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In the year 1886, when the death of Gordon was on everyone's lips; when gold was discovered beneath the Transvaal dust; when Joey Chamberlain and Aston Villa were twin gods in Birmingham -- William Ansell secured a lease of land from the Calthorpe Estate in Edgbaston, for the use of the Warwickshire County Cricket Club, which had been formed two years previously.
Those were the spacious days when cricket was what it used to be. Overarm bowling had been cautiously permitted, but you only had four deliveries in an over. Cricket was luxurious and simple, relaxed and leisurely, fast and furious; cricket was as straightforward and paradoxical as it is today.
In 1894 the club was admitted to first-class status. In those days, when the players sat down to luncheon, there was salmon -- for the amateurs, and cod -- for the professionals. One of the early professionals was Jack Shilton, a left-arm bowler with a fast yorker. He was a Yorkshireman and a bit of a card.
Once, when a member asked him whom he considered the greatest bowler in England, he replied modestly, "It isn't for me to say, sir!" Another member requested his services at the nets. He bowled his fastest and best for an hour, the member thanked him, and presented him with -- twopence! Jack Shilton's comment on this incident is not recorded.
Visiting professionals were boarded at hotels, the amateurs as guests at private houses. When Yorkshire came over in 1896, Lord Hawke, F.S. Jackson and F.W. Milligan stayed with G.H. Cartland (a great name in Warwickshire cricket).
This was the famous occasion when Yorkshire batted for two days and made the record score for a county of 887. Cartland's revenge on the second day was swift and terrible -- he knocked off the amateurs' champagne -- had Lord Hawke known that such an effective form of sanctions was to be introduced, he might well have declared with a mere 700 on the board!
In 1898, Joe Manton, a good club cricketer (he was later to become a great headmaster), who had learnt the game at King Edward's, Birmingham, found himself at the Oval deputising as captain for H.W. Bainbridge. Walking in to bat, he was greeted by Tom Richardson -- "Full toss on the leg side, sir!" Joe Manton missed it. Tom Richardson obligingly bowled him another full toss, which was hit for four. Then he edged a single. His next ball was Joe Manton's last in county cricket.
1902 saw the first Test Match at Edgbaston and the Australians were all out for 36. Warwickshire's Dick Lilley was playing for England. But the wet summer meant a disastrous season. £1,500 had been spent on building a new stand, and introducing other improvements. Warwickshire's share for the Australian tour was £750, and the county faced the first of many financial crises.
The hot blazing summer of 1911 marked the meteoric rise to fame of Frank Rowbotham Foster. Offered the captaincy at the age of 22, he had accepted with hesitation: half-way through the season the side was bottom but one in the championship table, then came victory after victory: all depended on the last game, against Northamptonshire -- and Warwickshire were champion county: never previously had they been higher than fifth.
Foster's personal share was 1,459 runs and 124 wickets. Septimus Kinneir topped the batting averages, and Frank Field took 128 wickets: the Warwickshire team -- C.S. Baker, C. Charlesworth, F.E. Field, F.R. Foster, W.C. Hands, S.P. Kinneir, A.A. Lilley, J.H. Parsons, W.G. Quaife, S. Santall, E.J. Smith, F.G. Stephens.
Mr. Punch celebrated the occasion with a cartoon in which Shakespeare -- who himself had a birth qualification for the county -- greets Foster with the quotation "Warwick, thou art worthy!" to which the latter replies. "Tell Kent from me she hath lost."
Wisden spoke highly of F.R. Foster, commenting: "Not since W.G. Grace in the early days of the Gloucestershire XI has so young a captain been such a match-winning force on the county side. Foster was always getting runs, always taking wickets, and, over and above all this, he proved himself a truly inspiring leader." At the end of the season A. A. (Dick) Lilley retired, having served the county for twenty-four years: he had claimed 626 victims for Warwickshire, and no fewer than 84 against the Australians.
Foster himself had comparatively poor seasons in the next two years, but in 1914 he was back in form, scoring 1,396 runs and taking 117 wickets. He made his highest score, 305 not out, against Worcestershire, putting on 166 with E.J. Smith in seventy minutes. He was injured in a motor cycle accident, and his cricket career was tragically terminated at the age of twenty-five.
