Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Cricketers Who Missed Out: 1921

In a few posts from a long time ago, I looked at how there were no Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1913, 1921 and 1926 owing to special portraits of John Wisden, Pelham Warner and Jack Hobbs.

Roger Page, a year or so ago, said that Warner was the least deserving of the three. His special portrait was designed to commemorate leading Middlesex to an unexpected County Championship win in 1920 by winning their last nine games – two by very narrow margins against rivals Kent and Yorkshire.

In contrast to the 1912 season, 1920 did not see even a non-first-class team tour England. Three-day cricket was restored after the abortive experiment with two-day matches over extended playing hours in 1919 – deemed a very bad failure as in a dry summer fifty-five of 124 matches were drawn.

1920 was a distinctly damp and cool summer, with both July and August among the coolest five percent since 1864. It was not as wet as 1912, though, and during May and June a mere four of eighty-two county matches were unfinished, though persistent rain during July prevented this being maintained. Many pitches were affected by rain even during a relatively dry August since they dried out so slowly.

In terms of playing quality, 1920 could claim to be the “worst summer of the century”, given the dreadful records of bottom two counties Worcestershire and Derbyshire:



These awful records in batting had the unfortunate effect of giving such bowlers as Abe Waddington, Harry Howell, James Tyldesley, Lawrence Cook, Tich Freeman, Frank Woolley and Vallance Jupp reputations wholly undeserved. A perverse result was that English selectors, with limited time, relied on bowling records against batting of a quality not out of place in Minor Counties cricket for a tour against batsmen probably more skilled than possible on today’s covered pitches.

Worcestershire’s unimaginably bad bowling is another story entirely: in only two games did they bowl their opponents out twice – though they had poor luck with rain – and most of the time Worcestershire bowling was simply and purely bad, allowing opponents to hit boundaries at will.

The effect of the war was seen in the small number of matches outside the County Championship compared even to non-tour pre-World War I years. Despite this, with bowlers like “Father” Marriott, Michael Falcon, Raymond Robertson-Glasgow, Richard Bettington and Charles Gibson, the Universities were able to out-compete almost all the counties.

An overview of the first fourteen counties in 1920 follows:
  • Middlesex most unexpectedly won the Championship, led by their batting trio of Jack Hearne, Patsy Hendren and Harry Lee. The three scored between them fifteen centuries in twenty games, giving Middlesex easily the best batting average of 34 runs per wicket. On the bad wickets of July and early August Hearne’s bowling was very difficult, whilst 195-centimetre Jack Durston took 100 wickets in his first full season of county cricket.
  • Lancashire finished second with nineteen wins, but struggled against the stronger counties. Makepeace carried the batting until Ernest Tyldesley found his form, but Lawrence Cook and the rejuvenated Harry Dean were deadly on the many wet pitches, with Cook taking over 150 wickets and being considered for the Ashes tour. With Parkin playing only five times, Spooner thrice and Marriott once Lancashire might have done even better.
  • Surrey, with Hobbs dominating the batting and Fender and Rushby bowling well, looked likely to win the Championship until Kent beat them on a slow and treacherous pitch at the Rectory Field. After that, they struggled as key speedster Hitch lost form, until Sandham and Ducat developed their batting at the end of the season.
  • Yorkshire fell to fourth owing to the weakness of their bowling on good pitches and the temporary decline of Herbert Sutcliffe. Rhodes and Waddington were deadly against weak opposition and on sticky pitches, but the fact that so many of their victories were over weak teams made their record flattering. Holmes batted very well and was considered unlucky to miss the Ashes tour, whilst Denton and Kilner had flashes of brilliance. Rockley Wilson, as in 1919, strengthened the bowling in August.
  • Kent, fifth, had three good spin bowlers in Woolley, Fairservice and Freeman plus excellent batsmen in Seymour, Hardinge and when available Jack Bryan. Woolley was by far the “player of the season” but ineligible, and the team suffered both from poor batting depth and the lack of pace bowling.
  • Sussex were the surprise packet of 1920, winning eighteen of thirty games. When they had Dick Young, the Relfs and Vine in the team they matched it with everybody bar Middlesex, beating four of the five teams above them. Bowley and Maurice Tate each scored 1,000 runs with aggressive batting, but steadiness was early on a need.
  • Nottinghamshire, despite falling from third to seventh, had a much more interesting season than in 1919 and did garner two impressive wins against Middlesex and at the Oval. With Fred Barratt’s fitness problematic, the sensitive Tich Richmond had to shoulder most of the bowling and was deadly in their Middlesex win and superb on a firm Oval pitch. 150 wickets, despite his extraordinary weakness in the field and with the bat, had Richmond in line for an Australian tour. With John Gunn averaging 42 and well-supported by brother George and an amazingly consistent Joe Hardstaff senior, the batting was adequate if no more.
  • Essex improved from second last despite being excessively dependent on Johnny Douglas’ all-round play and having no new talent. Douglas took his highest haul of wickets, but except when resuscitated medium pacer William Reeves was deadly after rain, he lacked support. George Louden played only eight times and had a disappointing record despite taking 8 for 36 in his solitary game against a weak county. Jack Russell’s batting on frequently difficult pitches to average 43 was a key factor in their improvement.
  • Gloucestershire, though they won eight games, were hopeless against good teams and their batting depended far too much on dour opener Alfred Dipper. Their bowling, with Charlie Parker taking 125 wickets for fifteen each and Percy Mills often deadly on bad pitches, was frequently very difficult but never proved itself against the best batsmen.
  • Somerset, despite an exceptional pair of bowlers in Jack White and Jimmy Bridges who gave them a bowling record equalled only by Yorkshire and Lancashire, had no stability to their batting, which except against the terrible Worcestershire attack could only twice muster 300 runs in an innings.
  • Hampshire, despite the superb batting at times of George Brown, Phil Mead and Edward Barrett, were very disappointing. As a bowler Jack Newman was expensive, and Frank Ryan a complete failure, so that too much depended on Kennedy. Their brilliant batting was, alas, inconsistent and had many failures, for instance against Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and, on a hard wicket after Holmes hit 302, Yorkshire.
  • Warwickshire were held together by the fast bowling of Harry Howell, who despite his lack of height had enough pace and off-break to beat weaker sides on any pitch. On a damp Lord’s pitch he routed the Gentlemen. Against stronger batting sides, however, he at times struggled (e.g. against Lancashire) and with mediocre batting and only skipper Calthorpe for support bowling Warwickshire troubled only weak sides.
  • Leicestershire suffered terribly from the decline of batting mainstay Cecil Wood, who made no fifty all season. King, Mounteney, and Rudd also declined severely as batsmen and Aubrey Sharp was less frequently available. However, despite Geary not playing at all due to League commitments the bowling under Benskin, Astill and King was quite adequate to dismiss opponents but hopeless for winning games.
  • Northamptonshire, without their mainstays Thompson, Smith and the Denton twins, won only two games against Derbyshire and one versus Leicestershire. Even William Wells’ pace bowling was disappointing, and only Haywood and Claude Woolley did anything with the bat.
Top all-rounders Rhodes, Woolley and J.W. Hearne were naturally ineligible, and star batsmen Holmes and Hendren chosen the previous year.

