October 19, 1914, Bicknoller, Somerset
March 30, 1978, Dewlands Park, Verwood, Dorset, (aged 63y 162d)
Right hand bat
Right arm medium
To watch Harold Gimblett bat in the years immediately before and after the war was a delight. His debut was straight out of Boys' Own - he smashed 123 in 65 minutes - and within a year his hitting had become the stuff of folklore and he had been picked for England. He played the game "vividly, sturdily, and above all gallantly" (G Moorhouse), his character being shown by hitting three sixes from an over during which his partner appealed against the light. But he was dogged by mental problems which left him a tortured soul, and in the end the pressure all got too much for him and he quit mid season. He committed suicide in 1978.
Harold Gimblett, who died at his home at Verwood, Dorset, on March 30, aged 63, was the most exciting English batsman of his day. Years ago, C. B. Fry wrote of MacLaren, Like all the great batsmen, he always attacked the bowling! If that view was once shared by the selectors, they had abandoned it by Gimblett's time. They preferred soundness and consistency. Watching our batting in Australia in 1946-47, Macartney expressed amazement that both Gimblett and Barnett had been left at home. Gimblett played in three Tests only, two against India in 1936, the first of which at Lord's he finished with a dazzling 67 not out, culminating in five consecutive boundaries, and one against the West Indies in 1939. Those of us who saw the inexpressibly feeble English batting against Ramadhin and Valentine at Lord's in 1950 shown up for what it was by the bold tail-end hitting of Wardle, longed for an hour of Gimblett, and indeed he was picked for the next Test, but was unfortunately ill and unable to play.
The start of his career was so sensational that any novelist attributing it to his hero would have discredited the book. Given a months trial on the Somerset staff in 1935 after a number of brilliant performances in local matches, he was told before the period had expired that there was no future for him in county cricket and was sent home. Next day there was a last minute vacancy against Essex at Frome and he was recalled to fill it, mainly as a young man who could chase the ball in the field and perhaps bowl a few overs of mild medium pace. In fact, coming in to face Nicholas, the England fast bowler, then at his best, with six wickets down for 107, he reached his 50 in twenty-eight minutes and his 100 in sixty-three, finally making 123 out of 175 in eighty minutes with three 6s and seventeen 4s. The innings won him the Lawrence Trophy for the fastest 100 of the season. In the next match, against Middlesex at Lord's, though lame and batting with a runner, he made 53 against Jim Smith, Robins, Pebbles and Sims, three of them England bowlers. It was hardly to be expected that he could keep this up and his record at the end of the season was modest, but his second summer dispelled any notion that his early successes had been a fluke, as he scored 1,608 runs with an average of 32.81. People sometimes talk as if after this he was a disappointment. In fact his one set-back, apart from being overlooked by the selectors, was when in 1938, probably listening to the advice of grave critics, he attempted more cautious methods and his average dropped to 27. But can one call disappointing a man who between 1936 and his retirement in 1953 never failed to get his 1,000 runs, who in his career scored over 23,000, more than any other Somerset player, and fifty centuries, the highest 310 against Sussex at Eastbourne in 1948, and whose average for his career was over 36? Moreover after his first season he habitually went in first and yet he hit 265 sixes, surely a record.
Naturally, as time went on, his judgement improved with experience, he grew sounder and in particular became the master of the hook instead of its slave, though he never abandoned it, as did Hammond and Peter May. To the end, he might have said, as Frank Woolley used to, When I am batting, I am the attack. Apart from his hook he was a fine cutter and driver, his off-drives often being played late and going past cover's left-hand, and like nearly all great attacking bats he freely employed the pull-drive, with which he was particularly severe on Mahomed Nissar at Lord's in 1936. Early in his career, on the fallacious grounds that a great games-player must be a great slip, he was put in the slips where he was only a qualified success. Elsewhere, a fine thrower and a good catch, he was far more successful and many will remember the catch at cover with which he dismissed K. H. Weekes in the Lord's Test in 1939.
For twenty years after his retirement he was coach at Millifield.
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