Another brilliant and all too brief career was that of Percy Jeeves, a fast-medium right-arm bowler, with a great deal of life off the pitch, and an enormous zest for the game. Percy Jeeves only played for two seasons. He took a hundred wickets in 1913, his first full season. Many people believed that he had a great Test Match career in front of him: he was killed in action in 1916, at the age of twenty-eight.
Incidentally, it was very interesting to learn recently from Mr. P.G. Wodehouse that the latter got the name for his inimitable butler as a direct result of seeing Percy Jeeves playing for Warwickshire versus Gloucestershire at Cheltenham in 1913. "I suppose that Jeeves's bowling must have impressed me," he writes, "for I remembered him in 1916 when I was in New York and starting the Jeeves and Bertie saga."
After the war, Warwickshire, like all the other counties, had to start again. The Hon. F.S.G. Calthorpe captained the side from 1920 to 1929. He and Harry Howell shouldered most of the bowling. W.G. Quaife occasionally chipping in with his artful slows -- the majority of the fielders spread round the boundary!
The effortless grace of Calthorpe's curving run up to the crease was something quite unforgettable; at the other end, Birmingham's own Harry Howell laboured with valiant gusto. They had their day of glory when they skittled out Hampshire for 15 runs in 53 balls -- but Fate wasn't always so kind to them!
In 1930 R.E.S. Wyatt became captain: before the outbreak of the second war he had received almost every honour that the game has to offer. In 1928 he had become the first Warwickshire player to score 2,000 runs for the county. A fine fielder, he achieved a fantastic swing with the new ball.
J.H. (Danny) Mayer, perhaps the greatest English bowler who never represented his country, had taken over from Harry Howell -- and once got both Hobbs and Sandham out in the first over of the game. Derek Foster, Wyatt and George Paine gave him support, but often the bowling lacked penetration.
The batting at its best was superlative. Apart from Wyatt, there was J.H. Parsons (now the Rev. Canon J.H. Parsons), who played both for the Players and for the Gentlemen, and who once hit four sixes in succession; Tiger Smith and Arthur Croom, who were consistent; Reggie Santall, who once scored 173 before lunch; Calthorpe, tantalisingly brilliant; the classical Len Bates; the prolific Norman Kilner; and the famous, diminutive Willie Quaife, who scored 71 centuries, the last of them at the age of fifty-six.
The best example of the amazing heights that batting could reach occurred in 1925: set 392 to win in four hours against Sussex, Warwickshire scored the runs, for the loss of one wicket, in three hours and a quarter, Smith (139 not out), Parsons (124) and Calthorpe (109 not out) were the batsmen concerned.
In 1932, Eric Hollies, and in 1934, H.E. (Tom) Dollery, started playing for the county: by 1939 they were established members of a promising side, now led by Peter Cranmer. They were three young players who should have been at their peak between 1939 and 1945: history decreed otherwise.
In 1946, as in 1919, it was a case of starting again. The side was fortunate in having Peter Cranmer available as captain. In 1948 Eric Hollies bowled twice against the redoubtable Bradman and got him out twice. The next year Tom Dollery became Warwickshire's first professional captain. Writing in Wisden (1950) M.F.K. Fraser referred to the committee's confidence that the championship would be won "in the near future."
And in 1951 they did it. As was the case forty years before, they were inspired by an enterprising captain with a tremendous flair for tactics. Tom Dollery had the intuition necessary in generalship: he had the intuition of the gambler who wins. His timing of declarations was splendid; he would give seemingly innocent runs away to the opposition, who were thus lured to destruction.
He was remarkably sensitive to atmosphere: on going into the dressing room in the morning he could often sense which of his bowlers was likely to command success. In addition, he himself was one of the greatest No. 5 batsmen the game has ever known, with a truly remarkable capacity for playing to the needs of a particular game. One piece of good fortune attended him -- this all-professional team went through the season without injury.
He had some fine bowlers. Once, C.B. Harris of Nottinghamshire, going in to face Pritchard's express deliveries, passing the alert array of Warwickshire slip fielders, greeted them unforgettably -- "Good morning, fellow workers!" And Eric Hollies, wreathed in sweaters and smiles, would mutter gleefully when called on: "What they get off me they've got to earn!"
