Thank you, Surrey, 1959

From Dr Grace to Peter May

Herbert Strudwick

H. Strudwick played in 28 Test Matches for England between 1909 and 1926. In all first-class cricket, he dismissed 1,493 batsmen and he held 1,253 catches--both world records.

They say that all good things must come to an end. Sad though it is to me, my official connection with Surrey, which began in 1897, finished last season when, after being wicket-keeper for 30 years and scorer for a similar period, I made way for a younger man. In bidding good-bye to The Oval, known the world over for the great cricketers it has produced and the exciting games it has staged, I cannot sufficiently thank the Surrey Club and the committees I have served under for all those years for giving me so much help and showing me so much kindness.

I feel, too, that I owe a debt to a lady, a Miss Wilson, daughter of the Vicar of Mitcham, where I was born on January 28, 1880. She used to supervise the choir-boys' cricket matches in which, when I was about ten years old, I took part. It was my habit to run in from cover to the wicket to take returns from the field and I apparently did this well enough to prompt her to say one day: "You ought to be a wicket-keeper." From that time I became a stumper and I was sufficiently good at the job to play for Surrey for 25 years and to keep for England 28 times at a period when Australia and South Africa were our only Test opponents.

I have known nearly all the famous cricketers of the twentieth century, from Dr. W. G. Grace to Peter May, the present Surrey and England captain. One recollection I have of Grace was when I played for Surrey against London County at the Old Crystal Palace ground in 1902. On the day that W. G. bowled me for my second duck of the match, Southampton and Sheffield United were fighting out the F.A. Cup Final, also at the Crystal Palace. As I passed the Doctor on my way out, he said to me: "Why didn't you tell me you got a duck in the first innings, youngster? I would have given you one to get off the mark." "Never mind, sir," I said. "I want to see the second-half of that Cup Final." And away I scampered.

The young professional of to-day has a much easier time than when I began, of that I am sure. First of all, he has a fixed wage guaranteed all the year round, differing, I presume, according to the ability of the player. My first wage was £1 per week--no match fees--for four months during the summer, expenses, train-fare and 2s. 6d. a day for lunch. Tea was free, and how we enjoyed it. If we could not get lunch on the ground, we went to a pub, for there was always one close by. There we had either arrowroot biscuit and cheese or a large piece of bread and cheese. That cost 9d. or 1s. 0d., so we made 1s. 6d. on our lunch allowance--which was then quite a lot of money.

As there were nearly 40 on the staff and a lot of amateurs came in for the club matches, we had only a few games each summer until we got a place in the second eleven. Now the staff numbers only about 24 and it is something of a job to find enough players. We spent most of our time bowling to members. Doing this from half-past eleven till half-past six was a much more tiring job than playing. That is a thing of the past, for now there are very few members who take a net. They used to place coins on top of the stumps, and these went to the bowlers who hit the stumps. Needless to say, the senior professionals took the half-crown batsmen, leaving the sixpenny ones to the youngsters.

The chief enjoyment is when a team goes off to play in some club games, and the boys are not only playing most days now, but earning good money because few amateurs are available, more's the pity.

When I went to The Oval for a trial in 1896, I went behind in the nets and received a smack on the head from a fast ball from Len Braund. They told me I was too young to be taken on, but I came back and in the first trial in 1898 Braund, who was bowling slow leg-breaks, suddenly whipped in a very fast ball wide of the off-stump and split the joint of my first finger. I stood close up to the stumps and had never played on so fast a pitch or taken a bowler who did that sort of thing. With three wicket-keepers already on the staff, I thought this might mean the end of my engagement, but H. Wood and C. Marshall were getting on in years and, Fred Stedman being eight years older than I was, I felt there was some hope.

There was no ceremony about the arrival of a new member of the ground staff. I received no introduction to any of the players, just told my duties and where to find the young players' room. I was lucky to find three Mitcham men already there, two brothers, A. and W. Baker, and W. Montgomery, and they took me in hand. All have passed over now, worse luck, for they were charming fellows.

