Goddard, Copson and Farnes, 1979

Three more studies in greatness




Long of face, each feature strong and clearly defined, a tall frame, capped by coal-black hair, and with a gravel voice, Thomas William John Goddard, one of the greatest off-break bowlers cricket has ever produced, looked every inch the fast bowler of imagination. That, in fact, was exactly what he was when he came into the game in 1922. For six years he persevered with this form of attack, but although in 1926 he took 68 wickets it was already apparent he was never going to be anything other than a second-rater.

Gloucestershire did not fire him; instead they offered him re-engagement at reduced terms, but Tom refused them. A brief and undistinguished first-class career seemed at its end, by no means an uncommon story. Goddard, however, was determined that his life lay in the game, and he took his 6ft 3in frame off to London where he got himself a job on the groundstaff at Lord's. It was not much for a man who had been on the county circuit for several seasons, but it gave him unlimited opportunities for the practice he wanted in order to change his style.

Tom had massive hands and had always been able to spin the ball. But Gloucestershire, able to call on Parker, Dennett, and Mills in the twenties, had been interested in Tom only as a pace bowler. Tom was soon spinning the ball in the Lord's nets to a remarkable degree and word eventually filtered back to B. H. Lyon, the Gloucestershire captain. Lyon came up to Lord's, and from a secluded vantage point, taking care Goddard was not aware of his presence, watched his failed fast bowler at work.

On the strength of a single observation Lyon urged the Gloucestershire authorities to take Goddard back on the staff as a spinner. What a return 1929 was, for Tom took 173 wickets at just over 15 runs each for the county and 184 in all. Bowling round the wicket with three and even four fieldsmen at short leg, Goddard was a problem for the best batsmen. He once bowled Pat Hendren at Bristol with a ball that pitched a full foot outside the off stump and hit the leg stump.

Those long, strong fingers, combined with suppleness of wrist, enabled him to turn the ball even on the plumbest of pitches. He was surrounded by colleagues willing and able to help him. Lyon gave him invaluable assistance with advice on field settings. Wally Hammond and Charlie Parker, all-time greats both of them, nursed him steadily along to maturity and an immortality equal to their own. Goddard learnt as he went along, discovering he could surprise a batsman with a little extra pace off the pitch. Then he discovered that his height made his flight steep and difficult to judge, and his skill in this aspect of his bowling blossomed.

Goddard and the slow left-armer Parker became the most feared spin twins in the Championship - the Laker and Lock of their day. He was unfortunate in that his peak coincided with a period when off-spinners were not fashionable in Test cricket, but he played eight times for England. He did the hat-trick six times in his career, only once less than the all-time record of seven by Doug Wright, the Kent wrist spinner.

The most famous of these was in a Test against South Africa at Johannesburg on Boxing Day, 1938. He held a return catch off Dudley Nourse, had the next batsman Gordon, stumped, and then bowled Wade. In his only Test against Australia at Old Trafford in 1930 he took two for 49. His best bowling in a Test, also at Manchester, was in July 1937 when his six for 29 in New Zealand's second innings gave England victory by 130 runs. He played in another Test against New Zealand, and twice against West Indies in 1939, but he was robbed of a second chance against Australia, at Manchester in 1938, when rain prevented a ball being bowled in the match.

On no fewer than sixteen occasions Goddard took 100 or more wickets in a season and four times reached 200. His best year was 1937 when he had a haul of 248 wickets. Two years later, on his beloved Ashley Down ground at Bristol, Tom took seventeen wickets in a day against Kent - nine for 38 and eight for 68. Only Colin Blythe of Kent, killed in the First World War, and Hedley Verity of Yorkshire, killed in the Second, have performed this feat. In his great season in 1937, for which Wisden gave him its accolade by making him one of the Five Cricketers of the Year, Tom took all ten Worcestershire wickets in an innings for 113 at the Cheltenham Festival. He had taken six for 68 in Worcestershire first innings! On seven occasions he picked up nine wickets in a single innings.

I asked him one rainy day at Chesterfield, towards the end of his career, which of all his memories he cherished most. He had no hesitation in picking the match at Bristol in which Gloucestershire tied with the formidable 1930 Australian side. He took three wickets in the space of five balls at one stage, and with the scores level after four innings dismissed that last Australian batsman, Hornibrook.

