Monday, 18 August 2014

Cricketers Who Missed Out: 1926

In three previous posts including an introduction, I have noted the fact that special portraits eliminated Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1913, 1921 and 1926. As a result, and inspired by Scyld Berry’s 2008 Never a Cricketer of the Year, I have on-and-off in the past five years tried to consider who would have been chosen but for the special portraits of John Wisden, Pelham Warner and Jack Hobbs.

This post will look at who would have been the Five Cricketers of the Year but for Hobbs’ special portrait in 1926. To do this we will need to look at who achieved most in the 1925 English season and had not been chosen. If the cricketer in question was later chosen, I will look at who might have been chosen in his stead for that year.

The 1925 English season in a sense marks the end of an era: it will remain the last season with no overseas touring team, so that potential Cricketers of the Year had to base performances on county cricket, Gentlemen v Players, and the University matches. The season was notable for two features:
  1. Five bowlers took 200 wickets – in no other season did more than three reach that number
    • One reason for the decision to have a special portrait of Jack Hobbs may have been that of the six bowlers with over 150 wickets, all bar Root had already been chosen, and of the nine batsmen with over 2,000 runs every one was ineligible.
  2. England’s driest cricket-season month in June with only 4.3 millimetres – which would have been still less but for a rain event confined on June 24 to the east. In the “post-shooter era” (before which rough and stony pitches made batting as or more dangerous in dry weather vis-à-vis wet) since the 1870s, the next driest months during an English cricket season have been:
    1. August 1995 with 9.1 millimetres
    2. June 1921 with 10.6 millimetres
    3. May 1896 with 12.0 millimetres
    4. May 1991 with 13.7 millimetres
    5. August 1947 with 14.4 millimetres
Apart from the amazing June, 1925 was distinctly damp, though it was late in July before May’s rains returned. The dry June produced many fiery or crumbled pitches, which contributed to the big wicket hauls of Tate, Root and McDonald, whilst Charlie Parker was deadly when the rain came in July. Disparities in batting strength between the counties were amazing: averages per wicket ranged from 38.71 (Yorkshire) to 14.94 (Glamorgan), but in bowling only from 18.11 (Yorkshire) to 27.66 (Warwickshire)!

