CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1914

Albert Relf

ALBERT EDWARD RELF was born at Brightling, in Sussex, on June 26, 1874, and is thus in his fortieth year. It says much for his physical fitness that at an age when most men are giving up first-class cricket he should be a finer all-round player than ever. Assuredly he has never been better as batsman and bowler combined than he was in 1913. His figures for the season speak for themselves. In first-class matches he scored 1,846 runs with an average of nearly 32, and took 141 wickets for just over 18 runs a piece. His bowling was a good deal better than his average would make one think as, playing most of his matches for Sussex, he had to do far more than a proper share of work. It is fair criticism of Relf to say that while as a bowler he always looks the first-rate man he is, his style of batting gives rather a false idea of his powers. No one seeing him for the first time would suppose him capable of getting his hundreds in high-class company. He has a way of letting the ball hit the bat that is certainly not impressive to the eye. Still, the fact remains, that season after season he makes as many runs as men who look twice as good as he is. A coaching engagement with the Earl of Wilton, at Houghton Hall, gave him a residential qualification for Norfolk, and it was for the Norfolk eleven that he first became known. He finished up with a batting average of 47 in 1899, and in the following year, being engaged to play for Sussex, he began his real career. In his first season he shone more as a batsman than a bowler, but his bowling gradually improved, and in 1903 he headed the Sussex averages, taking 91 wickets in county matches. His work greatly impressed Ranjitsinhji and C. B. Fry, and at the end of the season, chiefly on their recommendation, he was picked by the M. C. C. to go to Australia with the team that, with P. F. Warner as captain, won the rubber for England in a memorable series of games. In the triumphs of that brilliant tour, however, Relf had very little share. He did not get much chance as a bowler in the big matches, and his highest score in the whole trip was 39. On his return to England, however, he got on very well for Sussex, and since the summer of 1904 it may fairly be said that he has never looked back. Year after year he has, as an all-round man, been one of the mainstays of the Sussex eleven. As a medium-pace bowler he has every good quality. Taking a short run up to the wicket, he has a delivery so easy and natural that he can, without fatigue, keep up an end nearly all day; his command of length is perfect, and he has a very quick spin off the pitch. Few bowlers are so difficult to play on a wicket that is the least bit crumbled. It is said that last summer he made the ball do more in the air than in any previous season, but on this point I can say nothing from personal observation as I never happened to watch him from quite behind his arm. As a bowler for England against Australia in this country, Relf may, without exaggeration, be described as the unluckiest of men. He has only had one chance, against the Australians at Lord's in 1909, and in that unhappy match, with very little help, he did splendid work, taking in an innings of 350 five wickets for 85 runs. In the ordinary course of events he would have been picked for England in the three subsequent matches, but Barnes stepped into the team at Leeds, and another right-handed bowler of medium-pace was not required. Since 1909 Barnes has, of course, dominated the scene. Still, though kept out of Test games in England by a better man, Relf has done any amount of good work, bowling finely on several occasions in Gentlemen v. Players matches. Over and above his batting and bowling, Relf is a brilliant fieldsman in the slips.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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