Pritchard and Grove were more than effective as opening bowlers; Hollies took 145 wickets; Weeks fought, and eventually won, a fascinating duel with Denis Compton at Lord's, whilst Townsend, says Wisden, "often came to the rescue by breaking an awkward stand." Of the batsmen, Dollery, Spooner -- later to keep wicket for England -- Gardner, Ord and Wolton all reached their thousand runs.
A factor that contributed to the side's success was the brilliant close in fielding, especially that of Spooner, Townsend at slip, Dollery -- of course! -- and Gardner.
A cricket writer referred to Warwickshire as this extraordinary team of ordinary cricketers -- though anyone who could believe Dollery and Hollies to be ordinary cricketers could believe anything. Dollery himself said: You will see many better cricket teams, but I doubt if you will see a keener one. And I know that there never has been a more loyal one, not only to the club but to the captain.
The champions of 1951 were as follows: H.E. Dollery, F.C. Gardner, C.W. Grove, R.E. Hitchcock, W.E. Hollies, J.S. Ord, T.L. Pritchard, R.T. Spooner, A. Townsend, R.T. Weeks, A.V. Wolton, Donald Taylor.
It would be invidious to try to compare the relative merits of the two championship sides, but it should be said that two entirely different scoring systems were in operation. In 1911 a percentage method was employed; Somerset played only sixteen matches Lancashire and Surrey thirty -- Warwickshire played twenty matches, but they didn't play either Kent or Middlesex who came second and third.
In 1951 all the counties played 28 matches, 12 points being awarded for a win, and 4 for first-innings lead: Warwickshire played Yorkshire, their nearest rivals, twice -- and won both matches.
1952-1956 were years of transition. The county's most exciting game during this period was the epic encounter with the Australians, played immediately before the Final Test in 1953. Set 165 to win in two hours, fifty minutes, the Australians were only too thankful to survive with 53 for five, scored in 59 overs, Lindsay Hassett protecting even Keith Miller from the wiles of Eric Hollies!
The old order changed. Dollery (1955) and Hollies (1957) retired. Hamlet without the Prince was perhaps a faint possibility; Warwickshire without Dollery and Hollies seemed inconceivable. Leslie Deakins wrote of the latter: "We at Edgbaston will always remember him in the mind's eye as we saw him in his great days when the ritual never varied -- the removal of the cap, the sweater, the marking of the run, the reflected pleasure in the feel of the ball, the easy run, the smooth action, and that unexpectedly vicious follow through." His tally of victims was 2,323: one of his greatest achievements was when he took all ten wickets against Nottinghamshire without the help of a fielder.
A new era began in 1957, when Michael Smith took over the leadership of a young and talented side. New names were appearing on the score cards -- Horner, Bannister, Ibadulla, Abberley, Amiss, David Brown, Cartwright, Jameson, the last of the Richardsons, Alan Smith -- the fourth Warwickshire player to keep wicket for England -- W.J. Stewart.
Michael Smith proved himself a captain in the accepted tradition. He set a splendid example in the field, snapping up catches within a yard of the bat, and scoring 2,000 runs in his first season for the county.
The side would do anything for Michael Smith, with his apparently casual approach to the game, his dry sense of fun and his ability to command respect by example. It was a thousand pities that in his decade of captaincy the team never quite pulled off the championship that they so richly deserved.
In his first two years as captain, the side achieved mediocre results, but in 1959 they finished fourth -- and very nearly won the title. "Michael Smith fired the side with his own enthusiasm for real and purposeful cricket" says the Annual Report (1959), "and backed by his magnificent personal achievements which made him the first player in the country to aggregate over 3,000 runs for ten years, the team as a whole responded splendidly."
Seven players scored twenty centuries between them; during the season 100 sixes were hit; including 17 by W.J. Stewart in one match against Lancashire: all over the country cricket crowds flocked to see Warwickshire play.
1960 was a disappointing season, chiefly because of disappointing weather; but Horner and Ibadulla had an unbroken first-wicket stand of 377 against Surrey. In the next year the team did a little better, finishing twelfth compared with fifteenth.