As I have noted the dependence on county cricket in the last season with no touring team, we will look in order at the counties:
  • Yorkshire, in their fourth successive Championship season, set a record for the longest unbeaten season in county cricket with 21 wins and no losses. England’s best-ever batsman (at least after W.G. Grace in his prime), Herbert Sutcliffe, began his golden period of eight successive years averaging over fifty. Macaulay was their bowling mainstay with 211 wickets, but none of their key players were eligible.
  • Surrey, with Hobbs and Sandham hitting sixteen centuries between them plus solid support from Shepherd, Jardine, Fender and Peach, were able in dry weather to win fourteen games even with moderate bowling and Ducat and Jeacocke playing little. Apart from perhaps Shepherd, no important player was eligible: Alan Peach averaged a respectable 21 on Oval pitches but did much too little bowling (under 800 overs) to be a contender.
  • Lancashire, who started well, faltered later in the year owing to the loss of Ernest Tyldesley, but still won nineteen games and lost four. The bowling of McDonald was superb and Richard Tyldesley consistently accurate, but Parkin declined. The batting depended too much on Hallows, Watson, Makepeace and amateur John Reginald Barnes, leaving quite a long “tail”.
  • Nottinghamshire improved after a disappointing 1924 as Tich Richmond was deadly at the beginning and end of the season, whilst Harold Larwood established himself as a bowler of genuine pace with dangerous break-back. Fred Barratt and Sam Staples maintained their form as stock bowlers. Arthur Carr became the first batsman to hit fifty sixes in a season, but was ineligible. Veteran Wilfrid Payton and Willis Walker also improved with the bat but only Payton was remotely outstanding enough for a potential nomination.
  • Kent, despite a strong finish, lost too many games before August to threaten the top four. Woolley and Hardinge dominated the batting and Freeman the bowling, though “Father” Marriott did important work in winning Kent the August games. Only Hardinge of their key players was eligible, and he was by no means in his best form – scoring 700 fewer runs than in 1921, 1922, 1926 or 1928.
  • Middlesex, despite losing only three games, lacked the bowling to threaten the brilliant batting of the other “big six” counties, except the Ernest Tyldesley-less Lancashire. Jack Durston did bowl well to average eighteen but took relatively few wickets even considering Middlesex’s slightly restricted program, Nigel Haig and J.W. Hearne averaged over 22, and their major batsmen in Hearne, Hendren and Greville Stevens were all ineligible.
  • Essex rose to seventh after a disastrous 1924, despite the decline of Johnny Douglas who had lost all his pace. This was due to the excellent batting of veterans Russell and Perrin on the dry Leyton pitches, the improvement as a bowler of “colt” Stan Nichols, and the valuable bowling of amateurs George Louden and Laurie Eastman. Louden played only eight games but won four of them, but all their top regular players were ineligible.
  • Warwickshire rose by one place but had a worse record, winning one game more but losing five more. Their batting, however, relished the bone-dry June, with such players as Freddie Calthorpe, Jack Parsons, Tiger Smith and Leonard Bates forming a formidable batting lineup with Bob Wyatt and Frederick Santall. However, with Wyatt declining as a bowler, Harry Howell had little support when Neville Partridge had business commitments and was below his best except in a few games, even with Smith keeping as well as he batted.
  • Hampshire, with Newman in very poor bowling form and the amateur batting that permitted them to mix with the “big six” between 1914 and 1923 declining, owed a minor improvement the bowling of Alec Kennedy and Stuart Boyes. Both bowlers improved their average by several runs despite less favourable conditions in June and early July. Day played only nine games and only Tennyson – who had his best season with 1,335 runs – and Jameson of the amateurs averaged over twenty.
  • Gloucestershire’s weakness in batting was more severe than in the wet summer of 1924, so they lost six more games. Only Dipper and Wally Hammond took advantage of the brilliant June weather, and Dipper did better than when chosen for England in 1921. Wicket-keeper Harry Smith disappointed with the bat, and all available amateurs failed against first-class bowling. Charlie Parker, however, was unplayable against the poor technique of the weak counties on both crumbled June wickets and later sticky ones. He took seventeen for 56 against Essex at Gloucester, and twice took 48 wickets in nine innings.
  • Northamptonshire improved from three to nine wins, despite retaining a severe batting weakness with only four players exceeding twenty an innings. They beat Essex and Kent at home, but opposed neither Surrey nor Middlesex and lost every other game against the top seven. Vallance Jupp’s recovery of the spin bowling form he showed for Sussex, the availability of class medium pacer Phillip Wright for the full season and the emergence of left-arm speedster “Nobby” Clark made the bowling solid.
  • Leicestershire remained stagnant, in spite of excellent bowling on firm wickets by Geary and Skelding, because of inadequate batting. Aubrey Sharp was not seen in the county team, and John King averaged no more than in 1924 with much more favourable conditions. Thus, even with Geary and Astill batting better than before and Leslie Berry scoring 1,000 runs for the season if at a very modest average, the county was deficient on the rock-hard June pitches. Moreover, although Claude Taylor batted well when he joined the team, Eddie Dawson was so disappointing as to average only 12.18.
  • Sussex, despite an amazing season from champion Maurice Tate who bowled more balls than any bowler since Alfred Shaw in 1878, finished thirteenth with only nine wins and sixteen losses. Tate and Bowley were the only regular players to average over 22, and except when Romilly Holdsworth played their batting was too much of the hard-hitting type, which cost the games with Yorkshire at Bradford and Nottinghamshire and Somerset at Brighton. Bert Wensley, who had averaged 38.72 for 22 wickets in 1924, took 103 wickets to be a surprise packet but was not good enough to be a chance for a Cricketer of the Year nomination.
  • Derbyshire, despite their chief bowlers in Bestwick, Morton, Cadman and Horsley all being over forty, plus having batting dependent on recruit Garnet Lee and captain Jackson, advanced three places with five wins as against none. Leslie Townsend – later to become their deadliest sticky-wicket bowler – took only 28 expensive wickets but scored 808 runs, whilst Lee and Jackson became their first batsmen to reach four figures since the war with five hundreds between them without being nearly good enough to approach the top of the tree.
  • Somerset, with the loss of top batsman Jack MacBryan for all but six games, declined from their mid-table placings of 1919 to 1924 with only three wins. Lyon, their other chief batsman in 1924, played only five games, and skipper John Daniell only eleven. The decline of their batting was seen in no-one reaching four figures and Jack White being second-highest run-scorer with 793 at 19.82 per innings. White lacked support in bowling with Jimmy Bridges taking twelve fewer wickets and Robertson-Glasgow taking no more wickets in six more games.
  • Worcestershire fell from fourteenth to sixteenth. They could never maintain a settled team because limited finances allowed only a small professional core and high taxes meant no amateur except Maurice Foster (the youngest of that famous family) could spare the full season away from business. Foster did not bat as well as before, and Fred Pearson was clearly too old as shown by averaging 37 with the ball, but Fred Root was a wonder for such a poor side with 207 wickets in all games – over half the wickets taken by Worcestershire bowlers. Root’s in-swing and pace off the fast June pitches, along with his tirelessness, showed how much Tate would have benefited from his presence in Australia the previous winter.
  • Glamorgan, owing to woeful batting, fell from a promising thirteenth in 1924 to dead last with the equal most defeats in a Championship season – twenty in twenty-six games with only one win. Their batting was so lacking in technique that only Bates, with 120 against Surrey at the Oval, made a score of over seventy-five amongst 511 individual innings. (In contrast, Surrey’s batsmen made thirty-six such scores in 379 individual innings)! Norman Riches, their one batsman above Minor Counties standard, averaged only 24 in seven games against generally modest bowling, and Downside schoolboy Maurice Turnbull scored one fifty in ten innings. Jack Mercer bowled extremely well against Surrey and Lancashire on hard pitches and established himself as a high-class medium-pacer, whilst Frank Ryan did even better than in 1924 with 127 wickets.
Looking for likely Cricketers of the Year in 1926 is exceptionally reliant on county matches, as there were no outstanding performances in the Gentlemen versus Players games, which were dominated by batsmen. If we look at the county matches, the following candidates emerge:
  1. Fred Root – picked himself like few actual choices. With 196 county championship wickets, Charles Frederick Root had an astonishing season. His pace off the pitch and in-swing were extremely difficult for all batsmen, who could seldom avoid edging the ball to the ring of leg-side fielders.

