Starting with a duck, 1971

The dreaded cypher

Basil Easterbrook

A Pair in a Test Match! Can anyone imagine a worse fate befalling a batsman, especially when he is fighting for a place in the M. C. C. team to tour Australia? Such was the experience of Brian Luckhurst last August in the Final Test at The Oval where his middle stump was sent flying for 0 by Procter with the third ball of the first innings and again for 0 with the first ball of the second innings. It set me pondering on this subject of The Dreaded Cypher.

Suppose it had happened to him on his debut for England in the first Test two months earlier at Lord's. Would the selectors have looked at him again? They cast aside Alan Jones, Sharpe and Denness for their failures in that match. Luckhurst was sensible enough to prove himself first; so he did go to Australia with my best wishes and I will tell you why.

Wisden's first edition in 1864 at one shilling for 112 pages in notebook size to slip into the slimmest pocket was the best bob's worth on the bookstalls.

On the flyleaf was a note addressed to the reader: "In offering our first edition of the Cricketers' Almanack to the patrons of the Noble Game, we have taken great pains to collect a certain amount of information, which we trust will prove interesting to all those that take pleasure in this glorious pastime. Should the present work meet with but moderate success, it is intended next year to present our readers with a variety of other matches, which the confined nature of an almanack precludes us from doing this year." A little enough acorn but what an oak grew from it!

In passing one wonders how John Wisden and Company, offering their literary sprig at their warehouse in the Haymarket, would have reacted to the 1969 edition of 1,055 pages. The original publication's collection of matches was drawn from games anywhere in the first half of the 19th century. For example, you could inspect the scorecard of a game at Lord's in July, 1806, a bare nine months after Trafalgar on page 30 and a game at The Oval in 1863, when W. G. Grace was a lad of 15, a few pages further on.

We live now in a dreary age of specialisation and the 1,000 page monsters of the 1960s deal with nothing but cricket but in 1864 you could study Wisden and become a mixture of Datas and Leslie Welch. On one page alone you were told the dates of the eight Crusades ranging from 1097 to 1270, the venues of the twelve battles of the Wars of the Roses, a précis of the trial of Charles the First and a final paragraph which ran A brass bell weighing 17 cwt cast in 1699 at Woolwich Arsenal used to call and disperse the labourers, was cleft by the hammer while ringing, from the effects of the severe frost on January 4, 1861.

On another page was a potted history of English coinage going back to 1302 and all the canals in Britain above 30 miles in length. If you needed to know how to go quoiting or play Knur and Spell, or when China was first visited by Europeans, the winners of the principal horse races, the rules of the game of bowls, how to bet on cricket like a gentleman, or what time the British Museum closed, then Wisden 1864 was a volume you could not afford to be without.

Seen through the corrupt eyes of the second half of the 20th century, it was of course a time of innocence but the original compilers knew where their main duty and purpose lay and they also had an eye for the romance and drama of the game. Now for all cricketers like the writer who made more ducks than he has eaten backed dinners, the originators of the world's holy writ on cricket started a section called Extraordinary Matches, which amid all the welter of feats and records has been allowed to lapse by their distinguished successors. They gave details of a match which made a man like myself feel he had his rightful place in the game without relying on the second prize of writing about it for that place. In August, 1855 the Second Royal Surrey Militia met Shillinglee in Sussex at the seat of Earl Winterton. The scorecard of the Militia's first innings was as follows:

Private Dudley b Challen junior0
Private Plumridge b Heather0
E. Hartnell, Esq. b Heather0
A. Marshall, Esq. b Challen junior0
Private Ayling b Challen junior0
Lieut. Pontifex b Heather0
Corporal Heyes0
Lieut. Ball b Heather0
Major Ridley not out0
Sgt. Ayling run out0
Private Newberry b Heather0

It was No. 10 who nearly ruined the whole thing. He hit one to cover point and set off like an Olympic sprinter going for the tape. Major Ridley rent the pastoral scene with a stentorian voice of command -- "Go Back Sergeant." Sgt. Ayling, pulled up all standing, fell base over apex and was run out by 15 yards. There were those who accused the gallant Major of moral cowardice, but I see him as a man with a sense of history. There is something aesthetically perfect about that scorecard -- no catches, no stumping, no LBW's and no runs.

