Benjamin Arthur Barnett
March 23, 1908, Auburn, Melbourne, Victoria
June 29, 1979, Newcastle, New South Wales, (aged 71y 98d)
Left hand bat
The quiet but much liked Australian wicketkeeper of the late 1930s, whose long career covered three distinct phases as player and administrator, died suddenly at Newcastle, New South Wales on June 29, 1979, while visiting an old Army friend. A product of Scotch College, Melbourne, Barnett moved directly from the School team into the Hawthorn East Melbourne first eleven in 1927, his batting at first being supplemented by slow bowling which was soon dropped in favour of wicketkeeping. Within two years, he was in the Victorian side and scored 131 against Tasmania before succeeding J. L. Ellis in 1929 to remain the state's regular wicket-keeper until the outbreak of World War II. Deputy to W. A. Oldfield on the 1934 English Tour and again in South Africa in 1935-36, Barnett succeeded the long-serving Oldfield on his retirement after the MCC visit to Australia in 1936-37. He thus became wicketkeeper for the 1938 English tour and, although not possessed of the skill and finesse of his distinguished predecessor, Barnett performed creditably and with the efficient unobtrusive style, notably neat in taking slow bowling, which marked his long career. A useful left-hand batsman, Barnett scored 2,773 runs for Victoria at an average of 28.88, including an undefeated 104 and 92 in his second-last Sheffield Shield match before going on active service in 1940. He was a prisoner-of-war at Changi for several years, yet maintained contact and retained his position as a vice-president of the Hawthorn East Melbourne Club throughout this time. His long association with the club continued until his death, Barnett having presented it with his cricket gear only a year earlier.
Barnett returned to Hawthorn East Melbourne but did not play any post-war Sheffield Shield cricket. However, on transferring to the UK in 1949 to represent a large Australian pharmaceutical group, he entered on the two further phases of his career - as a successful playing member for Buckinghamshire and as a London administrator for major sporting and Services organisations. Barnett first played for the minor county in 1951 and continued to do so as often as business pressures permitted until final retirement in 1964, then aged 56. In one memorable season - 1952- Barnett supplemented his own first-rate batting and wicket-keeping with inspiring captaincy, Buckinghamshire being the first county side, other than a Second Eleven, to win the Championship since 1946. Barnett then led a Commonwealth team to India in the following English winter. In all, Barnett scored 3,222 runs and five centuries for the County.
As a first-rate amateur Australian Rules footballer - his club was Old Scotch Collegians - he captained the Victorian side in the days when amateur football was at its peak.
During his 20 years in London, Barnett represented Australia as its delegate to the ICC and the International Lawn Tennis Federation, of which he was president from 1969 to 1971. He also performed similar duties with the Imperial Servicemen's Legion. In 1977 he was awarded the Australian Medal for his distinguished services to sport and the community.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
It is one of the cricketing ironies that a man who made so positive a contribution to the game, as sound wicketkeeper, neat lefthand bat, captain and administrator, should have error rather than achievement chronicled in cricket lore. Ben missed stumping Len Hutton when the England opener was on 40, off a
sharply-turning Fleetwood-Smith chinaman, in the Oval Test of 1938. It was an
easy chance, Hutton was stranded well down the pitch, Barnett failed to gather
the ball - and Hutton went on to make his enormous Test record of 364. But Barnett accepted failure just as he accepted success, with a most likeable
modesty, even diffidence, far removed from the typical and accepted picture of
the ruthless, aggressive, hardbitten Australian Test player. Born on March 23, 1908, in the Melbourne suburb of Auburn, just a mile from the Hawthorn-East Melbourne ground where he was to play his club cricket, Barnett made his first-class debut in 1929-30, scoring 131 for Victoria against Tasmania at Launceston. By the next season he had advanced sufficiently to displace the long-serving Jack Ellis as State 'keeper, a post he held from 1930-31 until
1946, when he kept wicket against Hammond's MCC side before being
replaced by E. A. (Bill) Baker. Barnett toured England in 1934 and 1938, first as deputy to the immortal W. A. Oldfield, and secondly as first choice 'keeper. He played his only four Tests on the second tour, and a careful innings of 57
in support of Bradman helped Australia win the Headingley Test, and retain the
Ashes. War took a great slice out of his cricket: he was a prisoner of the Japanese for three-and-a-half years, but captained Australian teams playing English sides in Changi Gaol. He settled in England, joined Buckinghamshire, and in 1952 captained them to the Minor Counties championship. Staving off the years with notable success, he captained the third Commonwealth team to India in 1953-54, played for the Gentlemen in 1954, and made his last first-class appearance at the age of 53 in 1961, at the Hastings Festival. As well as representing Australia as UK resident delegate on the ICC, he was active in lawn tennis administration and served a term as president of the International Lawn Tennis Federation. When he returned to Australia four years ago, English cricket lost one of its best-liked and most-respected Australians.
Wisden Cricket Monthly
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