    Root began his first-class cricket career with Derbyshire in 1910 as an orthodox medium-pace bowler, but even for a weak county he played regularly only in 1913. At a time when both counties would rank among the weakest ever, Derbyshire allowed Root to move to Worcestershire in 1921, and during the following year and a half he developed his innovative in-swinging style, in some ways reminiscent of Frank Robotham Foster, and brought it before the public to limited knowedge in August 1922. However, the following season, Root rose to one of the leading bowlers in the country, effective on all sorts of wickets and amazingly untiring. He maintained this form in 1924 with only poor form on a soft-topped wicket at the Oval costing Root a ticket to Australia.

    1925, however, saw Root far surpass his previous record, and indeed any Worcestershire bowler in history. Only twice did he fail completely, his persistence made the best batsmen struggle over epic innings and his unique style quickly removed worse batsmen. Root was the second to reach 100 wickets (on July 4) and was still at his very best in September. He did not play for the Players against the Gentlemen in 1925, but bowled very well despite slow pitches in three games against the 1926 Australians. He was disppointing for Worcestershire that year, but in 1927 was amazingly second in the averages for a team that won one game out of thirty. Root scored over a thousand runs in 1928 (with a century against Tich Freeman and 93 against Larwood) but declined as a bowler to again miss touring Australia. He regained some of his form subsequently until 1932, when he declined so badly as to lose his place. After retiring, Root wrote A Cricket Pro’s Lot, the classic account of the life of a professional cricketer in the inter-war years.

  2. Tiger Smith – already a veteran of the 1911/1912 tour when the 1925 season opened, had his best season both behind the stumps and with the bat. His 1,477 runs was only his second four-figure aggregate in a career that had gone back to 1904, and his dismissals aggregate of 46 catches and nine stumpings was commendable behind the poorest attack in the Championship. Smith played a brilliant innings of 139 to help Warwickshire knock off 390 for one wicket against Sussex, and played two centuries against Leicestershire, in which he attacked the speed off the ground of Skelding and Geary superbly.

