Walter Reginald Hammond, 1942

W. R. Hammond on first class cricket 1920-1939

Some judge batsmen by the number of their runs, others by the manner of their making. By either criterion, W. R. Hammond, England's captain, must rank among the great. For seven seasons consecutively up to the end of 1939 he headed the English first-class averages. His batting average, since he began to play for Gloucestershire in 1920, stands in all first-class cricket at 55.72, nearly 4 units higher than his nearest rival, Sutcliffe. He has made 155 centuries. But, far more than this, he has adorned cricket and entertained the public with a style of batting in which splendor of manner, grace of execution, and muscular power of stroke have been combined to a degree rarely equaled in the history of the game. "Let's go and see Hammond," we used to say. It was worth a journey even to see him walk out to bat; for the true stamp of greatness was printed on him.

His bowling, though never great, was good enough to be used successfully for England. He had taken good wickets in Test matches, including that of W. M. Woodfull, in the days when the batting of Woodfull was a headline. At about medium pace, Hammond had a late swerve from leg with the new ball, and at any time could tax a batsman with an awkward break-back. He had great pace from the pitch, and an action for a boy to imitate, with easy rhythm and the left shoulder pointing at the batsman just before delivery.

As a fielder he will be remembered as one of the greatest of slips, intelligent so quick in anticipation and movement that no catch seemed difficult. In earlier times he would field anywhere, and he threw like an Australian.

Born at Dover on June 19, 1903, Hammond toured early, playing young cricket in China and Malta. Returning to England, he went to Cirencester Grammar School, where he distinguished himself by playing an innings of 365 not out in a House match. In 1920 he played for Gloucestershire as an amateur; but his qualification was questioned by the Kent authorities. He turned professional, and 1923 was his first season of regular appearance. I remember him then as a batsman of freedom and power, but still unsound in judgment and defence.

Unlike Hutton, of Yorkshire, and D. Compton, of Middlesex, he did not jump into full panoply. He batted like a very promising undergraduate, took risks and enjoyed them. But from the start he fielded like an archangel. Little, if anything, was yet seen of his bowling. In his first match, against Surrey at Bristol, he scored 110 and 92. His aggregate for the County was 1,313; average 28.54. At the Oval he made 46 and 19 for the Players against the Gentlemen. Consistency was yet to come. In 1924 his performance in figures showed little change, but he played one remarkable innings, 174 not out on a difficult pitch against Middlesex at Bristol. Gloucestershire had been out for 31, Middlesex for 74, when this happened. It was followed by some great bowling by Charles Parker--he did the "hat-trick" in each innings--and Gloucestershire won by 61 runs.

Next summer, his defense much strengthened, he was fit to play for England. He scored 1,818 runs in all matches, including an innings of 250 not out against Lancashire at Old Trafford, when he and Dipper put on 330 for the third wicket. In the autumn he sailed with the Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe's team to the West Indies. In the first unofficial Test, at Barbados, he played an innings of 238 not out and made five catches. His average in representative matches was 87. Here, then, was England's number three for the coming Australian Tests in England. But he fell ill, and in 1926 played no cricket at all.

In 1927 he returned, climbed the heights, and has remained there ever since. Refreshed, stronger than ever, he showed a masterful brilliance against every variety of bowling. He made 135 against Yorkshire at Gloucester, then 108 and 128 in the next match, against Surrey at the Oval; took breath at Dewsbury with 11 and 17, then roused Old Trafford with 99 and 187. In this last century he hit four 6's and twenty-four 4's, and annihilated the redoubtable fast bowler, E. A. McDonald, whose two wickets cost him 165 runs. Back at Bristol, he scored 83 and 7 against Middlesex. There were two days of May left, and Hammond needed 164 for his 1,000 runs; so, at Southampton, he made 192, and joined that old king of Gloucestershire and English cricket, who had done the same feat in 1895 in his forty-seventh year.

