Frank Woolley reflects on his career, 1939

My happy cricket life

Frank E Woolley

THE TIME HAS COME for me to say farewell to cricket as a player, and I readily acquiesce to the invitation of the Editor of Wisden to record some of the greatest moments of my career. It is a severe wrench leaving the game which I have enjoyed so much. My whole life in cricket from beginning to end has been 32 years of happiness, apart from 1915-1918. I have a lot for which to be thankful, having always enjoyed good health, and I have no regrets at all.

Even my last season in first-class cricket brought me memorable days when I touched my best form, but I do think it is best to say good-bye before I fail to satisfy my admirers. I believe I could have gone on for another season or two, but I might have struck a bad patch and then many people would have said, Why doesn't he retire?

I will not say that I will never turn out again, because Kent, who have always treated me kindly, might--when short of players--invite me to play and in that event I could not refuse. There were occasions last summer, however, when I felt the strain of a long day in the field, especially after I had made a big score.


It is delving into the dim and distant past when I made my first acquaintance with the game, but it all stands out very clearly in my memory. I never played serious cricket at school, but I was born close to the Angel ground at Tonbridge and I always took a keen interest in the game. In those days I used to wander into the ground and, after leaving school at 14, never missed an opportunity of bowling at the nets.

My heart and soul were in cricket. I was fortunate enough to bowl to Colin Blythe and he mentioned my name to the Kent manager, Mr. Tom Pawley. That was in 1902, but as I had rather outgrown my strength at that age, being very tall and thin, they allowed me to attend the ground on mornings only. In 1903 I became a regular member of the staff. Colin Blythe was without doubt one of the greatest left-hand bowlers I have ever seen. He had a perfect action and run-up. I do not think I copied him. His style was so different from mine.

Curiously enough, my first match for Kent, which was against Lancashire at Old Trafford in 1906, came about through an accident to Blythe at Brighton. Kent wired for me. I was reckoned purely a left-arm slow bowler and I shall never forget my debut. The great John Tyldesley hit 295 not out, the highest innings of his career, and some funny things happened. We lost the toss and I was put at third man. Tyldesley cut one very hard, but misjudging it altogether the ball hit me on the chest. Our captain, Mr. C. H. B. Marsham, feeling sorry for me, moved me to mid-off and to mid-on; in each place I dropped a skier, although one was off a no-ball.

Johnny Tyldesley was hitting us all over the place when he was joined by the last man, W. Worsley, the wicket-keeper, who was reckoned the worst batsman in the world. We all wanted to see Tyldesley get 300. I was bowling at one end and our captain called us together and said, Who can we put on the other end to bowl a maiden over to Worsley so that Tyldesley can get his 300 ? The cry went up Put 'Punter' on, and he was told to bowl away from the stumps. His first four balls were well over to the off, but to everyone's amazement, including Punter Humphries, the fifth swung in viciously and knocked down Worsley's leg stump. So Tyldesley did not realise his ambition. My analysis was one for 103 and Humphries had one for 101. He came in for some rare chipping in the dressing room for having to be satisfied with only Worsley's wicket. In our first innings I was bowled third ball for a duck, but after a rather bad beginning I had a satisfactory last day when I made 64.

My part in the next match against Somerset at Gravesend can be best described by quoting Wisden of 1907 which says: Somerset in their second innings began well, but collapsed before the bowling of Woolley. My bag was six wickets for 39. The following game, against Surrey at the Oval, which we won was probably the deciding factor that season in Kent winning the Championship for the first time. Again we lost the toss and I opened the bowling with Fielder. I had never seen Tom Hayward. I imagined he was a tall athletic looking man and when five wickets were down I said to Fielder, When does Tom Hayward come in ? He replied, That was the first chap you bowled out. Actually in that innings I bowled Hayward, Hayes and Goatly. It was a comparatively low scoring match and I could do little wrong. I went in number eight, made Kent's top score, 72; then took five more wickets; Kent wanted 131 and I was in at the death. I remember being dropped by Jack Crawford when one, but I got 23 not out and we scrambled home with one wicket to spare.

Those were the great days when plenty of amateurs could spare time for cricket. I do not think there are so many good players in the game now as before the War. In the old days we were probably educated in cricket in a far more serious way than now. For the purpose of giving the younger people my idea of the difference I will put up Walter Hammond, England's captain, as an example. Before 1914 there were something like 30 players up to his standard and he would have been in the England team only if at the top of his form. I make these remarks without casting the slightest reflection on Hammond. He is a grand player and one of the greatest all-round cricketers since the War--in fact, the greatest.

