Obituary

Gubby Allen

ALLEN, SIR GEORGE OSWALD BROWNING (GUBBY), CBE, TD, who died on November 29, 1989, aged 87, had a stronger influence on the welfare and development of cricket than anyone since Lord Harris over a period of more than 50 years. For his services to the game he was made CBE in 1974 and knighted in 1986. Sir George ("Gubby", as he was universally known) was born in Sydney on July 31, 1902. His father, believing firmly in the value of an English education, brought the family to England when he was six. A mere 27 years later he was elected to the committee of MCC.

By impressing his seniors with his strong views and a general interest in the game, he had quickly been recognised as good committee material, and by 1933 he was treading the corridors of power, familiarising himself with the inner workings of Lord's. He was ten years younger than the next youngest member of the committee. He had been elected to the Middlesex committee in 1931.

After service in the Second World War, early on in an anti-aircraft battery and later as an intelligence officer, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, Allen returned to Lord's fully aware that cricket needed revitalising and determined to bring this about. However, the dead hand of conservatism pervaded the committee room, and it was in the immediate post-war years that he developed into a formidable and very professional committee man. He was clear-minded and unflinching in putting over his arguments, which he would defend with the tenacity and confidence of one who was thoroughly well briefed.

With the help of other like-minded spirits he was soon disturbing the peace. In 1949 Allen launched his campaign for action by proposing the election of famous retired professionals to honorary life-membership of MCC - an imaginative and popular move. In the same year he successfully nominated H. S. Altham for the key post of Treasurer against strong opposition, a measure of his growing influence, and he became the driving force behind the formation of the MCC Youth Cricket Association and its related coaching scheme.

The dismal standard of play which he had seen one day on Wimbledon Common prompted this important initiative. In 1951 the first national coaching conference was held at Lilleshall, and in the meantime, with the collaboration of H. S. Altham, he had been writing The MCC Cricket Coaching Book, by a long way the best manual of its kind produced so far. It remains a testament to his attention to detail and understanding of correct, orthodox technique.

This brought to an end Allen's first period of administrative activity. By now he was ready to assume the chairmanship of the Test Selection Committee, a post he held for seven momentous years from 1955 to 1961. Most of the selectors' deliberations in this period had a successful outcome. Some of their choices were inspired, notably Washbrook, Sheppard and Compton in the last three Tests in 1956 against Australia. The loss of the Ashes in 1958-59 and the failure to regain them in 1961 were major disappointments, but winning home series at the expense of West Indies, India, South Africa and New Zealand was ample compensation. Allen laid down one principle for selection: class before averages. Everything was now falling into place for him.

He was President of MCC in 1963-64, and in 1964 he became Treasurer, holding this influential post for twelve years. As Treasurer he had much to do with the setting up of the Cricket Council with its subordinate executive bodies, the Test and County Cricket Board and the National Cricket Association. During all this time he was England's representative on ICC. His period of office at Lord's was full of incident. At one time or another he had to give his attention to the overs-rate, the lbw Law (he always regretted not having opposed the 1935 change more vigorously), the size of the ball, improvements to Lord's, the Packer affair, the problem of bouncers, the front-foot no-ball Law and, not least, the throwing crisis of 1958-61, for which he enlisted the help of Sir Donald Bradman.

Allen's deep knowledge and unique ability to advise on any aspect of cricket was based on his playing experience at the highest level, although he could never find the time to make either 1,000 runs or take 100 wickets in a season. At Eton the groundwork was laid for future success. His housemaster, C. M. Wells, a notable all-round sportsman, was in charge of cricket and an important influence in his development, and there was George Hirst to give encouragement in moments of stress. In school matches Winchester rather than Harrow felt the full fury of his onslaughts.

By 1921, his third year in the XI, he was a genuinely quick bowler who could make useful runs, and he was chosen to play for Middlesex in two matches before going up to Cambridge. In 1922 he had a match analysis of nine for 78 in the innings defeat of Oxford at Lord's, taking expert advantage of a helpful pitch, and his total for the Cambridge season was 49 wickets at 15 each. The following year he took a further 45 wickets at 18.88 each for the University, but at Lord's he suffered a recurrence of a muscle strain in his side and bowled only fifteen overs without a wicket as Oxford ran up 422. Next day, when Cambridge were bowled out twice on a drying pitch, his 28 was top score in the second-innings.

