Cyril Walters

WALTERS, CYRIL FREDERICK, who died on December 23, 1992, aged 87, had an extraordinary career. He began playing insignificantly for Glamorgan, moved to Worcestershire where his cricket was transformed, rose to captain England against Australia and then suddenly left the game forever. He is remembered as one of the game's great stylists; R. E. S. Wyatt, almost certainly the last man alive who could make such a comparison, thought his batting could only be likened to that of R. H. Spooner.

Walters was a doctor's son, born in Bedlinog, Glamorgan on August 28, 1905, and (like the only other Welshman to captain England, Tony Lewis) went to Neath Grammar School. He was picked for Glamorgan as a 17-year-old in 1923 and for the next five seasons played indifferently in a struggling side. He did score two centuries in 1926 and appeared to be establishing himself, but in 1927 he was interviewed by Worcestershire for the post of secretary, which offered clubs one way round the problem of paying amateurs. He was asked what he thought his batting average for Worcestershire could be. He said 50. At the time his career average was 17.

Under the qualification rules of the time, he was not allowed to play for his new county until 1930, but in the meantime he met E. J. "Tiger" Smith, the Warwickshire player who used to go down to Worcester to help with the coaching. Smith told him not to grip the bat so tightly and when Walters re-entered county cricket he was a different player. In 1931 he became captain and started opening regularly. In 1932 he was top of the county's averages and the following year he was able to keep the promise he made at his interview. He scored 2,404 runs and nine Championship centuries, opened in all three Tests against West Indies and was chosen as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year in the 1934 Wisden. In the Lord's Test of 1933, his first, he scored 51 and reportedly matched Walter Hammond stroke for stroke. He was even more successful on the tour of India under Jardine that winter, rounding off the series with 102 in the final Test at Madras.

Then, less than a year after his first appearance, he was captain of England against Australia, because he was senior amateur, when Wyatt withdrew from the Nottingham Test with a broken thumb. England lost by 238 runs when O'Reilly and Grimmett bowled them out for 141 on a worn pitch; Walters was the top scorer with 46. At Lord's, Wyatt was back in command and won the toss. Walters scored 82. "He played a pedigree innings," wrote Neville Cardus in the Manchester Guardian, "it was by MacLaren out of F. S. Jackson. His strokes were aglow with style; he made them swiftly and late. His wrists gave lustre to every movement of his bat. This was an innings fit for Lord's and a Test match."

Walters maintained form throughout that memorable series, finishing with 401 runs at 50.12: only Leyland scored more for England. He again passed 2,000 in all matches and shared a brilliant stand of 160 with Wyatt to give the Gentlemen their first win over the Players at Lord's in 20 years. Every honour in cricket appeared open to him. The following season he strained a tendon in his hand and missed some cricket. He appeared to be batting as well as ever and made 118 and 94 against Kent at the beginning of August. Then, suddenly, he resigned as Worcestershire's secretary and retired. His brief and glorious ascendancy had finished even more abruptly than it began.

The mystery about this decision has never wholly been unravelled. It is known that Walters had often felt unwell during long innings and had been very sick in India. He was newly married and it was said that his wife did not like cricket. Walters joined a wine business and later owned hotels. In 1986 he told Wisden Cricket Monthly that both P. F. Warner and P. A. Perrin, two of the three Test selectors, had pleaded with him to continue playing and hinted that he could captain MCC in Australia in 1936-37 - even that he could take his wife with him. He still refused. "I'd decided I couldn't go on playing forever," he said. However, he admitted the decision had been painful. "I wouldn't go anywhere near cricket because I was afraid if I did, I would start playing again. I never went near a match of any sort."

Though he occasionally went to Lord's later, he hardly ever visited Worcester until a few years ago when he rang the club and shyly asked if he might come and see them. After that, he returned several times, charmed everyone with his courtesy and good humour, and was made president of the club's old players' association. By then he was living back in Neath again, with a picture of himself cover-driving Bill O'Reilly over the mantelpiece. Until he died, he was still an imposing, upright man, immaculate in both his dress and his manners. He was still playing golf in 1992 and drove a Mercedes; he told a friend shortly before he died that he had just been cautioned by the police for driving at a speed well in excess of his age. He made 12,145 runs in first-class cricket at an average of 30.74 including 21 centuries. In his 11 Tests he scored 784 runs at 52.26, an average that stands comparison with the greatest players. When he died, R. E. S. Wyatt said: "Cyril Walters was a great friend of mine. He had tremendous charm, modesty, a sense of humour and enormous cricketing ability. He was a very good timer of the ball, very graceful, and could play every stroke except the hook. He made batting look very easy. The only player I can compare him to is Reggie Spooner. There's no modern player like him."

© John Wisden & Co