V.E. Walker

MR. V. E. Walker.-The death at Southgate on January 3rd, after a brief illness, for Mr. Vyell Edward Walker, removed from among us one of the most famous of cricketers. Mr. Walker"s career as an active player ended long ago, but his interest in the game remained as keen as ever to the last, and almost daily during the season he was to be seen at Lord"s. The fifth of the seven brothers Walker-all of them cricketers-he was born on April 20th, 1837, and was thus in his sixty-ninth year. He played his first match at Lord"s for Harrow against Winchester in 1853, and made such rapid progress that he was picked for Gentlemen against Players when only nineteen years of age. His position as one of the leading cricketers of the day was already secure when in 1859, for England against Surrey, at the Oval, he did the biggest thing of his whole career, scoring 20 not out and 108, and taking with his lobs fourteen wickets-all ten in the first innings and four in the second. Thenceforward he was quite at the top of the tree as an all-round player, having no rival among amateurs till E. M. and W. G. Grace in turn appeared on the scene. He was at his best, both as batsman and bowler, down to 1866, and went on playing for several years longer, giving up first-class cricket, if we remember rightly, after the season of 1877. Ten years later he returned to the field for one special occasion, captaining the Veterans against the M. C. C. during the M. C. C."s Centenary Week at Lord"s in 1887. Mr. Walker was in every sense of the word an all-round cricketer, as, apart from his batting, his lob bowling, and his splendid fielding, he was, on the admission of all who played with or against him, the very best captain of his time. No point in the game escaped him, and many stories have been told of his skilful generalship in Middlesex matches.

He was one of the founders of the Middlesex Club early in the sixties, and regularly captained the eleven till, as his powers began to wane, he gave up the post to his youngest brother, Mr. I. D. Walker, who died in 1898. In the early days of Middlesex cricket, when the matches were played on the old Cattle market ground at Islington, the Walkers practically ran the County Club. The support accorded by the public was not great, but the cricket could scarcely have been keener. When the Cattle Market ground had to be given up to the builders, Middlesex, after a tentative experiment at Lillie Bridge, played for some years at Prince"s ground, Hans-place, and then, in 1877, came to the arrangement-still in force-with the Marylebone club to play all their home matches at Lord"s. County cricket forty years ago was a small thing compared with what it is now, but the Middlesex eleven were very proud of taking the first place in 1866. In that season they played eight county matches, and won six of them, the only defeat being against Cambridgeshire at the Cattle Market. It was one of Mr. Walker"s best years, and in a couple of single innings" victories over Surrey he had a notable share, scoring 79 at Islington and 74, not out, at the Oval. Encouraged by success, Middlesex ventured to play England at Lord"s in 1867, but the result was disastrous, the batting of Alfred Lubbock and W. G. Grace giving the England team an easy victory. Mr. Walker became president of the Middlesex County Club in 1898, and retained the post for the rest of his life. He was one of the trustees of the Marylebone Club, and filled the office of president in 1891.

To Mr. Walker"s varied gifts as a cricketer many of the men who played side by side with him in his best days bear testimony, all agreeing as to his skill as a captain and the exceptional excellence of his fielding and lob bowling. Writing in Mr. Bettesworth"s book, The Walkers of Southgate, Cannon McCormick said, I think that V. E. was the best slow bowler I ever played after old Clarke, who bowled faster than V. E. as a rule. V. E. and W. B. Money were, perhaps, nearer each other in style than any other two bowlers of the time. I never think that Money had full justice done to him. V. E. was better than he in both judgment and the way in which he fielded his own bowling; they neither of them tossed the ball in the air as much as other bowlers, such as A. W. Ridley and E. T. Drake, who were both very good indeed. V. E."s difficulty chiefly lay in his deceptive variation of pace. He was a splendid judge of a batsman"s abilities, and very quickly found out his weak spots. He did not concern himself with averages; his one leading idea was to get a man out. I have seen all the modern lob-bowlers, including Humphreys, and the only conclusion I can come to is that there is no accurate, well-paced lob-bowling now. Mr. Edward Rutter, his companion in many a Middlesex match, was particularly impressed by the catches he made from his own bowling. He said of him, He was a most formidable customer as a bowler, and he was the most athletic fellow that I ever saw in the cricket field. I have seen him catch a man behind the batsman"s wicket near short-leg, which shows as well as anything I can think of what a lot of ground he covered. It did not matter to him how hard the ball was driven back to him; if it was within reach he made a catch of it with either hand. Apart from the Surrey and England match in 1859, Mr. Walker twice took all ten wickets in one innings-for Gentlemen of Middlesex against Gentlemen of Kent at Maidstone in 1864, and for Middlesex against Lancashire at Manchester in 1895. He is also said to have performed the feat once in a minor game. With regard to the Surrey and England match, Mr. Walker was fond of recalling the fact that the not-out man in Surrey"s first innings- Julius C├Žsar-was missed off his bowling. As a batsman Mr. Walker was more graceful in style than any of his brothers, and was essentially an on-side player. Though very modest when speaking of his own deeds in the cricket field, he remembered with some pride that he made top score against the late George Freeman, when that greatest of purely fast bowlers caused such a sensation in a North and South match at the Oval in 1869.

Of the many famous matches in which Mr. Walker took part it would be easy to write several pages without in any way exhausting the subject. Two of the most memorable- Gentlemen v. Players and Surrey v. England-were played at the Oval in 1862. The Gentlemen and Players match after a tremendous fight, was left drawn, the Players at the finish having two tickets to fall and wanting 33 runs to win. H. H. Stephenson and George Anderson were the not-outs, and Tom Lockyer had still to go in. Of the Players" eleven on that occasion William Caffyn-now in his seventy-ninth year-is the only survivor, but four or five of the Gentlemen are still living. The late Mr. John Walker-eldest of the seven brothers-headed the Gentlemen"s score with 98 and 10. The Surrey and England match of 1862-the last in which Surrey met England"s full strength-is, even after the lapse of more than forty-four years, vividly remembered. England scored 503-a total till then not equalled in first-class matches-and Willsher was no-balled by John Lillywhite for bowling over the shoulder. Lillywhite"s action caused a great stir, and led to the alteration of Law 10 in 1864. One of the kindliest of men, Mr. Walker had numberless friends in the cricket world, and his death leaves a gap that can never be filled. Of the seven brothers Mr. Russell D. Walker, the sixth, is the only one now living.

© John Wisden & Co