Bob Wyatt

Obituary

Bob Wyatt

WYATT, ROBERT ELLIOTT STOREY, died on April 20, 1995, aged 93. The oldest living England player at the time of his death, Bob Wyatt led England in 16 of his 40 Tests, and in a first-class career spanning 35 years captained Warwickshire and then Worcestershire. Conservative as a captain, and technically correct rather than a dashing batsman in the amateur tradition, he was and remained throughout his long life an astute and perceptive thinker on the game. The change of the lbw law in 1935, which he deplored as inhibiting the glories of off-side strokes, remained a particular bone of contention.

Wyatt's family financial circumstances precluded his expected progress to Surrey, the county of his birth, via public school and Oxford or Cambridge. He was working and playing club cricket in Coventry when, aged 21, he was offered a 12-match trial by Warwickshire in 1923. F. S. G. Calthorpe, Warwickshire's captain, initially underestimated his batting potential, using him instead as a medium-pace swing bowler, but he went in No. 9 and scored a century against Worcestershire at Dudley in 1925, in a stand of 228 with A. J. W. Croom -- still a county record for the eighth wicket -- which led to his recognition as a batsman. When Calthorpe was away ill in 1926, Wyatt was promoted to open, with great success. He made the first of 14 consecutive appearances for the Gentlemen at Lord's and, passing 1,000 runs for the first of 17 times in England, finished the season eight wickets shy of the double.

Selection for MCC's 1926-27 tour of India, Burma and Ceylon followed, and with around 1,800 runs and an average of more than 50 he revealed the powers of concentration and endurance that put him in good stead for future tours. He played in all five Tests in South Africa in 1927-28 and, although his omission from the 1928-29 tour of Australia was a setback, and surprising in view of his 2,408 runs that season, he was a regular selection for MCC touring teams until the outbreak of war in 1939. In 1929 he was even more prolific, with 2,630 runs in all cricket. His maiden Test hundred, 113 against South Africa at Old Trafford, was the first century for England since the Great War by an amateur. Though he had command of all the attacking strokes, as he demonstrated on such occasions as the Scarborough Festival, he gave defence top priority and thrived on adversity. The sterner the struggle, the more he seemed at home. The secret of his success lay in his back-foot play and correct initial movement based on observation of Fry and Hobbs.

Wyatt's rise to the England captaincy, however, caused enormous controversy. He was chosen in place of Percy Chapman for the Oval Test of 1930. There were strong attacks in the press, and he received vitriolic, even threatening letters. The Ashes were at stake, and England lost by an innings. However, Wyatt was seen to have done a decent job with great dignity. And after the Bodyline tour of 1932-33, when he was vice-captain to Douglas Jardine, he was luckier when he next captained England: against Australia, at Lord's in 1934. A sticky wicket and Hedley Verity's 15 for 104 brought England their first Ashes win there since 1896--and their last to date. It levelled the series at one apiece. But with Bradman again passing 200, the Ashes were once more lost at The Oval.

There were further series defeats for Wyatt in the West Indies in 1934-35, when a short-pitched ball from Manny Martindale broke his jaw in four places in the Fourth and deciding Test, and by South Africa in 1935, though he scored 149, his only other Test hundred, against them at Trent Bridge. The captaincy then passed to Gubby Allen. Wyatt also lost the Warwickshire captaincy in 1937 after eight seasons of difficulties with a committee looking for something other than his methodical approach. Eventually the club turned to the lighter-hearted Peter Cranmer. The furore this caused was the mirror image of the one surrounding his England appointment and there was a widespread feeling that he had been treated churlishly.

The club tried to keep Wyatt at Edgbaston after the war, but he accepted an offer to join Worcestershire and from 1949 to 1951 captained them to third, sixth and fourth in the Championship, their most successful phase at the time. Though aged 50 in 1951, his final summer of county cricket, he was not beyond hitting Somerset's Bertie Buse high into the pavilion when Worcestershire needed six off the last ball to win at Taunton. With occasional matches for MCC and Free Foresters, his first-class cricket continued until 1957.

Wyatt was an England selector from 1950 to 1954; in the first year he was chairman. Two books, The Ins and Outs of Cricket and the autobiographical Three Straight Sticks, demonstrated his candid and technical nature, and in later years, as a guest in Paul Getty's box at Lord's he dispensed pithy analysis tempered with witty anecdotes while Mollie, his wife, dispensed the champagne. His longevity helped secure his reputation: the new R. E. S. Wyatt stand at Edgbaston was opened just after his death.

In his own time, he was generally undervalued, because his cricket was efficient and brave rather than obviously glittering. His biographer Gerald Pawle wrote that Wyatt's qualities were always more likely to impress his colleagues than the public: "outstanding ability in every department, common sense, courage, and an abiding loyalty, both to companions who earned his respect and to the game itself." "No one," wrote Dudley Carew, "not even Sir Pelham Warner, has ever loved the game with such a concentrated single-mindedness."

© John Wisden & Co
 
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