The Militia made 106 in their second innings, but who wants to bother with that?

From that time Wisden has increased tenfold in size, thirtyfold in price and a hundredfold in status, but the Pardons, Stewart Caine, S. J. Southerton and the Prestons who have built the greatest monument of print in all sporting history all stand arraigned for a serious sin of omission. They have become so intoxicated with faithfully preserving for posterity the feasts of THEM, that is the handful of lucky blighters who play first-class cricket from April's end to September that they have almost completely ignored US namely, The Rest, who do not.

Individual scores of 300 or more, hundred on debut in England, most individual hundreds, they are all there in the record section extending for nearly as many pages as there were altogether in the original Wisden. It's sickening. Every year you are told that J. B. Hobbs hit 244 hundreds in all cricket and W. G. Grace 217 and there are columns of names running from Sir John Berry Hobbs to Brian Valentine of chaps who made 35 or more centuries in first class cricket.

Even a young fellow like Boycott has got his name into the list obsessed with batting his life away instead of learning to pick four notes from the strings of a guitar and earning himself a £1,000 a week.

Because, let's face it, Wisden has made us obsessed with runs, a charge I substantiate by a reference to the simple fact that nearly 20 pages of the record section are devoted to such improbable events as C. J. Eady scoring 566 for Break-O'-Day against Wellington at Hobart in the winter 1901-2 before a mention is made of bowling feats. And of the considerable achievement of making a duck nothing in all the 1,000 or more pages. It came to me in a blinding flash of intuition that Wisden is a vast conspiracy dedicated to the proposition of creating a totally false image of the game.

Any mug with enough talent and concentration can make a hundred. It requires the soul and tenacity of a martyr to score nothing and continue to score nothing. Once in 1935 at Dartmouth I made 16 out of a total of 43 against the Royal Naval College but in self defence I would point out that even Homer nodded and that if you go to the crease often enough there comes a day when you will get some runs regardless of what you do. I have remembered this innings for 35 years for I believe this is as far as I got from the circular cypher in one innings.

How much colour and interest have been withheld from lovers of cricket by Wisden's refusal down the years to publish a section devoted to the nought. There was Ian Peebles, for example, on an overseas M. C. C. tour who went into the scorer's book absent bathing 0. Hutton might easily have been one of US instead of THEM. He began with great promise -- a duck in his first innings for Yorkshire seconds, a duck for the first eleven at Fenner's in 1934 and a duck in his first innings for England, against New Zealand. He deteriorated so far that he made 129 centuries and in June, 1949 by scoring 1,294 made more runs in a single month than anyone else.

Hammond made 0 in his first match against Lancashire at Cheltenham in 1920 but he slipped further than Hutton, ending his career with 167 centuries with only Hendren 170 and Hobbs 197 ahead of him in the all time list of century makers.

Philip Mead, the world's No. 4, with 153, made a duck in his first match against the Australians at Southampton in 1905. Frank Woolley, No. 6 with 145, made 0 a year later in his debut against Lancashire at Old Trafford. He soon got the taste for notoriety by making 64 in the second innings and was lost to US from then on. Old Trafford remained one of his favourite grounds and it is said that on one occasion he square cut Ted McDonald for six and the ball struck one of the pavilion towers with such force that when it rebounded back into the field of play at a tangent McDonald took it first bounce as he was walking back, said "Good shot, Frank," turned and ran in to bowl the next delivery. W. G. Grace, 126 hundreds, failed to score in his first game for the Gentlemen of the South v. Players of the South at The Oval in 1865 but even at 17 he had no sense of proportion as he showed by taking thirteen wickets for 84 runs in the match.

Tom Graveney, the leading century compiler of current players, began with 0 in The Parks against Oxford in 1948 but he was another who could not keep it up.