During the Second World War Goddard was commissioned in the RAF. He came back to top-class cricket in 1946 and for five years went on adding to his mounting harvest of wickets. By now he was having bronchial trouble and on October 1, 1951, on his 51st birthday, Tom reluctantly announced his retirement. Throughout that winter he became obsessed with the magic figure of 3,000 victims - so tantalisingly close to his mighty grasp - and when the county were unable to find a replacement Tom came back to play thirteen Championship matches in 1952 and take a further 45 wickets. Finally, a bout of pneumonia laid him low and at his age, with his increasing chest problems, there was no question of his playing again. Consequently Tom Goddard had to give up, just 21 wickets short of becoming the fifth bowler in history to take 3,000 wickets. The four who have done so are Wilfred Rhodes 4,187, Tich Freeman 3,776, Charlie Parker 3,278, and J. T. Hearne 3,061.

Tom had two benefits; one in 1936, which brought him £2,097 and a second in 1948 which netted £3,355. Umpires and cricket writers of my vintage will never forget him sliding into bowl, even less his appeals for l. b. w. He had the most menacing "How's that?" in the business. Because of his health Tom made a clean break with cricket after 1952. He established a successful furniture shop in his native Gloucester and was fully active in it until a year before his death on May 22, 1966 at the age of 65.



The manner in which Bill Copson became a cricketer who reached county and Test level was so improbable that if a novelist or TV scriptwriter presented it to his public, any credibility he possessed would vanish in a flash.

He was born at Stonebroom, a small village near Alfreton in Derbyshire, on April 27, 1909, and throughout boyhood and adolescence showed not the slightest interest in cricket. There were no facilities at the village school he attended in Stonebroom and, when at 14 he became a miner at Morton Colliery near Chesterfield, his life seemed to be following an entirely predictable pattern for a youth in those parts and in those times.

The early summer of 1926 was to be his personal catalyst, for the General Strike, which lasted some ten days at the beginning of May, was to prove the making of him. Ten years later he was to be a cricketer of international renown. As the miners gathered at the local recreation ground, a series of games of cricket was organised and Copson, a lanky auburn-haired youth of 17, was urged to join in. "I've never had a cricket ball in my hand in my life," he demurred. "No odds" replied one of his mates, "it'll help pass the time any road." Copson reflected for a moment and then said slowly, "That's true. All right, I'll have a go."

He watched for a bit, and then someone asked him if he fancied bowling an over. No one showed him what to do. He simply ran to the wicket in his own way and, like most youngsters, hurled the ball down as fast as he could. The ball pitched on a perfect length and wrecked the wicket before the startled batsman had time to offer a stroke. There was a burst of guffaws from players and watchers. Someone said, "What a bloody fluke! Talk about beginners' luck." Copson, whose long face rarely showed any emotion, stood gazing at what he had done and, although the choice of words is mine and not my old friend Bill's, it was undoubtedly a moment of revelation. He took the ball and went on bowling. He also went on pitching a good length and kept hitting the stumps.

To the end of his career in 1949, Bill could never tell you what he did and how he did it. He was a born fast bowler who in all probability would never have discovered the fact if there had been no General Strike. When the country went back to work Bill was given a place in the colliery second eleven for the rest of the season. A year later he was a valuable member of the first team. For four years Bill was content with playing for Morton, but in 1931 he joined the Clay Cross club in the Derbyshire League. "They'll find you out now," said one of his mates. He got it the wrong way round, for Bill found out the League players. Playing against Staveley he took all ten wickets for five runs. The secretary of Morton Colliery Cricket Club was a man called Fred Marsh, and after Bill's feat against Staveley he felt it was time to get in touch with the Derbyshire county authorities. They had him along to the Derby nets and liked what they saw.

Early in 1932 they gave him his début, and it could hardly have been a tougher one - Surrey at The Oval. Copson must have thought back to the day six years earlier when he first turned his arm over. In he ran to bowl his very first ball in top-class cricket and with it he bowled no less a batsman than Andy Sandham. He went on to dismiss Douglas Jardine, Tom Shepherd, and Percy Fender. Overnight the headline writers had a new name to play with. He took 46 wickets in his maiden season and in 1933 he progressed to 90 for just over 21 runs each. Despite trouble with his health in 1934, Copson collected 91 wickets at less than 18 apiece, and in 1935, although again forced to miss several matches, his 71 victims cost him only 16 each. With experience he was getting increasingly difficult to score off.

