’s wicket in the middle of an Ashes cricket Test between England and Australia, thus ruining the match and the series.
Responsibility was claimed by the Free George Davis campaign, otherwise knows for putting graffiti on bridges throughout London and elsewhere.
Not unnaturally this received blitz-style coverage on all the front pages of the newspapers of the day.
The Tribune article was making the point that with all the events going on in the world, including the Labour party’s corruption nemesis at the end of the Poulson affair, English newspapers were somehow strangely obsessed with a cricket “wicket”.
And here is the best bit: the Tribune piece was aimed at Americans, who play baseball not cricket. In baseball the state of the ground between bowler (or pitcher) and batsman (or hitter) is completely meaningless, as long as the pitcher is on a mound.
So to explain the fuss, the article had to go into detail about why the digging up of the wicket mattered, explaining that in cricket the ball usually bounced, what this meant to the trajectory, and so forth.
The story was in that page one anchor slot many serious newspapers use for the off-beat, whimsical tale. But the explanation had to go on for so long the article had to be turned inside.
It was priceless and I often wished I had kept the article as an example of good journalism. Nothing was assumed as known by readers. Everything was explained.
It also provided the ultimate proof that not only are England and America two countries divided by use of the same language, they are also two countries divided by their shared loved of Sport.