In the autumn of 1927 he sailed to South Africa with Captain R. T. Stanyforth's M.C.C. team. In the Tests he scored 390 runs, highest innings 90, average 40. His bowling, so far more admired by the connoisseur than remarked by the critics, yielded 15 wickets at 26 each. He was now, beyond question, an all-rounder.

He had reached the meridian of his powers. He was twenty-five years old, an athlete from top to toe, of an agile and flexible strength more often seen in Dominion than English cricketers, brimming with health and natural confidence. Each to his own view; but in the years since the last war, for skill fortified by endurance, for harmony and control of attack and defense, I have not known his like. Bradman may have been more starkly efficient, Frank Woolly have shown more charm, Hobbs a more exquisite technique; but to me, whether trying to bowl him out or to field those terrific strokes, Hammond remains the greatest of them all. Without need of reflection or memory, I can still feel and hear those off-drives.

The best know failure, and it came to Hammond in the Australian Tests here in 1930, when he scored only 306 runs and only one century; a performance that would have set up some cricketers for life, but, in Hammond, caused a welter of theory and vapouring. Grimmett, whom he had dominated in Australia, worried him in England. The little man bowled grandly, it is true, attacking Hammond's leg stump. But it was not only Grimmett who troubled him. Some virtue had temporarily ebbed from him. He lost confidence, and tended to play off his back foot balls that he was accustomed to bang against the rails behind cover-point. It was the husk, not the body, that was batting. I doubt, too, if he was in full health. Yet even his ghost scored in that season 2,032 runs with an average of 53. A second journey to South Africa, under A. P. F. Chapman, did much to restore him. He scored 517 in nine Test innings, average 65, and his 136 not out was the only century for England in the series.

To return to 1928. In all first-class matches he scored 2,825 runs, average 66, including nine centuries. In bowling, he took 84 wickets at 23 each. His fielding, especially at short slip to the leg-spinners of Charles Parker, was superb. The Cheltenham Festival that year was nearly all Hammond. Against Surrey he made 139 and 143, caught four men in the first innings and six in the second. In the next match, against Worcestershire, he scored 80, took 9 for 23 in the first innings and 6 for 105 in the second. Against the West Indies, in three Tests, he scored only 111 runs, average 37.

But he was soon to rob the critics of their adjectives. Sailing to Australia with the England team under A. P. F. Chapman in one of the strongest batting sides that any country had produced, he took control of the Australian bowlers. In the second Test he played an innings of 251, in the third 200. In the fourth, still untamable, he made 119 not and 177, and his Test average ended at 113.12 for just over 900 runs. This triumph was won not by vigilance and attrition, but by exuberant and offensive batting. They could not hold that driving. In the English season of 1929 he finished second to J. B. Hobbs, scoring 2,456 runs, with ten centuries, at an average of 65. Against the South Africans, who were led by H. G. Deane, he cooled down to two centuries, both not out.

Two lean years followed. First, the season against the Australians, mentioned before; then 1931, when his average sank to 42. Probably he was stale. Even so, he played an innings of 100 not out against New Zealand at the Oval, and in all made six centuries. In 1932 he fared better, scoring 2,528 runs at an average of 56 and he more often showed that brilliancy in attack which had marked him out as a batsman apart; but, as a whole, it was evident that some of the superb contempt had left his style, which became more thoughtful; he was batting from knowledge rather than instinct. Perhaps too much was expected of him. Critics tended to exaggerate his failures and neglect his successes. He was now, so to speak, the Prime Minister, a target for any passing fool. To recover completely, he needed a month of golf at the seaside or a cricket tour round the clubs and villages. Instead, he went out to the grimmest series of Tests ever played between two countries--to Australia under D. R. Jardine.

