When, in the spring of 1951, Tom Goddard was struck down by pneumonia and pleurisy it was feared that such a severe illness might hasten the end of a wonderful career which had already extended far beyond the normal span. And so, unhappily, it proved. It was clear when he took his place in the Gloucestershire team at the end of May that he was far from fit, and though he struggled on for several weeks he found himself obliged in mid-July to withdraw from the side and to announce his retirement from first class cricket. So there passed from the scene the greatest off-break bowler of recent times.
For Thomas William John Goddard, born October 1, 1900, the road to fame was no easy one. When he first played for Gloucestershire he bowled fast-medium, and success was slow to come. Indeed, the result of his first six seasons' work was so undistinguished that after the summer of 1927 he left the county and joined the M.C.C. staff. It seemed then that no more would be heard of him in first-class cricket.
Then one day in 1928 Beverley Lyon saw him practising off-breaks in the nets at Lord's. He was so impressed that he immediately urged the Gloucestershire authorities to re-engage him. And so it came about that in 1929 he rejoined his native county.
The sequel was sensational. In his first season as a spin bowler Goddard actually took more wickets than had come his way in the whole of his earlier career. For years Gloucestershire had been practically a one-man bowling side. Now, at last, Charles Parker had the supporter he needed. The two men, orthodox left-hander and off-spinner, afforded a perfect contrast, and for three seasons they were--not forgetting Larwood and Voce--the most deadly pair of bowlers in the land. Thanks to their efforts Gloucestershire were fourth in the Championship in 1929 and second in 1930 and 1931. During this period they took between them in purely county matches 904 wickets at an average cost of 15.82. Their greatest triumph occurred at Bristol in 1930, when, thanks to their superlative bowling on a worn wicket, the Australians were held to a tie.
For four seasons after 1931 Parker continued to play for Gloucestershire, but he was not the power of former years. Consequently, the role of senior partner devolved on Goddard, and how well he shouldered his new responsibility may be seen in the records.
When Parker retired Goddard found a new partner in Sinfield. The old contrast was lacking, but in two of the three years during which the pair bore the burden of the Gloucestershire bowling their side were fourth in the Championship. In 1939 they were third, Goddard for the third time in five years taking 200 wickets.
When first-class cricket was resumed after the war Goddard was forty-five--an age at which most county players have long since retired to the chimney-corner to dream of their past glories. But if time had deprived Goddard's hand of any of its cunning, so much was not apparent from the ring-side, nor was it reflected in his figures, which reveal that in the two seasons 1946 and 1947 he took 415 wickets--more than in any other two successive years--for 17.38 runs each. In 1948 he was somewhat less dominant, and it was freely whispered that his day was done. Yet a year later he came out virtually top of the national bowling averages, while in 1950, his last full season, he would assuredly have taken 150 wickets once again had he not missed several matches through indisposition.
Considering his phenomenal achievements in county cricket, Goddard's appearances in Test matches were on a very modest scale; in this respect his experience was curiously similar to that of A. P. Freeman. Like Parker, he played only once against Australia. Twice he went to South Africa with M.C.C. teams. He met with little success in 1930-31; but in 1938-39 he played in three Tests, and in the first, at Johannesburg, did the hat-trick. In England, apart from his one appearance against Australia, he played twice against New Zealand in 1937 and twice against West Indies in 1939. In the second innings of New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1937 he took six wickets for 29.
On good pitches Goddard, with his accuracy and subtle nuances of flight, exacted respect from the best of batsmen. When the tuft was worn or sticky he was at times unplayable. Delivering the ball from a height of some eight feet, he could make it rise from a length to the batsman's knuckles, while his long fingers spun it venomously towards the waiting short-legs. Though his stock delivery was the off-break, he occasionally turned a little from leg--a phenomenon which he himself was at a loss to explain. As a batsman he took himself seriously, and excelled in those situations in which nerve and character count for at least as much as pure technique.
To Goddard the bowler all batsmen were his sworn enemies. He had in him something of that tigerish quality which was also possessed by O'Reilly and which reached its finest flower in George Gibson Macaulay. For him no day could be too long, no captain's demands too great. His appeal, which was an urgent imperative, reflected no dishonesty of purpose but merely a perennial keenness and exuberance which accounted in no small measure for his long immunity to the passage of the years. But now at last his season has ended; and for a while the cricket field will seem a poorer place.