Sir Walter Scott, from whose part of the world my family came, began his anonymous career as a novelist with a fictional work called Waverley or 'Tis Sixty Years Since. That sub-title, for no special reason, has always fascinated me.
It is not so much that things which happened sixty years ago were more interesting than what happens now; indeed, I hope that as long as I retain a faculty or two, I shall be interested in most things. But, sixty years since, life was less like a ball of string the cat has done its worst with and, if you had a favourite interest, you were at liberty to pursue it without a million distractions. And if you had just passed your thirteenth birthday, and rather liked cricket, it was a wonderful world.
Not many people, especially historians, remember who was Lord Chancellor in 1908. I do. It was Lord Loreburn and I know because John Wisden's Cricketers' Almanack for that year tells me he was also President of the Marylebone Cricket Club, whose annual subscription, if you were allowed the privilege of paying it, appears to have been £1 10s. and whose refreshment department showed a profit of £463 15s. 9d.
"In consequence of this satisfactory position," says the report, "it is proposed to make certain reductions in the charges." Such sublime words have never been repeated in the 1960s by anybody about the price of anything.
By 1907, about which Wisden 1908 so richly informs us, my folk had long been settled in Yorkshire, reserving our nostalgic winter allegiance for Border rugby, but for cricket the county of our adoption was fairly satisfactory.
We in fact, felt that the only unsatisfactory item in Wisden 1908 was that it could not record one of Yorkshire's 30 championships in 1907. The prize had gone to Nottinghamshire and, as I now look back with only mild prejudice, it had gone most deservedly. Yorkshire and a lively Worcestershire, stuffed with Fosters, tied for second place.
It was a horribly wet summer and, trust me, any man with sixty Wisdens on his shelves is bound to know more about the English climate than the B.B.C. weather boys with their chatter about weak fronts and troughs of low pressure. (I have in recent seasons watched dreary pairs of opening batsmen whom the phrase "associated troughs of low pressure" would exactly fit.)
So gruesome was the weather that in the Champions' two fixtures with Yorkshire only an hour and a quarter's play could be salvaged from six days. It was, as you would imagine, a bowler's, not a batsman's, year. Only three made 2,000 runs and these were Hayward, Hobbs and Johnny Tyldesley, all batsmen with reasonable claims to places in an all-time world eleven. Notts, the champions, did not boast a single batsman who made 1,000, though, to be fair, both Jack and George Gunn reached the 900s.
On the other hand 19 bowlers took 100 wickets, nine took 150, and one, George Dennett of Gloucestershire, whom I saw capture twelve in a match against my own county, took 201. The five Cricketers of the Year were all bowlers -- is this a record? -- though, again to be fair, one of them, Frank Tarrant, the Middlesex Australian, batted enterprisingly enough to do the double, a feat he was to repeat seven times.
The landmark in bowling, of course, was the visit of a South African team which lost the rubber in the only Test which the rain allowed to be finished, but otherwise cantered brilliantly through a long fixture list and undoubtedly earned a reputation as the most richly versatile bowling side that ever went on tour.
Their four googly bowlers, R.O. Schwartz, A.E.E. Volgar, G.A. Faulkner and G.C. White, were the most formidable, the first two being chosen as Wisden's Cricketers of the Year, but they had four more, all exceptionally gifted, including J.H. Sinclair, medium fast, and J.J. Kotze, who bowled at terrifying speed and devoutly murmured as he galloped towards you: "O Lord, shiver his timbers." In a drier season he might have shivered more timbers than he actually did.
But it was the googly men who took the season by storm and the most intimidating thing about them was their pace off the pitch on the slow wickets of 1907. It was said that they were "like Briggs in the air and Tom Richardson off the ground." Or, in more modern terms, you must imagine, say a West Indian bowler with an action like Lance Gibbs who could make who could make the ball leap at your stumps like Wesley Hall.
