John Edrich, M.B.E.

The centurions of 1977

John Woodcock

Batting for Surrey against Derbyshire at The Oval on July 12, John Edrich became the seventeenth cricketer, and only the third left-hander (Phil Mead and Frank Woolley were the others), to complete one hundred first-class hundreds. He was playing his 945th first-class innings at the time, the first of them having been against Worcestershire in Surrey's last match of the 1958 season.

Although thirteen of the seventeen centurions needed fewer innings than Edrich to reach this famous milestone (Don Bradman got there in an astonishing 295 innings, yet another statistic that puts him in a class of his own) there has never been any doubt in Edrich's mind, or anyone else's for that matter, that he would make it. As you will know from having watched him bat, Johnny Edrich is a man of unshakable determination.

In the way that he was come to concentrate upon playing the percentages, or eliminating risk, he reminds me of Ken Barrington. On their more dour days they have both driven us to the point of distraction; yet when runs have been short and badly needed we have been thankful to have them. You can say no more of a batsman than that he was never more effective than when he was fighting for England, preferably against Australia. Of Edrich, in the years of his prime, that was wonderfully true.

He played for Surrey rather than Middlesex to avoid the inevitable comparisons with his first cousin, Bill (their fathers were brothers), and it was soon evident that Middlesex's loss was Surrey's gain. In only his second championship match, against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, Edrich scored 112 and 124. That was in 1959, his first full first-class season, when at the age of twenty-one he averaged 52.91. Almost ever since he has been accumulating runs with a single-mindedness that he would be the first to say is what too many young batsmen lack.

At Lord's one day I had too good a lunch (or luncheon as in those days we called it in The Times) and fell asleep during the afternoon. By the time I woke up Edrich, batting for Surrey against Middlesex, had gone from 60 to 100. In the case of many batsmen, had one missed so much of an innings one might have had a significantly incomplete picture of it. But not with Edrich. It was necessary only to establish whether he had survived a chance or not to know precisely how he had played, and just where and how his runs had come. One of the reasons for his success is that he courts neither grief nor glamour. Because of that his innings seldom vary, wet or fine, summer or winter, London or Lancaster Park.

His record against Australia is of the sort that an Englishman dreams about. He has scored seven centuries against them, including one in his first Anglo-Australian Test match (at Lord's in 1964) and others at Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth, as well as on his own home ground at The Oval. At different times in the last fifteen years Australian bowlers have found him as stubborn and inflexible as anyone, qualities they admire more than finesse. They are no first-class counties against whom Edrich has not scored a century, and he was also scored plenty of runs against Oxford and Cambridge without making a pig of himself, as some do. Of the Test playing countries only South Africa (in his only Test match against them Edrich was badly hurt, ducking into a bouncer from Peter Pollock) and Pakistan have denied him a hundred.

In years to come, attempting to describe Edrich to someone who never saw him bat, one will talk of his sturdy temperament and four-square figure. His good looks and flashing white teeth will have to come into it, and the flick off his toes, either side of the square-leg umpire, and the dab to third man and the cover drive, and, when he had been batting for a long, long time, the pulled drive, powered by a pair of the game's strongest forearms.

There were occasions in his younger days when he really cut loose, notably in 1965 at Headingley against New Zealand when he made his highest score, 310 not out. Batting eight minutes short of nine hours, Edrich hit five 6's and fifty-two 4's. Then he scored more runs in boundaries than any other player in a single Test innings, a record that still stands to his name.

I shall think of him standing with his hands on his hips, in protest at a bowler aiming defensively wide of the stumps; of the handle of his bat, held in one hand, lodged in his midriff as he waits between balls; of the closed stance and the likelihood that if he was not out at lunch he would be not out at tea as well. Jack Hobbs, after he was 40, scored another hundred hundreds. Edrich is rising 41. So long as he feels like doing so, he too could go on for ever.

© John Wisden & Co