Wisden Cricket Monthly / Features

March 1982

Selectors' fancies

John Arlott on those who deserved to play more often for their country

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John Arlott on those who deserved to play more often for their country



Jack Russell: averaged 56 for England © Wisden
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The county dressing-rooms, it seems, no longer indulge in fanciful team selection. Shortly after the last war, several of them used to pick Xls of four-letter men. There was no great justification for it; most of their selections were merely men slow to recognise the democratisation of the game; or who had returned to civilian life short of money and in acquisitive mood. Another side was that of men lucky to have played for England; there was even less justification for most of them. Selection has to be earnest: but it is invariably a question of availability. There are always crickets who are essential choices in their own day, but who would be hard-pressed for a place in another.

To demonstrate that fact it is only necessary to look back to the 1950s. Only three years after their desperate need for a fast bowler to confront Lindwall and Miller in 1948 and 1950-51, the selectors could choose from Brian Statham, Fred Trueman, Frank Tyson, Alan Moss, Peter Loader and Fred Ridgway. Meanwhile, in the early phase, at fast-medium, there was Alec Bedser; and then Trevor Bailey, included as an all-rounder, automatically took the third - or at least the fourth - seam-bowling place.

In the same period, as fine a pace bowler, merely a yard or so slower than Sir Len"s shock troops, but one of the most capable of his time, Les Jackson, of Derbyshire, received only two caps - and those 12 years apart, Tony Lock and Johnny Wardle must long have pondered how many Tests each of them might have played if the other had not been his contemporary. Similarly, Colin Blythe must have regretted - if no more - reaching his best as a slow left-arm bowler at the same time as Wilfred Rhodes (who was also a considerable batsman).

There has never, it seems, been much enthusiasm for picking an - extremely justifiable - team of English players who were unlucky never to have played Test cricket. Indeed, it is quite salutary to contemplate those who, surprisingly in view of their ability, appeared in very few. Keith Andrew, arguably the finest wicketkeeper-qua wicketkeeper- of recent times (certainly so in the opinion of bowlers he took as diverse in the problems they set as Frank Tyson and George Tribe) was given only two Tests. Charlie Parker, who spun the ball as sharply as any left-arm bowler in cricket history, only one. It must be admitted that he did his cause little good, once he was chosen, by seizing a selector by the scruff of the neck and shaking him for leaving him out of the side on previous occasions.

There have, of course, been some quite freakish Test"careers"- none odder than that of Andy Ganteaume, the West Indian opening bat who, chosen for the Second Test of 1947-48 against England, made 112 - highest score of the match for West Indies- in his first and only innings of the match, and was never chosen again. The nearest English parallel is ' Jack" Russell (initialled of old A. C., but now C.A.G.) who went in first for Essex, Gritty against pace and strong on the leg side, he made a bad start in Australia"s 5-0; but scored 135 not out and 59 at Adelaide in the Third Test, missed the fourth, and made 19 and 35 in the last. Brought into the England side for the fourth Test of the 1921 home series, after Australia had won the first three, his three innings were 101, 13 and 102 not out. England had no Tests in 1922 or 1924, but in 1922-23 they toured South Africa, where Russell, not picked for the First Test, made 39, 8, 34, 8 and 96 in the next three. In the fifth - which England won by 109 runs to take the rubber- he became the first English player to score two centuries in a Test, with 140 and 111. His Test average stands at 56.87. Although he played successfully for Essex until 1930, he was never chosen again. The fact that he was a useful slow spin bowler and a safe-handed slip make his omission the more strange.

Almost as ironical is the story of that model professional, Jack Robertson, who in 1949 at Lord"s scored 26 and 121 against New Zealand: was left out of the England side for two subsequent home seasons; then, taken to India, he played consistently well in all five Tests and, in the last, made 77 and 56 - top-scorer for England in each innings- and never played again.

In that sad overwhelming in 1920-21 in Australia, Harry Makepeace of Lancashire, the tiny, determined, indestructible "Shake", became, at the age of 39, the oldest player to score a maiden century. That was his only series.

