Henry William Lee
October 26, 1890, Marylebone, London
April 21, 1981, Westminster, London, (aged 90y 177d)
Right hand bat
The eldest of the three Lee brothers, Harry William Lee, who died in Middlesex Hospital on April 21, was the second-oldest surviving England cricketer at the time of his death. At 90, he was 112 days younger than Andrew Sandham. Lee was also the last of the famous 1920 Middlesex team which won the Championship with a thrilling victory over Surrey at Lord's. Lee and his partner C.K.L. Skeet made centuries in an opening stand of 208 in the second innings, Sandham scoring 167 not out for the losers. Born in Marylebone on October 26, 1890, and proud to be one of the relatively few Middlesex players over the years to have been born in the district, Lee learnt the game in the street, a lamp-post serving as the wicket. Although he continued to help his father, who was a greengrocer and coal merchant, young Harry, inevitably known as 'Ginger' for the colouring of his hair, joined the ground staff at Lord's in 1906, and, having absorbed advice from E.G. Wynyard and others, he developed his allround play to such an extent that Middlesex offered him an engagement in 1911. Three years passed before he made any true impression. This was a fortnight after war had broken out, in August 1914. Promoted to open, he accompanied the brilliant Frank Tarrant to the middle and scored 139. Pasty Hendren and J.W. Hearne also made centuries in that match against Notts, a pointer to the future, for the pair were to bring repeated glories to Middlesex batting, with Lee a valuable regular support. It was a minor miracle that Lee was able to resume cricket at all. Soon after enlisting, he was shot in the leg during the hostilities at Neuve Chapelle and lay for three days between the lines. He was reported dead, and a memorial service was held. However, he had been taken into German custody, and was soon repatriated as a hopeless case. His legacy fortunately was no more than a shortened and slightly withered leg, and a year later he made a century at Lancing. Upon Tarrant's recommendation he secured a position in 1917 as cricket and football coach to the Maharajah of Cooch Behar - and was lucky to see it. At the last moment his passage was switched from the Nyanza to the Nagoya. Nyanza was torpedoed just out of Plymouth. As it was, one of Nagaya"s convoy, City of Lucknow was sunk in the Mediterranean.
His career with Middlesex took off in 1919, when he made two centuries in a charity match against Surrey. For the first of 13 times he made a thousand runs in the season. Having unusually gained his county cap by asking for it in 1913 (Plum Warner expressed surprise that it hadn't been awarded and asked for a cap to be sent down forthwith), Lee was one of the first four Middlesex batsmen in an innings to make centuries in 1920 against Sussex at Lord"s. Three years later the feat was repeated, Lee and Hearne this time being accompanied by Dales and Hendren at Southampton. On the former occasion Lee had gone on to take 5 for 21 and 6 for 47 with medium pace. The first of his three double-centuries came in 1920, when he was on the field for the entire match against Hampshire at Southampton and made 221 not out. Next season he batted for 370 minutes against Notts to record his highest score, 243 not out, in a Lord"s record total of 612 for 8.
A squat, crouching stance and much patience prevented him from winning hearts in the way that the cheeky and brilliant Hendren or dapper Hearne did, but his toughness was acknowledged and appreciated, and throughout the 1920s he was sought-after as a coach in various parts of South Africa. It was while he was coaching there in 1930-31 that Chapman invited him into his illness-and injury-stricken MCC team. A month later Lee found himself playing for England in the fourth Test, at Johannesburg, scoring 18 and 1 in a drawn match. The distasteful aftermath was that MCC refused to give him a cap and blazer, preferring to believe a master at the school in Grahamstown, who claimed that Lee broke his coaching contract. A compensation came through Jack Hobbs, who gave him an England touring tie. After 1921, Lee's performances were moderate for several seasons, and it was only in 1928 that his average rose above the twenties. In 1928 his form was recognised with his sole selection in a Gentlemen-Players match, when he scored 56 at the Oval. In 1929 he made 225 against Surrey, but in his early forties the same harvest as reaped by his team-mate Hendren was not forthcoming.
There were, though, two curiosities still in store. In 1931 he and brothers Frank (for years a successful Somerset batsmen and Test umpire) and Jack (who was killed soon after the D-Day landings) all made hundreds in the same season - the first instance by three brothers in the professional ranks; and in 1933, in the Middlesex- Somerset match, Harry was caught by Frank off Jack's bowling for 82. Harry thought his best innings was a 68 against Gloucestershire, with Charlie Parker at his best, in 1922. But two hundreds in a match at Lord"s in 1929, when he resisted the fiery Ted McDonald, must rank high. In this match Gubby Allen took 10 for 40 in Lancashire"s first innings.
Harry Lee was disappointed when Middlesex terminated his engagement in 1934. His benefit in 1927, which returned him £1300, was followed by £500 upon retirement. He turned to umpiring until 1946, and then coached at Downside School. In recent years his small, huddled figure was usually to be seen near the Mound Stand scorebox at Lord"s. This was the ancien who had made 20,007 first-class runs, with 37 centuries, and taken 390 wickets, nearly all of them with a gammy leg. In his warm and anecdotal autobiography, Forty Years of English Cricket, Lee said of himself: 'If he had any spark of genius at all, it was for not keeping his mouth shut at the proper time." Today that would be worth money.
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