All these with the exception of Hutton lacked the stamina to make a serious bid to be regarded as US rather than THEM, but there were players who later degenerated into household words who for a brief season did splendidly. George Dews of Worcestershire was bowled by Eric Price in both innings at Old Trafford on his debut against Lancashire and notched a notable hat-trick by failing to score in the first innings of his next match against Warwickshire at Dudley in 1946. Johnny Douglas, when beset by the worries of the England captaincy must more than once have pondered ruefully on how different life might have been, for, like Dews, he too started his career with a hat-trick of ducks. He was bowled by George Hirst in each innings in the Essex v. Yorkshire match at Leyton in 1901 and failed to score in his next innings against Gloucestershire at Clifton. Morton, a Derbyshire stalwart in the early years of the century, did even better.

At Edgbaston in 1901 against Warwickshire he was clean bowled by Charlesworth twice. In his next game at Lord's he was castled a third time before he had score and in the second innings he was run out trying to get off the mark. M. J. K. Smith got a duck for Leicestershire against Northamptonshire in his first match at Leicester in 1951 and another in his second against Derbyshire at Burton-on-Trent.

I showed this list with what I felt to be justifiable pride to a friend of mine, Michael Fordham, the well known statistician. He looked at me pityingly and said "My dear old lad, you have barely scratched the surface" and in short order came back to me with the following string of names -- Ewart Astill, Sonny Aver, Wilf Barber, Gordon Barker, Les Berry, Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe, W. A. Brown, A. W. Carr, Sam, Coe, Bernard Constable, George Cox senior, A. J. Croom, Dai Davies, George Dawkes, E. W. Dawson, Ted Dexter, Desmond Eagar, George Emmett, C. B. Fry, R. A. Gale, George Geary, S. E. Gregory, J. Gunn, Arnold Hamer, Lord Hawke, A. Hearne, Clem Hill, Errol Holmes, Martin Horton, J. C. Hubble, E. Humphreys, D. R. Jardine, A. S. Kennedy, Ray Kilner, Billy Neale, Charlie Oakes, Sir T.C. O'Brien, Edgar Oldroyd, Jack parker, Eddie Paynter, Bobby Peel, Winston Place, J. M. Read, R. R. Relf, D. W. Richardson, Jack Robertson, Water Robins, Neville Rogers, Eric Rowan, Bishop David Sheppard, A. Shipman, Reg Sinfield, Denis Smith, Ray Smith, Arthur Staples, Harold Stephenson, W. Storer, Jack Timms, Les Todd, Victor Trumper, J. Tunnicliffe, Clyde Walcott, Sir Pelham Warner, Everton Weekes, Alan Wharton, Bert Wolton, Stan Worthington and Norman Yardley. I lost a sheet or two of Michael Fordham's painstaking research so the list is not complete. It is, however, a grim enough catalogue. Of all this legion who could have swelled the ranks of US not one of THEM made less than 10,000 runs in first-class cricket. It is odd to reflect that of the 46 men who made a hundred instead of a duck on their first appearance in top-class cricket half of them made no further mark on the game and five never played at first-class level again.

We are tending perhaps to get too involved in the sheer mechanics of our theme.

There are many of cricket's best untold stories in the making of a duck. I remember one occasion when Yorkshire were playing Oxbridge. A wicket had fallen. Slowly gracefully from the pavilion emerged a slim willowy figure most beautifully attired - the next man in. His flannels could only have been cut in Savile Row; his boots were new, his pads spotless. On his head set at a carefully cultivated devil-may-care Beatty angle was a multicoloured cap. Clipped round his neck to protect his throat from the rude winds of early May which do not spare even university towns, was a silk scarf. On his way to the crease he played imaginary blowers. With wristy cuts and flicks, perfectly timed drives, and daring late glances and hooks he despatched the imaginary ball to all parts of the ground.

The Yorkshire players watched his approach in silence. He eventually arrived at the wicket and looked all about him imperiously, like a king, come to his rightful throne. He took guard, and then spent a full minute making his block hole, shaping and patting it until it was to his satisfaction. Another look around the entire field -- and he was ready to receive his first ball.

Freddie Trueman bowled it and knocked two of the three stumps clean out of the ground. As our young exquisite turned languidly and began to walk away, Freddie called to him sympathetically, "Bad luck. Sir, you were just getting settled in."