    Ernest James “Tiger” Smith was born on February 6, 1886 at Highgate in Birmingham, and first played for Warwickshire as a teenager in 1904, but only occasionally until Dick Lilley stepped down from wicket-keeping after 1909. Smith was so quick to seize his chance that by 1911 with 827 runs he was chosen for the Ashes tour and was a vital support for the brilliant combination of Frank Foster and Sidney Barnes. Smith also kept during the 1912 Triangular Tournament and just failed to reach 1,000 runs in 1912 and 1913, but lost his place for good on the South African tour. After the war, Smith remained a mainstay of the Warwickshire eleven, but it was only in 1925 that he came back to his best form – and more with the bat.
    Frank Ryan

    Apart from a severe decline in 1926, Smith maintained his batting form but declined behind the stumps before retiring in 1930, after which he stood as umpire until World War II. Nonetheless, even as a nonagenerian Smith was capable of the most incisive comments on more modern players such as Bob Taylor and Graham Gooch.
  3. Francis Peter Ryan – the last notable cricketer to be born in the United States, took like Root and Smith a long time to achieve prominence. He played for Hampshire in 1919 and 1920 but became known for heavy drinking rather than cricket, then went to the Lancashire League before Glamorgan qualified him to replace middle-aged bowlers Jack Nash, Harry Creber and Stamford Hacker.

    Although already thirty-five, Ryan bowled very well for Glamorgan in 1923 and 1924. Very tall at around six feet three or 190 centimetres, Ryan could turn the ball both ways with his long fingers, and when pitches were helpful the ball would turn so fast that few could resist him for long. 1925 saw Ryan, after a slow start, come into his best-ever form in July: in one week on excellent batting pitches he took 27 for 225, including 14 for 165 against Essex. On the wet pitches of the last six weeks, despite having to defend tiny totals time after time, Ryan bowled with undiminished enterprise and skill. He finished 1925 with 139 wickets at an impressive 17.78, but Ryan’s lack of self-discipline then re-asserted itself: a famous incident was when he slept under pitch covers during one away game! By 1927, his haul of wickets had been cut in half, and though at forty-one he re-asserted himself with 134 wickets in 1930, Glamorgan’s desperate finances caused them to release him after 1931.

    Ryan had no pretensions as a batsman or fielder, and this along with his erratic temper may have kept him out of even minor representative matches, but he was the best slow left-hander outside Yorkshire in the middle 1920s, being more dangerous on firm pitches than Rhodes or Woolley.
  4. George Geary
  5. George Geary – chosen the following year, was the greatest cricketer Leicestershire produced in its first seventy-five years as a first-class county, and rose to prominence in 1925 not only with the ball, but also as a batsman with 122 against Tich Freeman. This was to remain his highest score as well as his first century, and possibly his finest-ever innings, marked by very sound defence against a bowler who always demanded impeccably sound technique. In that same match Geary too eight wickets for 61 runs but Kent still won!

    Geary played once for Leicestershire in 1912 and regularly in 1913, when he surprisingly established himself as the best bowler in the eleven with 79 wickets, and in 1914 he took 112. However, in 1919 Geary did modestly and then moved to the Lancashire League, playing no first-class cricket in 1920 and only five games in 1921. However, with Ted McDonald signed by Nelson for 1922, Geary re-established himself for Leicestershire immediately, and in 1923 and 1924 took over 100 wickets. He did not take quite so many wickets in 1925, but injuries affected his progress somewhat and growth as a batsman made Geary better than ever.

    In the following few years, apart from the injury-affected 1928, Geary reached his peak and with Tate formed a hard-working fast-medium-pace attack perfectly suited to seven-day games on Australian pitches. From 1930, injuries affected his performance, but as late as his second benefit in 1936 Geary took thirteen wickets for 43 runs, and in his last season scored three centuries and may have reached four figures but for being unable to stand the strain of a full season.
  6. Alfred Dipper
  7. Alfred Ernest Dipper was an archetypal county batsman with one of the most solid defences in the game during the 1920s. This was a critical asset for a county devoid of industrial patronage and able to afford only a small professional staff with only one specialist batsman.

