John Henry Wardle
January 08, 1923, Ardsley, Yorkshire
July 23, 1985, Hatfield, Doncaster, Yorkshire, (aged 62y 196d)
Left hand bat
Slow left arm orthodox, Left arm wrist spin
Johnny Wardle was one of the most skilful left-arm spinners the game has seen. Though he usually bowled in the orthodox tradition, as preferred by Yorkshire, he sometimes bowled wrist-spinners (with a bemusing googly - the `chinaman'), especially when on overseas duty for England. It was his misfortune that his career coincided with that of the more aggressive Tony Lock of Surrey, who was preferred to him for many Tests during the 1950s.
Still, Wardle played 28 times for England and took 102 wickets at only 20.39, five times taking five wickets in an innings. His best figures were 7 for 36 (12 for 89 in the match) at Cape Town during the tied 1956-57 series in South Africa, when he took 26 wickets in four Tests at a mere 13.81, missing the last Test through a cartilage operation. On the tour he took 90 wickets at a dozen runs apiece, and caused Jim Laker to remark some years later that Wardle had produced the best displays of spin bowling he had ever seen.
Yet he played in only one further Test, at Lord's (where he played seven times), in 1957, against West Indies. A year later he was sacked by Yorkshire, wrote some scathing article for the Daily Mail, and had his invitation to tour Australia withdrawn by MCC. He went in 1958-59 as a journalist instead. That angry episode was the first indication to the public at large that there was more to Wardle than the expert bowler and rib-tickling clown who enjoyed outrageous charades and ball-tricks on the field. He could be acidly critical and, according to some of his Yorkshire colleagues, occasionally selfish, characteristics which might be excused of high-class performers in some fields of entertainment, but not cricket. It was a shattering conclusion to a wonderful career.
Born in Ardsley, near Barnsley, on January 8, 1923, Wardle began his working life as a colliery fitter, working from 6 am to 2.30 pm so that he had plenty of time for cricket. Yorkshire signed him from league cricket just after the war, and within a short period he was touring West Indies with MCC, playing in the Trinidad Test, but being given only three overs by Gubby Allen in an innings which reached 497. His reputation with Yorkshire was soon soundly established, with 148 wickets in 1948 and 100 or more in each of the following nine seasons, with 172 in 1950 his best. But his Test calls were few, with a wide range of English spinners in contention. At the top level he did at least show his steadiness, as with figures of 49-21-77-1 against South Africa at Trent Bridge in 1951. He played in three of the Tests against Australia in 1953, toying with the opposition in the closing stages at Old Trafford, taking 4 for 7 as the tourists slipped to 35 for 8. His two Tests that winter in the Caribbean brought scant success, though his 66 in the final Test was of vast importance in setting up a series-saving victory. Here Wardle helped his captain, Len Hutton (205), put on 105 for the seventh wicket.
In the Oval Test of 1954, when England let her guard slip against Pakistan, Wardle at least, and almost alone, came away with honour intact, having taken 7 to 56 in the second innings. He got in a lot of practice with his wrist-spinners on the deck of Orsova on the way to Australia in the autumn of 1954, and earned his keep with 57 tour wickets at 20.45 during a tour when England depended heavily on pace. He teased and bamboozled the Australians with 5 for 79 and 3 for 51 in the inconclusive final Test at Sydney- to echoes of `Coom on, ye broad acres' from British sailors on the Hill- but the series had already been won. That victory owed something to Wardle, however, for his vigorous 35 at Sydney in the Second Test, when he added a crucial 43 with Statham for the 10th wicket.
The next time he faced the Australians, in the Lord's Test of 1956, he bagged a pair. But that winter he went off to his triumphs in South Africa, where he carved his name resoundingly into Test annals at last. He had been part of an England side which never lost a series from 1951 until 1958-59. Wardle's presence on that Australian tour, when England went down four-nil, may well have made a critical difference.
He took 1537 wickets for Yorkshire at 17.67, placing himself eighth in the county's honour roll. Of all his many wonderful returns, the 9 for 25 he took on a rain-affected pitch in the Roses match at Old Trafford in 1954 was the best statistically. Earlier that season he had taken 9 for 48 (with catches missed) against Sussex at Hull, finishing with 16 for 112 in the match. Many a batsman must have had nightmares before going out to face Wardle, Trueman, Appleyard and Co.
After the breach with Yorkshire, Johnny Wardle played for Nelson and Rishton and Minor County cricket for Cambridgeshire. The old rift was healed when he was made an honorary life member of Yorkshire, and became bowling adviser. But for the volcanic eruption of 1958, though, his graceful action, square shoulders, fair hair and gravelly voice-might have been part of the first-class scene for years to come. `Johnny the Joker' comes through in his autobiography, Happy Go Johnny, published in 1957. In his latter years he had managed a country club near Doncaster, enjoying his second love, golf. Alas, he never fully recovered from an operation for a brain tumour.
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