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Sussex, my own county, have never been Champions, but no one will deny that they have played an historic part in the development of our great game. Their achievements on the field as a team may have been bettered by many sides, but individually their famous figures of the past who have seen the county through the years compare favourably with any. I will recall the great ones of Sussex as I go back through the annals of the oldest county club.
Sussex cricket goes back over 300 years, in fact to 1622 when at Boxmoor six parishioners were prosecuted for playing cricket in the Churchyard on Sunday. The first known reference to a match of any kind was in the Foreign Post of July 7, 1697, to Eleven a side in Sussex. In those days, cricket was a popular pastime in many villages, and we have another game recorded as taking place in 1728 when the Duke of Richmond's XI met a team raised by Sir William Gage. The first inter-county match which I believe to be authentic was staged in August 1735 at Sevenoaks, Kent, where, history tells, a great cricket match was played between Sir William Gage, of Firle, and ten other, gentlemen of Sussex, and the Earl of Middlesex, the Lord John Sackville and nine other gentlemen of Kent.
Sussex cricket progressed on an ever-widening basis for the next fifty years, and an enormous fillip was given to the game when, in 1791, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George the Fourth, presented Brighton with a ground situated at the northern end of the town. About this time we find the first Sussex cricketer to make a name for himself--one John Hammond, of Storrington. He was a versatile player, skilled in batting, bowling and wicket-keeping. Batting was probably his forte, for he was known as a terror to slow bowlers because he used his feet and went out to drive them in menacing fashion. (Our present-day county batsmen might make a note of this point.)
In 1827 came the three experimental matches between Sussex and England to try out the new round-arm bowling of which William Lillywhite and James Broadbridge, of Sussex, were to become noted exponents. The matches were played at Sheffield, Lord's and Brighton. Sussex won the first two contests with some ease and, in consequence, large wagers were laid on Sussex for the third match. Sussex lost. Broadbridge, foolishly throwing his bat at a very wide ball, gave a catch to Mr. Ward at point, and this unexpected reverse of their best batsman so upset the rest of the side that they were beaten by 24 runs. Interest in the match was tremendous, and it is on record that over £300 was taken at the gate in sixpences alone!
All these happenings, so keenly followed by Sussex enthusiasts, led to the formation of the Sussex County Cricket Club in 1836. (It was, by the way, re-formed in 1839 and again in 1857.) Twelve years after its formation, the club acquired the celebrated Royal Brunswick ground on the sea front at Hove, and people came from miles away to see the beautiful turf on wicket and outfield. No other ground could compare with it. Matches against Kent and Surrey were played there, and even at that period inter-county struggles formed the back-bone of the noble game. The 1857 reorganisation, carried out by four gentlemen--Messrs. Stocken, Cooke, Stent and Ashley--put the club on more popular lines, with representatives from different parts of the county to serve on the Committee.
The year 1871 saw Sussex procure the present County Ground in Hove. The generosity of Mr. Fane Bennett Stanford and the efforts of the Trustees of the Stanford estate had much to do with it. The plot of ground, of about nine acres--all covered with a good crop of barley--was selected, and purchased on a lease of twenty-one years at an annual rental of £100. The first ball in the first county match on the new ground was bowled on June 6, 1872, and two years later the first century for Sussex on the Hove ground came from the bat of R. Fillery, who hit 105 off Surrey. I should mention here that as far back as 1844, C. J. Taylor took a hundred off the M.C.C. bowlers at Brighton. About this time James Lillywhite took fourteen wickets on his first appearance for Sussex, and he went on to play for twenty years without missing a match! Lillywhite was captain in the first two matches ever played in the Antipodes between England and Australia. A family record was created when William Lillywhite, aged 61, James Lillywhite and his son (grandfather, father and son) played together in one match.
Then there were John Wisden, Tom Box and H. Phillips. John Wisden, "The Little Wonder"--so called because he was hardly five feet four in height--played regularly for Sussex from 1846 to 1863 and his very fast and ripping deliveries (as Scores and Biographies describes his bowling) made batsmen of all types fear him. His greatest performance was the clean-bowling of all ten wickets for North against South at Lord's in 1850--a unique feat achieved, so it is said, at a cost of scarcely 30 runs out of a total of 76. Wisden bowled true round-arm as did William Lillywhite. As for wicket-keeper Tom Box he helped Sussex from 1832 until 1856 without missing a game.