After seeing a few matches, I made up my mind to go all out to get into the county side. The new Pavilion was nearly finished in the year I started, 1898, and there were two large rooms for the players, one upstairs for those who had played in the first and second teams and the other downstairs for the rest. There were also separate doors to get on to the ground. I once went upstairs and ran into Tom Hayward, who demanded: "Who are you?" I told him and he said: "You have the advantage of me and your place is downstairs."

Being very shy, I felt that this was a bad start for me, but it did not break my spirit, and the will to win and get up those stairs was stronger than ever. Little did I then dream that I should be using that room for nearly 60 years.

The great Surrey players of that day were a tough lot and it was hard work to get under their skins. Until you reached their level you were lucky to get an answer if you spoke to them! I played with a number of them before I finished and they were grand chaps. I always used to feel sad when the old ones left and that is why I took on the scoring job when I finished playing in 1927. I did not want to leave the boys; and after 60 years I feel the same.

Certain incidents stick in the mind. I remember once missing Carpenter, of Essex, when he was 29. "Sorry about that," said Carpenter sympathetically. So was I, for he was 199 when he gave his next chance--and this time I held it.

Then there was the occasion of my first Gentlemen and Players match when I asked Albert Trott how I could find his fast ball, which he disguised so well. "You'll soon find it," Albert told me. It was some time before he bowled it and when he did it just missed the leg-stump and hit me full toss on the left foot. I was hopping round in great pain when Albert came up to me. "You found it all right then," he said.

I had just received my invitation to tour Australia with the M.C.C. team of 1911 when I shared a hansom cab with Bill Lockwood to Lord's, where we were to play Middlesex. Bill said to me: "Matey, I'm going to Australia with you this winter." I said: "Are you, Bill? That's good." He said: "You watch me bowl to-day." At that time we were going over Vauxhall Bridge when the horse stumbled and landed on its knees. Off went the two cricket bags, and I remarked that that was not a good start. However, Bill got nine wickets that day--but he did not go to Australia.

Slow bowlers always employed a deep field, or two if the batsmen were quick on their feet and able to get out to the ball. Nottingham marl spread over the table after the end of each season was taken into the pitches by rain and weather. This made the surface fine in hard weather, but very nasty after rain, and matches were often finished by lunch-time on the second day, for there was then no covering of the pitch and only a bag of sawdust protected the bowlers' footholes.

I remember a match at Packer's Ground at Bristol when we were batting on the second day and, following overnight rain, Charlie Parker, the Gloucestershire left-hander, went on to bowl. The rain had penetrated through the sawdust and as Parker attempted to deliver the ball, he slipped and fell. "I can't bowl on that," said Charlie, and the game was held up for twenty minutes while the groundsmen and umpires got to work with rakes and shovels to improve the foothold. At the end of the match Gloucestershire wanted quite a few runs with one wicket to fall. This could have been far different had the pitch been covered.

In my younger days cricket was the only summer sport, except for golf and lawn-tennis, which were too expensive for the average chap. So most people played cricket and the majority of spectators understood the finer points of the game and appreciated good bowling besides good batting and fielding. For that reason crowds of that time showed more patience than those of to-day. They were content to watch and enjoy cricket, knowing full well that the bowler was doing his best to get the batsmen out and not to give him runs. Another thing, cricket received more space in the newspapers and it was given to good news and not to how many 4's a batsman hit and how long he batted. I wish that reporters would be more free with praise instead of finding so much to criticise in the best game in the world.

More amateurs played 60 years ago than now. In 1899 Surrey had seven at different times, Gloucestershire seven, Somerset eight, Middlesex seven, Kent eight, Essex six, Hampshire five and so on. Now the amateurs cannot spare the time and so have taken up golf. As long as I can remember, Surrey have had an amateur captain and I hope they will always find one good enough to take over. They are lucky to have such a fine player as Mr. May to lead them and to captain England.

I think there were more first-class players in every county in my time than nowadays and the strength of the sides was more equal. One finds it difficult to realise that Nottinghamshire were at the bottom of the Championship table last summer. I did not like to see it, for when I first started they were a very powerful team. Then there are the changes in the Laws--larger stumps, new L.B.W. Law, different scoring of points and the changing of the ball. At one time, no change of the ball was permitted unless it lost its shape. Later a new ball was allowed when 200 runs had been scored, but only in recent years have the number of overs bowled counted as an alternative. It began with experiments in 1947 with 55 overs, later changed to 65 overs and now 75 overs.

