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Crusoe's portraits

Robertson-Glasgow's sharp assessments of his contemporaries are still current

David Frith

"Crusoe", as Robertson-Glasgow was known to his friends, was a manic sort of chap, superficially happy-go-lucky, with a voice that could be piercing. He carried a deep, dark burden of thought, which is often the spur to humour. He worked hard at his essays. Those in this collection all first appeared in the Observer and average a page-and-a-half apiece. Here, though, we have quality above bulk. He tries, usually successfully, to capture for his readers the spirit of these cricketers, some workaday professionals, some carefree amateurs. Most are English, all are interesting. He represents that almost extinct breed: players who write well. No neglible cricketer, his pace assortments once brought him 9 for 38 for Somerset at Lord's.
Here are to be found graphic contemporary assessments: Gubby Allen ("too easily depressed by failure"); JWHT Douglas ("he meant to come back from the fight victorious or not at all"); CCC Case, known as C4 ("dug himself in by the toes and seemed to have a spike at the bottom of his bat"); Bill Ponsford ("Bradman and he should share the throne"); and in tribute to one of the recent war dead, RP Nelson ("carried in peace and war those qualities most hateful and foreign to the arch-enemy - stability, self-control, and tolerance").
Robertson-Glasgow's style was not always free of affectation, but he patently always tried hard. And it was not his fault that the odd word has had its meaning oddly appropriated in later years: "He is quietly gay," he wrote of Len Hutton, "the best of temperaments for cricket."
From the book
A lady of my acquaintance whom, with that misplaced kindness that sometimes steals over us, I had invited to watch a match of cricket, answered "No, thanks; nothing ever happens at cricket; it's just all waiting." I overlooked the first part of this graceless reply which, at one heretical stroke, annuls myriads of runs and wickets and leg-byes, and denies what has been to many the glory of their vigorous prime and the consolation of their conversational age; but the second part made me think - "It's just all waiting."
I think all cricketers may be divided into good waiters and bad waiters. Among batsmen there are those who pace the dressing-room as if it were a cage, ever and anon popping their head out of window or on to balcony to inquire the state of matters and to ask questions about bowling with which they have long been familiar. Then there are those of iron equanimity, like Maurice Leyland, whose tranquillity seems to deepen in proportion to the importance of his innings, and who bats in a Test match with a sort of stern gaiety peculiarly his own. Some possess a detachment of mind which nothing can disturb. Such was Mr C. E. Hatfeild, of Oxford University, who, when he went out to bat against Cambridge at a solemn hour of doubt, stopped for a few seconds at the foot of the Pavilion steps to aim his bat at the Lord's pigeons. He made 35 not out and won the match.
Cricket Prints: SomeBatsmen and Bowlers, 1920-1940
by RC Robertson-Glasgow

Werner Laurie, 1948

David Frith is an author, historian, and founding editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly