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In his early days Maurice Leyland played cricket for the Harrogate Club. There, too, he played Association football; and I can imagine that his more delicate and tactful opponents were apt to pass the ball on before they met that square, resilient, and muscular frame.
"They shall not pass" must be the text for any sketch of Leyland, and he would have been a fit companion for Horatius on the bridge. He has taken the view that to every bowler, every pitch, every occasion, there is the more than equal answer; and, before that fifth Test at the Oval in 1938, when Hutton and he together scored 382 for the second wicket against Australia, Leyland remarked quietly: "I think I've got Bill O'Reilly taped." Of the other bowlers he said nothing. He had his eye on one only, the greatest of his kind in the world. They had fought often before, and there had been little enough between them, and now the batsman had measured and weighed the whole armoury of skill, and was calmly sure that the last victory would not go to the other.
Yet, for all his genius of opposition, there is nothing merely stubborn about this great left-hander. He is gay, sometimes even irregular. His bowling, which consists mainly in enormous left-handed off-breaks, amuses him as much as it puzzles the batsmen. A less humorous man would doubtless have been content with the orthodoxy of a slight and continuous bias from leg. This was good enough for the great Wilfred Rhodes, who would no more have bowled an off-twiddle and laughed at it than Mr. Gladstone would have contributed a risky paragraph to the "Pink'Un." In later days, too, there was the studious Verity to take on the mantle of respectability. So Leyland provided the speciality. It has brought him 447 wickets at 30 each.
Leyland, as a batsman, cannot claim the beauty of Frank Woolley or the consistency of Philip Mead, and he has had more bad times than either; but for England against Australia, when the gong goes, as they say, he is with the greatest. In 34 of these innings he has scored 1,715 runs, 7 centuries; average 57.16, 15.69 more than his average in all first-class cricket.
Mediocre bowling has seldom brought the best out of him, and he is apt to bat like any ordinary County player in a match without high issues. In a sense, the very strength of Yorkshire has weighed against him. So often Sutcliffe and Holmes laid a foundation that was too easy for others to build on. Leyland does not thrive on comfort, ease, and harmony, but on rescue, storm, and violent enemies. He is the salvage-expert among batsmen. In Tests his great innings have been played when something has gone wrong with the others. At Lord's, against Australia in the second Test of 1934, our first five batsmen scored respectively 82, 20, 2, 13, 33; Leyland followed with 109. In the fifth Test, at the Oval, when the ordinary man's hope had gone and five of England were out for 138 runs from the bat, he played an innings of 110 which was plainly framed in a spirit of victory, without an eye to the score-board. In 1936, at Brisbane, his 126 came after scores of 0, 69, 4, 0; at Melbourne he made 111 not out when the first three had contributed 90--scarcely a start in a timeless Test; and, at the Oval in 1938, when O'Reilly had got Edrich caught for 12 and was properly glorying in his 100th wicket in Tests against England, W. R. Hammond judged nicely to send in Leyland at number three to join his young fellow-Yorkshireman, Hutton. For six hours and a half the Australians bowled at them, till Leyland was run out, narrowly, by a wonderful piece of anticipation on the part of Bradman. Nothing, I think, but run out or carried out could have parted them.
Born on July 20, 1900, Leyland first played for Yorkshire in 1920. He appeared in one match, had but one innings, and scored 10, out. What the committee thought about it is not recorded. But in 1921 he was allowed seven innings, and made 115 runs, his highest score being 52 not out against Leicestershire at Leeds. He also took one wicket for 43 runs. There was a fine future for a young man, as English cricket was slow to recover after the war of 1914-1918. England had lost five Tests in a row in Australia during 1920-21, when in each Test, after Hobbs was out, we sat, in the phrase of a Yorkshire bowler, "like a row of birds with pads on at a funeral." Three more Tests were then lost to W. W. Armstrong's team in England. But Leyland's time was not yet. He was given his Yorkshire cap in 1922, though his batting average sank to 13.75 for an aggregate of 220 in 17 innings, once not out; and, in bowling, he did not repeat his one wicket of the year before. Humble enough beginnings of greatness; but even then he looked a cricketer, especially in the outfield, where his short legs carried him nimbly round the boundaries, and with his left hand he threw far and straight. He had a steady gaze; square, strong, and calm.
In 1923 he played right through the season, having 50 innings, a number that he never later exceeded. There was no century among them, but he made 1,088 runs at an average of 27.89, his highest innings being 89 against Gloucestershire at Bristol, where Hammond, just twenty years old, was beginning to surprise critics and bowlers by the power of his driving. Once more Leyland took his one wicket, at the decreased cost of 32.00. In 1924 he made his first century in first-class cricket, 133 not out against Lancashire at Old Trafford. In Yorkshire at least he was made. There was another century, 100 not out against Hampshire on his home field at Harrogate, and in all he scored 1,259 runs at 30.70 an innings. But he had to wait two years for another wicket. Next season he scored 1,572 runs at 40.30 an innings, with centuries against Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Middlesex.
For the fourth year running Yorkshire were champions, and, for all their more recent triumphs, I doubt if any of their later teams have quite equalled the combination of skill and stark efficiency that made them almost invincible in the years from 1922 to 1926. Sutcliffe, Holmes (P.), Oldroyd, Leyland, Kilner (R.), Rhodes, Robinson (E.)--that was an awkward list for a bowler to read at breakfast. Robinson, Waddington, Macaulay, right-hand, Rhodes and Kilner, left, provided an attack of both severity and subtlety; and the fielding was Yorkshire's own. There was, perhaps, a spirit of keenness which sometimes turned rather grim and sour, a failing that the present captain, A. B. Sellers, has never allowed. It was a hard school for a young cricketer, but Leyland thrived on such discipline, and he has never lost his laugh.
As yet the path to the England side was stiff with obstruction. At number four, Leyland's usual place, Hendren, of Middlesex, made over 2,000 runs every season from 1920 to 1929, only varying it with 3,000 in 1923 and 1928. There was also Philip Mead, to say nothing of such men as Frank Woolley, Ernest Tyldesley, Jack Hearne and Andrew Ducat, who could fill any of the higher batting positions with distinction. So Leyland went on steadily for Yorkshire. In 1926 he scored 1,561 runs at an average of 39.02, with five centuries; but, with one wicket at 101.00, he showed a decline in his bowling, not enough to stir the critics, but perceptible to his admirers. In the autumn he went out to India, to coach for the Maharaja of Patiala.
In 1927 he advanced a little more, averaging 41.66, and scoring his first double century, 204 not out against Middlesex; and, with four wickets at 33.00, he could dream of the day when he would be a change bowler. In this year, too, he played for the Rest v. England at Lord's, and, like a true Yorkshireman, took his chance with an innings of 102. In 1928 he averaged over fifty (54.03) for the first time, scored five centuries for Yorkshire--top score 247 against Worcestershire--and was picked for England against the West Indies at the Oval. He failed to score. But the selectors included him in the side to go to Australia under A. P. F. Chapman, and he celebrated the honour by scoring 56 and 76 against C. I. Thornton's XI at Scarborough, at one point hitting Wilfred Rhodes for three 6's and a 4 in one over.
Fame did not hurry to meet Leyland. Here he was, at the age of twenty-eight, going on that visit which is the dream of all cricketers; but with him were such batsmen as Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Jardine, Hendren, Tyldesley (E.), and two left-handers, Mead and Chapman himself. With Larwood, Tate, Geary and J. C. White waiting to bowl, Duckworth to keep wicket, two batsmen must be omitted. So Leyland remained in reserve till the fifth Test, at Melbourne, where Chapman was unable to play and White was captain. The match was lost, but Leyland was not likely to fail; in his first innings against Australia he made 137, in the second 53 not out. In all matches on the tour he scored 614, average 43.85, and, besides the innings at Melbourne, made centuries against South Australia and Queensland. His four wickets cost 89.25 runs each.
Leyland's selection for that tour raised something of a storm in Kent, for the great Woolley had been passed over. Sir Pelham Warner, in his Cricket Between Two Wars, recalls the difficulty that confronted the selectors. England's three best left-handers, Woolley, Mead, and Leyland, had all done remarkably well in the English season of 1928. They had returned, respectively, aggregates of 3,352, 3,027, and 1,783, for averages of 61.03, 75.67, and 54.03. "After much cut and thrust in debate...the choice fell on Mead and Leyland, whereupon a wail went up from Gravesend to Dover." But, whatever might be the rights of the matter between Woolley and Mead, Leyland was surely a man to take, for his outfielding was of the highest class and he had the youth, speed, and strength so necessary for what J. C. White has described as "an endless fight in an oven." In the controversy one Kent supporter and whilom player even referred to Leyland as "a cross-bat village-greener." In this hyperbole lay a certain truth. Cross-bat Leyland was not; but his springy and muscular physique told of generations of health and sense and open air. Of such a type had been the men who drew bows at Crecy and sailed with Drake to singe the beards of kings. Leyland has always stood very still at the crease, whether waiting for the bowler or watching the striker; there is no fuss, no fidget; there is no nervous adjusting of pads or gloves, no jerky talk with umpire or fieldsman. He has a task and its answer, and he addresses himself to it, broad-bottomed, straight-eyed, with the forearms of a blacksmith, yet nimble, strangely nimble of foot.
