1930 February 16, 2008

Nine innings ... no runs

David Foot
Seymour Clark had a county career of five matches, during which he kept wicket brilliantly ... and never once got off the mark

Seymour Clark shows the style that took him from novice to county keeper in three years. His batting stayed at the novice stage © WCM

Engine drivers were always happy, heroic figures in the old days. They had a beaming working countenance, detectable through the aura of footplate grime. You could imagine Seymour Clark, now 86, back on the Great Western Railway run from Paddington to Salop.

The railways were his life. When he was offered a contract to play cricket for Somerset at the time of the Depression, he thought of the dole queues and the hunger marches and said reluctantly: "No thanks, I've got a good job ... I must hold on to it."

His county career lasted for just five matches and nine innings in 1930. He kept wicket brilliantly, holding six catches at Kettering. No one remembers that. Everyone remembers his batting. It makes up an endearing cameo for every historian of first-class cricket. For he failed to score a single run.

Friends and opponents tried desperately to get him off the mark. "Don't attempt any of those swipes, Seymour," said ever-helpful fellow pro George Hunt. "Put your bat in front of the stumps and leave it there. Let the ball bounce off it."

The advice was sound. And Peter Smith, the good-natured Essex spinner, did his best to give No. 11 Clark a run. He deliberately pitched the ball halfway down the wicket. It bounced twice before it reached the unsophisticated batsman. "I couldn't resist it and tried to give it an almighty clout. But I was still bowled!"

Arthur Henry Seymour Clark was an extraordinary county cricketer. He never even played the game at any level until he was 25. Three years later he was being invited to represent Somerset. He was utterly uncoached. No one ever gave him the merest lesson in keeping wicket. The sharpness of his reflexes and his fearlessness were legendary around his native Weston-super-Mare.

Those who saw him play his few matches for the county were astounded at his natural skills behind the stumps. "If you'd made a career of it, Seymour, you would have ended up an England keeper," said canny Jim Bridges. In 1927 the local railwaymen at Weston started a makeshift cricket team. They played on the recreation ground, where the wicket was a constant hazard as the ball flew in all directions. Life could be decidedly dangerous for an intrepid stumper. The railwaymen didn't have a wicketkeeper. "Feel like taking the gloves, Seymour?" Why not. He stood up to all the bowlers because he assumed that was the norm. It didn't occur to him it might be wise to stand back at times.

He was magnificent by club standards, and was soon recommended to play for the town team. Arthur Wellard, qualifying for Somerset, made his Weston-super-Mare debut on the same day as Clark. Over the next ten years he never once looked like losing his place. Weston had a fine side and several times went through the season without defeat. In that period, Seymour kept to Bridges, a fine swing bowler, Wellard and Bill Andrews, George Hunt, and the exceptionally fast Old Etonian, Evelyn Hill, who also played for Somerset.

Wally Hale, one of a number of pros who represented both Gloucestershire and Somerset, turned out in a club match against Weston. He knew Somerset were in urgent need of a wicketkeeper because Wally Luckes was suffering from ill health. "Clark is your man," he told the county. But when he took part in a Club & Ground match, Clark was thoroughly confused when asked by his skipper, Bill Greswell, who had been wrongly briefed, to open the innings. "I had to tell him I wasn't too special with my batting. In fact, to be honest, I think my highest score ever was 3 . . . and two of those came from overthrows!"

Somerset had seen enough of his keeping. The invitations to play for the county began to arrive - and twice he couldn't get time off. The third occasion, assisted by some subterfuge from the Weston station master, a cricket fan, he was successful. Clark was selected for four successive away matches - against Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northants and Essex.

At Kettering, Nobby Clark asked Hunt what sort of a batsman this unknown newcomer was. Tongue in cheek, George said: "You'll never bowl him out. But you may get him caught in the slips." Accordingly Clark the bowler pinged away dutifully outside the off stump. Clark the batsman didn't smell one, but he survived the over.

Peter Smith, the good-natured Essex spinner, did his best to give No. 11 Clark a run. He deliberately pitched the ball halfway down the wicket. It bounced twice before it reached the unsophisticated batsman. "I couldn't resist it and tried to give it an almighty clout. But I was still bowled!"

"I was so nervous facing Bill Bowes at Bradford that I dropped my bat twice on the pavilion steps. But I was being played for my wicketkeeping, after all. And when I was invited to stay in the side for a fifth match, home at Bath against Northants again, I felt I did pretty well. In fact, there wasn't a single bye until after tea. Jack White, the captain, was fielding at first slip, and when Jack Lee turned one at right angles, the skipper missed a reasonable chance. He turned abruptly to me and asked why I hadn't covered the thing!

"I have to say that I received little encouragement from that direction. I'd joined the train at Bristol for the northern tour and Mr White didn't even speak to me - there was no effort to make me feel at home. We got to the Chesterfield hotel and he still hadn't had a word with me, a complete newcomer to county cricket. I saw him looking me up and down several times, but the first time he exchanged words with me was when we got onto the field. I told him I usually stood up to Arthur Wellard and would that be all right? He gave me a funny look and said he didn't think I'd better."

Clark was asked to play for a sixth time, at Taunton. He didn't have the heart to ask for more time off and Dar Lyon took his place. When, to his surprise, he was offered a contract at the end of the season, he hesitated and then shook his head. He was flattered and grateful that his unique batting record had been ignored.

"I got a tremendous kick out of playing for Somerset. But it seemed to be sensible to go back to the locos. And here's one secret I haven't told many people. I bought a new bat to play for the county. It didn't do me a lot of good, did it!"

This article was first published in the July 1988 edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly