A little man with a big bat

George Emmett by Stephen Chalke

George Emmett by Stephen Chalke
Time passes. Cricketers leave behind statistics and memories; in time the memories fade. George Emmett, Gloucestershire, 1936-1959. 25,602 runs, average 31.41. "A very ordinary county cricketer," according to the historian Derek Birley.
It is not a verdict shared by those who saw him. "Never a day goes by at the Cheltenham Festival," says Bomber Wells, "when somebody isn't talking about one of his innings." "He was magical," Arthur Milton says. "A little fellow who wanted to be big, and he did it with the bat."
"A much under-rated player," Tom Graveney calls him. "Although he was a little man, gosh, he used to hit it hard. He played some of the best innings I've ever seen."
Emmett's early years with Gloucestershire suffered from the dominance of Hammond. "George had to stifle his wonderful array of strokes," his team-mate Charlie Barnett wrote. "Anyone batting with Hammond had to take one run and leave the scoring to him."
After an eventful war, in which he was wounded in the invasion of Italy, Emmett found himself dropped by Hammond in 1946. "Hammond called him a second-class cricketer," his daughter Gill remembers. "Dad didn't show his feelings but he was really upset."
The following summer Hammond was gone and, according to Barnett, "Gloucestershire came to life again with exciting and attractive cricket". In the most golden of summers they challenged for the Championship, with Emmett scoring six polished centuries.
"He batted right-handed," Milton says, "but, like Denis Compton, he was naturally left-sided. So he controlled the bat with his top hand and he had a wonderful eye."
In 1948 Emmett was picked instead of Hutton for the Old Trafford Test but, twice dismissed cheaply by Ray Lindwall, he was condemned to Gloucestershire's unequalled list of one-cap wonders.
His revenge came five years later at Bristol. Now 40, he hammered Lindwall and Keith Miller in a brilliant 141. "I'm not sure they were the force they'd been in '48," Gill says, "but I guess he felt his honour had been satisfied."
The son of a Scots Guard, he grew up in India and returned there with a Commonwealth side. His fellow tourist Frank Worrell called him "one of the greatest English batsmen I have seen in the tropics". For four years he captained the county, a disciplinarian who was always looking to move the game forward. "He was the best captain I played under," Milton reckons. "He loved the game; we always had good games of cricket. And he kept us in good order. Gave us our manners, not just for the game but for life."
"Everything had to be correct with George," the late Geoff Edrich of Lancashire said. "Spot on. Nothing slipshod."
"He had a glare that would melt icicles," Gill says. "But in a way the more insulting he was to you, the more he liked you."
Well into his 40s and with a bad knee he still hit his runs with panache. At a time when batsmen were adopting a less adventurous approach, he scored the fastest century of 1954, blazed 91 in 67 minutes against the 1957 West Indians, then at Cheltenham in 1959, in his last match as county captain, he hit 85 in 75 minutes against the Indians. In the words of Wisden "he gave them a lesson in brilliant strokeplay".
Nine years later, at 55, he was still taking the county's indoor nets and David Green recalls the evening they persuaded him to put on his pads for ten minutes. "He was most reluctant and at first he scratched about. Then suddenly, with David Allen, John Mortimore and David Smith all bowling, he started playing these beautiful drives and sweeps. For five or six minutes he was bloody dazzling."
Green had arrived from Lancashire, where he had lost his touch, and Emmett transformed him. "He told me anxiety was getting in my way; it was making me move before the ball was bowled. He got me back to playing my natural game." Only Barry Richards scored more runs than Green that summer.
But, underneath his controlled exterior, was Emmett also a nervous batsman? A heavy smoker with an anxious cough, he reached 90 on 58 occasions, going on to 100 on only 37 of them.
"He deserved so many more hundreds," Wells says. "Other batsmen played for them but he played exactly the same from start to finish and they're the people you remember, aren't they? People like Boycott are nothing in comparison. They've only given the game facts and figures."
A very ordinary county cricketer? Edrich did not think so. "If I could turn back the clock," he said, "and see one batsman in full flow again, it would be George Emmett. I've seen Hammond and Bradman score hundreds but, if George was batting as he could, he was the neatest of the lot."
This article was first published in the September issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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