My favourite summer

A.A. Thomson

My favourite summer is 1902. I had not then played any cricket, except in the back garden, and I had never seen a first-class match. I was eight years old at the time, but my knowledge of the season was, and remains, considerable.

My information came from two main sources: my step-Uncle Walter and Wisden Cricketers' Almanack for 1903. I learned, as history students must, partly from patriotic narrative and partly from sober factual report.

Uncle Walter, now in heaven, departed this life in 1935, not long after Yorkshire's innings defeat by Essex at Huddersfield. (At 87 he should have been sheltered from such shocks.) Wisden for 1903 happily sits in front of me. If the B.B.C. were to maroon me on a desert island and, according to their pleasant custom, demand to know what book I should like to take with me, there would be no difficulty.

Pickwick I know by heart and, though I revere Tolstoi, to read War and Peace under the breadfruit trees would be too much like starting to watch an innings by J.W.H.T. Douglas and waking up to find that Trevor Bailey was still batting. But Wisden for 1903 is the prefect companion. It has almost everything the heart of man could desire.

I doubt, of course, if any historian between Macaulay and Churchill could have produced so glowing, so romantic a tale as Uncle Walter's account of the game at Headingley on June 2 and 3, 1902, in which Hirst and Rhodes dismissed the mighty Australians for 23 and Yorkshire struggled desperately towards the 48 runs needed for victory until Irving Washington, with a cannon-shot clear of mid-on, made it 50.

"Finest innings of Irving's life," Uncle Walter would conclude, "and would you believe me if I told you he didn't even get double figures?"

Naturally I believed him, just as I believed what he told me about the Spanish Armada, the Death of Nelson, and Jessop's 101 in forty minutes, scored on our own town ground, to Uncle Walter's mingled horror and delight. One at least of these stories was an eyewitness account. Nevertheless it is arguable that Wisden's unemotional version may have given an even vivider picture:


As for Washington's titanic battle with fate, Wisden rightly leaves its heights and depths to our imaginations:

  • I. Washington not out .....................9

One of the human things about cricket is that it changes continually, but does not change very much. The features that I instinctively look for in Wisden to-day -- the Five Cricketers of the Year, the Notes by the Editor, the complete first-class results and averages, the Births and Deaths and the Obituaries -- are all to be found in the older Almanack.

The 40th volume, containing 672 pages, is a little smaller than the 103rd, which takes up 1,084. I think myself that 672 pages make a tidy book and I sadly sympathise with the Editor whose only difficulty is to deal with the immense number of matches crowded into a season within the limits of a volume published at a shilling.

In the matter of illustrations Wisden to-day, with its wealth of photographs, scores heavily over myWisden which, apart from some sketches of austere-looking stumping gloves in the advertisements, has no pictures except those of the Five Cricketers, which look as though they had come out of a family album with brass clasps.

Since this was an Australian summer, three of the Cricketers are Australians. The two Englishmen are C.J. Burnup of Kent and J. Iremonger of Nottinghamshire. Burnup was one of those players who, like the Fosters, the Days and D.J. Knight, were brought up in the graceful batting tradition on Malvern.

His best year was 1902, and it was only the immense strength of England's batting in that deplorably wet summer that robbed him of an England cap. The brightest of his hundreds was scored at Tunbridge Wells, a ground which I now associate with its blaze of rhododendrons in June and the spiral stairway which eternally obtrudes the horrors of vertigo between the correspondent and the press-box.

Iremonger, who played full-back for Nottingham Forest, was a sturdy, if rather stiff, batsman who, though no aristocrat, held his own among such masters as Shrewsbury, William Gunn and A.O. Jones. Playing up to the outbreak of the first war, he toured Australia without appearing in a Test, and scored 32 centuries, the oddest of which included one of 1902's oddest incidents.

In the Notts game against M.C.C. at Lord's enamelled stumps were used with the enamel still wet, and when a ball moved one of his stumps, the bail remained faithful. From that moment nothing stopped Iremonger from going ahead to his hundred.

