Sometimes he bowled too superbly, 1969

Brian Statham - Gentleman George

Sir Neville Cardus

'The whole man of him was the effortless and natural dynamo and life-force of his attack' © The Cricketer International
Lancashire County Cricket has enjoyed a long and sequential lineage of fast bowlers, though one or two of those in the succession were, so to say, born under a bar sinister - in other words, two of them, Crossland and Mold, blotted the escutcheon because they were throwers or chuckers of the ball.

Two Lancastrian fast bowlers satisfied the severest tests of breeding and deportment, Brearley and Brian Statham; but only one fast bowler playing for my native county could stand comparison, in point of classic poise and action, against Statham, and he was an Australian, none other than E.A. McDonald.

I make a great compliment both to Statham and to the ghost of Ted McDonald by coupling their names. McDonald's action was as easy and as rhythmical as music, and so was Statham's.

Purist critics, during Statham's first seasons, suggested that as his right arm swung over, the batsman was able to see too much of his chest; the left shoulder didn't point the way of the flight down the wicket.

The truth about Statham's action is that it was so elastic and balanced (and double-jointed) that there was no forward shoulder rigidity possible; his movement, from the beginning of his run to deliver, to the final accumulated propulsion, had not an awkward angle in it at all.

The whole man of him, from his first swinging steps of approach to the launching of the ball from the right foot, was the effortless and natural dynamo and life-force of his attack. He wasn't called "The Whippet" for nothing.

Fast bowlers, as a rule, are aggressive by nature, rough-hewn and physically overbearing. Statham, like McDonald, was unruffled of temper, almost deceptively pacific. I have seen McDonald lose control and let fly a fusillade of unbeautiful bouncers, wasting fuel, or petrol, like a perfectly engineered car back-firing going up hill. Never have I seen the equanimity of Statham's temperament or technique rendered out of harmony for a minute.

Again, resembling McDonald, he found, in Test cricket, his ideal foils and contrasts. McDonald came to the front when J.M. Gregory was his collaborator in pace; he was the piercing lance to the bludgeon of Gregory. Likewise Statham was the flash of lightning to the thunder of Trueman or the typhoon of Tyson.

Did Statham ever send down a wide? He was marvellously accurate in direction; not even Larwood equalled Statham's persistent certainty of length and direction. To describe him as a seamer is libellous. He could bring the ball back viciously -- and the Press Box would tell us that he "did it off the seam", which is a phrase that is meaningless; moreover, it is a phrase which would have us believe that a bowler can, while achieving rare velocity of flight, drop the ball's seam exactly where he would like it to drop.

I imagine that Statham's break-back was, like Tom Richardson's, caused by body-swing, with the right arm sweeping across the ball's direction at the last split-second of release. I have been told by more than one batsman -- in two hemispheres -- that Statham has cleaned bowled them, middle or leg stump, by balls pitching outside the off -- and during flight tending to swing away to the slips. There is no answer to this trick, as the South Africans were obliged to admit at Lord's in the Test match of 1955; Statham on this occasion bowled 56 overs: two for 49 first innings, seven for 39 second, relieved by a two-hour weather break.

At the age of twenty, Statham provoked some sensation in the Lancashire v Yorkshire match at Old Trafford, 1950, by taking five wickets for 52, in the ancient enemy's first innings. On the strength, maybe, of this performance he was flown out, with Tattersall, as reinforcements for F.R. Brown's gallant team in Australia, 1950-51.

These two Lancashire lads arrived in what must have seemed to them then a truly foreign climate; for they had been rushed out of an English winter, still unnourished in a post-rationed environment, to a land of plenty. They came to Sydney looking as though each had escaped from a Lowry canvas, lean and hungry.

Statham did not play in a Test match during this rubber; in fact he found the Australian air rather a strain on his breathing apparatus. Nonetheless, he took eleven wickets at 20 runs each against State and Country XI's and in New Zealand.