There were many other fine players before the turn of the century, among them Sir Aubrey Smith, who carried English tradition and cricket to Hollywood, and C. H. G. Bland, who took all ten Kent wickets for 48 in 1899. We remember the free hitting of F. M. Lucas who struck the first double-century for Sussex--215 not out against Gloucestershire at Hove in 1885. George Bean, eight years later, enjoyed the distinction of being the first batsman to score 1,000 runs in a season. In that year, too, Walter Humphreys, a lob bowler, became the first Sussex bowler to take 100 wickets. His full bag for the county that year was 148. Naturally there was the reverse side of the picture. W. L. Murdoch, Sussex captain in the 1890's, watched helplessly while Victor Trumper hammered 300 not out for the Australians against his side in 1899--still the highest score by a touring team against Sussex.
A glorious era for Sussex unfolded with the advent of a young Indian cricketer and Cambridge Blue--one K. S. Ranjitsinhji--and an Oxford Blue named C. B. Fry. Before long Sussex, largely through their efforts, were almost on top of the world. In successive years--1902 and 1903--they finished second in the Championship.
Ranji, as everyone soon called him, and Fry became famous for their remarkable batting performances--and they were truly amazing. In 1900, in county matches alone, they scored between them 4,393 runs--Ranji 2,563, average 85, and Fry 1,830, average 63. C. B. opened for Sussex with Joe Vine and they scored over one hundred for the first wicket thirty-three times. The early years of the twentieth century brought many other players to the fore for Sussex, including such personalities as A. E. Relf, C. L. A. Smith, E. H. Killick, G. Leach, W. Newham, G. Brann, F. W. Tate (father of Maurice), G. Cox and H. R. Butt. A little later R. R. Relf, H. L. Simms and V. W. C. Jupp played prominent parts in Sussex cricket. Jupp went on to give good service to Northamptonshire and, talking of men of two counties, it is interesting to note that P. G. H. Fender, afterwards Surrey Captain, turned out for Sussex before the first world war. I must mention that Billy Newham, in various capacities, assisted Sussex for sixty-three years--a proud record. Killick will be remembered in one unhappy connection for in 1911 Alletson, of Notts, hit him for 34 in one over which included two no-balls. Alletson's scoring strokes in this historic over were: 4, 6, 6, 4, 4, 4, 6.
From 1900 to the outbreak of war in 1914, Sussex had four captains--Ranji, C. B. Fry, C. L. A. Smith and H. P. Chaplin. When cricket was resumed in 1919, H. L. Wilson did a useful job as skipper in a team-building period, and when I took over in 1922, I had the good fortune to have at my command players like Ted Bowley, Maurice Tate, George Cox, senior, Tom Cook, George Street and Bert Wensley.
Tate, I must say at once, was the greatest bowler our county has produced. Curiously, when I first played for Sussex Maurice used the same run-up and style of delivery as his father--a slow bowler! A sheer piece of luck caused Maurice to change his methods. Sussex had batted very badly in 1922, and when we had a day off the whole team practised at the nets. Maurice Tate bowled me several of his slow deliveries, then down came a quick one which spreadeagled my stumps. He did this three times. I went up to him and said: "Maurice, you must change your style of bowling immediately." My hunch paid. In the next match, against Kent at Tunbridge Wells, Maurice, in his new style as a quick bowler, was unplayable. He took three wickets in four balls and eight in the innings for 67. That was the turning point in his career.
In the Test Trial Match at Lord's in 1923, he took five wickets without a run being scored from him after the Rest had made 200 for four wickets. They were out for 205. The following year Maurice and I bowled out South Africa at Birmingham for 30--a day neither of us will ever forget. I was fortunate to take six for seven runs, and Maurice captured the other four for 12. In the second innings we shared nine wickets and England won by an innings. The tide flowed for Sussex bowlers about that time, for we had previously dismissed Surrey for 53 at The Oval, and in the Whitsuntide match at Lord's had disposed of Middlesex, in their second innings, for 41.
Maurice was a member of my 1924-25 M.C.C. Team to Australia and on this tour he beat Arthur Mailey's record of 36 wickets in a Test series by taking 38. He bowled Mailey out to gain his 37th success! Beside being a great bowler, Maurice was a hard-hitting batsman with a wealth of strokes. He scored 17,518 runs for the county, and took 2,223 wickets. For seven consecutive seasons he did the double, and in 1929 he took over 100 wickets for the county alone and scored more than 1,000 runs in first-class cricket. In fact, with the exception of 1933 when a damaged foot kept him out of the last three matches (he had taken 99 wickets) he never failed to take over 100 wickets for Sussex.
