Cecil George Pepper
September 15, 1916, Forbes, New South Wales
March 22, 1993, Littleborough, Lancashire, England, (aged 76y 188d)
Right hand Bat
Nobody who played Sheffield Shield or Lancashire League cricket against bulky Cec Pepper was ever likely to forget the experience. His powerhouse batting and brilliant legspin/ googly bowling were backed by a tireless stream of taunts and slick asides which scarcely abated during his years as an umpire in county cricket.
There can never have been a more rumbustious cricketer. And his effrontery, he always believed, cost him a Test career. Irked by three refusals by umpire Jack Scott to three appeals by Pepper against Don Bradman at Adelaide in 1945-46, young Sergeant Pepper let his mouth off. He later claimed that he sent an apology to the Australian Board, but the Board denied ever receiving it. `Pepp' was soon reasoning that England might be the best place. For the next 30-odd years he stamped his giant personality on the fields of Lancashire and then of the whole of England in his flamboyant umpiring attire.
Cecil George Pepper was born on Sept 15, 1918 in the mid-west NSW town of Forbes, and while still a teenager he scored 2834 runs (HS 251) and took 116 wickets for Parkes in one season. But it was tennis which took him to Sydney. Soon, though, he was making his mark with Petersham Cricket Club, where Sid Barnes, another rebel, helped him out with accommodation. By 1938-39 Pepper was a State player.
The last of his 16 matches for NSW was in 1940-41, and he averaged 27 with the bat, his highest score being a blazing 81 at the Gabba which included 74 runs in boundaries. His 57 wickets cost 33.89 apiece. He took 5 for 49 against South Australia (Bradman caught off him) at the start of 1940 and 6 for 57 (all top-order batsmen) against Queensland, also at the SCG, at the end of the year. Then off he went, in khaki, to serve his country in the Middle East and New Guinea.
He was a key member of the 1945 Australian Services team, and did well in the five-`Test' series in England and in India and Ceylon on the way home. Then, as the Servicemen displayed their skills on a grand farewell tour of their homeland, Cec `blew it' in that Adelaide match.
By then, England must have been expecting him to return with the first post-war Australian side. He had hit the winning runs, in an unbeaten 54 in the big match at Lord's, and roared to a century in 47 minutes in a one-dayer at High Wycombe. Keith Miller made a great impact in that first British summer of peace, but even he was topped by Pepper when he smashed Hollies over the houses and into Trafalgar Square at Scarborough. `Third chimney to the left of the gap,'`Pepp' would gladly confirm. That hit, in his career-highest 168, guaranteed some immortality for him, but more importantly it won him a precious bottle of whisky from wicketkeeper Arthur Wood, who teased him into the gargantuan hit. And his bat weighed no more than 2lb 4oz. He loved the stratospheric blow. He had already slugged a ball out of the Sydney Cricket Ground and into Kippax Lake.
While in India with the 1949-50 Commonwealth side, he returned his best first-class figures, 6 for 33 against Holkar at Indore, including the hat-trick. But he left that tour early, by mutual agreement with his captain, Jock Livingston. Cec found the umpiring wound him up too much.
It therefore amused his mates to see him don the white coat in 1964, to bestride the county grounds for 16 seasons, laughing and trading abuse with the players and bringing his own special brand of rough justice to the middle. He brought a new line in sartorial elegance to the trade, and a rare attitude towards the captains, who were so often cosseted: `I used to shoot'em out, no matter who!' He reluctantly observed the 1964 truce on chuckers, refraining from no-balling West Indian Charlie Griffith `because it was an exhibition match'. MCC's reply, condoning his reticence, left him feeling uneasy. Soon, a copy of his confidential letter and MCC's reply appeared in a national newspaper, having apparently been stolen from Pepper's briefcase.
In the end, he burst at what he saw as a never-ending coterie of favoured umpires on the Test panel, leaving the game in 1979, the dream of seeing him and Bill Alley umpiring an Ashes Test at Lord's unfulfilled.
As a league player, Cec Pepper was a colossus: with Rochdale, first to complete the double twice in the Central Lancashire League (and probably first to tweak the nose of an offending opposition club member on the pavilion steps); with Burnley's first double ever in the Lancashire League. He had begun with Nelson, and went on to Radcliffe, Oldham, Royton and Norton. Even though he once belted 38 runs off an eight-ball over, his personality is recalled ahead of his prodigious performances - though none who succumbed to his wicked `flipper' ball will ever forget it.
Stories of Pepper abound, particularly in Lancashire. Some were incorporated into Stephen Thorpe's articles on him in the Sept and Oct 1989 editions of WCM. Perhaps the best concerned his untypical apology to an umpire whose life he had been rendering almost intolerable. Cec urged him not to take it to heart. Not to worry, said the ump, for up here we like a chap to speak his mind. And to prove the point, the mild little chap answered Cec's next roar of appeal with: `Not out, you fat Australian bastard.'`Pepp' loved that.
He died, aged 76, in Littleborough, on March 22. He was born a rebel, which is different.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding
Umpire & Referee