The three Australians were perhaps of heavier metal. Australia has never lacked wicket-keepers and J.J. Kelly, with 36 caps, was the most eminent, I think, between Blackham (35 caps) and Oldfield (54). His reserve wicket-keeper on this tour was Hanson Carter, by profession an undertaker, but Kelly himself presided at the obsequies of 35 victims (23 caught and 12 stumped).

His is the most striking of my five faded photographs, because his face was adorned by the most luxurious moustache in cricket history. Like tropical foliage, it cascaded down from his upper lip and I cannot imagine how, as he crouched on duty, he managed to avoid contravening Law 43, which decrees that no part of the wicket-keeper's person shall advance in front of the wicket before the ball arrives, or words to that effect.

Those who saw the gargantuan Warwick Armstrong, when his hard-bitten warriors crushingly defeated England in 1921, might not have recognised the slim boyish figure of the 1902 tour's most gifted all-rounder, who scored 1,087 runs and captured 81 wickets, mainly with deliveries so far outside the leg-stump that the batsmen would get themselves out chasing them in sheer exasperation.

This was the first of his four visits and, when Wisden said "It is not unreasonable to expect a great future for him", an understatement was being released that was virtually to become a curse upon our country.

Some cricketers may be judged by statistics; some by eccentricity and some by massive achievement. A rare and enchanted few are remembered for the sheer beauty they brought to the game.

Victor Trumper was a superb batsman with, as was said, three strokes for every ball; a vivid fielder and a personality of compelling charm. He did not, in the foolish phrase, "hate the bowler"; he merely thought the poor fellow couldn't bowl. In that desolate summer Trumper made more runs than anybody else, English or Australian, and every one of his 2,570 runs bore the hallmark of supreme artistry. Is is one of Wisden's steadfast virtues to be soberly discriminating; this enables it to reserve its highest praise for the noblest and best.

With Trumper it could go to town: "No-one has been at once so brilliant and so consistent since W.G. Grace was it his best... He seemed independent of varying conditions, being able to play just as dazzling a game after a night's rain as when the wickets were hard and true. All bowling came alike to him ... in the Tests at Sheffield and Manchester he reduced our best bowlers to the level of the village green... The way in which he took good-length balls of the middle stump and sent them to the boundary, had to be seen to be believed... For the moment he is unapproachable."

Who were the batsmen of 1902 who could not approach him? The first-class averages mention them: Shrewsbury, Ranjitsinhji, Abel, Grace, R.E. Foster, Fry, Jessop, Jackson, MacLaren, Warner, Palairet and Hayward, to name but a dozen.

And who were the village green trundlers whom he cut to ribbons? They were Hirst, Rhodes, Braund, Barnes, Jackson, Lockwood, Cranfield, Trott and Tate who, perhaps as a consolation for his nightmare Test at Old Trafford, finished the season with 180 wickets at 15 runs apiece. In 1902 those nine bowlers took over 1,200 wickets between them and Trumper just felt sorry for them.

The Australian tour of 1902 produced a rubber more exciting than any in history except, and until, the electrifying series between Australia and the West Indies of 1960-61 which began with the fantastic tied match at Brisbane and ended with Australia's heart-hammering victory by two wickets at Melbourne.

The 1902 rubber began at Edgbaston with a rain-wrecked game, which England must have won if a full third day's play had been possible. This match had everything except a positive ending. It had what was reckoned the best integrated side that England ever put into the field: MacLaren, Fry, Tyldesley, Ranjitsinhji, Jackson, Braund, Jessop, Hirst, Lilley, Lockwood and Rhodes.

It saw a swordsman's century by Tyldesley which dragged England's batting back from the abyss; it staged Australia's dismissal for 36 (Hirst, three for 15 and Rhodes seven for 17) of which total Trumper magnificently scored half; it then alas, suffered an almost empty last day. (C.B. Fry told me long afterwards that, though Rhodes took seven wickets, it was Hirst who broke the batting's back.)