I recall Mr. Fender once bowling a ball which went very wide of the leg-stump for four byes. "What's the idea, skipper?" I asked him. He replied: "I want to get the new ball." "Right," I said, "you bowl some long hops and full-pitches and they'll soon get the runs. I'm going to stand back. But," I added, "I don't see why they should get 200. Bowl'em out!"

I was naturally delighted when I got my first game with Surrey's first team, against the West Indies in 1900, though I had the feeling that a better man in Fred Stedman was standing down. Wicket-keepers used to have to put up with a good deal of knocking about then, for it was not always possible to gauge how the ball would come to you and our equipment was not what it is now. Stedman used to protect his chest with a copy of the South Western Railway time-table and on one occasion, after receiving a specially heavy blow, he remarked to a team-mate: "I shall have to catch a later train to-night. That one knocked off the 7.30!"

I was never at any time nervous on the field and I always did my best. A wicket-keeper needs patience because he cannot make his own chances. He must expect a catch from every ball and not a stumping chance which will make him snatch at it. If he catches the ball, he can soon break the wicket if the batsman is out of his ground. Once when I went out to bat against Somerset their wicket-keeper, W. Hill, said to me: "I've been out here all day and haven't had a chance of a catch or a stumping." I said: "Don't worry, you will." "No," he said, "I have given it up." I gave him two chances--and he missed both!

I liked to save every run possible. I often used to chase the ball to the boundary if it were played on the leg-side where no fieldsman was placed. On one occasion when we were playing Kent, Lockwood was standing at point a long way back, so that the batsman, by pushing the ball towards him, was able to steal quite a number of singles. So at length I moved right up to the stumps, and as the bowler delivered the ball, dashed out towards point, picked up the ball and ran out A. P. Day. If the batsman had missed his stroke, the ball would have gone for four byes! Another thing, I often used to take catches in front of the wicket--sometimes almost off the bat--especially when Razor Smith made the ball jump.

Though the performance of winning seven Championships in successive seasons might be considered to give them pride of place, it is an open question whether the present side is the best Surrey have had, for there were some very fine teams in the past. The batting has not been too strong for the last two seasons, and that may have helped them, because they wasted no time over unnecessary runs. I do not think they have ever had a better bowling side. How the 1906 team would have shaped on the Oval pitch to-day with the larger stumps and the new L.B.W. Law it is hard to say. The batsmen were better, but they might not have got so many runs under changed conditions. I think the bowlers would have done better than they used to.

The captain who began this run of Championship successes, Mr. Surridge, did great work in moulding the team to catch and field as he did, especially close in on the leg-side. What a tonic to bowlers that meant. The bowling of Alec Bedser, Jim Laker, Tony Lock and Peter Loader, backed up by such wonderful catching by Mr. Surridge, Michael Stewart, Lock and Ken Barrington has been beyond praise. The last year that Mr. Surridge captained the side, 1956, Surrey looked as if they had no chance of the title and some of the players said as much to the skipper. "We'll win it yet," said Mr. Surridge. That is the secret: the will to win. To be without four of your best players, especially bowlers who are hard to find, for ten matches and still finish at the top is a magnificent achievement. Mind you, I don't think Surrey's performance could have been done years ago when there were so many strong counties.

It is difficult to say who is the best batsman I have seen. So many have appealed to me at different times. I feel that I must give first place to Sir Jack Hobbs for his play on all wickets and against all types of bowling. He is the only batsman about whom I felt that he would not get out till he wanted to. Generally he threw his wicket away after scoring a century. I remember G. A. Faulkner after an England tour in South Africa, saying to Jack: "I only bowled you one googly." "Why," said Jack, "I didn't know you bowled one." Faulkner said: "You hit the first one I bowled for four. If you didn't know it, how did you know it would turn from the off?" "I didn't," answered Jack. "I watched it off the pitch." Yes, Jack had shots all off the wicket to different parts of the field.