Vis-à-vis 1913, there are no comparable standouts to Faulkner, Pegler or even Harry Dean, though the following would have been very likely:
  1. Harry Howell
  2. George Brown
  3. Jack Russell
    • Russell’s choice would have allowed Tich Richmond a place in 1923, which would have been fitting because:
      1. he was Freeman’s great rival as the best wrist-spinner until his sensitive physique and mass gain took its toll
      2. like Eric Hollies against Sussex in 1954 (the year Hollies was chosen), Richmond played a surprisingly large innings for so poor a bat on almost the same day of May
    • If Richmond had been chosen in 1921 (see below), Russell’s ineligibility would have opened the door in 1923 for George Louden, who on his form was the best bowler in England so would fairly have won a berth on limited appearances
  4. Harry Lee
A brief description of these four players follows:
  • Howell ’s rise in 1920 to the country’s leading fast bowler was a conspicuous feature. From the time he put in two superb efforts on firm pitches against Kent, Howell was established as a leading bowler with fine pace and ability to get up awkwardly despite his lack of height. Howell played in every representative game and became the third highest wicket-taker in the country, coping exceptionally well with lack of support.
  • Brown was an intriguing figure. Most famous for his batting, early in his career he was a good enough pace bowler to be Hampshire’s leading wicket-taker in 1911 and later a good enough wicket-keeper to be chosen in that role for England in 1921. Although he was at times inconsistent, in 1920 Brown rivalled the skilful and courageous Phil Mead as the best left-handed bat in England. He played two of the most brilliant innings of his career: 232 against Yorkshire and 230 against Essex at Bournemouth, along with a partnership of 321 in 170 minutes with Edward Barrett against Gloucestershire. Despite being ninth in the batting averages, Brown did not make the Ashes tour or any of the three Players’ elevens at Lord’s, the Oval or Scarborough. Brown played for Hampshire until 1933
  • Russell was another for whom 1920 brought a jump into fame. With 2432 runs he became the second biggest run-scorer in the country, despite a mere three centuries in fifty-six innings. Considering the wetter pitches this was a marked advance upon his record of 1919 and drove Essex up the table. His skill in on-side strokes was the most impressive of any batsmen in 1920, and in the cool and wet weather this was indispensable and allowed Russell to be sparing in his natural off-side strokes. Unlike Waddington and Howell, Russell did well enough to score three centuries against Armstrong’s Australians. He reached his peak in 1922, when he was named a Cricketer of the Year, and scored two separate hundreds against South Africa in the deciding Test the following winter. Russell declined after 1922/1923, but remained a bulwark for Essex until he retired in 1930.
  • Lee was the third of the trio of batsmen who won Middlesex the Championship with mediocre bowling in 1920 and 1921. His 1920 season, with five hundreds and 221 not out against Hampshire, plus a best-ever average of 43.37, saw him among the √©lite of professional batsmen. Lee had learned the game in the streets of London as one of the few Middlesex players with a birth qualification, but did not establish himself until he made 139 in partnership with Frank Tarrant after World War I had broken out. Following the war, Lee developed into a solid and resolute if unattractive opening batsman whose value to the team was greater than the runs he made. Hearne and Hendren owed a great deal to Lee’s ability to wear down opposition bowlers when they were freshest, and this is not revealed in Lee’s later averages against better bowling than England possessed in 1920. Once Sutcliffe moved beyond the promise of 1919 Lee had no chance of playing for England at home. 
The fifth place would almost certainly have gone to a bowler since 1920’s edition was for the last time titled Five Batsmen of the Season – though it should be noted that in 1948 and 1991 all Cricketers of the Year were chosen for batting alone. It is very hard for me to choose between the following four bowlers for this place:
