Warwickshire's ups and downs

Warwickshire, who have figured so prominently in the postwar cricketing revival of the Midland counties, have been a properly constituted club for nearly seventy years, and a first-class county for fifty-five. They owed their beginnings to the enthusiasm of William Ansell (first secretary), Lord Willoughby de Broke (first president), and David Buchanan, a fine left-arm bowler for twenty seasons, who at the outset shared the secretaryship with Ansell.

The Edgbaston ground, most enviable of all urban county grounds, was acquired on generous terms from Lord Calthorpe in 1886. G. H. Cartland (subsequently chairman for a long time), Dudley and Ludford Docker, H. C. Maul, Charles Lawton, H. W. Bainbridge (captain 1894-1902) and J. Ernest Hill were among the eminent amateurs of the early days, with John Shilton, Harry Pallett, John Devey, Sam Hargreave, Arthur (Dick) Lilley, Edwin Diver, Sydney Santall and the great little Willie Quaife among the leading professionals. Quaife ranks with Lilley, Foster, Dollery and Wyatt among the club's really conspicuous figures.

For some years after their entry into the county championship Warwickshire did nothing exceptional. There were generally plenty of bats in the side, and always one or two good bowlers. Lilley, as the world's greatest wicket-keeper for many years, gave the club an exceptional distinction; but the billiard-table wickets of Edgbaston encouraged drawn games, and Warwickshire gained a reputation for playing safety-first cricket devoid of adventure.

All this was altered when Frank Rowbotham Foster, the most spectacular and dynamic figure in Warwickshire history, became captain in 1911, at the age of 22. No cricketer, I believe, ever had a more meteoric career. He entered the first-class game in 1908; did nothing much until 1910; figured as the world's most successful amateur all-rounder between 1911 and 1914; then passed from the scene, permanently lamed by an accident. He played for England in the triangular Tests of 1912, and, in association with Sydney Barnes, won a Test series in Australia by his venomous left-arm fast bowling. He made Warwickshire's biggest individual score (305 not out). In 1911 he galvanised a hitherto mediocre team into such liveliness and efficiency that Warwickshire won their--so far--only championship. And as captain he always set a wonderful example. In 1911, for instance, in all matches he scored 1,614 runs, average 42.47, and took 141 wickets for 20.31 runs each. In 1914 his batting average was nearly 35, and his wickets numbered 122 at 18.62 runs each.

Foster's captaincy was as brilliant as his personal performances. Under him in 1911 the championship-winning side comprised mainly Willie Quaife, Sep Kinneir, Crow Charlesworth, Frank Stephens (all of whom averaged better than 30 with the bat), E. J. Smith (who this season finally replaced Lilley as wicket-keeper), J. H. Parsons, C. S. Baker, Dick Lilley, Sydney Santall (an untiring stock bowler who could also stick in), and Frank Field (a real fast bowler who took a few more wickets than Foster at slightly higher cost). George Stephens, W. C. Hands, and Commander (now Captain) C. F. R. Cowan (the present treasurer) were among less frequent performers.

When county cricket was resumed in 1919, Warwickshire shared the common difficulties of the times. Percy Jeeves, a most promising recruit just before the outbreak of war, had been killed. C. K. Langley, a fine medium-fast bowler, was lost to the game owing to war injuries, and thenceforth his great service to the club was to be rendered in committee and as chairman. Foster, Frank Stephens, Kinneir and Santall (who continued his long service as coach) had dropped out. The incomparable Willie Quaife was 47; but he stayed in the game until, at 56, he retired on the grand note with a farewell century. Jack Parsons was still a soldier, and for the next few years was available only spasmodically. There remained Tiger Smith to continue the tradition of international wicket-keeping, Harry Howell, the thick-set fast bowler, Len Bates (now coach at Christ's Hospital), and some occasional amateurs.

George Stephens captained the side in 1919, then yielded place to the Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe, who came from Repton, Cambridge and Sussex to be captain for ten years. He was a fine aggressive bat and a steady medium-paced bowler. With Howell he shared the burden of the attack for several seasons, during which they received little support apart from Quaife's beguiling donkey-drops.

Again Warwickshire settled to a long spell of undistinguished obscurity. They were never very high in the final table and generally drew more games than they won or lost. In 1930 R. E. S. Wyatt succeeded Calthorpe, and in 1938 Peter Cranmer succeeded Wyatt. The team's performances rarely excited much interest in the Soccer-proud city of Birmingham. R. V. Ryder was secretary. He had been appointed assistant to Ansell in 1895, and served the club with somewhat austere and aloof integrity for fifty years. His whole career was punctuated by financial crises which involved periodical issues of special appeals.