In 1953 Alec Bedser beat Tate's Test record by taking 39 wickets in a series, and many times since I have been asked how I compare Bedser with Maurice. My answer is: they are two very great bowlers. Having said that I still think that Maurice Tate just stands out as the superior bowler of the two, bearing in mind the strength of the Australian batting in the 1924-25 series. But it is a very close thing indeed and one must not forget that Bedser had to contend with Bradman between 1946 and 1948.
Sussex cricket has never lacked cricketers of note. There came the Parks brothers--Jim and Harry, the Langridges--James and John, and K. S. Duleepsinhji, newphew of Ranji, before I handed over the captaincy to my brother, Harold, in 1930. Duleep played some wonderful innings during his short career, with his magnificent scores of 115 and 246 in the match against Kent at Hastings in 1929 as probably his supreme effort. He was a joy to watch. Another historic day came in May 1930 when against Northamptonshire at Hove Duleep hit the record Sussex individual score, 333, beating his uncle's 285 not out against Somerset at Taunton in 1901. Duleepsinhji and my brother suffered in health, but Duleep helped Sussex finish second in 1932, a position they kept in the two following years under R. S. G. Scott and Alan Melville, afterwards captain of South Africa. A. J. Holmes took over the leadership of the county in 1936 and carried on until the outbreak of World War II.
A red-letter day in Sussex history, and indeed in first-class cricket, occurred in 1937, when J. H. Parks achieved the unique feat of having taken 100 wickets and scored 3,000 runs. His full figures for a memorable season were 3,003 runs, average 50.89, and 101 wickets, average 25.83.
I would like to record here that I am much obliged to Sir Home Gordon, Bart., for many facts of interest concerning Sussex. A good friend to Sussex cricket since 1919, he was President of the County Cricket Club in 1948 and, now in his 82nd year, he is still one of the keenest supporters of the game.
When cricket recommenced in 1946, S. C. Griffith captained Sussex. H. T. Bartlett took over in 1947 and was followed in 1950 by James Langridge, the first professional captain to lead the county team. He held the post for three years until D. S. Sheppard, captain of Cambridge in 1952, was appointed in his place. Last season brought a personal triumph for Sheppard, and I think it only right for the satisfaction of present-day well-wishers of my county, that I should enlarge on their performances under his captaincy. Sheppard put Sussex back into the limelight, and for the first time since 1934 the county finished second and were serious challengers to Surrey for the Championship title right until the last week of the season. Sheppard set a magnificent example at all times and moulded Sussex into a grand team showing a tremendous improvement in fielding. Sheppard batted in top-class style, and he scored 2,048 runs for an average of 52.51. John Langridge opened with him and a fine pair they were. Young George Cox, son of George Cox senior, who was my leading professional, had a splendid season. He played several of his audacious knocks and rescued the side when they were in trouble. James Langridge retired from first-class cricket after the Australian match--a fitting end to his career embracing thirty years of the most valuable service to the club. He was appointed coach.
Quite one of the most encouraging features of 1953 was the progress made by the young brigade, particularly K. G. Suttle and N. I. Thomson. Suttle, a left-handed bat, scored 1,377 runs and was always ready to use his feet and attack the bowling. At all times his fielding was brilliant. He was rewarded with an invitation to tour West Indies with the M.C.C. team. Thomson took 101 wickets in his first season as a professional, and was a fine replacement for the faithful Jim Cornford who has gone to live in Rhodesia. A. E. James took 104 wickets with his good length bowling, while Oakman, until he broke a finger at the end of July, put up some fine performances with his spin bowling. Young Jim Parks, son of J. H., returned from service in the R.A.F. and scored 1,277 runs, but he did not get going as well as many had hoped. However, there is a great future, I am sure, for this young player.
Nor must Jim Wood be forgotten. Although not as successful as in previous years he was always one of the hardest triers in the team. The end of the school term brought this year's captain, Hubert Doggart, into the side and with Robin Marlar, the 1953 Cambridge captain bowling magnificently, Sheppard was able to captain a great match-winning side.
Our President, the Duke of Norfolk, has taken a real and lively interest in all the county games. He has given a lead that puts inspiration and stimulation into the hearts of all keen Sussex cricket lovers. Arrangements for the Coronation occupied a tremendous amount of His Grace's time, but he managed to see many of our county games. His own match at the beautiful Arundel Park ground against H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh's XI attracted over 30,000 people and renewed memories of that match of 1728. The Chairman of the Sussex Committee, Mr. A. K. Wilson, is another enthusiast to whom the county owes a great deal, and Lieut.-Col. G. S. Grimston, our energetic Secretary, hopes to have his reward in seeing Sussex go from strength to strength.