Obituary

Walter Robins

ROBINS, ROBERT WALTER VIVIAN, who died at his home near Lord's on December 12, aged 62, will live in history as one of the most dynamic all-round cricketers of his time. In three of his four years in the XI at Highgate School he headed both batting and bowling averages, being captain in the last, 1925, when, with an innings of 206 and seven wickets for 54 runs against Aldenham his outstanding performance, he scored 816 runs, average 62.76, and dismissed 60 batsmen for 15.18 runs apiece. He also captained the Highgate football XI. In 1925, while still at school, he made his first appearance for Middlesex, for whom he played irregularly till 1950. In all first-class cricket, he hit 13,490 runs, average 26.45, and took 946 wickets at 23.59 runs each -- figures which do not convey his true worth.

From an early age, "Robbie" was taught the rudiments of the game by his father, a Staffordshire player, and as a boy he assisted East Molesey C.C. He attributed his success to "an indefatigable, patient male parent", but whatever the reason, he always displayed an aggressively enterprising attitude to the game, whether in batting, bowling, fielding, particularly at cover point, or in captaincy, which made him immensely popular with spectators and frequently swayed the course of a match.

He got his Blue as a Freshman at Cambridge in 1926 purely as a batsman, scoring 37 and 21 not out. In the next season's University match he hit 55 and 41, sending down only one over; but in 1928 he not only put together innings of 53 and 101 not out, but took eight wickets for 151 runs, almost bringing success over Oxford. That gained him a place in the Gentlemen's team against the Players for the first of numerous occasions. Impatient of dull cricket, Robins wasted few scoring opportunities as a batsman, employing his nimble footwork and flexible wrists to the full, especially in cutting and driving. His example transformed a hitherto drab Middlesex side when he took over the captaincy from 1935 to 1938. He also led the county in 1946, 1947 --when they carried off the Championship -- and 1950.

In his first full season for them, 1929, he achieved his only "double", scoring 1,134 runs, including one century, and taking 162 wickets, but more than once he came near repeating that feat. He took part in 19 Test matches for England, being captain in the home series with New Zealand in 1937, and in these he made 612 runs, average 26.60, and took 64 wickets for 27.46 runs each. His highest innings in a Test was 108, when runs were sorely needed, against South Africa at Old Trafford in 1935, and his best bowling analysis six wickets for 32 runs against the West Indies at Lord's in 1933.

His one major tour abroad was to Australia in 1936-37, when he was vice-captain under G. O. Allen. Unfortunately he broke a finger of the right hand at fielding practice in the first week of the tour with the result that he could not spin the ball and achieved small bowling success. At the age of 45, he captained the M.C.C. team which visited Canada in 1951, meeting with considerable all-round success.

As a bowler of leg-breaks and googlies, Robins could not always command a good length; but though he sometimes came in for punishment he was always capable of producing a telling delivery. Twice he did the "hat-trick" for Middlesex: against Leicestershire in 1929 and against Somerset in 1937, both at Lord's. At Trent Bridge in 1930, he bowled Sir Donald Bradman with a googly to which that famous batsman did not offer a stroke and virtually won the game for England. One recalls, too, an occasion at Lord's when Robins, arriving late through business claims, put himself on to bowl directly he took the field. Nottinghamshire at that time were making runs comfortably, with F. W. Stocks, the left-hander, well set. The last ball of an over from Robins pitched so near the end of the popping crease on the batsman's off-side that he completely ignored it. To his astonishment, the ball turned almost at right-angles and hit the stumps! No wonder that "Robbie" doubled up with laughter.

As a Test team selector, Robins served from 1946 to 1949 and again in 1954 and was chairman of the Committee from 1962 to 1964. He began this latter period by issuing an ultimatum to first-class cricketers: "Play aggressively at all times; otherwise you will not be chosen for England." It cannot be said that this produced precisely the results desired, but at least it relieved Test cricket of some of the stagnation which threatened its popularity at the time. Robins also ably filled the position of manager of the M.C.C. team in the West Indies in 1959-60.

As an Association footballer, he displayed much of the same dash which distinguished him on the cricket field. He played on the right wing for Cambridge in the University matches of 1926, 1927 and 1928, being captain in the second season, and he appeared with credit for that celebrated amateur club, the Corinthians. He also took part in League football with Nottingham Forest.

Tributes included:--

S. C. Griffith: Walter was one of the most dynamic cricketers with whom I played. His tremendous enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the game and its history made him the complete cricketer. As an administrator he always proved extremely helpful.

I. A. R. Peebles: I think that he was the most enthusiastic and joyous cricketer I played with. In addition he possessed an unparalleled knowledge of the game.

D. J. Insole: Walter's death is a sad blow. He was the greatest exponent ever of "brighter cricket", though never for its own sake, but because he believed such cricket achieved greater success. As a selector his judgement of a player was excellent.

A. W. Flower (Middlesex C.C. Secretary): Mr. Robins was still a member of the county's General and Cricket Committees. He was a wonderful character, a dynamic personality both on and off the field.

© John Wisden & Co