CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1914

J. William Hitch

J. WILLIAM HITCH was born at Radcliffe, Lancashire on May 7, 1886. There are few more interesting figures in the cricket field to-day than Surrey's fast bowler. In one respect he stands out quite by himself. Alone in England he preserves the tradition of great pace. He is not so fast as Kortright and some other bowlers of the past, but he is certainly quicker than anyone else now playing regularly in first-class cricket in this country. His bowling has made him famous, but even if he had not been able to bowl at all he would in all probability have made a name for himself. He is about the best all-round fieldsman we have, and though he does not often get many runs there are few men who can hit so hard. Of this latter fact he gave abundant proof at the Scarborough Festival in September, playing two astonishing innings. Though a Lancashire man by birth he had no cricket connection with his native county, his family moving to Newmarket while he was still quite a child. His father was engaged at Cheveley, and it was there that the future player began to learn his cricket. He must have been a very strong boy, as from his own account he was given a place in the Cheveley eleven as the regular fast bowler at twelve years of age. He says that his first chance of distinction came when he was eighteen. Tom Hayward took down a strong Surrey eleven to play against eighteen of Cambridge and District, and as things turned out, the match determined the course Hitch's career. Much to his delight he bowled Hayward out, and when the game was over the great batsman asked him if he would like to try his fortune at the Oval. He came up to London in the following spring, and began the connection with Surrey cricket, which has since had such happy results.

His period of qualification over, Hitch made his first appearance in the Surrey eleven against Hampshire at the Oval on the 13th of May, 1907. He did nothing out of the common, taking two wickets in Hampshire's first innings and one in the second, but it was noticed that he bowled at a great pace. His first success at the Oval came about a month later, when in the second innings of Cambridge University he took four wickets-three of them bowled down-at a cost of 27 runs. He also bowled well against Warwickshire at the Oval, but he did not succeed in keeping his place in the eleven. His record in his first year in county cricket came out at seventeen wickets in six matches, with an average of 33 runs per wicket. This was not much, but he fielded so well and was always so keen that a good many people made a note of him as a promising player. In 1908 he took a decided step to the front, he and E.C. Kirk getting rid of Kent on a first-rate Oval wicket for totals of 111 and 103. The two bowlers were not unchanged in either innings, but they took all the wickets, Hitch getting thirteen and Kirk seven. Since that time Hitch has been one of Surrey's indispensable men, but of his more recent doings I need not speak in detail. As a bowler he has gone on improving, getting more and more command over his length without the slightest loss of speed. In his early days for Surrey his pitch was, to say the least, erratic. Last summer I think he bowled better than ever, getting through an immense amount of work and taking in first-class matches 174 wickets. Only Booth with 181 took a larger number. As a fieldsman Hitch is, perhaps, even more interesting than as a bowler. He is the best short leg in the world-I know no one else quite so fearless and brilliant-but he is equally at home in other positions. He has scarcely a superior at mid-off, and though as a fast bowler he does not often have to go into the deep field, not many men can judge a lofty catch so well. His most remarkable work as a fieldsman was done in 1910. That was W. C. Smith's great year as a bowler. He took 215 wickets for Surrey in county matches, and how many of them he owed to Hitch at short leg I would not venture to guess. Some people thought that Hitch stood too close in, but with this criticism I could never agree. I think that, just as in the case of E. M. Grace at point years ago, the fact of his being so much nearer the wicket than other fieldsmen would have dared to stand was in itself the cause of many a batsman's downfall. Hitch went to Australia with the M. C. C.'s team in the winter of 1911-12, but he twice broke down through a strain, and for him the tour was a disappointment.

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