For full measure the score card carried a classic misprint which sets down the extras as three wides. There were, of course, really three byes, probably due to Hirst's terrific swerve. I doubt if Hirst ever bowled three wides in a season or Rhodes three wides in his whole career.

The second match, at Lord's, began sensationally and ended, after less than two hours, in torrential rain. By the end of the fourth over, Fry and Ranjitsinhji were out for ducks, and after 19 runs had been scored, 15 of them by Jackson, rain drove the players off.

When they returned, MacLaren and Jackson hit 83 more at a run a minute. After that the deluge. The Australians were unlucky in that our abominable climate had hit half of them with influenza; in a minor sense, on the other hand, they were lucky, not to have to play out the game in that state.

It was the third Test, at Bramall Lane, that gave Australia victory by 143, and a grip on the rubber they never relaxed. "They played the finer all-round cricket," said Wisden judicially, "and fully deserved their victory, but it is more than the truth to say that all the luck of the game went their way. They owed their win to superlative batting by Trumper and Hill and equally splendid bowling by Noble."

England endured the worst of the wicket, the worst of the light, the worst of the decision to leave out Lockwood, and the worst of Barnes's ineffectiveness in the second innings after he had bowled like an angel in the first. On England's side MacLaren and Jessop batted heroically and Rhodes finished Australia's second innings by taking four wickets in 19 balls. As he said of the Oval Test twenty-four years later: "They should have put me on sooner...."

The fourth and fifth games of the rubber were, always excepting the 1960-61 tie at the Gabba, the most dramatic in Test history. Both have been celebrated in nobler prose than mine and it is not for me to paint the lily in recalling the wonder of Trumper, whose pulling on a fast drying wicket was a marvel of ease and certainty or the bowling of Lockwood, recalled after the Sheffield débâcle, who took six for 48 and five for 28; or Jackson's defiant hundred, practically unsupported, or the torments inflicted on the hapless Tate, who missed a vital catch and, after nerve-racking suspense, was bowled, attempting to batter the four which would have won the match.

I will only quote, not Wisden, but Uncle Walter who, to his dying day, believed England's defeat to be a dreadful retribution from on high for leaving out George Hirst. "I knew it would happen," he said. "Things can only go so far...."

The fifth Test at the Oval was Jessop's and only one game in history has been more memorable. Australia's first innings total of 324 looked high enough to win and, when England has six down for 83, it looked higher still. Hirst and Braund rallied the broken ranks and when Hirst, driving furiously, was caught and bowled, England still needed 38 to save the follow-on.

It was Lockwood who saved it, with a mixture of fortitude and fortune, by a mere ten runs, and when Australia batted again, it was Lockwood, whose deadly bowling, backed by grand fielding, pulled the game round.

Everybody knows how England lost MacLaren, Palairet, Tyldesley, Hayward and Braund for 48; how Jessop, joining Jackson, played his early overs quietly and then, first with Jackson and afterwards with Hirst he burst forth in any apocalyptic blend of high art and controlled violence. In an hour and a quarter his score, enriched by a 5 and seventeen 4's, leaped to 104 out of 139.

" ... A more astonishing display," says the temperate chronicler, "has never been seen. What he did would have been scarcely possible under the same circumstances to any other living batsman. The rest of the match was simply one crescendo of excitement...".

Everybody knows, too, how when Rhodes joined Hirst 15 runs were still wanted and how Hirst said, or did not say: "We'll get'em in singles." Fifty years later Rhodes told me it was only a tale and Hirst said: "At a time like that you don't remember what you say." They did not in fact get them in singles but get them they did in their own good time.

This was without question Jessop's match, but close to Jessop came Hirst, bold, imperturbable, the symbol of the bonnie fighter. Scoring 101 for once out, he twice saved the day and the myth that he was no more than a good county player should have lain down and died at the Oval that day.

