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1924

From club to country in one week

Desperate times call for desperate measures... but so desperate as to call up a bowler who only made his first-class debut 24 hours earlier to open the attack in a Test?

Martin Williamson

July 5, 2008

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South Africa's 1924 tour was blighted by appalling weather from the off. Gustavus Fowke and Herbie Taylor return after a pitch inspection at Leicester on the first day © Getty Images
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Injury-strapped touring sides sending for replacements is a not uncommon event. In the days before widespread air travel it happened less often, and in emergencies tourists had to hunt for candidates among local leagues, and unlike now, when overseas players are commonplace, options were very limited. Rarer still were such call-ups that came to be because the chosen squad was simply not good enough.

In 1924 the South Africans were in trouble only weeks into their tour of England when Herbie Taylor, their captain, realised that the bowlers he had at his disposal were not up to the task and, used to matting pitches at home, were unsuited to the conditions in what was a wretched summer. With the exception of Sid Pegler, who was not even in the original squad but joined them en route and was allowed to stay, his attack was weak, and his batting weaker. In ten matches leading in to the first Test, seven had been drawn, two lost, and one - against Cambridge University - won.

For the final match before the start of the Test series, Taylor took a brave call and summoned George Parker, an unknown playing for Eccleshill in the Bradford League. A right-arm fast bowler from Cape Town, he had been in England for four years but had never played first-class cricket. The gamble paid off. In a rain-blighted match against Oxford University, Parker opened the attack with Pegler, taking 4 for 34 and having four catches dropped.

That night the team travelled from Oxford to Birmingham with Parker joining them, although it was still considered unlikely he would play in the Test which started the next morning. But Taylor had seen enough and Parker made his Test debut 24 hours after stepping onto the field in a first-class match for the first time.

What's more, he took the first over of the match as England batted. Unsurprisingly, his nerves showed. The Guardian described his opening spell as "grotesquely erratic" and bemoaned the inordinate time it took him to get through his overs. "He is immensely deliberate as he walks to his bowling place; his eyes are cast on the earth, and he walks slowly and solemnly as though pondering mighty problems. The wildness of his bowling made a quite sensational contrast to his solid deportment."

The Times, describing him as a novelty bowler, said he bowled " a quick, almost fast ball" adding that "an over of them takes an unconscionable time to deliver".

Although he got away swing, his line and length were wayward, and when England went to lunch at 122 for 0, Taylor must have been ruing his decision. After the break he switched Pegler and Parker around and immediately Parker yorked Herbert Sutcliffe for 64.

As the day wore on, Jack Hobbs (76) Frank Woolley (64), Patsy Hendren (74) and Roy Kilner (59) continued to score with relative ease although all got out when well placed for big scores. South Africa's problems grew when Dave Nourse split the webbing on his right hand while catching Hendren. Pegler, Parker and Jimmy Blanckenberg shouldered almost the whole attack. Parker even restored to leg theory against the left-handers.

Woolley recalled an odd incident early in his innings. "[Parker] walked down the pitch to me and said: 'Well, Mr Woolley, do you think my field's set properly for a left-hander?' ... which was a rather extraordinary thing to be asked. So I said: 'Yes, I think it seems just right'. He said: 'Thank you very much'."

Shortly before the close, Parker, who bowled unchanged for more than three hours on one of the summer's rare hot days, took his sweater from the umpire and headed off the field, ignoring his team-mates' questions as he went. Taylor, who was at mid-off, followed him into the pavilion where he found him sitting in the corner. "What's wrong," Taylor asked. "I'm just tired, that's all," Parker replied. "I've had enough." He didn't come back on that evening.


Herbie Taylor and Arthur Gilligan toss ahead of the first Test © Getty Images
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Parker had the rest day on Sunday to recover, and he resumed on the Monday morning, taking his sixth wicket as England were finally bowled out for 438. He finished with figures of 37-2-152-6. He didn't get a second chance. Within 13 overs, South Africa had been bowled out for 30, Parker collecting a first-ball duck. Following-on, they did much better, making 390 but still sliding to an innings defeat.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and despite wins against Essex and Hampshire ahead of the second Test, South Africa called up another substitute for Lord's, the 43-year-old Aubrey Faulkner, who had not played more than a handful of games in the previous decade. That gamble was not so successful. Parker, who had returned north between Tests, was retained in the XI.

For South Africa, the Lord's Test was even more wretched than Edgbaston. They lost by an innings and 18 runs, but it was worse than even that margin suggests - England racked up 531 for 2, including more than 500 on the second day. Both wickets fell to Parker who "entirely sacrificed length and direction to pace". Sutcliffe played on for 122 and Hobbs was caught off a slower ball delivered "out of kindness, subtlety or sheer exhaustion". Parker finished with 2 for 122.

That was to be his third and final first-class outing. He was named in the squads for the third and fourth Tests but not called upon, and he returned to the anonymity of the Bradford leagues. Little more is known about him, other than that he emigrated to Australia where he died in 1969.

South Africa, who also lost heavily at Trent Bridge, recovered to draw the fourth and fifth Tests. "The tour in England was frankly a failure," Wisden lamented.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? Email us with your comments and suggestions.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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