Rupert Brooke, Geoff Hurst and more, 2001

Never a famous cricketer

Jonathan Rice

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In the Millennium Edition of Wisden, there is a section of photographs under the heading, "Images of the Century". One shows His Majesty King George V at Lord's on July 11, 1919 being introduced to the captains of Eton and Harrow. The captain of Harrow that "relieved yet forlorn summer", as the caption puts it, was W. A. R. Collins, later to gain success and fame as Sir William Collins, the publisher. The photograph prompts the question, how many people are hidden within the pages of Wisden who achieved fame in fields other than cricket? How many schoolboy cricketers went on to become publishers, politicians, soldiers or writers? Wisden does not only record the cricketers who score centuries at Lord's or take 400 Test wickets. When Sir Edward Lewis, founder and managing director of the Decca Record Company, died in 1980, Wisden wryly noted that he was one of those men whose "lifelong devotion to cricket does not stem from personal triumphs on the field". But after all, what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?

We should probably start with royalty. The only member of British royalty to have played first-class cricket is Prince Christian Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria, who had one first-class game, for I Zingari against the Gentlemen of England in August 1887. On page 312 of the 1888 edition, Wisden records his scores, stumped 35 and bowled A. E. Stoddart 0, but does not mention how well he played. The Wisden obituary of King George VI in 1953 records that he "performed the hat-trick on the private ground on the slopes below Windsor Castle". A left-handed bowler, the future king bowled his grandfather King Edward VII, his father King George V and his elder brother David, later King Edward VIII, with three consecutive balls. The value of this achievement must be qualified by the fact that Edward VII died when the then Prince Albert of Wales was 15, so the hat-trick was by a young boy in the back garden against three people who never showed any aptitude for the game. Still, it made the pages of Wisden. And there's a picture of his grandson, Prince Charles, executing a sweep in the 1969 edition. The best recent royal cricketer seems to be the present Duke of York, who features in the 1980 Wisden as captain of Gordonstoun's XI. As HRH Prince Andrew, he is credited on page 895 that year with a batting average of 23.55, and a bowling average of 4.54, having taken 11 wickets for just 50 runs. Wisden notes sagely that "Gordonstoun had an average team and report a difficulty in obtaining good school fixtures. The batting proved adequate but the bowling lacked penetration."

Many of the soldiers who gain a mention in Wisden's despatches do so in the obituary columns, and have only a tenuous link to cricket. Captain the Hon. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, HM the Queen Mother's elder brother, was killed in France on September 24, aged 26, as the 1916 edition reports. "He was a keen cricketer and took part in the autumn fixtures at Glamis Castle." However, Field-Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis played for Harrow against Eton in 1910, when he was still the Hon. H. R. L. G. Alexander, and, several years earlier, another Field-Marshal, Montgomery of Alamein, played for St Paul's School in 1905 and 1906. He showed his never-say-die attitude at an early stage, as Wisden reported in 1906: "When the full team were able to play, they gave a good account of themselves, Cooper and Montgomery against Merton College putting on over 100 for the last wicket when a severe defeat seemed impending." If Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, perhaps El Alamein was won on the playing fields of St Paul's.

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A little later on, D. R. S. Bader appears in the St Edmund's, Oxford team of 1928 as captain, "forcing batsman and fast bowler". Three years later, Pilot Officer Bader played for the RAF against the Army and made 65. "Apart from a brilliant display by Bader, whose 65 occupied 40 minutes, the Air Force batting proved very disappointing." An even better rugby player than cricketer, he would probably have been capped by England but for his flying accident.

There are many who have gained greater distinction at other sports who nevertheless found a tiny space in Wisden. Geoff Hurst played one game for Essex, against Lancashire at Liverpool in 1962, but scored three fewer than he did in the World Cup final four years later. Mr M. P. Betts, who scored the winning goal in the first FA Cup final in 1872, is listed on page 340 of the 1889 Almanack as seconding a motion at an MCC meeting. England centre-forward Tommy Lawton's obituary in 1997 records that "as a teenager he played Lancashire League cricket for Burnley, and hit Learie Constantine for two consecutive sixes." Other footballers who feature in the pages of Wisden include three goalkeepers - Steve Ogrizovic (Shropshire and Coventry City), Andy Goram, a double international for Scotland at cricket and football, and William "Fatty" Foulke, Sheffield United and England's vast but skilful goalkeeper, who played four games for Derbyshire in 1900, making a top score of 53 against Essex.