After going down after his second year, Allen remained a true amateur and played first-class cricket only when his work in the City permitted. He took trouble to keep himself fit by playing squash regularly and playing good-quality club cricket at weekends. That he was able to step up a gear and invariably make his mark was a tribute to his natural ability and dedication. He had a superb action with a rhythmical run-up and full follow-through, and it needed only a little fine tuning to be running smoothly. In 1924, at Trent Bridge, his six for 31 in thirteen overs wrecked Nottinghamshire's second-innings and helped Middlesex win a memorable match by 27 runs after being forced to follow on 209 runs behind.

In 1925 he made the first of his eleven first-class centuries: Allen (130) and Haig (98) put on 193 for the ninth wicket for the Gentlemen at The Oval. The Players' attack contained Tate, Howell, Kennedy and Hearne. Selection for the Test Trial followed in 1926, but the sudden emergence of Larwood was to delay his first taste of Test cricket. In June 1929 he achieved his most spectacular analysis, ten for 40 at Lord's against the reigning champions, Lancashire, having been brought on as first change because he did not take the field until almost midday. He had been working earlier in the day. All but one of his ten wickets were taken after lunch, and his achievement remains unique in a county match at Lord's.

In 1930 his chance finally came against Australia at Lord's, but it proved to be a torrid baptism with Australia amassing more than 700 on the plumbest of pitches. He conceded 115 runs, failed to take a wicket and did not play again in the series. He did, however, score 57 in the second-innings and help his captain, Chapman, add 125 for the sixth wicket, and the following year, going in at No. 9, he made 122 against New Zealand at Lord's, putting on 246 with Ames (137) for the eighth wicket - a record which still stands.

Five for 14 in New Zealand's first innings at The Oval in the Second Test emphasised his potential as a Test player. Even so, Allen's selection for the 1932-33 tour of Australia was widely criticised, yet by normal, orthodox methods he played a leading part in regaining the Ashes, claiming 21 wickets at 28.23 apiece and more than once making useful runs. His refusal to have any truck with bodyline and his general conduct made him the prime candidate for the captaincy on MCC's next visit.

At Old Trafford in 1934 his opening over brought a touch of farce to the proceedings; it contained thirteen deliveries, including three wides and four no-balls, as he tried to avoid landing in O'Reilly's footmarks after batting for more than two hours in extreme heat. The 1936 series against India saw him captain England to a 2-0 victory in the three Tests, his personal contribution being twenty wickets for an average of 16.50, and thus the greatest prize in cricket was his: the captaincy of MCC in Australia. England lost the series 2-3 after leading 2-0 against all the odds. Bad luck with the weather and Bradman's wonderful batting tipped the scales against Allen, and yet the tour was a triumphant success.

By his efforts on and off the field, the proper relationship between the old antagonists was restored and goodwill abounded once again. At Brisbane in the First Test, and before his exertions had drained his reserves of energy, he took eight wickets for 107 and made 103 runs. Allen could have been available for the 1938 series, but Hammond, newly turned amateur, found favour with Sir Pelham Warner, the chairman of selectors.

After the war, at the age of 45, he undertook to lead MCC in the West Indies in 1947-48. Though he was never fully fit and the opposition, with Worrell, Weekes and Walcott in their ranks, were too strong, he again proved to be the ideal touring captain. Nothing was too much trouble for him in seeing to the need of his men. At home he confined himself to a few games for Middlesex and an annual return to Fenner's for the Free Foresters, when as often as not he made a century, a reminder of how many runs he would have made had he not largely concentrated on high pace. His highest score of 180 was made for them against the University in 1948.

In all he played in 265 matches, making 9,232 runs for an average of 28.67, capturing 788 wickets at 22.23, and taking 131 catches; he was a splendid close fielder. He took ten wickets in a match on nine occasions. His Test record was 750 runs at 24.19 and 81 wickets for 29.37. With his death cricket lost one of its most devoted and dedicated servants. Active almost to the end, he returned to his home from hospital to die only a pitch's length from the Pavilion at Lord's and the stand next door now named after him.

