Cricketers of the Year by A. S. Dixon



A close reader of Wisden for more than fifty years, I have taken special interest in "Cricketers of the Year," studying carefully the selection, with full appreciation of the difficulties in making the choice. It is not my intention or wish to impugn this selection by the editors, who always have shown admirable judgment in a far from easy problem. To pick a mere five when the claims for inclusion cover so wide a field demands the very nicest decision. There is not one of those whose portraits have been given who did not merit the distinction, but there are others whom one would have liked to see honoured. And that it is an honour greatly appreciated no one talking with first-class cricketers can possibly doubt. Such omissions were due, I venture to suggest, to one of two reasons: either the cricketer could not devote sufficient time to the game to merit inclusion, or else, though doing admirable service for his county season after season, he never quite succeeded in standing out above his colleagues to the extent of being a "cricketer of the year."

Starting in 1889 with photographs of six bowlers and following these in 1890 with nine batsmen, in 1891 with five wicket-keepers, and in 1892 with five bowlers, Wisden's Almanack, up to the 1940 issue, has with one or two exceptions given portraits and details of "Cricketers of the Year," i.e. those who have distinguished themselves during the previous season.

Altogether in this notable gallery there are 236 photographs including two sets from the Public Schools in the 1918 and 1919 editions. Of these, six, G. T. S. Stevens, C. H. Gibson, G. A. Rotherham, A. P. F. Chapman, N. E. Partridge and L. P. Hedges afterwards played for first-class counties but no biographies accompanied their portraits and I have not put them in the following details; nor am I counting the special whole page pictures of Sir Pelham Warner, and J. B. Hobbs, for they were honoured before. Also I have left out of my reckoning John Wisden, founder of the Almanack, to whose memory the whole feature was devoted in the Jubilee issue of 1913--he died in 1884. S. F. Barnes was with Staffordshire when chosen on the strength of his bowling for England and the Players; Pataudi earned his place by his batting for Oxford University.

As one would expect, the "Big Six" counties supply the majority of the famous men, the actual figures being Surrey 29, Yorkshire 25, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire 18, Kent and Middle-sex 15. Then come Sussex 11, Essex 9, Gloucestershire 8, Somerset 7, Derbyshire and Warwickshire 6, Hampshire 5, Northamptonshire 4, Leicestershire and Worcestershire 3 and Glamorgan 2. Of the teams from overseas Australia is represented 26 times, South Africa eight times, India, New Zealand and West Indies each twice. Analysing these figures again, one may divide them more or less accurately as follows: all-rounders 52, batsmen 107, bowlers 52, wicket-keepers (including Ames, whose batting is probably superior to his wicket-keeping) 15. It may be of interest to consider some of those who failed to "catch the judge's eye."

Of Surrey players one misses the name of D. L. A. Jephson, who led the team for three years besides sharing with G. H. Simpson-Hayward and Walter Humphreys chief skill in the lob-bowling at the beginning of the century; he accomplished a memorable performance for the Gentlemen v. Players in 1899. It must, however, have been a consolation to him to be included in that select band of cricketers honoured as "The Lobster" by "Spy" in the "Vanity Fair" cartoons.

The Yorkshire portrait gallery seems almost complete, the chief absentee being David Hunter, so quietly efficient behind the wicket, one who was robbed of an England cap owing to Lilley's superior batting. If in more recent years Wisden had decided to select "Five Great Fieldsmen," the place of honour in the centre would probably have been filled by Arthur Mitchell.

Amongst the stalwarts of Lancashire two are missing who for many years rendered most distinguished service to their county, H. Makepeace and J. Sharp; Makepeace formed one of the team to visit Australia in 1920; Sharp hit the only hundred for England in the 1909 Test series and was a useful bowler. J. Iddon perhaps has been overshadowed in turn by Ernest Tyldesley and E. Paynter.

In a different category are those whose appearances in first-class cricket have been for various reasons limited, men like F. G. J. Ford, the most brilliant amateur left-hand batsman, Sir T. C. O'Brien, who finished his career by hitting 150 off the Oxford bowlers, and Capt. E. G. Wynyard, the famous Hampshire batsman, who scored heavily also in India, South Africa and New Zealand, and would have gone to Australia with A. E. Stoddart had his military duties permitted. Another who played even more rarely was that superb artist, P. R. Johnson of Somerset, one worthy to be bracketed with his county colleague L. C. H. Palairet, and R. H. Spooner, for grace and beauty of execution.

To be on the losing side again and again is disheartening even to the best of cricketers, and all the more credit is due to those who year after year did noble work for their counties. You will not find in Wisden the features of E. Arnold (Worcestershire), C. P. Buckenham (Essex), J. H. King and C. J. B. Wood (Leicestershire), J. Newman (Hampshire), and G. Dennett and A. E. Dipper (Gloucestershire). Arnold played eight times against Australia at a time when English cricket was about at its best and was not only a dangerous bowler but a fine bat. Buckenham, omitted from the English side, though amongst the 13 selected in 1909, probably suffered more from catches dropped off him than any other bowler of his day. King and C. J. B. Wood were mainstays of Leicestershire; King performed creditably in his only Test match and in 1904 scored a hundred in each innings for Players against Gentlemen at Lord's. C. J. B. Wood in 1911 established a record that is and probably always will be unique, for, going in first as usual, he not only scored two centuries but carried his bat through each innings. Yet he was on the losing side, for his opponents were, of all people, Yorkshire. Dennett and Dipper were of equal value to Gloucestershire. Dipper once gained an England cap. Dennett was always passed over, Rhodes or Blythe being given the preference. Yet his wickets in county cricket were legion: again and again we read in the score sheets c. Jessop b. Dennett. Newman took over 2,000 wickets for Hampshire and five times accomplished the "cricketers' double."

When we turn to the portraits of our visitors it is natural that Australians number more than three times the South Africans. Australia began to play England on equal terms some years before this feature first appeared in Wisden, and gained sixteen victories in Test matches in this country compared with South Africa's solitary success at Lord's in 1935. Moreover, Australia always produced some outstanding player since F. R. Spofforth, who, as Kipling said, "flourished at the Oval," startled the English cricket-loving public. He, as well as his captain, W. L. Murdoch, was at his best in the "pre-portrait" days, but since 1890 almost every distinguished Australian, be he batsman, bowler or wicket-keeper, has been honoured, the only absentees of note being perhaps Alan Kippax, Arthur Malley and Hanson Carter.

The South African representatives number only eight, possibly because their teams have been composed largely of players of uniform quality, and their first appearance as a real Test side in England was in 1907. But there is no portrait of one with claims to a place in any World XI, Aubrey Faulkner, though his finest work was done in Australia. Others, too, who are missing are the dashing all-rounder, J. H. Sinclair, S. J. Pegler, stock bowler of more than one visiting team, and the great left-handed bat, A. D. Nourse, who figured in no fewer than 45 Test matches.

With the resumption of first-class cricket, whenever that may be, we may look forward to fresh names and fresh faces in the gallery. To assume the role of prophet, perhaps some of the following, B. H. Valentine, N. W. D. Yardley, P. A. Gibb, Arthur Fagg, the holder of the unique record of two double centuries in a match, R. Perks, H. Gimblett, N. Oldfield, C. Washbrook and H. E. Dollery--to name but a few- may be found honoured as "Cricketers of the Year."

© John Wisden & Co