Makers of ducks have always been subject to the occupational hazard of being dropped but one of the unfairest dismissals from a team I personally encountered was down in Devon before the war. The captain of the side decided that a certain individual was failing to make runs because he was, in the skipper's choice of words, a bookworm. He wrote him a letter which began "I have decided to leave you out because it has come to my notice that midnight frequently finds you immersed in Jane Austen."

There can be mystery too in the making of a duck. One wet week-end when cricket was out of the question I played 24 frames of snooker at the Royal Hotel, Ashby-de-la-Zouch with the late Jack Bartley, the Test Umpire.

In his playing days Jack had opened the blowing for Cheshire and in one Minor Counties fixture against Yorkshire Seconds he clean bowled the opposing captain, Col. Chichester-Constable, for a duck.

"I did it again in the second innings. The Colonel walked towards me on his way to the pavilion. As he drew level with me he grinned and looking over my shoulder addressed a greeting to a fellow called Shorthouse. The strange thing was that I do not recall a player of that name in either team. Now wasn't that odd?" said a puzzled Bartley.

The idea of writing a treatise on the making of a duck is not original. The late R. C. Robertson-Glasgow penned one of his delightful and all too brief essays on the subject over a quarter of a century ago. In it he wrote this passage: "Even Wisden so rich in the scattered cypher, Wisden which has garnered cricket's yearly harvest, has left us to glean the 0's best we may. They have to be picked out, like a few pearls from legions of oysters."

"True, we may read at rare intervals of whole teams shot our for 0, not even a bye flicked off the stomach past the stumper; and that is admittedly remarkable, even though, as we are apt to suspect, the outgoing side consisted of subnormal batsmen assailed by a crazy sergeant major who was bowling on pitch of broken glass. Remarkable, yes; but not exclusive; for eleven 0's, even if one of them be perforce 0 not out, are ten too many; like eleven pies thrown by eleven comedians in one act."

Dear Crusoe, he took me under his wing when I was a fledgling cricket writer and I shall be eternally in his debt. How or when he first became Crusoe is a matter for historical research. Most of the evidence points to a day at The Parks in 1920 when Charles McGahey of Essex returning to the pavilion was asked by his skipper J. W. H. T. Douglas how he lost his wicket. McGahey replied "I was bowled out by an old ---- I thought was dead 2,000 years ago, called Robinson Crusoe."

It was in that year that Crusoe first played for Somerset under John Daniell who, at the end of the season said "Come again next summer, but don't wear that bloody straw hat."

What would Crusoe have thought about the Gillette Cup and the Player Sunday League? He would have like them, I think. Certainly he would have entered into the spirit of the thing. But he would never have supported the throwing over of the three-day county match. First-class cricket cannot be made just snappy. It is not a wisecrack, but an old and mellow story.

He intended to write again on the art, colour, drama, humour and heartbreak of making a duck but he never did. He gave me a few jottings on the subject once after we had dined together at a riverside hotel at Gravesend nearly 20 years ago -- or perhaps it is over 20 years. "You might find them useful sometime when you have more experience and when you are less solemn about cricket," he said.

During that meal he showed me that a duck could be large and illustrious as well as an embarrassing spasm.

Miles Howell was long before my time but apparently he was playing for Surrey against Yorkshire at The Oval and Rhodes was bowling at his deadliest. Howell was just then at the top of his form, and he played the Yorkshire bowlers, mostly Rhodes, during forty-three mortal minutes, firmly and in the middle of the bat--for no runs. Any spectator who entered the ground at any point in that innings and failed to observe the scoreboard might reasonably have thought that Howell was in the Comfortable thirties or forties. "But that ball would not pierce those fielders," said Crusoe. "And then he was run out, bravely answering a call from his rash partner. Run out nought; with the sweat of battle pouring from his forehead. As he remarked in the pavilion: 'Not a run; not even a little one, dammit; and I feel as if I'd sprinted to the House of Commons and back!'"