'Never have I seen the equanimity of Statham's temperament or technique rendered out of harmony for a minute' © The Cricketer International

Back in England he began to foretell the quality soon to come; he had 90 Championship wickets for Lancashire, average 14.65; and in two Test matches v South Africa his contribution as a bowler was four wickets for 78.

Invited to play for England in India and Pakistan, in 1951-52, his record was merely modest, eight wickets costing 36.62 runs each in the important engagements.

Though in 1952 he harvested 100 wickets for Lancashire at 17.99 runs each, he was not asked to play for England v India; and next summer he was chosen only once for England v Australia -- at Lord's -- where he took one for 48, and one for 40, though he came sixth in the season's bowling averages, with 101 wickets at 16.33 each; easily the best figures of any English fast bowler that year.

His time was at hand; his place in an England XI became almost a permanency after the Test matches in the West Indies of 1953-54. Now he headed the England bowling averages, 16 wickets for 460 runs.

He was a fairly certain selection for Sir Leonard Hutton's conquering contingent which won the rubber in Australia, 1954-55. This was the rubber in which Frank Tyson achieved a hair-raising speed, so fast that Arthur Morris told me that Tyson was "through you almost before you had picked up your bat." Tyson stole all the limelight, but he was indebted for much of his blinding efficiency to Statham. And most generously has he acknowledged this indebtedness, in print, for he has written: "The glamour of success was undoubtedly mine. When in the second innings of the Sydney Test I captured six for 85, few spared a thought for Statham, who on that day bowled unremittingly for two hours into a stiff breeze and took three for 45."

Tyson adds that he "owed much to desperation injected into the batsmen's methods by Statham's relentless pursuit. To me it felt like having Menuhin playing second fiddle to my lead."

This is the most generous tribute paid by one cricketer to another since MacLaren maintained in a conversation with me, "Talk about class and style? Well, I was supposed to be a batsman of some majesty but, believe me, compared to Victor Trumper I was like a cab-horse side by side with a thoroughbred Derby winner."

The Statham-Trueman collaboration of speed is recent history. Trueman in Test matches took 307 wickets, average 21.57. Statham in Tests took 252, average 24.84. It is useless to measure one against the other. As well we might try to assess Wagner and Mozart on the same level. Trueman, on occasion, nearly lost a big match by loss of technical (and temperamental) control; Statham never.

I particularly like Frank Tyson's story of the West Indies bowler who hit Jim Laker over the eye. When subsequently the West Indies bouncer came in to bat and reluctantly took guard, somebody asked Statham to retaliate in kind and explosive kick. "No," said Statham, "I think I'll just bowl him out."

Here, in a phrase, is the essence of Statham's character. Gentleman "George". * Sometimes he bowled too superbly to tail-end batsmen, they were not good enough to get into touch. It is rare for a fast bowler to play all round the world for nearly twenty years and not suffer animosity or verbal abuse from the opposition.

In his first-class seasons of the game, Statham overthrew no fewer than 2,259 batsmen, and each of them were glad to call him a friend. What is more, he could use a bat himself (left-handed) on occasion. At Sydney, in December of 1954, Statham, in number 11, scored 25 at the moment of high crisis and, with Appleyard, added 46 for England's last wicket. And England won the match by only 38 runs.

At the game's end Statham waved aside congratulations. "When I bat and miss I'm usually out. When I bowl and they miss, well --they are usually out."

He has been an adornment to the game, as a fast bowler of the classic mould, and as a man and character of the rarest breed and likeableness. Also he is amongst the select company of fast bowlers who could field and catch. Cricket will for long have a gap without him.

His benefit of 1961 against the Australians at Old Trafford realised £13,047 and is second only to that of Cyril Washbrook who received £14,000 in 1948. Lancashire in further appreciation of this model example for all to copy, as they put it, "modest, unassuming, ever-willing to shoulder the burden of the attack or to 'rest' in the outfield where speed of foot and unerring accuracy of throw made him a man to be feared", have organised a Testimonial for him this year. I feel sure that again the response will be generous from his legion of admirers.

* To his friends he has been George through his cricketing career.

© John Wisden & Co