Obituary, 2001

Hopper Read

READ, HOLCOMBE DOUGLAS, died on January 5, 2000, aged 89. "Hopper" Read was briefly regarded as the fastest bowler in England and was picked to play against South Africa at The Oval in 1935, where he took six wickets - all important ones - on a shirt-front pitch. However, after wintering in Australasia with the non-Test-playing team captained by E. R. T. Holmes, he returned to an ultimatum from his employers: chartered accountancy or cricket. Like so many of his generation, he felt obliged to opt for business, and never played serious cricket again. Read had appeared for Surrey against both universities in 1933 without showing much - he had failed to make the First Eleven at Winchester - and the county raised no objection when Essex (for whom his father, A. H. Read, had played) asked if he might be available. In the second match of the astounding inaugural Brentwood Festival of 1934 - immediately after the game in which Kent had declared at 803 for four - Jack Hobbs, then 51, made one of his increasingly rare appearances, reputedly in response to reports about the pitch. Read, in his opening over, first dislodged his cap, then bowled him. He went on to take seven for 35, and Surrey were all out in 90 minutes. Read handed out similar treatment to several other counties later in the season, and finished with 69 wickets. A year later, having missed most of the early games, he travelled with Essex to face unbeaten Yorkshire at Huddersfield. Bowling uphill, he took six for 11 as Yorkshire were dismissed for 31. The figures, said J. M. Kilburn in the Yorkshire Post, "cannot do full justice to the life and fire of the attack". Read took ten wickets in the next match, against Worcestershire, and two weeks later won his England cap. He finished the season with 97 wickets, but after that most of his cricket was played for Englefield Green and the Butterflies. His career wickets (219) comfortably exceeded his runs (158); he once made eight successive ducks.

© John Wisden & Co