Wisden Cricketer / Features

January 2006

Sussex cult heroes

Paul Weaver on the cult heroes produced by Sussex

Paul Weaver

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'Chub' Tate played mainly between the wars and, when great batsmen walked tall on plumb pitches, took 2,784 first-class wickets at 18 © Getty Images
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Joe Vine
(Sussex career 1896-1922)

When Vine once hit three fours in an over he was admonished by his captain, CB Fry. "He told me plainly that it was my job to stay there and leave that sort of cricket to him. I should score no more than one four an over." The amateur did not want to be overshadowed by a mere professional. Vine, a forceful opener, was surrounded by exotica: Fry, Ranji, WG's pal Billy Murdoch and - at the beginning - Charles Aubrey Smith, who captained England in his solitary Test and whose jutting eyebrows would star in numerous films. The popular and very professional Vine played for Sussex for a quarter of a century, scoring almost 25,000 runs and taking 621 wickets with his legbreaks. He scored his only double-hundred, aged 45, in under five hours. When congratulated by Arthur Gilligan he said: "I wouldn't have dared do that when Mr Fry was playing."

Maurice Tate
(1912-37)

Sussex's champion cricketer was also its best-loved player. 'Chub' Tate played mainly between the wars and, when great batsmen walked tall on plumb pitches, took 2,784 first-class wickets at 18. He also reached 1,000 runs - often violently hit - on a dozen occasions. According to John Arlott in his short biography, Tate switched from offbreaks to bowl Hampshire's Phil Mead with a quicker delivery in 1922. Suddenly he became a great bowler and, along with Sydney Barnes and Alec Bedser, is regarded as one of England's finest fast-medium operators. On a green Hove pitch, with sea moisture in the air, there was never a more dangerous bowler. But he was more than a great cricketer. Cartoonists loved his huge feet. Everyone else adored his wide smile, genial nature, small talk and malapropisms. He became a publican and, when one of his many friends visited, would say: "I'll just send for the barman to take over while we have a chat."

Tommy Cook
(1922-37)

There was a lustre to the life of Tommy Cook, despite his quiet modesty, that enhanced his popularity as a cricketer. He was a hero in both world wars, first in the Royal Navy, where he was decorated, then in the South African Air Force, where he sustained serious injuries in 1943. He was a good enough footballer for Brighton and Hove Albion to win selection for England, even as a Third Division player. As a cricketer he was substantial too, almost good enough to become a double international. He scored especially heavily in 1933 and 1934, when Sussex were runners-up even without the stricken Duleepsinhji. The end, after he returned to England and briefly managed Brighton, was sad. Physically and mentally ill, and separated from his wife, he committed suicide a month before his 49th birthday.

John Langridge
(1928-55)

Like his brother James, John Langridge linked the brilliant Sussex sides of the early 1930s, who came second three years in a row, and the 1953 runners-up so thrillingly led by David Sheppard. He was, many say, the best opening batsman never to play for England, despite making his case for almost 30 years under 11 different captains. He passed 1,000 runs in 17 seasons, topping 2,000 11 times, and was chosen for the MCC tour to India in 1939-40, later cancelled because of the war. His 40th year was his best: in 1949 he scored 2,850 runs for Sussex with 12 centuries, both still county records. Though he fidgeted before every ball, his concentration was immense. Then, in 1956, he became an umpire. He lasted 28 summers - and finally reached the Test arena.

Mushtaq Ahmed
(2003-)

It was Mushtaq, the little miracle from Sahiwal, who in 2003 delivered the Holy Grail of the county's first Championship. Not even Imran Khan, probably the greatest of the club's overseas players, could manage that, though he went close in 1981. Mushtaq was past his best, everyone said, when he signed for Sussex after playing league cricket in Staffordshire. But he took 103 Championship wickets in that memorable summer, though he arrived for the last, title-clinching match against Leicestershire having left his whites in his Brighton kitchen. He was the leading wicket-taker in the Championship that year, as he was in 2004 and again this summer. Some has-been! Bearded and bubbly, he is more than a match-winning wrist-spinner. His exuberant late-order batting has often been crucial, as has his enthusiasm for encouraging his fellows. And his cries of "Inshallah" will always be fondly remembered by Hove's faithful.

© The Wisden Cricketer

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