Bodyline Series / Features

1933

From hospital to hero

The story of Eddie Paynter, who climbed out of his hospital bed to play an innings which helped England regain the Ashes

Martin Williamson

November 25, 2006

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Eddie Paynter on the attack during his heroic 83 © The Cricketer
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Cricket is littered with Boys' Own-type tales of players who defied injury and illness to take part in games. One of the most famous is that of Eddie Paynter, a 31-year-old left-hand batsman from Lancashire, who climbed from his hospital bed to help England secure the Ashes.

Paynter was one of the surprising picks in the England squad to Australia in 1932-33, drafted in when it became clear KS Duleepsinhji's poor health would not allow him to set off with the rest of the side.

He had enjoyed a good summer, playing in the only Test against India, but while on the periphery of the side, he was not expected to tour. What tipped it was his brilliance as an outfielder, which was somewhat surprising given that he had lost the tops of the first and second fingers of his right hand as a boy. What is more, he was a latecomer to the game, and 1931 had been his first full summer in the first-class cricket.

Paynter did not play in the first two Tests, but the surprise omission of the Nawab of Pataudi on the morning of the third Test at Adelaide opened the door for his inclusion in the team. Pataudi, so it is claimed, had refused to take part in the Bodyline field. "I see His Highness is a conscientious objector," Douglas Jardine, England's captain, is supposed to have sneered. Whatever the truth, Pataudi, after a hundred on his debut in the first Test, was jettisoned.

Paynter made 77 in the first innings, but then injured his ankle when he crashed into the fence chasing a ball when Australia batted, and he went in at No. 10 - against medical opinion - in the second innings. It was not to be the last time he defied the doctors.

He had recovered by the time the fourth Test at Brisbane started three weeks later, but by the end of the first day, which had been spent in the field, he was clearly unwell. A doctor was summoned and Paynter, who was suffering from acute tonsillitis, was immediately sent to a local private hospital. There was, reported The Times, no chance of his batting in England's first innings.

He was visited on the Sunday - with England 99 for 0 overnight - by Jardine, who found him looking much better. "He was the first to agree with me that if he had to break bounds and bat on crutches he would do so, were it humanly possible," reported Jardine, "and without a thought for the consequences."

On the Monday, England, replying to Australia's 340, found the going tough and slid from their overnight 99 for 0 to 216 for 6 shortly after tea. At the hospital, Bill Voce, who had missed the match through injury, was keeping Paynter company, and came back to tell him of the collapse. He got up and arrived at the ground, still in his pyjamas, in a taxi with Voce as the fifth wicket fell.

In his biography of Gubby Allen, EW Swanton claimed that Paynter's appearance has been instigated by Jardine who, when initially told that he had gone to hospital with a temperature, replied: "What about those fellows who marched to Kandahar with a fever on them?"

Whatever the reason, Paynter got changed, padded up and made his way to the middle at the fall of the sixth wicket. "His pluck made him a great favourite with the crowd," noted The Cricketer, "who cheered him to the echo." The conditions - fierce heat and stifling humidity - were hardly ideal for someone so unwell.

Harold Larwood was the not-out batsman when Paynter reached the middle. "I'll never forget his face," he recalled. "He looked white and ill. At no time a great talker, he had even less to say that day than usual. He had the shakes. He remained pale throughout but never wavered. I also recall how considerate [Bill] Woodfull {Australia's captain} was to him every moment of his innings."

While Paynter did little more than keep his end up to start with - his first hour at the crease brought him 10 runs - he opened up a little more and reached stumps with 24. England, however, were 271 for 8 and facing a first-innings deficit.

Paynter, who had returned to hospital overnight, and Hedley Verity resumed on the fourth morning and extended their ninth-wicket stand to 92, concentrating on taking as much time as they could as the pitch was showing signs of deteriorating rapidly. "Paynter's exhibition of batsmanship," noted The Times, "was exceptionally high ... [he] showed an amazing amount of grit and determination." Only when Australia's innings had been overtaken did Paytner, by now utterly exhausted, open up, perishing to a good catch by Vic Richardson for 83.



Paynter hits over the top © The Cricketer
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"Had he been stronger," Jardine wrote, "he would probably have added considerably to this number, but he was still a sick man and the weather was tropical as ever." Wisden described Paynter's innings as "certainly one of the greatest examples of pluck and fortitude in the history of Test cricket". Larwood was quite certain that "without Paynter's score England would not have won the match".

Given his state of health, it would have been understandable had Paynter chosen not to field when Australia started their second innings, but he did. The following day it was fitting when his leg-side six off Stan McCabe won England the match and in so doing regained the Ashes.

It was a doubly wretched day for Australian cricket, and the black armbands both sides wore on the final day were nothing to do with the game. In the early hours of the morning at a local hospital, Archie Jackson, a brilliant batsman who had not been flattered by comparisons to Don Bradman and whose 164 on debut during the previous England tour had promised so much, died from tuberculosis. He was only 23. England's celebrations were muted, as Jackson had been a popular player. Some of the Australian side returned to Sydney the next day on the train carrying Jackson's body home for the last time.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Bibliography
The Larwood Story Harold Larwood (WH Allen, 1965)
Gubby Allen - Man of Cricket EW Swanton (Hutchinson/Stanley Paul, 1986)
In Quest Of The Ashes Douglas Jardine (Orbis, 1984)
Wisden Cricket Monthly
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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