K. S. Ranjitsinhji was the most polished batsman in my experience. His perfect leg-glide was one of his favourite strokes, even off the middle stump. He played fast bowling with the greatest of ease, placing the bowlers to all quarters of the compass. I believe that he could have made as many runs as he wanted to. I remember once when he was plumb lbw to Tom Richardson and given not out, he went on to make 200. Then he deliberately skied a ball from McDonell for Richardson to catch. During the time he was at Cambridge, he used whenever possible to engage Bill Lockwood and Richardson to bowl to him.

Sir Don Bradman I consider the best run-getter of my time. He never seemed to tire, he had all the other batsmen's shots--and a few of his own. He was also the best fielder I have seen. When he was fielding deep on the leg-side during a Test at The Oval, I did not see any batsman run more than a single from a ball played anywhere near him, and his return to the wicket-keeper was a full toss right over the stumps. There have been lots of great batsmen from Australia, but never one as good.

One of the best forcing batsmen England have ever had was Walter Hammond. He could play strokes all round the wicket, and his favourite drive through the covers was a joy to watch. I recall in 1928, when we were playing Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, that Mr. Fender was forced to place a cover-point, two extra-covers and a mid-off, and still Hammond found a way past them without giving them a chance to stop the ball. In that match he hit 139 in the first innings and 143 in the second and held ten catches. He was also a very fine bowler and could field anywhere. Nobody is taught to hit like him nowadays. I do wish cricket instructors would teach their pupils the way to hit the ball, the way to play back and force it off the back foot, instead of forward, forward and again forward.

Another great batsman was Victor Trumper, a hard hitter who was a delight to watch. How I would have loved to see Bradman and Trumper batting together. Tom Hayward, too, was a demon against fast bowling. He once made four separate centuries in a week. I was lucky enough to be in with him when he made one of them at Nottingham. When I went in he said to me: "Run for the fifth ball or the sixth." If it happened to be the fifth ball and I had a chance to get a run, he refused the call. After he got his 100, I was run out! He used to help pick the side and would come down to the Surrey dressing-room and say to Razor Smith: "I bet you half a crown you are playing." Although Razor knew he was selected, he always took the bet. I once said to Razor: "You know you are playing. They can't leave you out." Razor grinned and said: "I know when I am well off." Hayward did the double one year and then gave up bowling when he began to make big scores.

Mr. May is now occupying the place once filled by Jack Hobbs and Tom Hayward and is England's leading batsman with powerful shots all round. When he goes to the wicket he is out to make runs and stands up nearly straight ready to hit the first ball, if it wants hitting, not prepared to play forward for the first few overs. A four off the first ball is the best tonic to make one feel at home and relaxed. Against Nottinghamshire at The Oval last season Jepson, the fast bowler, was bowling when May went in. The first ball he received May hit over the bowler's head for six. There was a look of astonishment on Jepson's face as he watched it go. The next delivery was hit in the same direction for four. Only a class player could do that. Mr. May, besides being a great cricketer, is a most charming man.

Sir Leonard Hutton was another outstanding batsman, though not the dashing player that Bradman was. Hutton had plenty of patience, but never a loose ball passed him and his cover-point shots were perfect.

What a joy to watch was Denis Compton. I wish a few more batsmen would use their feet as he did and play the strokes he did; there would be no half-empty grounds. Edrich and Compton were a great pair and the only two who received constant mention by the Press after the war. Patsy Hendren was another who gave much pleasure to the crowds, whether batting or fielding, and what a lovely companion.

There are so many I would like to mention, worthy men all. Frank Woolley, the best and hardest-hitting of left-handers I have seen. He stood straight up, very seldom playing forward, but his shots off the back foot and his powerful drives delighted everybody except the bowlers. In his day he was among our best all-rounders.

Andy Sandham, Jack Hobbs's opening partner for such a long time, was unlucky in having so great a player at the other end, for no player was more adept at finding an opening for a run off the fifth or sixth ball than Jack. Andy always expected it and was ready to run.