I doubt whether English cricket has really recovered from the effects of the War. You see, we missed half a generation, and since then young men have found many other ways of occupying their leisure hours. Still, I believe it is only a passing phase and cricket will one day produce an abundance of great players.


There is little wrong with the game itself. Just a question of the way it is played. It is amazing how the public steadfastly refuse to attend the third day of a match when so often the last day produces the best and most exciting cricket. Certain sides are to blame for batting too long and leaving the chance of a sporting finish impossible. The time may arrive when the third day will be abolished. I am fully aware that in 1919, the first season after the War, two-day matches proved a failure, but then we played three matches a week and stumps were not drawn until 7p.m. or 7.30p.m. and everyone became weary of the experiment. I think if the counties played matches of two days' duration with a day's rest between each for travelling, it would be a step towards better cricket. We have been suffering from a surfeit of cricket. There are too many match days and the players get jaded.

Touching on another personal subject I have been asked if I can explain why I was dismissed so many times in the nineties. The statisticians inform me that I was out 35 times between 90 and 99 and I am also told I am credited with 89 ducks. With regard to those nineties, I can honestly say that with me it was never a question of the nervous nineties. Lots of times I was out through forcing the game. We were never allowed to play for averages in the Kent side or take half-an-hour or more to get the last ten runs under normal conditions. We always had to play the game and play for the team. It is a Kent tradition.


As a matter of fact I consider the two finest innings I ever played were in the Second Test against Australia at Lord's in 1921 when I was out for 95 and 93. I do not think I ever worked harder at any match during my career to get runs as I did then, nor did I ever have to face in one game such consistently fast bowlers as the Australian pair, Gregory and MacDonald. Square cuts which ordinarily would have flashed to the boundary earned only two and I believe that those two innings would have been worth 150 apiece in a county match.

I was not depressed when they got me out. I have always taken my dismissals as part of the game. In the first innings I was in the eighties when I was joined by the last man, Jack Durston. It was my own fault completely that I lost my wicket. Mailey bowled me a full toss to the off, I walked down the pitch and, stepping to the on to force the ball past extra cover, I missed it and that fine wicket-keeper, H. Carter, eagerly accepted the opportunity to stump me. I was rather unlucky in the second innings when again I fell to Mailey. The ball stuck in his hand and dropped half-way on the leg side. I hit it pretty plumb between square leg and mid-on and just there was standing Stalky Hendry. As I made the shot he jumped in the air and up went his right hand. The ball hit him, I think, on the wrist, and he lost his balance. The ball went up ten feet and as he was lying on the ground it fell in his lap and he caught it. He was the only man on the leg side and I think the shot would have carried for six. It was a marvellous catch.

In 1934 I was the first winner of the Lawrence Trophy which Sir Walter Lawrence offers each year. As it tends to encourage brighter cricket I cannot see that it does any harm to the game, although there was no idea of the trophy in my mind when I won it. We were playing Northamptonshire at Dover and were pushed for time. I seized every chance and reached the hundred in 63 minutes.

It is often argued that left-handed batsmen have an advantage compared with the right-handers. I do not agree with this contention. When the turf is worn the right hand leg-break bowlers and left-arm slow bowlers are able to pitch the ball into the footholes of the bowlers who have operated at the other end. Right-handed batsmen can let these balls hit their pads, but the left-handers must use their bats. Perhaps the new l. b. w. rule has not helped us there, but the amended law does not worry me though in my opinion it has not improved the game. As for further extending the l. b. w. rule I think it would make a farce of the game.

In many quarters surprise was expressed last season that at the age of 51 I went in Number one. Until then I had never been in first regularly, though I have always preferred that place. Beginning as a bowler made Kent place me four or five in the order and moreover the county were always rich in opening batsmen. Consequently my wish to start the innings was denied until 1938. Because Kent have experienced their bad times against fast bowling the cry has gone round that we cannot play the fast men, but I think if you search the records you will also find that Kent have hit a tremendous lot of runs off fast bowling. Perhaps our opponents, encouraged with the idea that we did not fancy ourselves against pace, have bowled with their tails up. Again I must emphasise that Kent always endeavour to play sporting cricket, and trying to make runs off that type of bowling must sometimes have contributed to our downfall. It was never a policy of the Kent team that the pitch must be occupied all day after winning the toss.

I cannot let this opportunity pass without placing on record how much I have enjoyed my cricket with Kent. If I was a youngster starting as a batsman I think I should like to play always at The Oval, but the Kent grounds, with their natural decorations of beautiful trees, members tents flying their own colours and bedecked with flowers, lend the right tone to cricket. I am devoting most of this coming summer to coaching the boys at King's School, Canterbury, and look forward to the experience, especially as it is a Kent school.

© John Wisden & Co