May 1969

England's unlikely captain

RT Stanyforth is not a name which resounds through the history of cricket, not even that of his native Yorkshire, but he does not deserve to beforgotten



Captain Stanyforth: a capable captain and a strong and popular personality © Getty Images
RT Stanyforth is not a name which resounds through the history of cricket, not even that of his native Yorkshire, but he does not deserve to be forgotten. He is the only man to have captained England without having previously played in a county match, and he was the only Yorkshireman to have captained England between Jackson who finished in 1905, and Yardley, who began in 1947: almost bisecting them.

Captain Stanyforth, as he was known at the time of his captaincy, was born in 1892 and died in 1964. He went to Eton, and played for them in 1911 (how they used to stay on at school, those Edwardian lads) but did not get his Flannels. He went on to Oxford, but failed to get his Blue. He was a wicket-keeper, and Oxford had a strong choice of wicket-keepers at that time. There was R. H. Twining (who got the job, and could bat) and Walter Monckton (who got a number of other jobs in his time). Most of Stanyforth's cricket was played for the Army. In 1926 he went to Argentina with an MCC team led by P. F. Warner. Another member of that MCC side was Lord Dunglass, who became the fourteenth Earl Hume, and later one or two other things, and even more important than Monckton.

In 1927-28 England were to tour South Africa, a proper Test tour. G. R Jackson, the Derbyshire captain (and another member of Warner's party) was chosen as captain, but he fell ill before the team left England, and the call went to Stanyforth. He played in the first four Tests, and would have played in the fifth but for an injury. He was not much of a batsman (Test average 2.60) but he was a capable wicketkeeper. He made seven catches and two stumpings in the Tests. His side was a good one, at least as far as batting went - Holmes, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Tyldesley and Wyatt started the order - and we have some happy recollections of the tour and its captain from its youngest member, Ian Peebles (Peebles was another who had not then played county cricket). He had gone out in the first place as the captain's secretary and extra man, but found himself in the Test side, despite achieving his memorable entry on a scorecard, 'absent bathing 0'. In its review of the tour, Wisden described Stanyforth as 'a capable captain and a strong and popular personality'. He had an even higher compliment from General Smuts, who received the team at Government House, Cape Town. Peebles wrote of his captain that 'We had heard him deal felicitously with lighter occasions, but having taken a more serious line as befitted the August setting, he spoke with great eloquence. I can remember General Smuts ... making a most enthusiastic reply to the effect that while he expected agreeable sentiments from sportsmen, he had not been prepared for oratory of the quality he had just heard.' Elsewhere it is reported that Smuts had said: 'I don't know how good a cricketer Major Stanyforth is, but there can be few better speakers'.

In 1928 Stanyforth played for Yorkshire, three times. That was the beginning and end of his county career. In all first-class matches he made 93 wicket-keeping dismissals. His rubber in South Africa was drawn, two-two, a creditable enough performance. The last Test might have been won had it not been for the misfortune of Percy Holmes. He had been in good form and was confident he could deal with South Africa's demon bowler, G. F. Bissett: 'Ah could play bluidy Bissett wi' a broom-handle', was his repeated comment. Alas! the scorecard shows Holmes (first innings) c Cameron b Bissett 0 Holmes (second innings) lbw b Bissett 0

In 1929 Stanyforth was chosen for F. S. G. Calthorpe's tour of the West Indies. The matches this team played against West Indies have since been recognised as Tests (although another England side was touring New Zealand at the same time and those matches were also, subsequently, granted Test status). But this made no difference to Stanyforth. He was injured early in the tour, returned home, and that was the end, effectively, of his playing career on the field - though not off it, by any means. Lieutenant-Colonel Stanyforth, as he had become, was a trustee of MCC when he died.