With so fierce a Test series, you might have imagined the county season to be comparatively dull. Not so. For the third successive time Yorkshire headed the table with three times as many points as Sussex, the runners-up. The method of reckoning was one point for a win, minus one for a loss and nothing for a draw, but no system could have been devised by human brain that would have dislodged Yorkshire from the top.

Systems of rewarding excellence, or indeed of assessing any form of merit, are frequently changed on the grounds that they are unjust to somebody. True, but, in an unjust world, the well-meant changes merely transfer the injustice to someone else. The best teams will still come out on top, the least talented at the bottom, and minor variations will occur only in the middle.

That Yorkshire side which beat the Australians were probably as well equipped as any county team have ever been. With an attack which consisted of Hirst, Rhodes, Haigh and Jackson, nothing could compare with it until the Yorkshire bowling of the 1920's and Surrey's in the 1950's.

Their early batting -- Brown, Tunnicliffe, Jackson and Taylor -- was not quite as strong as that of Sussex -- Fry, Vine, Killick and Ranjitsinhji -- but it was powerful enough for all practical purposes. Denton was developing that cavalier approach which later made him Tyldesley's most dashing rival for the post of England's No. 3; Washington, a maternal uncle of the Kilners, played for Yorkshire and, had illness not shortened his career, would have played for England the left-handed part which Leyland played later with rugged resolution.

Hunter, whose luxuriant moustache challenged even J.J. Kelly's, might well have worn England's gloves, but for Arthur Augustus Lilley, of Warwickshire, who appeared to occupy the place behind the stumps on a long lease. T.L. Taylor (1,517 runs) and Haigh (158 wickets) both had their turn as England's twelfth man and Lord Hawke, then a young 41, was the shrewdest of contemporary captains. I would not argue with anyone who denied that Rhodes was England's best bowler.

Could such a side be beaten? Yes, they could. In their three seasons' triumph Yorkshire lost only two matches, both to Somerset who, under the volatile and exuberant leadership of S.M.J. (Sammy) Woods showed time and again a remarkable talent for the unexpected.

Sammy, an Australian by birth and an England rugby forward by inclination, radiated such elemental force in hard hitting, fast bowling and electrical fielding that he might have been the forerunner of Sir Learie Constantine. His team had, in L.C.H. Palairet, the most purely graceful batsman in the country, who even to-day is looked back on as the epitome of elegance; in Leonard Braund they had a batsman-bowler who, even with Hirst, Lockwood and F.S. Jackson in the reckoning, was often deemed the finest all-rounder of the day.

Yorkshire's progress in 1902 was hard to hinder. On Whit Monday, mainly through the bowling of Sydney Barnes, they were put out by Lancashire for 148 and yet this scanty total gave them an innings win, Jackson taking eight for 13. They beat Warwickshire, Kent, Gloucestershire and Middlesex twice; Nottinghamshire by 227 and Surrey by an innings and 102. The second Middlesex game was almost a recording of the first Roses match. Yorkshire made well under 200, but easily won by an innings. (Rhodes, ten for 56, Haigh, nine for 53).

Immediately after this they met Somerset, on a fiendish wicket at Bramall Lane. Somerset, for whom Palairet and Braund scored 44 for the first wicket, scarcely realised that this would be the best stand of the match. Yorkshire were all at sea with the bowling of Braund and Robson and then, after another bold stand by Palairet and Braund and some furious hitting by Gill, Somerset meekly gave in to Haigh who, taking six for 19, hit the stumps five times, three of them for a hat-trick.

Asked to make a mere 119, Yorkshire were doomed from the start and Braund (nine for 41) demolished them with his whippy leg-breaks. Altogether, he took fifteen for 71 and hit 65. Very few among the other twenty-one players scored 20 for twice out. It was the one occasion of the season when Yorkshire lost their grip on a game and it was Braund who prised it loose.