Derbyshire were delighted with their unexpected find, but they were concerned about his continued breakdowns and sent him to Skegness for a holiday. The club had him examined by all kinds of specialists, and finally it was discovered he was suffering from a strained sacroiliac joint at the lower extremity of the back. As part of the treatment to remedy this, Bill went into training with Chesterfield football club at Saltergate, and the value of the physical regimen he was put through was reflected in Derbyshire's winning the County Championship in 1936. Copson's bowling was the deciding factor without a doubt. He took 160 wickets for just over 13 runs each - 140 of them in the Championship at 12.8. When Surrey came to Derby he had match figures of twelve for 52. Recognition came to him by his selection for the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord's, and for the North against the South in the Test trial. At the end of the season he was picked for the tour of Australia.

How do I remember the laconic ex-miner? His run up to the wicket was an easy affair and he seemed to hesitate fractionally before releasing the ball. He looked deceptively slow through the air, but he could make the ball swing and swerve either way very late and he also seemed to make the ball gather pace off the pitch. He either forced the batsman to make a hurried stroke or caught him totally unprepared. In his heyday he could bring the ball back so unexpectedly and so viciously that at times he was almost unplayable. Few men of pace in my lifetime have ever been able to extract so much out of an easy-paced, even lifeless, pitch.

Bill once made 43 at Blackpool, but he never made a 50 in his life. He had a streak of perversity in his makeup which made him take a somewhat twisted joy in the fact. I remember a day at Worthing in his final season when in an hilarious knock he took 28 off the Sussex attack and was dropped five times! He came in to a thunder of applause, for everyone loves a bowler who has briefly tried to be the Prince of Denmark, and he had gone through the pavilion gate before he realised he had not knowledged it. Suddenly he loped back on to the field and raised his bat in salute. Naturally he was twitted about this in the dressing-room and I think it was the only time in his life Bill gave a sheepish grin. "Well lads," he said, "I forgot the drill - you see, I'm a bit out of practice acknowledging applause for my batting."

Bill did not walk, he trudged; possibly a legacy of his back trouble. On one occasion, watching him come up from third man to bowl, Denis Smith said, "Bill, tha bloody walks like Groucho Marx." "Ay, and sometimes tha bats like him," replied Bill, his features as immobile as Buster Keaton's.

With his late swerve and pace off the pitch Bill had many great days. Five for 33 and seven for 19 against Surrey, five for 38 and seven for 16 against Worcestershire. The season after he won the Championship for Derbyshire he took four wickets in four balls against Warwickshire at Derby, and his full analysis for the innings was 8.2-2-11-8. Seven of his victims fell to him in the course of 23 deliveries.

He went to Australia with Gubby Allen's MCC team of 1936-37, and although he did not play in any of the Tests he headed the bowling averages for the tour. His three Test appearances were all in England. He took more than 100 wickets again in both 1938 and 1939, and in the latter season he forced himself into the England team against West Indies at Lord's, where he took five for 85 and four for 67. At Old Trafford his three wickets cost him only 33 runs.

Three times he performed the hat-trick, against Worcestershire and Warwickshire in 1937 and against Oxford University in 1939. From the time he developed back trouble, some said a legacy of working down the pit, he was never to know full health again, but the game he had not discovered until his early manhood was upon him was so infinitely precious to this undemonstrative man that he came back to it after the war. In 1947 he was called up for the last Test against South Africa and, although in his 39th year and well over the hill as a new-ball bowler, he made the Springboks pay for the indignity of hitting 112 runs off him by claiming three of their wickets.

When he was forced to quit in 1949, well past 40, he had in a comparatively short career of less than a dozen actual playing seasons taken 1,094 wickets at a cost of under 19 runs each. That is how good a bowler he was. It was a very real delight to me and to his countless friends and colleagues in the game when he reappeared in 1958 wearing the white coat of an umpire. His renewed association with big-time cricket lasted nine years, but his treacherous health forced him into early retirement at the end of the 1967 season. He died in his 63rd year on the day the 1971 season came to a close. The timing of his going, like the control of his length and the accuracy of his aim, was as one might have expected; immaculate.



At a time in cricket history when the need to find a genuine fast bowler has never been so acute, England's selectors must envy their predecessor Percy Perrin in discovering Kenneth Farnes in the summer of 1930. Farnes, who was born at Leytonstone, had derived a love for the game early from his father, who was a prominent club cricketer. He was educated at the Royal Liberty School, Romford, and by the time Perrin first saw him at 19 he was 6ft 5in tall, had a fighting weight of 15st 6lb, and was perfectly proportioned. He measured out a run of only eleven paces but he picked up his stride immediately and had reached maximum pace at the moment of delivery. This, allied to the fact that he sent the ball down from over eight feet, made him an England bowler in three years.

