A hundred years of cheerfulness and enjoyment, 1965

A Middlesex century

I.A.R. Peebles

Ian Alexander Ross Peebles, the former Middlesex, Oxford University and England leg-break and googly bowler, played for England in 13 Test Matches between 1927 and 1931. He is cricket correspondent of The Sunday Times.

On December 15, 1863, a number of gentlemen met in the London Tavern, Bishopsgate, to consider a momentous project. This was the formation of a Middlesex County Cricket Club, and the proceedings were conducted with admirable energy and decision.

Indeed, so assured is the report of the meeting, immediately released to the London newspapers, that it was some resemblance to the announcements following more recent and very much less pleasant events. It opens with a sweeping and surely debatable assumption. "Sir" it says "Middlesex being the only cricketing county in England that has no County Club." It proceeds to say that a provisional committee had been formed, and that a general meeting would be held in the London Tavern in February of the following year.

As a result of this benevolent coup d'état events rushed forward. At the promised meeting the secretary, Mr. C. Hillyard, recorded the names of a fair nucleus of members, a regular committee of 16 was appointed, a ground hired in Islington, and four bowlers engaged. The staff was completed by the arrival of a groundsman, happily named George Hearne, and an umpire. A president, in the person of Viscount Enfield, followed soon afterwards.

The Middlesex team burst into action in 1865, with matches against Sussex, Bucks, Hants and M.C.C., with several lesser fixtures. Challenges from the established and powerful counties of Surrey and Lancashire were shrewdly side-stepped for the time being.

Such a dynamic start was not to be maintained. By 1869 Middlesex lost the use of Islington ground, and could not then afford to accept the M.C.C. terms to play at Lord's. A melancholy two years on the rough Amateur Athletic Association Ground at Lillie Bridge was followed by another abortive tenancy of Prince's ground, near Hyde Park Barracks, which never gave much promise of permanency.

At a meeting in 1877 it was decided to take the major step of playing at Lord's starting the following year with four matches. From this time onwards the fortunes of Middlesex were inevitably bound up with those of M.C.C., yet the tenants have always maintained a sturdy independence in the conduct of their affairs, a state of affairs which exists to this day. From the formation of this partnership starts the real progress of Middlesex as a County Cricket Club.

Many enthusiastic members, players, and administrators had seen the Club through these early vicissitudes. It is not possible to mention many of these deserving names but that of Walker has ever been immortal in Middlesex. The Walkers of Southgate was a brotherly triumvirate whose initials R.D., V.E. and I.D. are still fresh and familiar in the annals of the Club. All were competent administrators as well as being fine cricketers and so contributed to every aspect of the Club's establishment and progress.

The County Championship Birth and Residential qualifications had been introduced in 1873 and Middlesex had competed from that year with varying, but seldom more than modest success except in 1878 when they led the Counties.

The start of the new tenancy marked no spectacular advances in these fortunes but very soon some very famous names came to support and perpetuate the foundations laid by the Walkers. In 1876 C.I. Thornton made his first appearance and was soon recognised as a hitter of unprecedented power.

A.J. Webbe's active association with the Club began in 1875 and was to last until 1937, as player, captain and President. Webbe played for England but once and his interests were almost entirely focused on Middlesex. In light of this undivided devotion he may justly be described as the greatest figure in the County's hundred years of history.

Aided by two Lyttletons and three Studds and, a little later, by Sir Timothy O'Brien, and the great A.E. Stoddart, Middlesex scored more attractively than ever in the eighties but, despite G. Burton's consistent slows, were a somewhat ineffective bowling side.

The names of Stoddart and O'Brien were linked as those in later years of Hearne and Hendren, and Compton and Edrich. Stoddart is still regarded by many competent judges as the greatest amateur batsman ever to represent Middlesex. In the course of an outstanding county career he went four times to Australia, twice as captain. His average of 35.57 for 30 innings against Australia was remarkable for the figures of his time. His record on the Rugby football field was no less illustrious.

It was in 1888 that J.T. Hearne made his first appearance, to reach his full powers in 1892, when he took 163 wickets. On the fast side of medium pace, he had a beautiful wheeling action, spun the ball sharply from the off, and soon made his mark as the finest bowler of his type in the country. Through the next decade he was the mainstay of the attack with the support of J.T. Rawlin, a serviceable fast bowler.