Sir Donald Bradman, AC, writes: Despite the knowledge that the prognosis was bad, it was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Sir George (Gubby) Allen. I had known him for 69 years and he was the sole English survivor of the team which played against us in that memorable Lord's Test of 1930. Over that long period of almost seven decades I made many wonderful and cherished English friends. Sadly the great majority have passed away, and at the time of his death Gubby was probably closer to my heart than anyone else in England. From our very first acquaintance we found ourselves on the same wavelength and this affinity never changed.

Gubby achieved fame as a Test cricketer, but his greatest contribution to the game was when in 1932-33 he refused to be browbeaten by England's captain, Douglas Jardine, and risked being sent home from Australia rather than bowl bodyline, which he believed and said was contrary to the well-being of the game of cricket. His stand displayed courage of the highest order, and the cricket world will forever be in his debt.

Four years later, in 1936-37, he captained England in Australia. I had the privilege of being Australia's captain, and together we resolved to expunge the memories of 1932-33 and to restore cricket to its rightful place as a sport wherein opponents would strain every nerve and sinew to win but never at the expense of sportsmanship and friendship. I still cherish the letter he wrote me at the end of the tour in which he expressed his personal pride that the slate had been wiped clean and that cricket relationships between Australia and England had been restored to their rightful pinnacle.

Although that series ended our contests on the field of play, Gubby's life and mine continued to follow similar paths in that we both made our livelihoods out of stock and share broking, and that we both dedicated ourselves to cricket administration, an area which presented significant differences of opinion between England and Australia. The culmination of these differences came just before the proposed Australian tour of England in 1961 over the vexed question of what constituted a fair delivery. Enormous publicity had been given to the bowling actions of certain Australians, and the situation of virtually trial by the media became well nigh intolerable - so much so that Bill Dowling and I were despatched to England by air for consultations with our English counterparts.

In essence the problem was thrown into the laps of Harry Altham and Gubby Allen (representing England) and Bill Dowling and myself, representing Australia. There were very frank exchanges of views and much argument, but in the end the measures adopted, which brought an end to the crisis, became possible only because both Gubby and I had implicit faith in the integrity of each other. The final outcome was an agreement for a "throwing truce" during the first five weeks of the 1961 season (of which I was the instigator) and the drafting of a new Law concerning a "fair" delivery, for which Gubby became responsible. History shows that our method of buying time proved of immense value.

Gubby and I wrote to one another frequently exchanging views on matters appertaining to cricket wherein we had reservations or futuristic thoughts. On the off-side lbw Law, Gubby admitted that he supported with enthusiasm the change to the present rule, but he later regretted his decision and thought a mistake had been made. After many years he felt the alteration had made a fundamental change for the worse in the technique of batsmanship, pandering to defensive forward play and militating against the back-foot exponent. In the bowling department he felt that the new rule encouraged in-swing bowling, whereas the health of cricket would have been better served by bowlers being encouraged to make the ball leave the bat. In retrospect he believed it would have been wiser to have left the lbw Law as it was and to have increased the size of the stumps. I wonder if history will ever see eye to eye.

Unfinished business of quite recent origin was his complete agreement with me that the change to the front-foot no-ball Law was a mistake and had set up a quite unsatisfactory rule. Whilst firm in this view, he had not finally come to terms with the issue because he had been unable to devise a wording which would satisfy him for reverting to the back-foot jurisdiction. Tragic that his thinking and wisdom are no longer available to us and the problem remains.

Over the years England has produced a string of wonderful cricket administrators who devoted their lives to cricket, men of the stature of Lord Hawke, Lord Harris, Harry Altham and others, whose contribution can never be quantified. But I say with sincerity and conviction that nobody in history has left a legacy of dedication and service to the game greater than Gubby Allen. His arguments were always powerful but reasoned, based on his playing skill and knowledge, as well as his understanding of the need for democratic solutions.

I deeply mourn the loss of a staunch friend and colleague, tempered by the gratitude that I had been privileged to share with him a mutual labour of love which deeply enriched our respective lives and which contributed to the well-being of the game we both cherished so much.

R. E. S. Wyatt writes: The death of Sir George Allen is a sad loss to the world of cricket and particularly to his many friends. My friendship with him was a long and close one, which really began on the 1932-33 tour of Australia. We spent many hours together discussing the various aspects of a very sensational tour and were usually in complete agreement. He was then in his prime as a player. He paid scrupulous attention to his physical fitness and with a perfect action and boundless energy he could bowl extremely fast. He concentrated on an off-side attack, and with his accuracy he became an integral part of our fast attack, with great success in obtaining 21 wickets in the Test matches.