S. C."Billy" Griffith went to West Indies in 1947-48 as second wicketkeeper to Godfrey Evans but, because of injuries, he was pressed into service as opening batsman in the Second Test, whereupon he made 140 - going in first for the first time, the first first-class century of his career in the first innings of his First Test. His sense of humour enabled him to enjoy the one-word telegram he received from an old friend in England that evening: it said simply, "Really". He played only twice more for England- in South Africa in 1948-49 where, played as wicketkeeper, and batting at No. 10, he scored 8, 5 and 0. His two other centuries were made for Sussex. Tom Killick certainly would have played in more Tests than his two of 1929 against South Africa (in which he opened the innings with Herbert Sutcliffe) at the age of 22 if he had not virtually forsaken first-class cricket for the church.

The number of single caps might prompt the thought that they were given as consolation prizes; but that was not so."Sam" Cook, slow left-arm for Gloucestershire, was chosen against South Africa in 1947 after a bare year in the county game. He came in for some rough treatment. He was one of the best of his kind over the next 10 to 17 years but, largely, of course, due to the advent of Lock and Wardle, he was never chosen again.

J. C. Clay, whose career as bowler - of pace, leg-spin and eventually, at his best, off-breaks - for Glamorgan spanned 28 years, must have had more than his one cap if he had not insisted, even as a selector, that he aspired no higher than his county team. Before that he had bowled immaculately but unsuccessfully against South Africa at the Oval in 1935. It would have been less than cricketing justice if he had never had a Test.

In the same match H. D."Hopper" Read, then quite the fastest, if not the most accurate, bowler in the country, made his only appearance for England.

The other"Hopper"- the burly, cheerful Levett- another in the Kent procession of outstanding wicketkeepers, was in contention with Harry Elliott for the place in the English side to India in 1933-34. Douglas Jardine, most coldly objective of captains, with hopes of his batting, preferred"Hopper" in only one of the three matches.

Fred Tate"s solitary appearance at Old Trafford in 1902 stands in the history books as one of the tragedies of the game. His dropped catch virtually lost the match, and that great rubber, for England."I have got a boy, at home who will put it all right for me," he said to Len Braund after the game, Maurice Tate did just that - with 155 wickets in 39 Tests. Surely only the Second World War kept the dapper, competitive Norman"Buddy" Oldfield of Lancashire and Northants (a handsome 80 in the last prewar Test) and the poised Dennis Brookes from more than a single appearance. Jim Parks senior played himself in against New Zealand in 1937 by the immense and unique effort of 3000 runs and 100 wickets in the season.

One of the most unlucky in playing few Tests was Reg Perks, of Worcestershire, who had the control of a fast-medium bowler. He first played for Worcestershire at 18 and, in 1939, then 27, and at his peak, he was almost true fast in pace. In that year he was brought into the England side for the statisticians" feast, the"timeless" Test at Durban. He had not been used before in the series, largely because the side, strong in spin, had two all-rounders in Wally Hammond and Bill Edrich to support Ken Farnes in seam bowling. At Durban Perks was thrown in and, eager to seize his opportunity, bowled 41 overs for a highly creditable 5 for 100 in a South African total of 530. In the second innings, he, in common with the other English bowlers, had poor figures in that most grotesque of all drawn matches, abandoned as a draw after 10 days so that the English team might catch their boat home.

In the following August Reg Perks was chosen for England in the third and last Test against West Indies. He never bowled better than in that match, played on a deadly easy Oval wicket. West Indies made 498; Perks generated quite remarkable pace; took 5 for 156 and swore that 11 catches were dropped off him; and that can only have been the slightest exaggeration; England can never have fielded so slackly. West Indies did not bat again in the drawn match, but hurried home before their ship could be caught in the war which put an end to Perk"s Test career. It did not, thought, prevent him from taking 100 wickets in nine subsequent and successive seasons, to finish with an aggregate of 2233, by far the greatest number achieved by a Worcestershire bowler.

Some, of course, were lucky. On the 1886-87 Shaw- Shrewsbury tour of Australia, that relishable Nottingham reprobate, Billy Barnes, swung a punch at Percy McDonnell, the Australian captain, missed him, hit the wall and smashed his knuckles. In this dire emergency ( William Gunn both batted and umpired) the promoters desperately called on Reginald Wood, a Carthusian left-hander who had emigrated to Australia after an unexciting career (166 runs and four wickets) with Lancashire. He went in No. 10; scored 6 and 0, did not bowl; and never graced the Test scene again. He had, thought, had his game: and he turned professional in Australia. Those less fortunate, who were never capped although they deserved it, await examination.

© Wisden Cricket Monthly

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