Profile: Dudley Nourse : Gerald Seymour "English Cricketer" - Oct, 1993.
If life didn't throw up the big frustrations then life would be too boring. I curse now that I never saw the cricketer to whom I apportioned heroic status. Nine years ago, I learned a strange game on a prep school wick- et shaved off the soccer pitch, and wondering why so much atten- tion was paid to this baffling sport - until this stubby, bald- ing, middle-aged man from Natal, from a distance showed me. It was nothing to do with style or elegance. It was to do with the guts, with the raw courage, of Dudley Nourse. The story would have come to our remote farmhouse at South Brewham in Somerset, via The Daily Telegraph and the crackling radio that carried the voice of John Arlott, my father's trusted friend and fellow poet. The finding of a hero began on a chill mid-May day at Bristol 42 seasons back. Nourse, captain of the '51 Springboks, in his 40th year, bent to stop a hammered back-foot drive from Tom Graveney of Gloucestershire, and broke the middle joint in his left thumb. The surgeon offered him stark choices. Plaster, no pain, no cricket, for six weeks - or a pin through the fractured bone, pain in plenty, and a chance of leading his side in the first Test three weeks away. He chose to play at Trent Bridge. His innings was the stuff of legends. He won the toss and chose to bat. He came in 107 for 2, the last experienced batsman before the young rookies. When he smacked his first boundary, he walked towards square leg wringing his thumb, further damage done. Nourse kept going, and was 76 not out at close. Overnight the thumb swelled and fractured bone was on the move. He hardly slept. If the doctors had been called then he would have forbidden to bat again in th morning. He kept silent. The second day belonged to Dudley Nourse. Statistics say that he batted in all for nine hours and 15 minutes, that he hit 25 boun- daries, that he was finally run out for 208, and they tell only a small part of a quite epic struggle against growing agony. Each time he crashed the bowling (Alec Bedser, Bailey, Brown, Tater- sall, Wardle) to the boundary, the batsman at the other end winced in understanding of the pain. Denis Compton, the most generous of opponents, said, "For courage and determination, possibly that display by Dudley has never been surpassed on the cricket field. Few in the crowd realised just how much he suffered..." Twice during the lunch interval on that second day, the team's masseur had to get smel- ling salts to save Nourse from fainting. And the news of this massive innings filtered down to South Brewham where a small boy, awkward and learning, chucked a tennis ball against a concrete wall and batted back the rebound late into the evening, and had been taught something of courage and leadership and not making a drama out of a crisis. It was an ex- ample worth taking on board, even if emulating it was next to im- possible. His team, that included four debutants, responded to their captain's effort. They led by 64 on the first innings, collapsed to 121 in the second innings (Nourse absent hurt), and then spun England to defeat. The first cricket book I ever purchased, hardback and an awe- some collection of pocket money at three shillings and six pence was C.O.Medworth's Noursemen in England. The author wrote of Nourse, "There is no more courageous cricketer living." I was involved recently in one of those sterile discussions with a 'modern' schoolmaster on the place of team games in the curriculum; he thought it a waste of his and his pupils' time. I couldn't begin to explain to him, and if I had would probably have been 'rude', what the story of Dudley Nourse's broken thumb and double century meant to one small boy discovering the nobili- ty of sport. That's a precious thing to find... The further frustration is that I know so little of the man to whom I have much to be grateful for. The photographs show a mild-mannered face, nothing flamboyant nor flash, without a trace of arrogance. The anecdotes say that Dudley Nourse believed leadership was from the front, never hectored. His friends re- call his spotless aviaries and his care for the comfort of his birds...It's precious little. But as the innings is sharp, and the lessons are as good today as they were in 1951. I wish I'd met him. The only solace is that I'd chosen well for my my favorite cricketer.