His fame was now fixed, and for the next ten years England could rarely do without him. In 1929 he scored 1,931 runs, average 42.91. A South African team, under H. G. Deane, came to England. Leyland, who had made 76 and 2 for England in the Test Trial at Lord's, failed in the first Test match at Edgbaston; at Lord's, in the second Test, he scored 73 and 102. In this second innings he and Maurice Tate (100) added 129 in seventy minutes. His Test aggregate was 294, average 42. For the first time he ran the risk of being called an all-rounder, taking fifty wickets at 30.26 each.
In 1930 W. M. Woodfull brought young Bradman and ageless Grimmett to rob us of the "Ashes." For once Leyland's part in the Tests was undistinguished. He did not play in the first two, and in the last three made only 103, average 25.75, with a highest score of 44. For Yorkshire he batted finely, making five centuries, average 66.95, including an innings of 211 not out against Lancashire. For the first time he passed an aggregate of 2,000, and took three more wickets than in 1929 at an average of 3 less, including a bag of nine for 130 for Players v. Gentlemen at Lord's. Chosen to go to South Africa under A. P. F. Chapman that winter, he crowned the English season with 150 not out for the England side against H. D. G. Leveson-Gower's XI at Scarborough--city of "mists and mellow fruitfulness"--an innings fitted to a festival, with seven 6's and nineteen 4's. In South Africa he made 300 runs in the Tests, average 42.85, highest score 91. His only century, 169, was made against Rhodesia.
In 1931 he seemed stale. His aggregate dropped to 1,228 in 41 innings, average 38.37. His only century was 124 for Yorkshire against Surrey; but, still with his power of meeting the best with the best, he batted finely for 96 not out in Champion County v. The Rest at the Oval. Again, the first three months of season 1932 brought him little good. Then he shook himself. He scored 91 v. Lancashire, 153 v. Leicestershire; in the next match, Percy Holmes being ill, he was sent in to open the innings with Sutcliffe. They put on 169 against Derbyshire, Leyland going on to 113. In the next match, against Essex, he scored 45, and, again partnering Sutcliffe, against Leicestershire at Bradford, he made 166. Against Hampshire at Bournemouth he made 45 and 153 not out, and he rounded it off with 93 and 24 against Sussex at Hove. That month brought him 1,013 runs at an average of 84.14. For Yorkshire v The Rest at the Oval he scored 105. In the whole season he scored 1,980 runs at an average of 52.10, with six centuries; and his 23 wickets cost him only 20.83 runs each, his lowest average up till then. In that earlier lean period Leyland, to all outward appearance, remained unmoved. I happened to be sitting by him one day during the middle of his failure. He was next in to bat. He talked with the calm confidence and untroubled wit of a man expecting to add yet another century to those he had not so far scored. Then, as at many another time, I understood the source of Leyland's strength and success. He gave fate thumping kicks from behind.
So, in the autumn, he set out under D. R. Jardine on that celebrated, if somewhat weight-reducing, trip in Australia. His figures in those Tests are not startling: 9 innings, 306 runs, highest score 86, average 34.00. But he was not found wanting in crisis. His 86 was played in the second innings of the fourth, and deciding, Test at Brisbane, a match famous for Paynter's "sick-bed" 83 in the first innings. England needed only 160 to win. But the heat was intense, climatic and temperamental. Leyland was the man for all that. In the third Test, when the Rubber stood at one match each, his innings of 83 helped Wyatt to add 146 for the fifth wicket, after four good men had gone for only 30. In the fifth Test he was run out, through his partner's error, when well set at 42. In each match against South Australia he made a century. He had at least maintained his now high reputation.
Returned to the calm of England, he topped the 2,000 for the second time in his career, and scored seven centuries, including 210 not out for Yorkshire against Kent at Dover. He played, but failed, in the first Test, at Lord's, against the West Indies. Perhaps he missed Brisbane and the shouting. But his bowling, which increasingly interested and amused him, gave him 37 wickets at 28.13 each.