  • Lawrence Cook, who also made a dramatic rise in 1920, had had a very chequered career. The brother of a promising (but discarded) fast bowler in William Cook, he previously played regularly only in 1910 and 1911. In 1911 as a fast bowler Cook had several pronounced successes against weak counties but was dropped to make way for Brearley, and hardly played between 1912 and the middle of 1919. However, concentrating on spin and length, Cook reduced his pace and became extremely dangerous on the wet Lancashire pitches. Cook took ten wickets in a match five times and was truly mastered only by Sussex late in the season. He was a less poor batsman than Howell, often scoring a few runs, but only once made 40. Cook bowled very well during the dry summer of 1921, but was never considered for England.
  • Richmond was yet another bowler to rise to the top in 1920, increasing from sixty wickets to 145 and virtually carrying Nottinghamshire’s bowling alone despite his extremely sensitive and slight physique. Often compared with Alfred Percy Freeman, Richmond in 1920 had far more spin and was more successful on good pitches – twenty wickets against Hampshire and two good performances against Surrey being testimony. However, his best performances, with vicious spin, were on sticky wickets against Middlesex and Sussex, alongside eight for 87 on a rain-affected wicket against Kent. Richmond’s absence from representative cricket until the September festivals and extreme weakness in the field and with the bat (though his career average almost reached double figures) would have militated against his chances. Richmond did play once for England, but disappointed in 1921 and his sensitive physique would have militated against his chances in the 1926 season.
  • Abe Waddington had first played in July 1919 and became a vital factor in winning Yorkshire the County Championship with his swerving left-hand bowling and pace off the pitch that in half a season took 100 wickets, with twelve against Gloucestershire and two hauls of nine against Surrey and Essex on rare sticky wickets. In 1920, Waddington again obtained impressive analyses and was selected for the Ashes tour because his style was thought suitable for the cast-iron Australian pitches. However, he was a total failure and it is wonderfully instructive to compare his combined record against Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire, Sussex and Hampshire (“strong” counties), with his record against the remaining “weak” counties:
    • Against the “strong” counties Waddington bowled 458 overs and a ball for 1200 runs and 38 wickets at an average of 31.58
    • Against the “weak” counties Waddington bowled 478 overs and a ball for 1051 runs and 99 wickets at an average of 10.62!
    This really shows just how false mere bowling records were when the batting skill of counties ranged from today’s Test team (Surrey, Middlesex, Yorkshire) to Minor Counties level or worse (Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Worcestershire, after 1921 Glamorgan).
  • Rockley Wilson, virtually the only amateur ever to play for Yorkshire primarily as a bowler, did so well with his perfect length slow leg-cutters that he was picked for the Ashes tour, despite being less suited to Australian wickets than unavailable gentleman bowlers like Louden, Falcon and Gibson. Still, Wilson justified his lofty position with superb performances against Middlesex, Sussex and the MCC. Wilson had first played for Yorkshire in 1899, but disappeared between 1902 and 1912 and was called up in 1913 to prevent him using his residential qualification for Hampshire. Nonetheless, his bowling after the war despite being over forty was extremely valuable with his superb accuracy and flight – indeed in his only Test Wilson did as well as anyone and he took six wickets against the Australians in 1921. In his days at Cambridge Wilson was a valuable batsman but he did little in that line after the war.
  • Father Marriott, although he bowled Cambridge to its finest twentieth-century record and was acclaimed as the best of a strong group of gentleman bowlers apart from Douglas and White, would be a longshot since he could not play in the representative games and for Lancashire had time for only one rain-ruined match. However, Marriott’s skill in disguising his break and remarkable accuracy for a wrist-spinner was decisive for Cambridge and later for Kent. He was almost medium in pace and lacked flight, but rarely failed to trouble batsmen. Marriott’s notorious ineptitude with the bat and in the field kept him out of contention for international games at this point.

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