The years 1962-1967 were probably Warwickshire's best six consecutive seasons since the Club was formed. In 1962 the team finished third, missing the championship by the narrowest of margins; Cartwright performed the double -- the first player for the county to do so since F.R. Foster -- M.J.K. Smith, Stewart and Ibadulla all scored 2,000 runs; Bannister, Cartwright and Wright took 100 wickets; A.C. Smith had 78 victims behind the stumps. M.J.K. Smith made 48 catches, including 6 in one innings against Leicestershire.
In 1963 the team finished fifth; about mid-August there was an outside chance of winning the title, but the last three matches were lost to the rain, rather than the opposition. The advent of R.W. Barber to the side -- on his day the most exciting batsman in England -- was a great acquisition.
In 1964 Warwickshire made a glorious challenge both for the championship and for the Gillette Cup. The championship soon resolved itself into a struggle for supremacy with Worcestershire, the latter eventually drawing away by mid-August. R.V. Webster's analysis in the match against Yorkshire needs no comment:
Against the Australians R.W. Barber batted splendidly to score a century before lunch. The county reached the final of the Gillette Cup competition but came to grief against Sussex, when N.I. Thomson bowled excellently in the humid morning atmosphere.
The next year produced a mild relapse, the team finishing eleventh; and losing by 20 runs to Yorkshire in the semi-final of the Gillette Cup. Rain seemed to follow Warwickshire everywhere. Asked by an interviewer to explain the county's relatively low position, Michael Smith replied with justification that you can't win matches if you can't get on to the field.
In 1966 the team finished sixth. The highlight here was a three wicket victory in a low-scoring match against Yorkshire at Hull. In this year Warwickshire won the Gillette Cup, thanks to enterprising batting and a splendid battery of seam bowlers.
Victories against Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Somerset were followed by the defeat of Worcestershire in the final. Accurate bowling (Cartwright three for 16 in 12 overs) and a brilliant catch by Ibadulla to dismiss Graveney confined Worcestershire to 155 in 60 overs: victory was achieved fairly comfortably by 5 wickets.
In a superbly played challenge match against the West Indies, the latter scored 257 for four at five runs an over. Warwickshire batted bravely, Barber scoring 63 and Amiss 76, losing in the end by 19 runs.
In 1967 Warwickshire were once again foiled by the weather in the early part of the season, and in the Gillette Cup the team lost a rain-ridden match to Somerset. Better results were achieved in the sunshine, the team eventually finishing tenth. Amiss was second in the batting averages, Cartwright third in the bowling averages. The team included seven players who have represented their country in Test Matches -- and the famous Lance Gibbs will be available this year.
Running more or less parallel to Michael Smith's captaincy has been the remarkable development of the Supporters' Club, with the result that Warwickshire, long accustomed to struggling from one financial crisis to another, now have no money problems. With a membership of 700,000 paying a shilling a week, the Supporters' Club has spent £750,000 on the redevelopment of the Edgbaston ground as a Test Match centre; including--putting first things first--the completion of an Indoor Cricket School. The organising geniuses behind all this are Mr. and Mrs. David Blakemore.
No survey of Warwickshire cricket would be complete without reference to H.W. Bainbridge, L.C. Docker, C.A.F. Hastilow and Edmund King, stalwarts who between them have notched nearly two centuries of service to the Club, as players and as administrators; Lt.-General Sir Oliver Leese, Bt., the President of the Club, is the only man with Warwickshire associations to have become President of the M.C.C.
The county has been fortunate in having three outstanding secretaries, passionately devoted to the game in general and to the Club in particular; and three great groundsmen -- John Bates, Ted Leyland and Bernard Flack, who have made Edgbaston what Colin Cowdrey has called one of the three best cricket grounds in the world.
George Austin scored every run for the two championship sides. Sydney Santall, bowler, coach, cricket historian, served the Club valiantly for fifty years. E.J. Smith -- the incomparable Tiger -- played in the championship team of 1911, and coached the championship team of 1951. Now, at eighty-one, he still helps the versatile Derief Taylor -- who came from Jamaica as a player and remained as a coach -- at the Indoor Cricket School. "The gatemen are beginning to know me now!" says Tiger with a Falstaffian chuckle, and with that characteristic wicked twinkle in his eye.
Michael Smith -- the only Warwickshire player to have been appointed M.C.C. captain in Australia -- has, alas, retired. We can rest assured that his successor, Alan Smith, will live up to the county tradition -- that of playing cricket as it should be played.
You can do worse.