Dismal quarrels, public and personal, arguments and recriminations produced an atmosphere wholly at variance with his free and genial temperament. Small wonder that "he did not repeat his record-breaking achievements of the previous tour." Great wonder that, in style of cricket shot through with commerce and acrimony, Hammond, mixing iron with gold, scored 440 runs during the Tests, as did Herbert Sutcliffe, and alone of the side made two centuries in the series. His parting present to Sydney, scene of his greatest triumphs, was a cracking drive for six, which ended the fifth Test and heralded an exhibition in New Zealand which none but he could have given. In three innings he scored 59, 227 and 336 not out. The last two were in the Tests, giving him an aggregate that was also an average, 563. In his 336 not out, at Auckland, he batted for 318 minutes, hitting thirty-four 4's and ten 6's (three off consecutive balls). A New Zealand Test cricketer, who has played against the best in Australia and England, has told me that, even allowing for the comparative mediocrity of the bowling, it was quite the most wonderful display, in power and variety, that he has ever seen. So back in England.

In summer 1933 he took part in the three Tests against the West Indies, but did nothing of note, scoring only 74 runs for an average of 25. For Gloucestershire his form was brilliant. He scored 239 against Glamorgan, 126 not out against Lancashire; then, against Worcestershire, at Worcester, for the fourth time in his career, scored a century in each innings. In this match C. C. Dacre brought off the same feat. After a double century (206) at Leicester, he played one of his greatest innings against Middlesex at Lord's, 178, which so nearly won the match against all expectation. Centuries against Nottinghamshire and Surrey followed, both at Bristol, and then, in the return match against Lancashire, at Old Trafford, he made 120. Still the spate swelled on: 231 against Derby at Cheltenham; then, to balance failure in the Tests, 264 against West Indies at Bristol. Lastly, two centuries in the Folkstone Festival, 184 for South of England v. M.C.C., 133 for England Eleven v. West Indies. At Folkestone, I remember, he took a fancy for square-cutting balls of good length off the off stump, and third man's boots nearly caught fire. So he ended that season with 3,323 runs at an average of 68.

As in 1930, so in 1934 Hammond failed in the Tests against Australia in England. It would be idle to attribute this failure to a back injury owing to which he played hardly any cricket till the middle of June. Nor was it any one Australian bowler, as has often been suggested, who overcame him. Hammond has always been a batsman of moods, and in this series his failure was as much temperamental as technical. Half England had gone crazy about the Tests. Thousands of sandwiches were cut, hundreds of articles were written. And somehow, as he moved in the middle of the turmoil, I found Hammond faintly but undeniably bored. Naughty, perhaps but to me, I must confess, enjoyably comical. Everything was ready for the coronation, but the king refused to get out of bed! Further, it was his Benefit year.

And richly did he give of his art to Gloucestershire. In thirteen matches he averaged 126. He made 302 not out against Glamorgan, 290 against Kent, 265 not out against Worcestershire. He was as sure a draw as ever on the County grounds, and his Benefit totaled £2,650, a magnificent and unparalleled sum for a West Country cricketer, but no more than was due to one who, wisely directed and handled by that remarkable leader, B. H. Lyon, had raised Gloucestershire to an eminence it had not imagined since the golden days of the Graces.

There is little rest in modern cricket, and in the winter of 1934 Hammond was off to the West Indies under the captaincy of R. E. S. Wyatt. He did nothing great in the Tests, though in all matches he had an average of 56, with a highest score of 281 not out. 1935 was another ordinary year for him. He looked stale, which was not surprising. Indeed, English cricket seemed aweary of its life and to go through its motions because it must. A young and virile South African team, under H. F. Wade, won the Test rubber. It was the end of a rather melancholy chapter. Hutton had only just begun in Yorkshire, D. Compton was still in the "nursery," young Joseph Hardstaff appeared in but one Test, at Leeds. Middle age prevailed.