Turning to bowlers, I regard Tom Richardson as the fastest and best of men of pace. Years ago, when Surrey were playing at Nottingham, I saw Bill Lockwood, whom many thought was the best but not the fastest. Bill was sitting in a wheeled chair and I asked him whom he thought was the best and fastest bowler he had seen. "There's only one in it," he replied. "Tom Richardson." I said: "What about yourself?" Bill shook his head. "I wasn't in the same parish as Tom, never mind the same street," he said. I think J. M. Gregory and E. A. McDonald, the two fastest men from Australia I ever saw, were on a par with Richardson and Lockwood.

Maurice Tate, Alec Bedser, G. G. Macaulay, C. Kelleway and F. R. Foster stand out among fast-medium bowlers. Foster, left-arm, was a bit faster than the others and very quick off the pitch. The first time I kept wicket to him was in a trial match at Lord's. The first ball he bowled swung right across the pitch to outside the leg-stump, turned sharply and went over the top of the off-stump, leaving the batsman and me stone cold and hitting the sight-screen with a bang. James Seymour, the batsman, had half turned to play the ball to leg. I said to him: "It looks as if there will be 50 byes before lunch, but I'm not going to stand back to him." Nor did I. In the first match at Sydney in 1911 I gave Foster the signal to bowl one outside the leg-stump for me to try and stump Duff, who I thought might move his right foot in making his shot. Instead of bowling the ball I wanted, Foster sent it very wide outside the off-stump and four byes resulted. The second time I signalled, I made sure he saw what I meant. This time he bowled the ball straight to Frank Woolley at first slip. Then I realised he did not intend to give me the chance which he might have allowed had Tiger Smith, his own county's wicket-keeper, been behind the stumps.

One incident about Maurice Tate lingers in my memory. In his first Australian tour, 1924, Maurice bowled two overs, of eight balls per over, to Ponsford in the opening Test at Sydney. Ponsford tried to play at every ball, but each time he missed. He turned to me and said: "I've never played against such bowling in all my life." I said: "It doesn't look as though you have. You ought to have been out sixteen times!" Then Horseshoe Collins schemed it so that he should face Tate, and defended solidly till the Sussex bowler tired. The tactics worked, for Ponsford went on to get 110.

Sidney Barnes was the best of the medium-pace bowlers in my day, but the Australian W. J. O'Reilly followed him pretty closely. As regards slow bowlers, there were so many as good as each other. There were the left-handers Rhodes, Blythe, Verity, Woolley and Parker and numerous right-handers, with Tich Freeman, of Kent, at the top.

In my day the premier wicket-keepers were A. A. Lilley, G. MacGregor, H. Martin, E. J. Smith, F. H. Huish, D. Hunter, W. Storer, J. C. Hubble, G. Duckworth and L. E. G. Ames. G. J. V. Weigall, the old Cambridge and Kent player, told me one day: "I have found the best wicket-keeper-batsman England will ever have." When I asked him the name of this player, he said: "Leslie Ames." How right he was. There will never be another like Ames, who during his career hit 37,245 runs in addition to his vast number of victims. Kent have been extremely fortunate in their wicket-keepers, Huish, Hubble, Ames and Godfrey Evans all being in the very top class.

I have never seen a better wicket-keeper than Evans, but I class W. A. Oldfield, the Australian, H. B. Cameron, of South Africa, and Lilley as his equal. These men, who stood close up to the wicket to all bowling, had splendid records and did their work without any fuss. Each was quick in putting down the wicket when the occasion arose and none could be excelled when it came to taking catches. Evans does all these things equally well, and his happy disposition allows him to enjoy every minute on the field. Full of energy and enthusiasm, he makes everything difficult look easy--though he tries to make the easy ones appear difficult! Yes, Evans is a great provider of entertainment for the crowd, and is an inspiration to his team-mates, especially the bowlers, to whom he must give considerable confidence to do their utmost.

It is my opinion that games are won on the field, and not in the dressing-rooms. A captain cannot plan his campaign overnight--how he will use his bowlers and from which end they should operate, and so forth. We hear so much about seamers' wickets nowadays. I don't know what the term means, but I notice that if the wicket is one considered favourable to seamers, the fast bowlers keep going till they are dead beat and cannot come back again when wanted. I do not like the captain who looks at the clock when going out to field and says to himself: "11.30. First change 12.30." It takes two fast bowlers an hour to bowl 16 overs between them, and if one gets a wicket in his seventh or eighth over, he has to send down another three or four.

