A Hampshireman remembers
Gerald Hill, born and still living in the New Forest area and now a sprightly 81, played for Hampshire from 1932 to 1954, taking 617 wickets and scoring 9085 runs. Apart from being asked if he was available for a pre-war tour, he never received representative honours. Nevertheless, he has several claims to fame.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then a New Forest resident who played golf at Bramshaw with Gerald's father, noticed the teenaged Hill in an impromptu cricket game with his pals and suggested the county might be interested. An invitation for a trial followed and terms were offered and accepted.
.' An early reminiscence is being instructed by his batting partner and captain, Lord Tennyson, to take teasing legspinner Tich Freeman's bowling. 'He always gets me out!' was His Lordship's rueful observation. Batting with Philip Mead was an experience. When set, the lefthander monopolised the play and would bat all day, normally getting a single off the fifth or sixth ball every over to keep the strike.
Of Wally Hammond, 'a much underrated bowler who got genuine pace off the pitch', Hill recalls catching-and-bowling him, but he badly damaged his hand and missed the season's remaining matches and the likelihood of completing his 1000 runs for the first time, despite visiting a kindly jack Hobbs in London for advice on his injury. Hammond showed a gentler side on another occasion while bowling, and 'gave' a single to the young Hill when he was on a 'pair' - after a kindly word from umpire Frank Chester! He admired the adventurism of Gimblett and Barnett as openers, the skill of Reg Perks, 'who should have bowled more for England', and the genius of Compton, who once hit his first ball for six into the Lord's pavilion but eventually succumbed to him on 143! Denis is particularly recalled as being terribly impatient while bowling, often delivering before the batsman had settled properly. However, he rates Barry Richards as probably the best in pure batsmanship terms.
Gerald Hill's best season was in 1935, when his wicket haul was 93, including a career best of 8 for 62 against Kent at Ton bridge. The Kent captain, Percy Chapman, a friend of the Hill family with New Forest connections, in fact presented Gerald with his county cap. He batted in all 11 positions for Hampshire with four centuries, including a top score of 161 against Sussex at Portsmouth, but he feels his best was against a fiery Morris Nichols of Essex. Another, 108 at Guildford, included a six off Alec Bedser into Woodbridge Road which he still savours today.
How many can claim a Royal wicket and risk a spell in the Tower? The Duke of Edinburgh was bowled in a charity match at Dean Park, Bournemouth in the 1950s, and in agreeing at the post-match reception that 'it wasn't much of a shot' commented that his preparation had been restricted to a short session with a gardener at 'Buck House'.
Another 'record' which Hill must have been pleased to lose as the suffering bowler was for the most runs (32) hit off a six-ball over in England. This, of course, was inherited by Malcolm Nash after Garry Sobers's maximum 36 in 1968. 'Certainly not!' he retorted. 'A record's a record, and I was sad to lose it.' Is he pulling our legs? Coincidentally, Glamorgan featured in both these events, and Gerald's comment was 'but for Cyril Smart's onslaught that day, my figures would have been a creditable 4 for 70 instead of 4 for 102!'
Summing up, he enjoyed his career immensely, with no regrets and no problems with the amateur/professional set-up when he started. War service in Italy provided a few games with Combined Services teams, and Gerald remembers, while bowling, a stubborn Brian Sellers refusing to move from a particular position contrary to his field-placing requirements.
On the modern game, he supports the four-day matches, although he admits to being a poor watcher. He deplores all the frequent short-pitched stuff these days and perceives that it will go on until someone is killed before any positive action is taken.