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Len Hutton retires

JM Kilburn on the retirement of Len Hutton in 1956

JM Kilburn

Len Hutton: he would have resented any decline towards obscurity, any descent from the highest estate © Getty Images
Len Hutton's choice in the timing of his retirement from cricket was not entirely free, but it was in character. He would have resented any decline towards obscurity, any descent from the highest estate. It was always his intention to leave the field before his powers and position began to diminish. He proposed that people should ask why he had retired rather than why he had not.
But for his illness it is a reasonable assumption that he would have continued in cricket and maintained his chosen path beyond the limits now enforced. His departure was premature, but it is not to be regarded as a tragedy of unfulfilment. Hutton has achieved all his major playing ambitions and he had begun to appreciate both the difficulties and dissatisfactions of repeating himself. When he returned from Australia in the spring of 1955 he experienced the exhaustion of the schoolmaster at the end of a hard term; and a term can be harassing even when the examination results have proved triumphant vindication of methods and beliefs. Moreover, Hutton was in the position of headmaster, with heavy responsibility and no further promotion available. He could anticipate nothing more than continuing to be headmaster and most headmasters find some relief in the prospect of retirement from repetition of struggle and authority.
Had Hutton remained in cricket he could not have avoided the strain of responsibility. He might have stepped aside from the captaincy of England but he could never have played for England without leading the side at least in his own mind. He might have sought the comparative calm of a middle-order batsman but he would always have remained the first enemy of opposing bowlers. Wherever he played he could not have escaped his name. The penalty of greatness is its enchainment.
Hutton has understood that penalty for a long time past. It has conditioned his attitude towards cricket and the cricketer's life ever since his greatness became established and its implications spread before him. He has rarely lived without thought for the morrow. During his tour of Australia in 1946-47 he was counted by the Australian bowlers as the principal threat to Australian success. An innings of 364, played in another era of cricket, remained clearly in mind. There was unconcealed attempt to test his courage as well as his technique and some feeling arose that the test had not been wholly negative. Hutton thought differently and he thought deeply. It was his intention to tour Australia more than once and he knew, better than most, that he had only to remain an active batsman to be an incomparable batsman. Magnificence that is not war never held a place in Hutton's sense of the fitness of things. He could also afford to wait.
He waited, and watched, and studied, and batted on. Time and the hour ran through the rough days of 1948 and into another tour of Australia wherein Hutton established his quality beyond all argument and forever. As a batsman he had become master of the world; in batsman-ship there was no further step to take. His major interest in cricket turned from personal performance to production.
Until he received the invitation Leonard Hutton never said in public that he wanted to captain England, but he indicated publicly and plainly enough that he ought to captain England because he made it obvious that in the particular circumstances of the time no one had better qualifications for the post. He was a senior cricketer, he was an able cricketer and he was a thoughtful cricketer. He could remember, he could illustrate and he could design. In the event he proved one of the most successful captains in all England's cricket history and he never gave an opportunity for the appointment to be taken away from him. He took office in 1952 and he relinquished it, at his own request, in 1955 without ever having lost a Test-match rubber.
The outstanding characteristic of his captaincy was shrewdness. He made no romantic gestures; he lit no fires of inspiration. He invited admiration rather than affection and would have exchanged either or both for effective obedience. A Test-match rubber played under Hutton's captaincy became a business undertaking with its principal satisfactions represented by the dividends paid. Hutton did not expect his players to enjoy their Test matches until the scoreboard showed victory. He could not countenance a light-hearted approach to any cricket match when the result of that match had a meaning. Be wanted his team to be untiringly purposeful and he found it hard to forgive carelessness or unwariness - particularly his own. Even in success he was prudent, avoiding extravagance in case of rainy days to follow. He never attacked his opponents with a flourish of displayed confidence and he never dismissed the conquered with lordly superiority. He knew the unreliability of fortune and he looked a long way ahead.
Through his inhibitions he missed some of the down-right joy of cricket and had to replace it with more secret satisfactions. They came to him in the rewards attendant upon a name that will always stand among the very greatest cricket has produced.