You could not say there was a dull county. Sussex, the runners-up, could never be tedious with Fry and Ranjitsinhji on their strength, while Nottinghamshire, who came third, leaned a little on the over-forties, as represented by Shrewsbury and William Gunn, but had a fast bowler, Wass, who took 140 wickets and was faster than he looked, which was a feat in itself; this for a county in which Larwood was not to be born for a further two years and Voce for another seven.

Surrey before Hobbs was not necessarily drama before Shakespeare. There have always been outstanding batsmen under the shadow of the gasometers. The firm of Brockwell and Abel was to change to Abel and Hayward before it changed to Hayward and Hobbs. In Hayward's benefit match at the Oval a total of 1,427 runs were scored for 24 wickets and, though the game ended in a draw, it never grew wearisome.

The wicket was good and the batsmen were good; could it be that the bowling was feeble? As the bowlers included Hirst, Rhodes, Haigh, Jackson, Richardson and Lockwood (who took seven for 159) I should say not. Perhaps -- this is a daring suggestion -- they were all enjoying themselves.

In the rest of the 15 counties -- Northamptonshire and Glamorgan were not yet with them -- were many who to-day are freshly remembered. Lancashire's MacLaren was England's captain and Tyldesley England's most dashing professional batsman; Warwickshire gave England in Lilley an almost irreplaceable wicket-keeper; Kent had Blythe, next in prestige to Rhodes; Worcestershire boasted a pride of Fosters, of whom R.E. was the most brilliant; Warren and Bestwick were neither the first nor the last of Derbyshire's dreaded pairs of fast bowlers; Leicestershire had C.J.B. Wood, King and Knight, all more than locally famous; Middlesex glittered almost too brightly for their collective success with such names as P.F. Warner, C.M. Wells, Trott, Hearne (J.T.) and the only begetter of the googly, B.J.T. Bosanquet.

Essex had their twins, Perrin and McGahey; Gloucestershire, though modestly placed, owned the magnificent Jessop, and Hampshire, at the bottom of the table, could be proud of the tireless all-rounder, C.B. Llewellyn, who scored nearly 1,000 runs, took 170 wickets and was in the 14 from whom England's most illustrious eleven were chosen at Edgbaston.

Besides the first-class counties there was London County, captain and secretary, W.G. Grace. This club, founded by W.G. after leaving Gloucestershire under a cloud -- the cloud was the county's, not W. G.'s -- was presided over by the Old Man himself and his friend, W.L. (Billy) Murdoch. The two, nicknaming each other Father and Muvver, rollicked through the season like schoolboys.

At W.G.'s command the club could conscript virtually any cricketer in the land, so that often they could field something like a Test team. In one of their matches at the Crystal Palace against M.C.C. there was a global total of well over 1,000 runs for 30 wickets, garnished with hundreds by C.J.B. Wood, L.O.S. Poidevin and, need you ask, W.G.

In this game played Mr. J. Gilman who, still youthful at 88, has recently told delightful stories of those days, including one of W.G. and Murdoch, who in attempting to alight from a hansom, so vied with each other in elephantine politeness -- "After you, Father." "No, after you, Muvver." -- that their combined thirty-five stone or so went slap through the bottom of the cab.

In the same match appeared the man who, apart from the Graces, was the most celebrated of cricketing doctors, a brisk batsman stumped on his way to a lively 50. There is a legend that, while entering the pavilion at the start of this match, he was accosted by a small autograph-hunting boy.

"Please, sir, is your name Conan Doyle?"

"Yes, sonny. How did you guess?"

"Elementary, my dear Sir Arthur, said the lad. I saw it on your cricket bag."

So we bid farewell to my favourite summer, with a nostalgic glance at the advertisements in my favourite Wisden. You could buy men's white buck leg-guards for 5s. 11d. and guaranteed Australian catgut-sewn cricket balls for 5s.

Best of all there were bats with specially selected blades and handles (I quote) of a particularly resilient nature, price, with double splice, 18s. 6d. That I have survived those golden days so long does not argue any virtue in me, but it does prove one thing.

I am of a particularly resilient nature.

© John Wisden & Co