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Full name Thomas Neill Pearce
Born November 3, 1905, Stoke Newington, London
Died April 11, 1994, East Worthing, Sussex (aged 88 years 159 days)
Major teams Essex
Batting style Right-hand bat
Bowling style Right-arm medium
Tom Pearce, OBE, TD, who died on April 10, at the age of 88, was a pillar of Essex cricket for most of his life. Solid batsman, captain firstly on a joint basis and then solely between 1933 and 1950, acting secretary, chairman of the club for 21 years, then president for the past quarter-century, and Test selector 1949-50, he led a full cricketing life, and was very highly respected. Thomas Neill Pearce scored 12,061 runs at 34.26, and made 22 centuries. David Bennett interviewed him only a few weeks before his death:
Tom Pearce remembered when the ground in New Street, Chelmsford was a field. With the help of an interest-free £15,000 loan from Warwickshire CCC Supporters' Association, which was repaid, Essex purchased the ground from Chelmsford CC in 1967.
'It was always our ambition to have a ground of our own, and for many years we were rather a wandering club. Even when Trevor Bailey was captain and secretary our headquarters was an office behind a shop in Chelmsford, Pearce recalled.
At the end of his playing career Pearce served as a Test selector. He was also manager of the MCC tour of India, Pakistan and Ceylon in 1961-62.
Outside Essex, Pearce was a well-known figure at Scarborough, where his own XI's match against the tourists was a regular fixture on the festival calendar from 1951-76.
In Rugby Union circles he was a topclass referee, and officiated in 10 internationals. He remained an avid follower of the London club Old Blues. Their former ground near Ilford was also used for practice by Essex's cricketers when they abandoned their headquarters at Leyton in 1934.
'Looking back on it I'm sure that's when Essex started growing up, and the way they've done it has been fantastic.
'Leyton had the distinction of being the only ground in Essex where I had a net. I was never a great one for nets, Pearce admitted, 'as I've always believed that there's nothing which can better half-anhour in the middle.'
Essex cricket was always Pearce's first love. He drove to one day of Essex's Championship matches at Chelmsford from his Worthing home, where he lived from 1978, and always watched their away matches against Sussex in his later years.
'It's a very different game today, as in my day there were characters like Alex Skelding and Tom Mitchell. On away matches we amateurs would always talk cricket with the professionals after stumps. The pros then were terrific chaps, and they always wanted to know how they could improve their game. Now it seems that today's pro is only interested in how much money he can make. 'I always liked going to Trent Bridge,because I'd see Bill Sheridan from Gunn & Moore. He would always pick out some longhandled bats and offer me two for 37/6 (£1.87)!
'The other thing that is so different is that in those days cricket-writers would write about the cricket. Papers would never send about five people to cover a tour as the Telegraph seem to be doing at the moment. I suppose the first inkling of change was when the Press made far more fuss about Len Hutton bruising his toe in the swimming-pool than a century he scored during an MCC tour of South Africa.'
Appropriately, Pearce made his Essex debut against Sussex - whom he had watched during his schooldays at Christ's Hospital - at Leyton in 1929. On that occasion he opened the batting, but No. 6 was to become his more familiar place in the order. Pearce's selection was earned as a result of his prolific scoring for the Private Banks in club cricket, at a time when Essex relied heavily on amateurs.
'Essex only had a few professionals then, which is why they were always on the lookout for amateurs. My debut was great fun, as I hadn't met any of the team before. What I particularly remember was sharing the amateur dressing-room with Morris, Davey, the Gilligan brothers and Duleepsinhji; Pearce said.
Two years later Pearce scored 152 against Lancashire at Clacton, adding 271 for the fourth wicket with Jack O'Connor. 'It was a terrific innings; Pearce explained, ,as it was the first time I had faced a topclass spinner, in R. K. Tyldesley. What was incredible about it was that I went out thinking I'd do well to get 20, but I just kept playing forward, and whenever the ball hit my pads I was almost deafened by Duckworth's appeals.'
That year Pearce ended his banking career and began working in the wine trade. This increased his availability for Essex, and in 1933 he was appointed jointcaptain with Denys Wilcox. 'It worked very well, Pearce said, 'as I could only play for the first half of the season. Denys was a schoolmaster and was able to take over the captaincy for July and August. We were a useful side: our batting revolved round Pope, O'Connor and Nichols, while our attack included Peter Smith and Ken Farnes.'
Under Pearce and Wilcox Essex jumped from 13th to fourth in the Championship in 1933, when they won a record 13 matches. The 1934 Wisden says that Pearce captained with tactical judgment and enjoyed no little success as a batsman.
His third season in charge will be remembered for Essex's victories over the South Africans, defending champions Lancashire, and Yorkshire, who took the title from their arch-rivals. Pearce showed his liking for the Lancashire attack by scoring 105 while his wife was having an operation. In the next match he scored 132 and 54 not out at Northampton, and finished his season with an aggregate of 865 runs (32.03).
During the war Pearce played for his Regiment. A change of job in the wine trade after hostilities ended enabled him to become Essex's fulltime captain until his retirement in 1950. He exceeded 1000 runs for the season three times, and started 1946 with an unbeaten 166 against Somerset at Taunton. His innings started when Essex, needing 385 to win, were 77 for 4. Ray Smith kept him excellent company in an eighth-wicket stand of 133, which helped see them to a memorable win.
'It was very hard work, as I hadn't played much cricket during the war and was a bit rusty. Even though I'd been refereeing regularly during the winter I did feel rather stiff afterwards, Pearce commented.
He enjoyed his most prolific season in 1948, when his 1487 runs (49.56) included an unbeaten 211 against Leicestershire at Westcliff. 'I went in when we were 70 for 4 and looked like getting a good hiding. Reading Jack Walsh's googly was very difficult, and he was almost driven mad by the number of times he beat me, Pearce recalled.
Another memory of that season was when Essex were on the wrong end of a mauling by the Australians, who scored 721 runs in a day at Southend. 'There was nothing we could do as it was a perfect batting wicket. They started by scoring 120 runs in the first hour. We didn't have much bowling and weren't helped by Bailey breaking down.'
His long association with the Scarborough Festival started in 1948, when he began picking H. D. G. Leveson Gower's team to play the tourists. Pearce took over the fixture when Leveson Gower became the Festival's president. 'There was never any difficulty in picking a team, as everyone wanted to play. It always used to be a terrific occasion, as the Festival attracted huge crowds; he recalled.
'I'm more than sorry that Keith Fletcher has left Essex, because he was the best of the six post-war captains Essex have had. His departure will be a tremendous loss, he reflected.
Wisden Cricket Monthly