His was an entirely natural talent married to exceptional physical endowment. He could make the ball rise sharply on a hard wicket, and to add extra nip to his bowling he perfected a downward flick of the wrist at the point of release. He held the ball in a loose grip with one finger on either side of the seam, and a natural body action enabled him to impart swerve and occasionally make the ball dip late or break back from the off.

In less than nine full seasons Farnes took 720 wickets. He was a fine close-to-the-wicket fielder and held many catches that would have been impossible for a man of less spectacular height. He was a born No. 11 as a batsman, but like every comedian with a secret desire to play Hamlet just once, Farnes yearned to make a century. Once at Taunton in 1936 he failed by just three runs to do so against Somerset. He and Wade, the wicket-keeper, put on 149 for the last Essex wicket in two hours, but Wade got out, leaving Farnes unbeaten on 97. Wade, realising that Farnes would probably never again come so close to a hundred, was inconsolable but Farnes treated the whole affair as a huge lark. He also took six wickets in the match, which Essex won by an innings and 66 runs.

Farnes, as might be expected, captained his school eleven and then joined the Gidea Park Club. It was in a match against the Essex Club and Ground side in 1930, in which Perrin played, that the man who is still revered as probably the best batsman that county has produced immediately spotted star quality in Farnes. Within a few weeks Perrin had talked Essex into playing the unknown youth in a Championship fixture against Gloucestershire at Chelmsford. Those were the days of Wally Hammond and Charlie Barnett, and Farnes's first match analysis in the big time was no wickets for 76 runs.

The next match on the Essex fixture card was against Kent, another formidable batting side, and some of the committee had misgivings about exposing Farnes to another experience which might shatter his confidence. Perrin said tersely, "Play him," and he got his way. Farnes rewarded his judgement with five for 36 and thereafter his place was never in doubt. The following year he went up to Cambridge and was in the Light Blues side for three seasons. He turned out for Essex during vacations, and the county had to be satisfied with this situation, for after his University days he took a teaching appointment at Worksop College.

When Farnes joined Essex each July the county would start winning matches left, right, and centre. In 1934 his eleven wickets for 131 gave Essex their first win over Yorkshire since 1911, the year of Farnes's birth. That season he got his first Test call against Australia, and although England lost at Trent Bridge by 238 runs Farnes took five wickets in each innings.

The 1936 match between the Gentlemen and Players is still remembered by all who saw it for Farnes's bowling, regarded as the fastest seen at Lord's since the time of C. J. Kortright. In one deadly spell in the second innings Farnes clean-bowled Harold Gimblett, Hammond, and Joe Hardstaff - and in each case a stump went catapulting head high before falling at the feet of a quaking wicket-keeper standing twelve yards back. When he toured Australia the following winter, injuries restricted him to only two Tests, but he took six for 96 in an innings of 604 in the fifth Test. In 1938 he was at the pinnacle of form and fitness. He was England's leading wicket-taker against Bradman's side that successfully defended The Ashes, and he achieved the best match figures of his career at Clacton against Glamorgan - fifteen wickets for 113 runs. In the first innings of the Gents v Players match he had another great triumph at Lord's, taking eight for 43. It was described as the finest bowling in this now-forgotten annual event since Arthur Fielder took all ten in the Gentlemen's first innings in 1906.

I once asked Hardstaff what it was like facing up to Farnes. "He got such a degree of lift off a good length," he said, "that he was terribly difficult to time." However, Farnes too knew difficult periods, as in 1932 when he was no-balled 21 times in the University match and again when he was forced to miss the 1935 season through injury. In the first instance he showed the necessary self-discipline to correct quickly a faulty approach to the crease; in the second he showed the character to shrug off the disappointment. Farnes filled his life with good things - teaching, cricket, painting, music, reading, and writing, having one book published in 1940.

By that time England was fighting its battle for survival against Germany and Farnes, scorning the opportunities to land himself the cushy number he could have easily attained as a sporting celebrity, opted to fly in the RAF. He did his pilot's training successfully in Canada. When he returned to the United Kingdom, the Luftwaffe's day-time efforts had been bloodily repulsed and the need for the months ahead was for men who could fly at night. Pilot Officer Kenneth Farnes volunteered for conversion to what was an area still very much in its infancy. He had been training for less than a month when, on the night of October 20, 1941, three months past his 30th birthday, he misjudged his landing and died in the blazing wreckage of his crashed aeroplane.

Not the least of war's manifold tragedies is its tendency to take from us the best human material.

© John Wisden & Co