In April 1936, having had his tonsils, removed, he began slowly, but soon warmed to it. An All-India team visited us. Hammond played in the second and third Tests; in the second he played an innings of 167, reaching 100 in 100 minutes, mainly by off-driving of his own inimitable sort; in the third he made 217, and his Test average finished at 194. But his most remarkable innings was one of 317 for Gloucestershire against Nottinghamshire in Goddard's Benefit match. It contained but one false stroke, and the third hundred was made in 70 minutes. In this month of August Hammond scored 1,281 runs, so exceeding the 1,278 of Dr. W. G. Grace, made in the year 1876.

In the winter of 1936 he visited Australia for the third time, G. O. Allen captaining. He began with 141 against Western Australia, 107 against a reinforced Western Australian team, 104 and 136 against South Australia; and he had not yet reached his favorite Sydney. There, in the second Test, he played an innings of 231 not out. It was seriously and, for Hammond, slowly built up; but it suited the occasion. In Australia's second innings he took 3 for 29 in 127 balls, and England won by an innings. Thereafter he was less successful against an attack mainly directed, in the case of O'Reilly, at his leg stump. His next highest score was 56, and his Test average 58. England won the second Test, Australia the next three and so the rubber.

In the three Tests of 1937 against New Zealand he averaged 51, scoring 140 at Lord's. In all matches his aggregate was 3,252 with 13 centuries and average 65. During the following winter it was announced that he had turned amateur. For the Tests against Australia here in 1938 he was appointed England's captain. He had long been king among our cricketers. As a strategist he would not rank among our great leaders; but he was safe, observant and experienced. His colossal achievements commanded the respect as his sociable nature invited the confidence of every sort of cricketer.

His responsibility, so far from weighing him down, seemed quietly to elate him, and his genius reached its height in an innings of 240 in the second Test at Lord's. When he walked down the pavilion steps, England had lost two wickets for only 20 runs to the fast bowling of McCormick. From the start Hammond was "simply and severely great," master of each bowler and every stroke. He and Paynter put on 222 for the fourth wicket, a new record. On the next day, before a record crowd, Hammond and Ames added 186 for the sixth wicket. At length, after he had batted for just over six hours, Hammond, soon after receiving a painful blow on the elbow, was bowled by McCormick on the leg stump. His 240 was the highest score for England up till then in any home Test. But that sort of thing hardly mattered in comparison to the quality of the innings. He gave only one chance, if I may so describe a drive that split the fielder's finger.

At Leeds he played a fine first innings of 76 out of a total of 223, but failed to score in the second, Australia winning a grand match by five wickets. At the Oval, in the deciding Test, he led England to overwhelming victory. This was Hutton's match, for he scored his famous 364 in 13 hours and 20 minutes. Hammond played very quietly for 59. For Gloucestershire he scored 2,180 runs at an average of 83.84.

In the winter of 1938 he led the M.C.C. team in South Africa. This is no place for a history of those strange and often tedious Tests on chemically over-perfect pitches. The last match, in spite of lasting for ten days, was never finished. Hammond scored 609 runs in the Tests, including three centuries, for an average of 87.

Back in England for the season of 1939, which seems so far away, he showed no decline in his colossal skill. For a cricketer so widely travelled, so drenched his runs, he retained his keenness to a remarkable degree; but it was observable that his method was changing. He now played more strokes off his back foot--the first hint, perhaps, of a need to conserve energy. Be that as it may, he scored seven centuries, one of them against the West Indies in the Test at the Oval, totaled 2,479 runs for the season, and with 63.56 yet again headed the averages.

Figures must largely fill a sketch of so great a batsman, but I should like future generations of crickets, if they turn over Hammond's pages on some peaceful evening, to think of him as something far more than a wonderful maker of runs, many more of which, we hope, are yet to flow from his bat. For, as an all-rounder, he is the greater cricketer of this generation, not merely in centuries, in the taking of wickets, and in the making of catches, but in his attitude to the game which he, while drawing from it his fame, has enriched with a grace, a simplicity and a nobility that may never be seen again.



1926(Did not play owing to illness)

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