1919 June 17, 2006

What's in a name?

When S Trimnell scored 92 and 58 for Somerset against Gloucestershire, people wanted to know who he was. It turned out to be a pseudonym for a more well-known batsman making pulling a sickie from work

Sydney Rippon ... or is it S Trimnell? © The Cricketer
I once took part in a midweek club match where one of my colleagues scored an outstanding hundred. Checking the paper the following week, I saw that the innings had been credited to someone I had never heard of. It turned out that my team-mate was on a sickie from work and so had to give his uncle's name to the local hack to prevent his employers finding out.

For club players, calling in sick to play a game is far from rare (although, of course, I have never done it myself!) but surprisingly it once happened in a first-class game.

In the years immediately after World War One, Somerset, who were usually financially strapped, were heavily dependent on amateurs, often fielding as many as nine at a time. It helped keep costs down but did little for their results or consistency in team selections.

Two of their leading amateur batsmen were twin brothers Sydney and Dudley Rippon. Dudley, an opener, had returned from the war in a bad way, and although still a lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers, managed to play 13 times in 1919. Sydney was in the Inland Revenue and while his employers were generous in allowing him time off, there were limits.

Both played a couple of times in May and were not due to reappear until July, but in early June the county were struggling to raise a side for the visit of local rivals Gloucestershire. Dudley got permission to play, but Sydney was unable to do so.

Unperturbed, Sydney sent a message to his office that he was unwell and made his way to Taunton. The only worry was that the newspapers would report on the match, but few nationals were there as in those days they relied on local reporters rather than sending their own staff. Rippon and Somerset's solution was to use his grandmother's initial and surname - S Trimnell - on the scorecards. Such was the level of confusion that The Times further clouded the issue by referring to him as "S Grinnell" throughout.

That might have worked had Rippon not top-scored in the Somerset first innings with a then career-best 92 and followed up with 58 not out in the second as Gloucestershire were defeated by seven wickets.

The media's curiosity had been roused by this performance on debut from an unknown. Clues could be found in the Western Daily Press who were none too impressed, curtly remarking that Trimnell "was far better known facially to Somerset cricketers and supporters than he is to the general public". It added that "although his name is new, he is by no means a stranger to county cricket." That more than 9,000 spectators watched the second day all but ensured that his anonymity was blown.

With requests arriving at the County Ground for information about Trimnell, he had to come clean. Fortunately, his employers took it well and his career prospects were not affected.

"Everyone treated it as a huge joke when it emerged what had happened," recalled his son, the Right Honourable Geoffrey Rippon, years later. "I suppose today there'd be an absolute furore."

By the time Wisden and the county yearbook were published the two innings were credited to Rippon under his own name.

It was probably too much for Rippon to expect to keep his participation in the match a secret given his idiosyncrasies at the crease. Between balls he would indulge in a series of exercises and bouts of bat twirling, and as his innings went on his cap would be gradually turned round his head, so by the end it would be on back-to-front with the peak facing the wicketkeeper.

Rippon continued playing on and off until 1937, but for his twin there was no happy ending. Both had been wounded in the war, but it had affected Dudley far more. After a successful summer in 1919, he returned the following year but suffered a breakdown in the middle of his first game in 1920, was absent for the second innings and never appeared again.

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The Cricketer Various
From Sammy to Jimmy: History of Somerset Country Cricket Club Peter Roebuck (Partridge 1991)
Somerset County Cricket Club 100 Greats (Tempus 2001)

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo