The strange thing about Great Britain's semifinal victory over Australia in this year's Davis Cup was its absence of fanfare. It should, in its way, have been an affair as trumpeted as Wimbledon, bedecked with flags and banners, celebrated by brass bands and enormous, cheering crowds.
The crowds at Crystal Palace cheered right enough, but they werde terr bbly small, a mere few thousand, limited by the size of the little sports hall. And though champaigne flowed and veteran British tennis writers, by their admission, wept, the whole thing was peculiarly peripheral.
England, which knows how to put on the best show in the world every year at Wimbledon, had staged the Davis Cup semifinal, staged the series that put Britain in the final for the first time in 41 years, almost as though she were ashamed of it.
There were mitigating factors, of course.
For one reason or another, it was impossible to play the matches at Wimbledon -- it was winter time, although a very mild winter -- or indoors either at Wembley Pool or the Royal Albert Hall. So they were played, and gloriously won, at Crystal Palace Recreation Centre, scene now of major track and field contests, but a place with, if one may so put it, little track record when it comes to tennis.
Still, Buster Mottram, brothers John and David Lloyd and Mark Cox, who has an Oxbridge degree, beat the Australians, and here they are, ready to give battle to the Americans.
No one, even in England, gives them much chance, even though we know that Jimmy Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis -- the man who, as critics wrote, sounds like a disease and plays like an angel -- will not, thank goodness, be competing.
It is good to see a British team in the Davis Cup Final at last, after years in which the cup has been shunted into a corner, overshadowed by the vulgar Barnum and Bailey of World Team Tennis circuit, with its hideous multicolored shirts and inflated rewards for often indifferent players.
During the war, as a small boy at boarding school, I remember a sports program that would open with tantalizing fragments of commentary: "Perry serves. Crawford returns. And that is match point to Great Britain!" Happy Days indeed! Victory over Australia at Wimbledon in the Davis Cup.
It is most unlikely to be match point to Great Britain at Palm Springs, but were the games only taking place in London -- even at the cramped Crystal Palace -- rather than in the States, there might be another tale to tell.
That Britain's team should have gotten so far at all is something of a small miracle.
It never did so in the days, just after the war, of Buster Mottram's likable and able father, Tony. It did not do so in the days of Mike Sangster, a hard-hitting right-hander from Devon.
Nor in the days of that talented maverick, Bobby Wilson, with his deft touch, his rather frail physique, his periodic quarrels with the tennis Establishment. 'Oh, gosh!" he is said once to have remarked, on the way by train to play a tournament, "Mummy forgot to pack my orange!" A different mummy indeed from that formidable lady who has given "Jimbo" Connors to the world. Perhaps a Jimbomum would have made Wilson the ruthless force, the embattled competitor he never was.
Roger Taylor, a big, handsome lefthanded Yorkshireman, was competitive enough, and the possessor of a tremendous service, but too inconsistent on the backhand to make it stick. Cox, who delayed his tennis career until he was trained in economics at Cambridge, had his moments, but not frequently enough to make him a champion.
As Wimbledon succeeded Wimbledon, we became used to one glorious hour of crowded life, a match or two of lingering illusion, when the elder Mottram or Wilson or Sangster or Taylor or Cox upset one of the titans, only to fall almost at once to another titan or -- worse still -- a minnow.
Buster Mottram, probably the best -- potentially, at least -- of the current cup team, could scarcely be less like his father and delightful tennis-playing mother, former Wightman Cup player Joy Gannon.
Where Tony was all smiles and charm, a war hero, a fighter pilot who won the DFC, Buster is surly and unpredictable, full of strange moods and unpopular political opinions. He has even expressed sympathy for the National Front, an extreme right-wing movement whose policies are antiblack in the first place, anti-Semitic in the second.
Buster has none of the grace, charm and allure for female tennis fans of John Lloyd and his brother. Not for him to rescue poor, vulnerable Chris Evert from her manifold personal problems and lead her into the light, as it is said John Lloyd has done.
But Mottram is, when on, a forceful and ferocious opponent, whacking a powerful service, using his long reach and long legs to dominate the net.
John Lloyd, a stylish and able player, has been somewhat out of form since the Crystal Palace affair, perhaps as a reaction to the great pressure of that occasion. Generally, though, he is quicker and flashier than Mottram, although a light hitter.
His brother, David, and the lefthanded veteran Cox are solid doubles players -- unlikely to prevail if the American pair of Stan Smith and Bob Lutz strike form, but dangerous to understimate.
Paul Hutchins, the former player who serves as manager-captain, takes much of the credit for the British team's unexpected success, largely because he was able, after some bitter exchanges, to bury the hatchet with Mottram.
It was also fortuitous that the British -- after 5-0 triumphs over hapless Monaco at Monte Carlo and Austria at Bristol, England, and a satisfying 3-2 victory over France on Parisian clay -- got to play their quarterfinal and semifinal rounds at home.
Czechoslovakia, runner-up to Sweden for the cup in 1975, would have been a ticklish foe on clay in Prague, but fell easily 5-0, on grass at East-bourne. The "home-court advantage" might well have been the difference in the 3-2 verdict over Australia at Crystal Palace.
"The team spirit is very high," says Hutchins, who helped resurrect Britain from its most dismal Davis Cup period, in the early '70s. It will need to be, above all so far from home.