It was not until 1897 that Albert Trott had qualified to spin his leg-breaks from a prodigious hand. (In passing it may be said that this was regarded as the largest hand in cricket until lost in the enveloping grip of A.D. Nourse.)

In the first half of the nineties Middlesex, with a wealth of amateur batting and the unflagging talents of J.T. Hearne, kept well to the fore, being third in the table in 1893 and 1894. The names of the amateur batsmen were nigh legion but collectively they had a certain mercurial quality to thwart that consistency which makes for champion counties.

Thus, although thrice third and twice runners-up in the nineties Middlesex were bested in the first half by neighbouring Surrey and, latterly, by Yorkshire and Lancashire. Surrey were at one time almost invincible with the irresistible force of Richardson and W.H. Lockwood to exploit the performances of a dependable batting order.

Middlesex entered the twentieth century well established as one of the major powers in the County Championship. In the North, Yorkshire always had a slight ascendancy in the struggle for power with their Lancashire neighbours. Nottinghamshire ruled the Midlands. In the South, Middlesex and Surrey dominated the scene.

Through the nineties Surrey had a great deal the better of the argument but, by the turn of the century, the relative strengths of the rivals had altered so that Yorkshire succeeded as champions in 1900 and 1902 and Middlesex were top in 1903.

Although Middlesex did not again head the table before the outbreak of war, the county prospered greatly under the enlightened captaincy of P.F. Warner who, after a spell during which G. MacGregor led, had succeeded Webbe. In fact, as deputy captain Warner had handled the side frequently during MacGregor's tenure.

Warner was very much greater in the international scene than Webbe, but Middlesex was still his first and greatest love. During his term of office he became one of the greatest all-round amateur batsmen in the country if never quite in the same category as C.B. Fry, K.S. Ranjitsinhji and F.S. Jackson. An indomitable defence was allied to sound orthodox scoring strokes, especially to the on, and the whole technique was applied with great intelligence and concentration.

Warner brought the same qualities to his captaincy and had, at all times, an observant eye for every detail of the play. He used the extraordinary and occasionally erratic talents of A.E. Trott to best advantage.

These consisted of a commendably aggressive attitude to batting, and a great power of leg-spin allied to a remarkably fast and accurate yorker. Many thought the first attribute unduly exaggerated by Trott's determination, on every occasion to repeat his monumental straight drive which cleared the Lord's Pavilion. All players found it instructive and enormously pleasant to be a member of Warner's side.

The start of the century was quite promising but 1902, a wet season, brought almost unprecedented disaster. Only two matches were won by a Middlesex side which, for one reason or another was seldom fully represented. It was a surprise to all, including the winners, when Middlesex went to the top of the table in the following year.

Warner was now at the height of his powers as a batsman and was well supported by the normal Middlesex reservoir of amateur talent. Trott and Hearne, were a formidable pair in this wettest of seasons and had the support of B.J.T. Bosanquet whose googlies had a considerable impact on the game as a whole.

Bosanquet, like some other pioneers, never mastered his invention to the extent achieved by many successors but the novelty was too much for many batsmen as the Australians found at Sydney and Trent Bridge. He was in addition a fine batsman with a short pick up but plenty of power.

In 1908 Warner became the official captain of Middlesex. By this time he had wide and varied experience of his craft and got the best out of his side for the next nine playing seasons, culminating in the glorious win of 1920.

Trott's career came to an end in 1909 but F.A. Tarrant had now developed into a splendid all-rounder. A sound and dependable batsman, his left-hand spinners were regarded as being equal to those of Wilfred Rhodes and Colin Blythe in all but accuracy. Further to enhance the County's prospects, J.W. Hearne and E. (Patsy) Hendren had just embarked. Hendren was to take some time to come to full bloom but Hearne's progress was so rapid that within a couple of years he was thought of in the same context as Rhodes and G.H. Hirst.

He was a neat, precise batsman who preferred the back foot as a general base of operation. His leg-breaks he spun more than any Englishman within memory, and was only outspun on the arrival of A.A. Mailey. His googly was at least serviceable in an era as yet not wholly familiar with this form of deception. H.R. Murrell, a man of great personality, who was to play a lasting part in Middlesex affairs, kept wicket and batted with great spirit when the occasion demanded.

In an era when County cricket flourished and opposition from the North, Midlands and South bank of the Thames was formidable, Middlesex were always in the first six of the Championship. In 1910 and 1911 they were third and in 1914 ran into second place.