Yet Warwickshire cricket did not lack personality between the wars. Among batsmen: the tall, fierce-driving J. H. Parsons--professional, amateur, professional again, soldier, parson, Player and Gentleman; the graceful, unpredictable Len Bates; the blond, irrepressible Reggie Santall, who was as likely to hit Yorkshire's best bowlers for a century as to make ducks against mediocre stuff; the forthright Tiger Smith (whom Jack Smart followed as wicket-keeper, and who is now the club's invaluable chief coach); the pugnacious Norman Kilner; the thoughtful, precise Arthur Croom; the gallant, erratic Peter Cranmer; and of course Bob Wyatt, than whom no other Warwickshire cricketer, born or adopted, before or since, has received so many of the honours of the game. Later, in time to mature before the second great war, came that superb rationalist, H. E. Dollery, that high-powered midget, J. S. Ord, and that confident wicket-keeper batsman, Jack Buckingham.

Among bowlers: Calthorpe, Howell, Danny Mayer, George Paine (who headed the English averages in 1934), and Eric Hollies, who from 1933 has been a power in the attack and for two years after the second war was almost literally the entire attack. Occasionals whose help was greatly valued included Norman Partridge, C. A. Fiddian-Green, G. A. Rotherham, D. G. Foster, G. D. Kemp-Welch, T. W. Durnell and the enthusiastic Ivor Scorer.

After the second world war Warwickshire began once more under difficulties, with Dollery and Hollies to carry the side as batsman and bowler respectively, with Cranmer as captain. In 1946 Dollery actually made nearly a quarter of the total runs, and Hollies surpassed even this feat by taking more than half the total wickets. The fact that he bowled nearly as many overs as all his colleagues combined helped to strengthen the impression that he was often bowling at both ends. His ten for 49 against Nottinghamshire in one innings, without the aid of a fielder, will probably stand for a long time as a record.

The club now had the inestimable advantage of a generous, enthusiastic and universally congenial president in Dr. Harold Thwaite, and a young, pleasant, tactful and completely efficient secretary in Leslie Deakins. The chairman of committee was C. K. Langley, on whose untimely death in 1948 the office fell to C. A. F. Hastilow, one of the most fervent among cricket's devotees in Warwickshire. Thus led, the club's declared intention was to build a team capable of winning the championship. Concurrently, the ambition was to bring Edgbaston up to Test match standard, with adequate accommodation and amenities for 30,000 patrons.

Elaborate plans to implement the latter ambition are being pursued as vigorously as present restrictions permit. The former ambition involves a policy of recruiting talent wherever in the world it can be found. C. S. Dempster and Martin Donnelly of New Zealand, and A. H. Kardar of India, are among the amateurs thus attracted to Edgbaston.

Professional talent has lately come from New Zealand, Australia, the West Indies, and such diverse English counties as Durham and Cornwall.

Under Cranmer the team played lively cricket, and when they could not win (which was fairly often) met defeat with a smile. In 1948 the captaincy was split between the amateur, R. H. Maudsley, and the professional, H. E. Dollery, a curious expedient which failed both practically and psychologically. So for 1949 the committee, for want of an amateur both capable and desirous of leadership, appointed Dollery as the first full-time professional captain in Warwickshire's history.

This move was immensely popular and immensely successful. To his own immaculate offensive-defensive batting and brilliant close-in fielding Dollery added leadership with something of Foster's dynamic inspiration. Last season he became the third Warwickshire cricketer to make 2,000 runs or more in county matches (Kilner and Wyatt being the others) and again took the lion's share of the team's aggregate. For despite the manifold and well-varied excellencies of Ord, Alan Townsend, Derief Taylor, R. T. Spooner (a wicket-keeper batsman of great promise), A. V. Wolton, F. C. Gardner (the soundest opening batsman since Kilner), J. R. Thompson (a brilliant amateur too rarely available) and R. H. Maudsley, the batting in 1949 was still not quite good enough to exploit to the full the deeds of a splendid attack.

At its best, indeed, the bowling was beyond cavil. Hollies and Kardar with their diverse bewilderments of spin and break; T. L. Pritchard and C. W. Grove with their speed and menace; Alan Townsend, always liable to break a stubborn partnership or take a handful of cheap wickets--a battery of all the talents. There are plenty of others already proved or in the course of development.

Warwickshire were persistent challengers for the championship in 1949. The president and committee are confident it can be won--and held--in the near future. With a record membership and record support at the turnstiles, they are willing to back their confidence by outlay wherever it may be made usefully. There are critics of a policy which has turned the Warwickshire staff into a Cricket League of Nations; but the Birmingham public, nurtured on the liberal transfer system of Soccer, will not worry where their cricket favourites come from so long as they play attractively and win matches.

© John Wisden & Co