Now we know that the original inventor of the googly -- why doesn't the Post Office issue a stamp? -- was B.J.T. Bosanquet of Middlesex, who had exploited it with fearful success three years before in Australia, but the South African quartet were its devoted foster-parents.
Bosanquet taught it to Schwarz, who also played for Middlesex, and Schwarz taught it to the others. Some of the others were cleverer still, though, so bewildering was the variety of their attack that English batsmen were never sure whether A, B, C or D gave them the most sleepless nights.
They all bowled with an action which promised a leg-break, but could make the ball whip in from the off. Schwarz was the most successful throughout the tour with 137 wickets, but Vogler, who took 119, was reckoned by the England captain, R.E. Foster, the best in the world.
Schwarz on a sticky wicket was capable of breaking a yard and the batsman only had the slightest respite when the ball broke far too much. Volger, after a short, apologetic run, would bowl with diabolically deceptive variations of flight and pace and every couple of overs would deliver a wrong'un that fizzed like a Chinese cracker. He twice bowled C. B. Fry, the master of scientific batting, with a slow yorker and he did not so much swing the ball as make it quiver like a bird on the wing.
Gordon White and Aubrey Faulkner were not so clever; they merely had their days of devastation, as when Faulkner took six for 17 when England were all out at Headingley for 76.
England won this match, but only after a nerve-racking struggle. The wicket was wet all through and it was a strategic error to play N.A. Knox, a bowler as timber-shivering as Kotze, but a mere passenger on so soft a pitch.
Starting between showers, England scored 34 for one before lunch and then the rest of the side disintegrated before Faulkner. Breaking both ways, he completely bamboozled every batsman except Hayward, who defended imperturbably, and Hirst, who, knowing all about wet wickets at Leeds, went out and clobbered him.
South Africa did not do much better against the superb slow left-hand bowling of Colin Blythe who, like the violinist he was, played on the batsmen's hesitations with the skill of a virtuoso. Blythe had been preferred to Rhodes, who, though he took 177 wickets that year, was rightly suspected of batting too well. Two years later he was to go in first for England.
This was Blythe's finest hour, even though two months before he had taken all ten wickets in Nottinghamshire's first innings, and seven in the second, making 17 for 48 in a single day.
Nevertheless, the reason why I still count Rhodes the greatest of all bowlers is that he returned after the war to increase his career's bag of wickets to 4,187 and to play a vital part in England's recovery of the Ashes at the age of 48 years 10 months. Blythe, alas, alas, did not come back.
In spite of Blythe, South Africa struggled along and, with the comfort of some flabby fielding and a bit of brave banging about for the eighth wicket, they established a lead of 34. Now England were in disarray.
There remained three frightful quarters of an hour before close of play and Fry had to use all his compelling charm -- I can just hear him using it -- to persuade his captain not to fritter away the evening with ineffective night watchmen. Fry himself and Hayward went in and survived the twilight till six-thirty. The captain almost shed tears of gratitude.
The next day the weather was worse, the wicket was vile and there were four interruptions before lunch. Fry, who made 54, was second out at 100. In his career he made 94 hundreds, six of them in succession, but none better, as he admitted to me many years later, than that 54 at Headingley. "I choose to flatter myself," he said, with a genuine modesty indistinguishable from arrogance, "that this was a good innings."
The rain that ended second day was so intense that there seemed no hope for the third day, but a windy night made play possible and the South African bowlers, especially White made mincemeat of the rest of England's innings. They were, therefore, set only 139 to win, which hardly seemed impossible, but they lost two wickets for three, survived a slip-chance and then fled from the rain.
Both sides were gluttons for punishment and, when they went out again, a pitched battle was fought for every run. Hirst and then Arnold bowled tightly at one end and Blythe, at the other, bowled even better than in the first innings.
Wickets fell: three for ten, four for 16, five for 18. Faulkner and Snooke dug in, defending in a manner foreign to their lively natures, and held the broken line for an hour, but temptation became irresistible and Faulkner hit up a high catch to Foster at point. Resistance was broken, Blythe was unplayable, the end was in sight.