With Warner, Tarrant and Hearne at the height of their powers, and Hendren verging on his potential greatness, Middlesex might well have gone further but for the untimely interruption. There were many young men whose names were to become prominent in the twenties, F.T. Mann, N.E. Haig, C.N. Bruce, R.H. Twining, S.H. Saville and G.E.V. Crutchley, to name a few, who brought a fine youthful zeal to support the professional skill.

The year of 1919 was an uneasy one for English cricket which, like many other institutions, was striving to re-organise a wholly disrupted institution. The experiment of three two-day matches a week was found to be a strenuous and unsatisfactory arrangement. The most pleasing development at Lord's was the batting of Hendren whose form far outstripped any hope based on pre-war performances.

In the following year P.F. Warner ended his long and brilliant career by leading his side to the top of the Championship table. His unsurpassed qualities as a captain and tactician made full use of a very talented side. Hendren and Hearne were the foundation of a very good batting side. G.T.S. Stevens, largely a protégé of the perspicacious Warner, was a great amateur addition to the professional core of batsmen, and bowled a dangerous mixture of leg-breaks and googlies.

It was not, however, until late in the season that the Middlesex challenge became apparent, and not until the closing moments of the last match of the season that the prize was finally grasped. Middlesex won a very important toss but were headed by 73 runs on the first innings. Centuries by H.W. Lee and C.H.L. Skeet got Middlesex well on the way to a good second innings but time ordained that Warner should set Surrey, a strong, aggressive batting side, 244 to make in three hours.

At one point Surrey seemed to be well on the way to victory but, appropriately, a typically shrewd move from Warner turned the day. Seeing Fender on the balcony give the signal to the batsmen for general chase he removed Hendren from short leg to deep long-on. Very soon Shepherd was caught in that position, and the spin of Hearne and Stevens saw Surrey defeated by 55 runs with only ten minutes to spare.

Warner, departing gloriously, handed over to F.T. Mann, who for eight years led the County with a firm but happy touch which gained him the lasting affection and admiration of all who played for or against Middlesex. His reign opened auspiciously when, in 1921, Middlesex again won the Championship.

With T.J. Durston and Haig to open, the bowling was now a very fair complement to the plentiful batting. Without ever repeating this success, Middlesex were well amongst the leaders for the remainder of the twenties. The flow of amateur batting was undiminished with Twining, Bruce, Crutchley, H.J Enthoven and H.L. Dales all available for reasonable periods. Haig, Stevens and G. O. Allen were a tower of all round strength and Mann was ever liable to dominate the game with his explosive hitting powers.

During the season 1929 Mann, although still officially captain, was prevented by matters of business from playing more than occasional matches. In his absence Haig took over, and proved himself another most able captain.

The season, with Hearne and Hendren still fine cricketers, despite the latter's lean patch early on, was brightened by the splendid all-round cricket and dazzling fielding of R.W.V. Robins. His leg breaks, bowled at medium pace, were occasionally erratic, but had a most devastating power of spin and were coupled to a well concealed googly.

Middlesex seemed on the threshold of another splendid decade but, in the early thirties, fortunes declined to a low ebb. As occasionally happens, to any side, the powers of several important members suffered a sudden decrease, and others were removed by business calls. It was not until Robins took over in 1935 that once again things got under way.

The side was now largely reconstituted. C.I.J. (Big Jim) Smith, imported from Wiltshire, had found his best form with the new ball and, employing one basic stroke, hit the ball higher and further than anyone before or since. Soon the great batting partnership of D.C.S. Compton and W.J. Edrich was to take shape whilst J.D. Robertson had developed into a most polished Number One.

H.G.O. Owen-Smith and J.H. Human played the same dynamic cricket as his captain and Joe Hulme continued to fly round the deep. J.M. Sims developed into a medium-pace leg-spinner. Only a superb Yorkshire side stood between Middlesex and the Championship. This they succeeded in doing until the war, with Derbyshire at the top in 1936.

The season of 1939 saw the retirement of Robins but the momentum he had generated carried the team to second place in the table on the eve of the war, a position they had occupied in the previous three seasons. This was a fine period in Middlesex play, for Robins made the most positive use of the young and energetic talent at his command.

