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Somerset cult heroes

David Foot on the cult heroes produced by Somerset

David Foot

George Nichols (Somerset career 1891-99)
Who still remembers George, the professional allrounder from Victorian days? Once everyone in Taunton knew him - and not just for his cricket. He wrote plays and monologues, ran his own concert party (with vocal support from his fellow professional Ernie Robson) and enthusiastically organised end-of-season tours. The slow left-armer Ted Tyler was his great mate and they went into business together, selling everything from sports equipment and tobacco to gent's clothing. Customers would go into the shop in North Street, not so much to buy as to ask George how he kept going over after over, while amateurs of suspect talent snoozed in the outfield, or how he managed to score that triple-hundred in a pre-season match at Glastonbury. He was gregarious by nature, hating to miss a `smoker' concert as much as a cricket fixture. Somerset knew he was a good influence around the boundary and leaned excessively on him. Sadly he was dead by 48.

Sammy Woods (1891-1910)
Often he walked to the county ground in Taunton from where he was living in Bridgwater, stopping a hundred times to chat on the way. He was as sociable as only an extrovert Aussie could be. Idolised for his carefree approach with bat and ball, he was readily forgiven any lapses of control. His enjoyment was infectious and drawn games were anathema to him. Whether captaining his county, belting fours or dispensing anecdotes long after the close, he was the much-loved centre of attention. It was not just his cricket, even though he played Tests for both England and Australia. There was international rugby and rustic skittles. On one occasion he went to the local fair and climbed intrepidly through the ropes at the boxing booth. He was a classless man, chummy with Taunton's social elite as well as the farm workers who came to the local market. The town went into mourning when he died.
Arthur Wellard (1927-50)
Arthur was a better bowler than batsman, yet it is his unadulterated slogging that brings the memories flooding back. Spectators, many coming specially to watch him, relished the ritual of a few orthodox forward-defensive prods before he took aim at the nearest allotments. At headquarters he terrified the fish in the Tone that winds along the boundary; at Wells, where twice he hit five sixes in an over, the theological students ducked and retreated to the safety of the cathedral pews. Arthur was tall and bronzed, his bowling renowned for its away swing and the distinctive leap before release. There would have been more than two Tests but for the war. He liked a pint, placed an authoritative bet on the horses and seldom lost at cards (his pal Bill Andrews used to say Wellard could memorise every one in the pack). At silly mid-off he was known to take out his teeth, supposedly to confuse the batsman.
Harold Gimblett (1935-54)
Farmers really did leave their cattle and hurry across the road when they knew Harold was batting. He had no respect for bowlers' reputations and was not averse to a six in the opening over, usually straight and sweet. Schoolboys quoted his feats - and not just the famous hurricane hundred on debut - whenever they talked cricket. He was a farmer's son from Bicknoller and you could not be more authentically Somerset than that. There was always sunshine in his strokeplay and this blissfully obscured the hidden but gnawing demons in his head that dogged his playing career and eventually destroyed him. Before and after the Second World War his was the name that created a frisson at the various home grounds where he led aggressively from the front. His fans were vaguely aware that he had little time for the game's establishment and did not much enjoy Test cricket. To them that simply meant more matches for Somerset.
Hallam Moseley (1971-82)
Hallam arrived in the West Country wide-eyed and unknown. He had been recommended by Sir Garry Sobers, who knew that this young fastish bowler was not far short of a place in the West Indies team. But it never came: there were too many talented pacy seam bowlers in the Caribbean. His days with Somerset were a fine compensation for an uncomplicated player who invariably appeared inordinately happy. Maybe he should have gone into the public relations business. His rapport with the spectators, at Taunton, Bath and Weston, was exceptional. They carried on conversations with him as he fielded on the boundary; they applauded after nearly every over as he returned to long leg; they whistled in admiration and envy at the distinctive way he returned the ball to the wicketkeeper. He spent hours signing autographs for small children and their ageing grandparents. The Barbadian's spring-heeled approach and good-looking action were valued - as, just as much, was his equable nature.
This article was first published in the December issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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