Nineteen runs were more or less blindly hit for the ninth and tenth wickets and then Vogler sent up a towering skyer which seemed to hang aloft interminably as Johnny Tyldesley tore round the boundary. As it fell, he made a final leap, rolled over and came up, like a driver, with the ball in one hand.
With the match won, Blythe had to be helped to the pavilion. Immense concentration on every ball of 22.4 beautiful overs had drained every drop of his quivering nervous energy. Years later, Fry recalled the scene. "It wasn't so much that he took fifteen wickets in the match; it was that in 136 balls he never bowled a single one that was of less than perfect length, knowing, as we all knew, that three bad overs at any time in that innings could have lost us the match."
Of the other Cricketers of the Year two were the Notts. bowlers, Hallam and Wass, whose strongly contrasted talents formed the main reason for their county's first clear triumph in twenty-one years.
Hallam was slow and Wass was fast and between them they took 319 wickets (298 in county games); twice they bowled right through a match and eight times right through an innings, and the next bowler to them in the county tables was John Gunn, each of whose 37 wickets cost more than twice as much as any of Hallam's or Wass's. Nobody else in the wicket-taking line seems to have reached double figures.
So much for the modern theory that you must start with three pairs of seam bowlers in turn, all almost exactly alike and all entitled to a stint by the clock before you put on a slow bowler to give the batsmen a chance. Imagine putting on Rhodes, Blythe or Dennett for that purpose...
Hallam, a Nottinghamshire lad, had wandered a bit, first with Leicestershire and then, for six seasons, with Lancashire, but when he settled in his native shire he took on the mantle of Dick Attewell. He was the sort of bowler who looked easy to play from the press-box, but he made the batsman play every ball and, as P.F. Warner said, "if you made a good score against Hallam, you were apt to feel a better batsman than you had ever thought you were."
When chosen as a Cricketer of the Year, he was thirty-five, a pretty advanced age for the honour.
Tom Wass, also around thirty-five, was a different cup of tea, if that is the right expression. He was born at Sutton-in-Ashfield, where practically every baby born had the chance of growing up a famous cricketer. As Lascelles Hall was to Yorkshire cricketers, so Sutton-in-Ashfield was a nursery, not only for Notts. men, but for cricketers everywhere.
It would have been possible to raise a formidable team of Sutton-in-Ashfield exiles scattered round the counties and, in fact, an ill-natured joke in the form of a satirical greeting card, which suggested that Sutton-in-Ashfield merely existed to be raided for players, almost caused an embittered quarrel between Notts. and Lancashire.
Tom Wass was a character. There has been in every age a fast bowler who was a rough diamond and this phenomenon is more frequently found in the north where they suspect the genuineness of their diamonds unless they are rough. His forthright comments were quoted with shocked glee round the dressing-rooms. Once when Gloucestershire score nearly 700 against his side, he exclaimed: "If they'd only turn this flamin' wicket upside down, I'd...show'em."
Tom was a grand bowler. That year he had taken six for 3 against M.C.C. at Lord's and twice in his career he took 16 wickets in a day. On the other hand, he was neither a master-batsman nor a hawk-eyed fielder and Wisden, in one of its classic understatements, says that "when an easy catch goes his way the batsman has a feeling of hopefulness..."
Once when playing at The Oval, he arrived at the gate, accompanied by his wife, and was told by the attendant that the lady could not be admitted free. "Right," said Tom, "if this so-and-so don't come in, then this so-and-so" -- he thumped his chest -- "don't play neither!" Take him for all in all, he was a cricketing character of the old school and a main reason for Nottinghamshire's well deserved victory.
Besides their two master bowlers, they had enough batting to overhaul any score the enemy might put up without being top-heavy. John Gunn, who played for England half a dozen times and his brother, George, that wayward genius, whose playing life was to last 30 years and bring him 35,000 runs, headed the batting along with their captain, A.O. Jones, a forceful leader, an entertaining bat and one of the best three slip-fielders in the country, the other two being Braund and Tunnicliffe. The all-round fielding had no superior among the counties with the skipper at slip, John Gunn at cover, and Hardstaff (old Joe, father of the more brilliant young Joe) in the deep.
