CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1950

Reg Simpson

One of the most satisfactory features of last season's cricket was the way Reginald Thomas Simpson, the Nottinghamshire right-handed opening batsman, fulfilled the expectations of those who have watched his gradual development. Born on February 27, 1920, at Sherwood, within four miles of Trent Bridge, Simpson is a natural cricketer. He never received any coaching, none of his relatives played cricket, but when quite a youngster he was introduced to the game at Mountford House Preparatory School, Nottingham, and at once became very keen to do well. Then he went to Nottingham High School, and was only 13 when he gained a place in the first team. At the age of 15, while still at school, he had achieved enough to draw the attention of the County Club, and he took part in a few matches for Nottinghamshire Club and Ground. In his first season after leaving school, Simpson headed the batting averages for the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Border League with 56.60 runs an innings. Like so many other young cricketers, including T. E. Bailey, R. O. Jenkins and B. Sutcliffe, who also figure in this current feature of Wisden, Simpson found the war an obstacle to his introduction to first-class cricket. At one time he was in a special branch of the Nottinghamshire Police, and in 1940 gave great pleasure to the local cricket enthusiasts by hitting 134 not out for the county against an R.A.F. Xl at Trent Bridge. A dazzling stand with the county captain, G. F. H. Heane, realised 213, and the people of Nottingham were firmly convinced a new star had been discovered.

In 1941 Simpson enlisted as a pilot in the R.A.F.V.R., and two years later he completed the major part of his flying training in Arizona. He finished training in England before going to India in August 1944. While in the Far East, Simpson flew over 1,000 hours as a pilot with Transport Command, and when on leave he played cricket at Karachi, Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi. He returned to England in July 1946 for demobilisation as a Flight Lieutenant, and promptly made his debut in county cricket against Somerset at Trent Bridge. Before passing on to his doings in first-class cricket one must mention a remarkable feat by Simpson while he was on overseas leave in England in August 1944. In the space of nine days he hit 529 runs in nine innings, with a highest score of 99. On the strength of those performances Wisden drew attention to his talent in the 1945 issue.

In those days of uncertainty Simpson was not sure where his future lay, but his ambition as far as cricket was concerned was to play as an amateur. By accepting an appointment with the firm of Gunn & Moore, the sports goods manufacturers, he realised that desire. Figures can be misleading in cricket, but these convey some idea of Simpson's progress. In 1947, his first full season, his complete aggregate reached 1,674, with average 38.21; in 1948 his aggregate was 1,255, average 29.18, but in 1949 he finished virtually third in the batting list with 2,525 runs, average 63.12.

In their search for young players, the M.C.C. chose him for the South African tour in 1948-49, but, scoring only five runs in his two innings of the first match against South Africa, he did not find a place in the remaining four Tests. Nevertheless, he gained valuable experience, and on his return he made the most of the opportunities afforded him last summer by the glorious weather, and particularly the perfect pitches that favoured all batsmen at Trent Bridge. At one period Simpson and Keeton put together four successive three-figure stands. The last, at Old Trafford, yielded 318 and was the second highest against Lancashire at Manchester, falling only 12 short of that by Hammond and Dipper for Gloucestershire in 1929. Simpson went on to make 238, the highest of his career.

Later in the same month he was selected for the Third Test against New Zealand at Old Trafford. This was a most important occasion in his cricket career. After his South African disappointment he knew that failure might put him right back, but having completed 50 he surpassed himself by doubling his score in twenty-seven minutes. This was one of the finest displays of hitting seen in a Test, and all those who were there will recall one magnificent off-drive for 6 from Burtt. Simpson followed his 103 at Manchester with 68 in the final Test at The Oval, where he earned constant applause for his superb fielding at cover as well as on the boundary. His quickness in getting to the ball can be attributed to his splendid physical fitness. He believes in playing games all the year round. As a boy, Simpson broke the Nottingham High School record for the 100 yards in 1936, which he covered in ten and two-fifths seconds. The next year he won the Nottinghamshire junior A.A.A. sprint title and came second in the senior event. As a Rugby footballer he gained his county cap for Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire in 1947-48. Nowadays, when not engaged at cricket he devotes his spare time to hockey and golf.

Seeing Simpson at the wicket, one would imagine that he had modelled himself on his county colleague Hardstaff, whose beautiful style he reproduces. When at his best Simpson is the type of batsman everyone admires. He possesses a neat, upright stance and delights in hitting the ball in front of the wicket. At one time he was rather susceptible to the turning ball--a weakness that was specially noticeable in South Africa--but last summer this could not be held against him. Having established himself in the forefront of cricket, Simpson should continue to prove a valuable asset to both Nottinghamshire and England. -- N.P.

© John Wisden & Co