This is where the good captains make their mark. I name three I consider superior to all others: A. B. Sellers, W. S. Surridge and P. G. H. Fender. Sellers welded his team into the best fielding combination I ever encountered. His placing of the field was wellnigh perfect. Always on the alert himself, he saw that the men under him were constantly on their toes. He changed his bowlers more often than any other captain I have known and with great success. I have seen a bowler get a wicket and be taken off next over, and the man who replaced him would at once succeed in disposing of a batsman. Was it luck? I don't think so. It was the captain's wicket. Sellers's heart and soul were in the game and he was out to win every time. He was a live wire on the field, never giving up, and if a player did not follow his example he was soon out of the side. I like his type, all out till the match is over.

Mr. Surridge possessed the same gifts and drive. This new L.B.W. Law and two of the best slow bowlers of to-day gave him the opportunity which he took with both hands. He did more than anybody to make Laker and Lock what they are to-day. His placing of three fieldsmen within a few yards of the bat on the leg-side gave the batsmen little chance against Laker's off-spinner and I believe was the reason why M.C.C. restricted the number of fieldsmen in those positions. There is no doubt that these close-in fieldsmen won matches and the Championship for Surrey.

Mr. Fender was one of the finest captains who never was asked to lead England. A grand all-rounder, he would, I am sure, have won one or two Championships had the pitches been what they are to-day instead of the cast-iron affairs of his time, coupled with the larger stumps, new L.B.W. Law and the third-day declarations. The rule those days was that if you could not win you must try and save the game. I could not see any county giving Surrey a chance to win if they could avoid it.

Only once can I recall this happening and that was at Leicester. When we were coming in for tea, Mr. Fender asked his rival captain, Major G. H. S. Fowke, if he intended to declare. "I don't think so," said the Major. Returning from tea, he saw Mr. A. Jeacocke sitting at the dressing-room door with his pads on. "What are you doing?" asked the Major in surprise. "You have declared, haven't you?" said Jeacocke. "No," replied Major Fowke, "but I suppose I had better do so now." And Surrey won the match, Mr. Fender's winning hit for 6 sending the ball through the dressing-room door. Many of the Leicestershire members were so annoyed about this that they threatened to resign. I said to one of them: "Why are you grumbling? You've seen one of the best afternoon's cricket you will ever see. Suppose it had been Leicestershire who had won?" "Ah, but it wasn't Leicestershire," he said.

It is nothing in these days for a team to declare in both innings. There was a craze before the war, when rain left only one day for play, for one side to go in, be given four runs and declare. The other side followed suit and the result really depended on the second innings. Surrey did this at Cardiff and lost the match.

There is no reason why a professional should not make an able captain. Alec Bedser, H. E. Dollery and George Emmett all showed their ability in this direction. They knew the game inside out and it was their job. No one talks more about the game than a professional cricketer. At the same time there are certain responsibilities, such as choosing the team. The professional is not a member of the club and therefore has no vote. He will be given the names of twelve or thirteen players and he has to leave out one or two men, a thing he does not like to do because they are all his pals. So he develops a conscience. If he is a bowler, he will choose the worst end to bowl from, probably against the wind. If he over-rides his conscience, he will pick the better end! Temperament plays a big part in cricket. The amateur captain, as a member of the club, has very little to worry about. He can seek the advice of the senior professional, and the odd chat with the players helps to ease the tension of a match. Yes, I am all in favour of the amateur skipper, providing that he has a sound knowledge of the game and is a reasonably good cricketer.

Sometimes I am asked how modern cricket compares with that of those far-off days. Frankly I cannot see much difference except that in my time the batsmen found it easier to score faster. The ball came more quickly on to the bat and got up stump-high from the hard pitches, giving them the chance to make more shots. The bowlers concentrated more on or outside the off-stump and those of fast and fast-medium pace had only two men on the on-side--a mid-on and a deep fine-leg.

The bowlers when I first played always tried to bowl just outside the off-stump. Dick Lilley, the Warwickshire wicket-keeper, used to hold his hands out for the bowler to bowl to in Australia.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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