When selected as captain on his second tour of Australia in 1936-37, Gubby, with little experience of captaincy in first-class cricket, became a good England captain who, having won the first two Test matches, was unlucky not to have brought back the Ashes. This was a great disappointment to him. As a captain, he was a disciplinarian but was always most considerate to the members of his side and took infinite interest in their welfare.

On his retirement from the field of play, Gubby was soon to realise the importance of encouraging the young and was largely responsible for the MCC enquiry into youth cricket in 1948. He always took a great interest in the activities of the young. He was, incidentally, an excellent godfather to our son. It was Gubby's knowledge of the technique and mechanics of the game and his ability to spot class that were responsible for his being such a good chairman of selectors and administrator.

P. B. H. May writes: One of the great surprises of my life was when Gubby invited me to captain England at Trent Bridge in 1955. He had always insisted that he added the proviso that I would substantially increase the over-rate, but I was so thrilled at the invitation that I could not remember hearing his condition. In fact we won the match and the series, so our great friendship in the Test arena got off to an excellent start.

Gubby took immense pains in all his activities, being extremely thorough in all his deliberations, and having noticed my liking for fast driving he invariably added a note to my selection invitation. "You will not drive at more than 60 miles per hour to the Test match!"

When I was at University, he regularly came up to Fenner's to play against us and usually made an excellent score. In one particular game, I played rather an indiscreet stroke, and as I passed Gubby on my way back to the pavilion, he said, "That was one of the most unconscious strokes I have ever seen". I must say that I was slightly unnerved by this remark, but when later that season I was fortunate to make a hundred in my first Test, I received a delightful telegram from Gubby which read, "Charge of unconsciousness unconditionally withdrawn". This was just another example of his generous thoughtfulness.

Gubby and I worked together for 35 consecutive Test matches from 1955 which brought many successes. I suppose that the selectors will be best remembered for the recall in 1956 of Washbrook, Sheppard and Compton - all great successes; but as Gubby said, they were all class players, and that is what you constantly seek in a Test cricketer.

I went to see Gubby a couple of weeks before he died, and we of course discussed the current performances in English cricket. He said to me, "Of course I was lucky when I was chairman of selectors because we had many good players, especially bowlers, and not too bad a captain." We shall all miss him greatly.

M. W. Gatting writes: My first recollection of Sir George Allen is from the time I played for Young England against Young West Indies at Lord's in 1974. I wondered at the time who the man was, talking to the Middlesex coach, Don Bennett, and I later learnt that Mr. Allen had come because he specifically wanted to see me bat. Apparently he had already driven out to Ealing to watch me in a Second XI game, but I was out first ball. At Lord's where Wayne Daniel bowled very fast against us, he told Don that he thought I had a chance because I got stuck in.

When I went on the staff at Middlesex, Mr. Allen helped me a lot. For example, I was having trouble playing to leg; I was moving my front foot too soon and getting out lbw. He picked this up and made me stop moving so early. I always felt he was someone I could go to and ask what I was doing wrong. The fact that he was so often at Lord's helped in another way, too. If I knew he was in the committee room, I would always ask myself if I was picking my bat up straight, remember not to move too soon and try to play straight.

It was flattering, not just for me but for any young cricketer at Lord's, to have such a knowledgeable and important man taking a personal interest. He would always help if asked, whether it was a batsman or a bowler who needed advice. I remember in recent years he was asked if he would have a look at one of our young bowlers. He came over to the nets and put his handkerchief on the ground to show the bowler where he should be pitching the ball. Then he set about helping him get his bowling right. What made him so good with young cricketers was his ability to set his personal experience alongside modern conditions and practices. He always kept up with what was happening, instead of remembering only the past. Because of this, young players respected his opinions and valued his help so much.

Sir George was a keen competitor, as I discovered when I started playing golf with him. It was only a few years ago that, after we'd been playing, he bought some new woods because he wanted to add another 20 or 30 yards to his drives. You don't get many 85-year-old men doing that.

© John Wisden & Co