In 1934 Leyland reached the height of his powers. Ripe in technique, rich in experience, like granite in battle, he was in this season England's greatest batsman. In all matches he totalled 2,142 runs, with an average of 53.55, and made seven centuries. Of these, three were taken off the Australians in the Tests. He also scored 80 for the Players at Lord's. Australia had sent over W. J. O'Reilly to help Clarence Grimmett. As a pair they killed no less surely, if less violently, than had McDonald and Gregory thirteen years before. Of the 71 wickets that fell to bowlers in the five Tests, they took 53; O'Reilly 28, Grimmett 25. O'Reilly was tall, broad-shouldered, of dynamic energy, and tireless in design. With unusually large hands, he could spin the ball from leg at medium pace, and bowl both the googly and the top-spinner; his control of length and direction was equal to that of the old masters. He and Leyland were well matched.
In the first Test, at Trent Bridge, O'Reilly won. Woodfull left England four hours and three-quarters to make 380 on a difficult and breaking pitch. Of the earlier batsmen only C. F. Walters, with his graceful freedom, looked as if he thought the match could be won. By the time Leyland came in England could only hope to save the match. He and Ames, in gathering excitement, set their whole skill against Grimmett and O'Reilly, the dust eddying round the defenders, the crowd tense and dumb. Then O'Reilly hit the edge of Leyland's bat, and W. A. Oldfield made one more catch behind the wicket. The tail walked in and out, and that was one to Australia.
At Lord's, England followed her now familiar course: a respectable start, then a breakdown. Once more Leyland and Ames came together. This time they added 129; Ames 120, Leyland 109. Between the second and third days rain fell, and the rest of the match was Verity. He took 15 wickets for 104. At Manchester, in great heat and on a chemist's dream of a pitch, Walters opened the match with a score of 52 out of 65. Then O'Reilly had him, Wyatt, and Hammond in four balls. Hendren (132) and Sutcliffe added 77, when Sutcliffe was caught at slip off O'Reilly. Once more Leyland did his work. He and Hendren tamed, then shattered, the bowling in a partnership of 192. Next came Ames. He and Leyland put on 142. Leyland's share in all this was 153. At Leeds, in the fourth Test, Bradman and Ponsford scored 485 runs out of 567 from the bat. England went in a second time 384 behind. Five wickets had fallen for 188 when a short but terrific storm turned Headingley into a lake. At that moment Leyland and Hendren were together. Australia, on paper, were robbed. But, in fine weather, Hendren and Leyland might yet have been the robbers. So to the fifth Test at one match all. The match was dominated by Bradman, Ponsford, and the wily master, Grimmett. Australia won the toss. At 21 W. A. Brown was bowled by Clark, but by 6.25 Bradman and Ponsford had added another 451. In the fourth and fifth Tests they had together scored 839 runs, and the adjectives ran short. In England's first innings Leyland scored 110; he hit a 6 and fifteen 4's, mostly drives. In the second innings he was out to a great catch by Brown at cover-point off a hard, low drive. England, set to make 708, were out for 145. They were rolled flat.
In 1935 Leyland's batting average, which had exceeded fifty in five of the last seven years, dropped to 38.61. His highest, and probably his best, innings, 161, was played in the fifth Test, at the Oval, against South Africa, who, for the first time, beat England in a Rubber in England. To each Test were allotted three days. South Africa won the second Test, at Lord's, mainly through some magnificent leg-break bowling by Xenophon Balaskas. In the first match, at Trent Bridge, Leyland contributed 69 to England's total of 384 for seven wickets declared. On the night before the third Test, at Leeds, he was seized with lumbago, and his place went to his fellow-Yorkshireman, Arthur Mitchell, who, as he would, took his chance with innings of 58 and 72, and fielded very finely. The season's bowling brought Leyland 33 wickets at 32.36 each. In that winter he played four innings in Jamaica, averaging 51, with a highest score of 115. But his left-hand off-breaks did not bite very well, his one wicket costing 117 runs.
In 1936 he scored seven centuries and averaged 45.89. An interesting and sometimes brilliant team of Indian cricketers toured England that summer, and in the first Test, at Lord's, Leyland once again showed how strongly he could stand upright when others failed. India had been dismissed for only 147; there followed some truly great bowling by Amar Singh, medium-fast, ably supported by Nissar, fast. England were out for 134, of which Leyland scored 60. In their second innings India collapsed, some fierce hitting by Gimblett ended the match, and England emerged victorious but somewhat ruffled.