In 1946 Robins returned to the helm and immediately set about reorganising affairs. After a season's effort and experiment Middlesex were poised for the triumph of 1947. The summer was a fine one and the Middlesex batting calculated to make the most of good wickets and bowling which had not yet regained pre-war standards. Robertson and S.M. Brown regularly opened and both scored over 2,000 runs. They were followed by the truly devastating power of Compton and Edrich, both of whom topped the three thousand.

This mass of runs was acquired with a speed which gave a good attack, led by L.H. Gray and sustained by J.A. Young, ample time to despatch the opposition. Having won the Championship, Robins retired and F.G. Mann took over. In 1948 the presence of the Australians robbed him of his best players for long periods but, in 1949, he was better served, and Middlesex shared first place with Yorkshire. At this Mann, the only son to succeed a Championship winning father, retired and Middlesex fortunes flagged.

Robins returned for the third time as captain for 1950, before a joint captaincy, shared by Compton and Edrich, fared no better for two years than such compromises incline to do. Edrich took over for five years, but the form of the great fluctuated and little glory came to Lord's.

Compton and Edrich retired in 1957 but J.J. Warr brought a strong reviving influence to bear in 1958, and Middlesex again pushed forward. F.J. Titmus was now a splendid all-rounder and A.E. Moss, who had done so well for almost a decade, still had a fair head of steam to call on.

A promising crop of young batsmen, including R.A. Gale, W.E. Russell and P.H. Parfitt helped Middlesex to reach third place in 1960 and when P.I. Bedford succeeded Warr in 1961 he achieved the same success. He, in 1963, gave way to C.D. Drybrough and, whilst the record has been moderate, the prospects are indeed bright at the moment of writing.

Titmus will captain a side which, with himself, includes five of the party that toured South Africa. In addition, Russell has advanced to be a most promising batsman.

After one hundred years of continued existence most institutions, and certainly County Cricket Clubs, take on a distinct character. That of Middlesex is pre-eminently of cheerfulness and enjoyment. These qualities permeate from the players to all associated with the club.

Perhaps the best testimony to this spirit was the fact that, after ninety years of harmonious life, it was accidentally discovered that, as the original rules had been lost, the club had operated without any written code for almost its entire existence to that date.

Those who have played for Middlesex have known the very best that cricket can offer. It is meet that in so many cases their personal association with the club remains unbroken in the form of service and support. In a comparatively brief survey it has not been possible to pay tribute to more than a few individuals but, in the spirit of the club, those not mentioned would not consider themselves omitted.

The Duke of Edinburgh and the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who as Lord Dunglass played a few games for Middlesex, attended the One Hundred Years Celebration dinner at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, on July 20 at which the Middlesex Centenary Youth Campaign was launched. I take this opportunity to extract from the Campaign brochure the full list of:

MIDDLESEX TEST PLAYERS FOR ENGLAND
1878-84 Lucas, A.P. 1898-12 Warner, P.F. 1935-37 Sims, J.M.
1878-79 Webbe, A.J. 1903-05 Bosanquet, B.J.T. 1937-56 Compton, D.C.S.
1880-84 Lyttleton Hon. A., 1905-06 Moon, L. J. 1938-55 Edrich, W.J.
1882-83 Leslie, C.F.H. 1911-26 Hearne, J.W. 1938 Price, W.F.
1882-83 Studd, C.T. 1920-35 Hendren, E. 1947-52 Robertson, J.D.
1882-83 Studd, G.B. 1921 Durston, T.J. 1947-49 Young, J.A.
1882-83 Vernon, G.F. 1921-30 Haig, N.E. 1948-51 Dewes, J.G.
1884-96 O'Brien, Sir T.C. 1922-23 Mann, F.T. 1948-49 Mann, F.G.
1887-98 Stoddart, A.E. 1922-30 Stevens, G.T.S. 1950-51 Warr, J.J.
1890-93 MacGregor, G. 1927-31 Peebles, I.A.R. 1953-60 Moss, A. E.
1891-99 Hearne, J.T. 1929 Killick, Rev. E.T. 1955 Titmus, F.J.
1891-95 Philipson, H. 1929-37 Robins, R.W.V. 1961 Murray, J. T.
1894-95 Ford, F.G.T. 1930-48 Allen, G.O. 1961 Parfitt, P. H.
1895-98 Davenport, H.R. Bromley 1930-31 Lee, H.W. 1961 Russell, W.E.
1898-98 Trott, A.E. 1934-37 Smith, C.I.J. 1964 Price, J.S.E.

© John Wisden & Co