Gary Lineker's appearance for MCC against Germany in 1992 is not given the full treatment in Wisden. The result of the match (a draw) and the team totals are there, and the individual effort of Lineker ("I always score one against Germany") is reported. He crops up again in 1996, on page 1349, where we learn that "In a celebrity match, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones took what he claimed was the first televised hat-trick at The Oval. His victims were television newsreader Trevor McDonald, cricket presenter Charles Colvile and Gary Lineker, the retired football star." That's at least as tough a hat-trick as three kings at Windsor.

Billy Williams, the developer of the famous cabbage patch that became Twickenham, played 27 matches for Middlesex between 1885 and 1902, switching from wicket-keeping to leg-breaks halfway through his career. Rugby is indeed a game with many links to cricket: Scotland's 1990 Grand Slam captain, David Sole, topped the Glenalmond batting averages in 1979. The 1980 Wisden (page 894) shows D. M. B. Sole with a top score of 73 and an average of 26.15. Rob Andrew first appears in Wisden as a schoolboy all-rounder at Barnard Castle - as captain in 1981, his side was neither beaten nor bowled out - and he went on to win his Blue at Cambridge for cricket as well as rugby. W. H. "Dusty" Hare played for Nottinghamshire sporadically from 1971, Simon Halliday played for Oxford University and Dorset, while, across the divide, Great Britain rugby league winger Martin Offiah turned out once for Essex Second Eleven in 1985. Figures of none for 66 in 12 overs, and a duck, suggest "going north" to Widnes, then Wigan, was the right career move. Sir Michael Bonallack, winner of golf's Amateur Championship and a leading administrator in the game, is there on page 286 of the 1952 edition, playing for Haileybury against Cheltenham. He too scored a duck, but took six wickets for 55 in the drawn game.

When H. W. Austin opened the batting for Repton in 1924 and 1925, H. S. Altham noted that "Austin was very sound and correct" yet "may, I fear, transfer his allegiance to another game at Cambridge, whither he has now gone, but he was a good school batsman, sound and imperturbable." The other game was lawn tennis, at which Bunny Austin was twice a Wimbledon singles finalist. He is not the only tennis champion to appear in the pages of Wisden, though. Frank Hadow, a 23-year-old tea planter on leave from Ceylon, won the Wimbledon title in 1878 before a crowd of about 500, and then went back to the Orient undefeated. In 1873, at the age of 18, he had played at Lord's for Harrow against Eton in front of 28,000, and scored 54 not out to win the game. The Wisden reporter called his innings "one of the ablest displays of true and skilful cricket seen in a Public School match for several seasons."

The connection between cricket and the arts is well known, and rather better catalogued in Wisden than one might expect. Joseph Wells, the father of H.G., was a professional cricketer who took four wickets in four balls for Kent against Sussex in 1862. Among his quartet of victims was Spencer Austen-Leigh, the great-nephew of Jane Austen, so providing the only known cricketing connection between Pride and Prejudice and The War of the Worlds. In 1900, P. G. Wodehouse opened the bowling for Dulwich College with the future England bowler, N. A. Knox. Wodehouse later took the name of his most famous character from the Warwickshire bowler, Percy Jeeves, who was killed in the Great War. Also in 1900, A. A. Milne was playing for Westminster School, but it is not known after which cricketer he named his great character, Eeyore. Another war casualty was R. C. Brooke, whom we find in the 1907 Wisden topping the bowling averages at Rugby with 19 wickets at 14.05 each. His obituary in the 1916 edition deals fully with his cricketing career, and also notes that "he gained a reputation as a poet."

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's obituary in 1931 points out that "although never a famous cricketer, he could hit hard and bowl slows with a puzzling flight. For MCC v Cambridgeshire at Lord's in 1899, he took seven wickets for 61 runs." Alas, the full scorecard is not printed in the 1900 edition. In that game, however, the umpire was Thomas Mycroft, the likely source of the name of Sherlock Holmes's elder brother. Samuel Beckett is the only Nobel literature laureate who played first-class cricket, at least until Dickie Bird is honoured for his writings. Beckett played twice for Dublin University in first-class fixtures, against Northamptonshire in 1925 and 1926. In the latter match he made just four and one, opening the batting with C. M. Deverell, who went on to become Sir Colville Deverell, Governor of the Windward Islands. Beckett's initials in Wisden are wrongly given as S. V. (it was S. B. Beckett), but such is fame. Even Bradman was listed as D. J. Bradman when he first came to England.