Four members of this businesslike eleven, George Gunn, Jack Gunn, Hardstaff and Jones, who captained M.C.C.'s 1907-08 team in Australia, were to have 38 England caps between them. One was to wait another four years for his one crowded hour of glory. His name was Edward Alletson.
Their secret was team-work, in the sense that in match after match they were able to put the same eleven into the field and their only serious setback occurred when Oates, their wicket-keeper, who had injured a hand, was replaced (for two matches only) by a capable deputy.
Remember, we were still in the Golden Age, which, when you think of Hallam and Wass and consider the figures of Haigh, whose average was only a decimal point above Hallam's, Hirst (188 wickets), Blythe (183), Tarrant (177) and Dennett (201), was, that year at any rate, a golden age of bowling.
Yet there were classic batsmen in every county. Worcestershire, who shared second place with Yorkshire, had three members of the famous Foster family; H.K., G.N. and R.E. England's Test captain for the season; Surrey had Hayward, Hobbs, and Hayes (who scored nearly 2,000 runs), just as Lancashire had MacLaren, Spooner and Johnnie Tyldesley.
Kent, who had splendidly headed the table the year before, had a poor season, in spite of the fine bowling of Blythe and Fielder, mainly owing to an accident to K.L. Hutchings; this came from a terrific blow on the hand from J.J. Kotze, which kept him from the crease for five vital weeks.
You could go right down the county table and find players of England quality: Sussex, thirteenth, had C.B. Fry, head of the first class (and Test) averages and George Cox (senior), who took 164 wickets, while Derbyshire, the bottom county, provided in the sterling Joe Humphries, a wicket-keeper for the M.C.C.'s Australian tour. Gloucestershire, parked somewhere near the top of the table's bottom half, had the most exciting batsman in England, probably the most exciting in the game's history.
We know broadly who have impressed us with their soundness, their artistry, their elegance, or, possibly, with their combination of the excellences. But excitement? Bradman, obviously, but who to-day excites? The last England batsman to set the pulses wildly beating was E.R. Dexter. Colin Milburn excites hopes of excitement and I should hate to miss Roy Marshall when in town. There are others -- Sobers, Kanhai, Graeme Pollock, Majid -- who are exciting enough, but they are not for us every day.
In 1907 there was no argument. The most exciting batsman in the world was G.L. Jessop, captain of Gloucestershire. I had never see him till that year, but his reputation, even among Yorkshire schoolboys, was stupendous. He had on our own ground, ten years before, hit 43 out of 54 before lunch and then, off another eight overs, taken another 58 out of 64 in a further 19 minutes.
My step-Uncle Walter, who had seen every ball of this innings, recalled it as magnificent, but as also a kind of impiety, like brawling in church, because the outrage was committed against such eminent bowlers as George Hirst, Ted Wainwright, F. W. Milligan and (how dare he?) F. S. Jackson.
In the match I saw he scored at almost the same pace. From the first moment there was tension. Yorkshire began with a feeble first innings, of which Rhodes, batting at No.1, made more than half. In their reply Gloucestershire led by only three runs, in spite of masterly batting by C. L. Townsend, making his one appearance of the summer.
Then Yorkshire lost six wickets quickly and were only saved by a long stand, running into the next day, between two colts, Hubert Myers and Bates, son of the more famous Billy Bates. Between them they also contributed more than half of the total and, with some honest thumping by Haigh, Yorkshire were able to ask Gloucestershire to make 234 to win.
Three wickets fell to Hirst and then Jessop came in. He was no physical giant, but, like Bradman, short, compact and finely proportioned. What astonished us most was his stance, for he bent low to take guard; then, as the ball was delivered, he straightened...and struck.
It is hard to describe, but it seemed like an artillery barrage. His square-cutting was as ferocious as his driving and his drives seemed propelled by a howitzer. When his successive partners had the strike, the fielders crept in; when Jessop was receiving, they retreated as from the wrath to come.
Boundary followed boundary and the only time the scoring slackened was when Jessop with a hurricane sweep, sent the ball flying over the stand beyond the mid-wicket boundary and out of our ken for ever. In half an hour by my five shilling Ingersoll watch he scored 74 and when he got 15 more off four further strokes, Schofield Haigh bowled him an apocalyptic breakback.
Everybody stood up on their seats and shouted, as though Mafeking had been relieved all over again. This was the beginning of the end and Rhodes easily polished off the rest.
I have two further memories of this match: one is of the heavily moustached George Dennett, who captured a dozen Yorkshire wickets with his easy rhythmic stuff. In his career he took 2,147 wickets, but never played for England, for the true but cruel reason that he was only the third best of his kind at the time.
Even in this wet summer, which gave him more than 200 wickets, Blythe was preferred and, on Test performance, rightly. But I will swear that, if George was not good enough for England, the standard was incredibly high.
The other point was personal. Early the first morning I stood, gaping, with two school friends, waiting for the odd player to come out to the nets. The enemy were mostly anonymous, but...him we recognised from countless photographs and a certain impatience of step. He had a bat under his arm and, by some conjuring trick, produced three cricket balls. "Come on, boys," he said, "bowl me out."
Friend A bowled and the ball soared straight across the ground, hitting the entrance gate with a bang. Friend B, whoever he was, bowled and the ball rose, across the ground again, but higher.
Then, while the batsman scanned the horizon to see where it had gone, the third bowler, unable to control a reflex action, bowled and hit G. L. Jessop's off-stump. I did not feel, as did Arthur Mailey on a similar occasion, like a boy who had shot a dove. I was numbed. We went on bowling, if I remember rightly, till all the balls had disappeared, but the numbness, as you may perceive, has not worn off yet.
I did not need my precious 1908 Wisden to remind me of Jessop's vengeance. It is now regularly recorded in every Wisden. At Hastings Festival, playing for Gentlemen of the South against Players of the South, whose bowlers included Woolley, Fairservice, Vine, Humphreys, Albert Relf and our old friend, George Dennett, Jessop hit 191 in an hour and a half; the first 50 in 24 minutes, the second in 18 and the third in 21.
And if you think his last 41 runs took a long time, you must remember that, besides his 30 fours, he hammered the ball out of the ground so often and so dangerously that the citizens must have thought it was 1066 all over again. This slowed his scoring rate and slightly spoiled his figures.
To glance through Wisden's Obituary pages is not morbid; you may learn something of value, if only that man is mortal. In this year, among other good men, died H.F. Boyle, the Australian bowler who helped Spofforth to destroy England in the original Ashes match of 1882; and Harvey Fellows, who, sixty years before, bowled so fast in the Eton v. Harrow match that there were 38 byes and 15 wides in the first innings and 28 byes and 4 wides in the second.
Alfred Shaw in a career of over 30 seasons took over 2,000 wickets, did the hat-trick three times, including a double one, and once captured seven for 7 against M.C.C. in 41 overs, of which 36 were maidens. His chief assets were his steely accuracy and the benevolently bearded aspect which masked his guile. He never bowled a wide in his life.
Lastly, poor Ted Pooley, the Surrey stumper who did not keep wicket in the first of all Tests, because he happened to be languishing in gaol, through no particular fault of his own, 1,200 miles away. But that is too long a story....The highest compliment ever paid him came from the tough old bruiser, Jem Mace. "Pooley," he said, "I'd rather stand up against any man in England for an hour than stand behind those stumps for five minutes. When that ball hits you, it's like hitting a brick wall."
Wisden's last words on Pooley were exquisitely compassionate: "He was in many ways his own enemy, but even to the last he had a geniality and sense of humour that to a certain extent condoned his weakness...."
May heaven grant me so kindly an epitaph.