January 20, 1895, Bushey, Hertfordshire
April 08, 1957, Bushey, Hertfordshire, (aged 62y 78d)
Left hand Bat
Slow Left arm Orthodox
Frank Chester, who died at his home at Bushey, Hertfordshire, on April 8, aged 61, will be remembered as the man who raised umpiring to a higher level than had ever been known in the history of cricket. For some years he had suffered from stomach ulcers. Often he stood as umpire when in considerable pain, which unfortunately caused him to become somewhat irascible at times, and at the end of the 1955 season he retired, terminating a career in which he officiated in over 1,000 first-class fixtures, including 48 Test matches.
The First World War cut short his ambitions as an all-rounder for Worcestershire. In 1912, at the age of 16, he joined that county's staff and in the following season he scored 703 runs, including three centuries, average 28.12, and took with off-breaks 44 wickets, average 26.88. Wisden said of him that year: Nothing stood out more prominently than the remarkable development of Chester, the youngest professional regularly engaged in first-class cricket... Very few players in the history of cricket have shown such form at the age of seventeen and a half. Playing with a beautifully straight bat, he depended to a large extent on his watchfulness in defence. Increased hitting power will naturally come with time. He bowls with a high, easy action and, commanding an accurate length, can get plenty of spin on the ball. Having begun so well, Chester should continue to improve and it seems only reasonable to expect that when he has filled out and gained more strength, he will be an England cricketer.
In 1914 he put together an aggregate of 924 runs, average 27.17, with an innings of 178 not out--including four 6's from the bowling of J. W. H. T. Douglas--against Essex at Worcester, his highest. Then came the war and, in the course of service with the Army in Salonika, he lost his right arm just below the elbow. That, of course, meant no more cricket as a player for Chester; but in 1922 he became a first-class umpire and, with the advantage of youth when the majority of his colleagues were men who had retired as Cricketers on the score of Anno Domini, he swiftly gained a big reputation. His lack of years caused him difficulty on one occasion at Northampton for a gate-man refused him admission, declining to believe that one so young could be an umpire, and suggested that he should try the ground of a neighbouring works team!
From the very beginning of his career as an umpire, he gave his decisions without fear or favour. In an article, Thirty Years an Umpire, in the 1954 Wisden, Vivian Jenkins told how, when standing in his first county match, Essex v. Somerset at Leyton, Chester was called on to give decisions against both captains, J. W. H. T. Douglas and J. Daniell, and did his duty according to his lights--Douglas lbw, Daniell stumped. You'll be signing your death warrant if you go on like that, he was warned by his venerable colleague, but he went on undeterred.
Chester began the custom, now prevalent among umpires, of bending low over the wicket when the bowler delivered the ball, and his decisions were both prompt and rarely questioned. Yet the ruling which probably caused most discussion was one in which Chester was wrong. This occurred during the England v. West Indies Test match at Trent Bridge in 1950, when S. Ramadhin bowled D. J. Insole off his pads. Chester contended that the batsman was leg before wicket, because he (Chester) gave his decision in the brief time before the ball hit the stumps, and as lbw Insole remained in the score. Soon after this, M.C.C. added a Note to Law 34 which made it clear beyond dispute that, where a batsman is dismissed in such circumstances, he is out bowled.
Chester had some brushes with Australian touring players, whose demonstrative methods of appealing annoyed him, but nevertheless Sir Donald Bradman termed him the greatest umpire under whom I played. Chester, for his part, rated Bradman the greatest run-making machine I have ever known, and considered Sir John Hobbs the greatest batsman of all time on all pitches.
Throughout his long spell as an umpire Chester used, for counting the balls per over, six small pebbles which he picked up from his mother's garden at Bushey before he stood in his first match.
Mr. R. Aird, Secretary of M.C.C.: He was an inspiration to other umpires. He seemed to have a flair for the job and did the right thing by instinct. He was outstanding among umpires for a very long time.
Sir John Hobbs: I played against him in his brief career and am sure he would have been a great England all-rounder. As an umpire, he was right on top. I class him with that great Australian, Bob Crockett.
F. S. Lee, the Test match umpire: Frank was unquestionably the greatest umpire I have known. His decisions were fearless, whether the batsman to be given out was captain or not. There is a great deal for which umpires have to thank him.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding
Umpire & Referee