Another interesting opening partnership appears in the Eton v Harrow match of 1929, when Harrow's first two were Mr N. M. V. Rothschild and Mr T. M. Rattigan. Terence Rattigan went on to great fame as a writer of plays (and of the screenplay of The Final Test, starring Jack Warner, Robert Morley and Len Hutton), while Rothschild played 11 first-class games for Cambridge and Northamptonshire in the early 1930s, before becoming the 3rd Lord Rothschild. More recent captains of industry in Wisden's hidden recesses are Steve Russell and the Australian Rod Eddington, appointed in 2000 as chief executive respectively of Boots plc and British Airways.

"S. G. Russell certainly proved an inspiring captain," the 1968 Wisden recorded after his third year in the Cambridge eleven, "and... in the University match he was the best and fastest of the quick bowlers on either side". Quick enough, too, to open the bowling for Surrey against Nottinghamshire at the end of the season. Among his charges that summer were freshman Roger Knight, later of Surrey, Gloucestershire and Sussex, and secretary of MCC, and the Essex off-spinner and Olympic fencer, David Acfield. Eddington played eight games for Oxford University as a contemporary of two Test cricketers, Vic Marks and Chris Tavaré, and a sporting parson, Andrew Wingfield Digby. Of his 24 against Middlesex in 1976, batting at No. 11, Wisden observed that "Gurr and Eddington contributed a valuable 53 for the last wicket." Sadly, his efforts did not result in a Blue; he was twelfth man at Lord's.

Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty, did not go to Oxford or Cambridge, but was a brilliant schoolboy cricketer, as Wisden records in 1983 and 1984. In those two years for Magdalen College School he scored 1,153 runs at 46, and took 83 wickets at under 16 each. He now plays regularly for Harold Pinter's wandering side, The Gaieties. Bernard Hollowood, cartoonist and editor of Punch in its heyday, played for Staffordshire in the 1930s and 1940s. John Fowles, author of The French Lieutenant's Woman (for which Pinter wrote the screenplay), appeared for Bedford School from 1942 to 1944 as a swing and "cutting" bowler, and had a trial for Essex: it is possibly not insignificant that he lines up in the 1943 Wisden alongside Auden, Bacon and Fletcher. Future academics and critics may be interested in Fowles's belief that "the gate-key to all Pinter's work is his intense and evident love of cricket".

Freddie Grisewood, the broadcaster, played for Radley and once for Worcestershire in 1908. Alec Waugh, C. P. Snow, Edmund Blunden, Andrew Lang and Compton Mackenzie all merit obituaries in Wisden. H. L. Aubrey-Fletcher, to be found in the ranks of Buckinghamshire players between 1921 and 1929, wrote detective fiction under the name "Henry Wade". The list goes on and on.

I have not even touched on politicians. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, when Lord Dunglass, is the only prime minister to have played first-class cricket, but plenty of other politicians have featured in Wisden's pages. Sam Silkin, attorney-general from 1974 to 1979, played two first-class games in 1938, for Cambridge and Glamorgan. In the 1965 Wisden, there is a short Note by the Editor entitled "Prime Ministers at Cricket", which mentions among other odd facts that Ian Smith, then Prime Minister of Rhodesia, watched Mashonaland Country Districts XI play Cross Arrows at Lord's the previous September. The church is as well represented as the state. "It may seem a little strange to include Cardinal Manning's name in a cricket obituary," noted Wisden in 1893, "but inasmuch as he played for Harrow against Winchester at Lord's in 1825, in the first match that ever took place between the two schools, his claim cannot be disputed."

And finally, there is Peter the cat. He died in 1964, and Lord's was the lesser for his passing. But Wisden in 1965 was all the richer for his obituary.

Jonathan Rice's books on cricket include The Pavilion Book of Pavilions, Curiosities of Cricket and One Hundred Lord's Tests.

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