Rockley Wilson was master in charge of cricket at Winchester where he was on the staff for forty years. One day he grew mildly exasperated with a boy in the nets. This boy played across the ball and over the ball.

He played either side of it and going down on one knee to sweep played under it. Wilson who made a century in his maiden first-class match and came back out of club cricket to play for Yorkshire during school vacations in his forties said: "My dear boy, you must play one ball in the middle of your bat before you meet your Maker." This made such an impression on the boy that under Wilson's guiding hand he reached a stage where he could go to the wicket and make 15 or 20 runs every third or fourth innings.

So another promising recruit for US was lost even if he could never hope to aspire to THEM. It was a classic example of the inherent dangers of coaching. For half-way house in cricket is equivalent to the old fashioned conception of a fate worse than death. Crusoe knew that. I have before me as I write, some papers of his, yellowing a little now, and I quote again -- "There are those who fancy that it is something to have scored 1 or 2 or some other disreputable and insignificant digit. They are wrong; it is nothing, or, rather, worse than 0. They have but enjoyed a span too short to show a profit, long enough to show their ineptitude."

"They have but puttered and poked and snicked in wretched incompleteness. No; give me the man who makes 0 and doesn't care. As numbers go, he was achieved nothing; but equally, because he was never started, he has left 0 unfinished."

Crusoe once whiled away a tedious train journey by compiling a list of innings of Mr. O. E. Jugg as unlikely a character as Tooting C.C. for whom he played. Jugg's place in the batting order at No. 10 was described as a singular promotion. Crusoe's scratch pad showed Jugg's previous six visits to the crease as:

1.v. Gas, Light and Coke Company (Home) (3rd ball, snooted by a double bouncer)0
2.v. St. Luke's Choir (Away) (without receiving a ball; fast asleep and run out by an old tenor)0
3.v. G.P.O. (Home) (c and b by the head sorter)0
4.v. The Pirates (Home) (1st ball; shattered by a long hop)0
5.v. St. Luke's Choir (Home) (2nd ball; LBW from behind)0
6.v. Gas, Light and Coke Company (Away) (1st ball; run out, after a quarrel)0

Yes, Crusoe, who once said of his old friend and snicking partner Jim Bridges that they never made a century between them but they made a devil of a lot of them for other people, either bowling, or criticising from the pavilion, was SYMPATICO to all of US who have ever walked to the wicket with the air of men who have left lighted cigarettes in the dressing-room.

The great thing about US is that we wear our ducks like a row of medals but the other first-class lot are inclined to be terribly stuffy. Crusoe once said to one of THEM, "Ah, Prendergast, my dear fellow, how did you enjoy your duck at Lord's yesterday? I arrived just in time to see you in and out." Telling me this over coffee and cigars after that fondly remembered meal at Gravesend, Crusoe gave that great, triumphant bellow of laughter of his and said with the emphasis he did so well, "A brittle silence fell was if a bottle of the old and nutty had exploded in my pocket at a temperance rally." And off he went into another crockery shaking guffaw. What a wonderful man he was!

Gone but not forgotten. It could be said of him as of few others, We, his fellows, loved him -- and he made us laugh. What better epitaph could any man be given in this sad and sorry 20th century of ours?

Turning back to Wisden for a final rifling through of the batting records, I am convinced beyond a peradventure (whatever that phrase means) of the justice of my plan to be represented in this section of the almanack. Look at the chaps who have made 35 or more centuries. There must be nearly a couple of hundred and that means there must be thousands who have made between 10 and 30 and probably millions who have made one or two. As for those who have scored their 50's and 60's it does not bear thinking about.

We would have it no other way for it gives US that warm inner glow that comes from belonging to an exclusive brotherhood. To make my point, permit me one final dip into Crusoe's cricket Thesaurus.

"The essence, the aristocracy of 0 is that it should be surrounded by large scores, that it should resemble the little silent bread-winner in a bus full of fat, noisy women. Indeed, when the years have fixed it in its place, so far from being merely the foil to jewels, it should itself grow, in the fond eye of memory, to the shape and stature of a gem."

That, as Mr. Alf Garnett might say, is yer actual true philosophy of the duck.

© John Wisden & Co