Soon afterwards M.C.C. picked G. O. Allen, who had enjoyed a most successful season, to captain the English team in Australia, and Leyland was an early choice. Indeed, apart from him and Walter Hammond, the batting looked somewhat brittle. The team sailed with many good wishes but little expectation. Some prophesied that Bradman would never get out at all and that we would be lucky to reach a total of 300 against O'Reilly. Yet England won the first two Tests, and, if Voce had not strained himself and Allen could have won the toss at Melbourne, the "Ashes" would probably have come home.
Leyland was one of the Test selectors during this tour, the others, beside the captain, being Robins, Wyatt, and Hammond. The first Test, at Brisbane, opened disastrously for England. Worthington was caught at wicket from the first ball of the match; Fagg, after scoring 4, fell in the same way; and Hammond was caught, first ball, at short-leg. Three wickets, all to McCormick, were down for 20 runs when Leyland joined Barnett. Leyland made 126, Barnett 69, and in the end the total reached 358, poor McCormick being seized with lumbago after his first brilliant eight overs. Voce and Allen bowled very finely, and, after England had played a second innings of 256, Australia, caught on a sticky wicket, were bowled out for 58, Voce taking six for 41.
In the second Test Hammond played that innings of 231 not out, careful but masterly. In the first quarter of an hour of the third morning, again after rain, Voce was tremendous. He dismissed O'Brien, Bradman and McCabe, all for nought in four balls. Australia fared better in the follow-on, but that was two up to England. The third Test was watched by 350,534 persons. Bradman won the toss. Each side failed on a difficult pitch, England completely; then Bradman played a wonderful innings of 270. England were left with 689 to win. They failed; but Leyland was still batting at the end, with 111. In the fourth Test, at the end of the second day, England had replied to Australia's 288 with 174 for two, Barnett 92 not out, Leyland 35 not out. Both were criticised for not scoring more quickly in this second innings. Be that as it may, England led by 42. Bradman shattered these slight distinctions with another double century, and set England 392 to win. At the end of the fifth day England were 148 for three, Hammond and Leyland batting. Then Fleetwood Smith bowled Hammond for 39, had Leyland caught at slip for 32, and all was over. Two matches all, for the first time for forty-two years. And so to Melbourne. In the first Australian innings Bradman, dominant as ever, scored 169, Badcock 118, McCabe 112. In an innings of 604, Farnes took six for 96, a feat worthy of Tom Richardson. England answered with only 239, Leyland being bowled by O'Reilly. In the follow-on, O'Reilly and the fast bowler, Nash, bowled finely on an awkward pitch, and England went down with a crash. In the five Tests Leyland in nine innings scored 441, average 55.12, with two centuries.
In 1937 Leyland was kept from cricket by a broken finger for several weeks, and he played in none of the three Tests against the visiting New Zealand team. His aggregate and average, modest for him, were respectively 1,306 and 36.27; three centuries. In 1938 the Australians came here under D. G. Bradman. Leyland, now at an age when injuries are not so easily thrown off, suffered from a severe strain in the shoulder, and he did not find his form till June was out. In the feast of run-getting at Nottingham, the draw at Lord's, and the fast of Pluvius at Manchester he took no part. Then, a week before the fourth Test at Leeds, for which he was almost certain to be chosen, a disastrous match was played at Lord's between Yorkshire and Middlesex. Hutton's finger was broken, Gibb had a nasty crack on the head, and Leyland had a fracture of the left thumb. Australia won the Test, one of the very finest matches ever played between the two countries, largely owing to the great bowling of O'Reilly--ten for 122--and yet another wonderful innings by Bradman, who scored 103 in a total of 242. But a month later Leyland and Hutton went, fit, to the Oval to be joined in that second wicket partnership of 382, the highest stand ever made by two England batsmen against Australia--a grand day for Yorkshire.
Young Hutton, with his Test record of 364, took the limelight and the printer's ink; but Leyland, in his quiet old way, must have been a happy man as, from the other end, he watched in Hutton the fulfillment and operation of those same qualities that had brought fame to himself, the steadfast purpose, the invincible will, the skill that grows greater with the need. One more season of solid achievement lay before Leyland; but that match at the Oval was his climax--the reward of service and the triumph of character.