CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1940

Bill Edrich

IT was at the beginning of 1937 that WILLIAM JOHN EDRICH, qualifying from Norfolk at the age of 21, played his first match for Middlesex. He has therefore been in big cricket for only three years, but this short space of time has been crammed with a diversity of happenings. He has been on two foreign tours, he has performed the unique feat of scoring over 2,000 runs in each of his first three seasons, and his experiences in Test matches have been truly remarkable. In 1938, after making over 1,000 runs between April 30th and May 31st, he was an automatic choice for England, but to such little advantage was he seen that the sum total of his six innings against Australia was 67 runs, with 28 at Leeds as his highest score. The following winter in South Africa he was dismissed in consecutive Test innings for 4, 10, 0, 6 and 1, and then, when his detractors were howling with glee and his friends were bitter with disappointment, he most dramatically came right back into his own, for when England went in with 696 to get in that never-ending match at Durban he produced a magnificent 219 to make possible a wonderful victory which rain and the necessity for returning home prevented.

Edrich certainly cannot complain of lack of opportunity, and no other cricketer has ever been so persevered with in the face of continued non-success as a run-getter. Of course, the old cry of "the favoured ones of Lord's" was heard and re-heard, and it is doubtful whether, say, a Leicestershire player would have so long been retained. It is definite however that W. R. Hammond, England's captain, was in favour of Edrich being kept in, because he was "so good at the bits and pieces." In other words he fitted well into the side, and even if he didn't make runs he could send down a useful fast ball and field brilliantly wherever wanted. Anyway the whole thing is over and done with, and provides another example of how cruel the gods of cricket can be.

Born at Lingwood in Norfolk on March 26, 1916, Edrich showed such an early aptitude for the game that before he left for Middlesex he had scored 1,886 runs in five seasons for the county of his birth in the Minor Counties Competition. Two innings of 79 and 111 against the 1935 South Africans stamped him as something out of the ordinary, and before he could play for Middlesex he attracted the critics' attention by some fine displays for the M.C.C. In his first regular season he scored 2,154 runs in all matches, generally going in first wicket down. He had a great match against Lancashire at Lord's in early June making 175 and 73, not out. This latter was probably the best innings played by anyone the whole year for, after rain, Booth and Phillipson made the ball fly alarmingly and Middlesex were all out for 151. The next winter Edrich went to India and was the most consistent scorer for Lord Tennyson's team. Soon after his return everyone was talking about him as an opening batsman, for in his first fifteen innings, all at Lord's, he made 1,010 runs with an average of over 77. Then came his unhappy experience in the Test matches where he was dismissed four times by McCormick and twice by O'Reilly, but all the same he finished sixth in the general averages with an aggregate of 2,378. Last year, after the tour in South Africa, he hardly started at his best, but in July and August when Compton looked rather stale, he played splendidly, making 979 in his last fifteen innings. His total for the season was 2,186.

Edrich and Compton--the names promised to be for many years as famous as those of Hearne and Hendren--have often been critically compared. It is fair to say that Compton has the greater range of stroke and is rather better balanced on his feet than his frequent partner, who sometimes looks slightly awkward when playing back. One of Edrich's strong points is the way in which he hits fast bowlers back past themselves to the screen, either on the ground or in the air. His hook is now under firmer control than it was, he has a profitable cut and a most effective chop through the slips. Of somewhat small stature, he is nevertheless very strong, especially in the forearms. He generally gets at the bowling as quickly as he can and only very rarely is he not interesting to watch. His out-cricket adds to his value, for he is a useful fastish change bowler with slinging action, and is one of the best of fieldsmen. He originally worked in the deep, but last year was nearly always close to the wicket, and caught many fine catches in the slips. Before concentrating on cricket he played on the left wing for Tottenham Hotspur. He is now serving with the Royal Air Force.

© John Wisden & Co