    Dipper first played for Gloucestershire in 1908 and after a hesitant start established himself in 1911 and 1912, taking over from Jessop as Gloucestershire’s leading batsman. After the war, he advanced into the top rank of batsmen, but was not good enough to tour in 1920/1921 and by 1924 the incomparable Herbert Sutcliffe had ended his chances. Nonetheless, Dipper had his best season to that point in 1925, scoring nearly two thousand runs and finishing with a brilliant partnership of 330 with Hammond against the powerful Lancashire attack. The example of Hammond helped Dipper become less defensive, but his ability to “farm” the bowling had for many years been as essential asset in making a large proportion of Gloucestershire’s runs, despite never losing inherent cautiousness.
    Vallance Jupp batting

    As a medium pace spin bowler, Dipper did useful work in 1919 and 1920, but did not bowl once between 1923 and 1929. His fielding, despite being a sound catcher, was poor since he lacked mobility, which may have kept him from playing regularly in the 1921 Tests after scoring 40 against Gregory and McDonald.

  8. Vallance William Crisp Jupp was chosen two years later in 1928 but would certainly have been a potential choice based upon his all-round form in 1925, which placed him as the best all-rounder in county cricket after Maurice Tate, Percy Fender and Roy Kilner.

    Jupp’s all-round cricket was the most decisive factor in Northamptonshire’s rise to nine wins, the most they had in twenty-five seasons between 1914 and 1948. He took 110 wickets in county matches with his flighty off-spin and was the mainstay of Northamptonshire’s batting. When wickets helped him, Jupp could trouble any batsman, as he showed with twelve for 105 against Essex, but he also took 4 for 17 on a good pitch against Warwickshire and saved his county against Freeman at Gravesend and scored 60 not out against Parkin, Richard Tyldesley and Sibbles on a sticky wicket at the end of July.

  9. Wilfred Richard Daniel Payton was a batsman who gave extremely long and valuable service to Nottinghamshire, despite not reaching four figures until the 1921 season. The 1925 season saw Payton, despite the effects of illness, record his best average to that point of over 46 – though helped by eleven not out innings.

    Despite his very slight build, Payton was a fundamentally a sound batsman with a solid defence, though on occasions early in his career he did play quite brilliant innings. His unbeaten 140 on a slightly wearing wicket against Cambridge University – involving a partnership of 117 with Tich Richmond that turned a disadvantageous position into an innings victory – was particularly notable, but Payton also played 103 not out against Northamptonshire at Trent Bridge and scored 204 in two innings against Middlesex at that ground in a famous match in June where the metropolitan county knocked off 502 against Larwood, Staples, Barratt, Richmond and Francis Cyril Matthews.

    Payton was to continue to do well for Nottinghamshire until 1930, after which he was dropped in  a “youth policy” by a committee long concerned at the age of most of Nottinghamshire’s players – though after a disastrous motor accident deprived them of Sam Staples, Larwood and George Vernon Gunn he played four more matches in 1931.
In comparison to 1913 and 1921, the success of previously-chosen players leaves few available choices for 1926, and since Payton and Jupp did not do enough against the powerful counties I would predict Root, Tiger Smith, Ryan, Geary and Dipper would have been chosen.

The choice of Geary (honoured the following issue) would have opened the way for John Alfred Newman – whose career looked “past it” in 1925 – to have been chosen for 1927 and eliminate the absence of one of the most loyal and prolific county cricketers not honoured by Wisden. 1926 saw Newman, already a veteran, return to his very best form with bat and ball. Despite being very expensive at the finish, his skilful bowling was able to take advantage of many wet pitches against weak opponents, and even against Lancashire in August he took five for 44. Two fine batting displays, along with fourteen wickets, was a spectacular all-round achievement against an admittedly weakened Gloucestershire team.

Newman as of 1926 had played for Hampshire for twenty years as a medium-fast bowler with sharp spin and life from the pitch, who at times was too enterprising for his own good. Still, on helpful pitches on his day he could be more formidable than his more consistent partner Alec Kennedy, as he was to show with 16 for 88 against Somerset in 1927, and 11 for 31 against Northamptonshire in 1926 – in a match where Tennyson, after Newman’s poor 1925, did not bowl him until late in the first innings. Newman established himself as Hampshire’s chief bowler in 1908, and 1910 saw him bowl better than ever, with his quick off-break being very difficult on the prevailing soft pitches. He did not equal his 1910 form before moving to India during World War I, but his solid batting developed so well that he scored a thousand runs in 1914. Upon his return in 1920, Newman took a year to find his form but in 1921 bowled tirelessly and batted better than ever – taking 177 wickets and scoring a thousand runs. His failure, along with that of Kennedy, against the formidable Australian batting no doubt placed Newman completely out of the running for representative cricket, but until injury ended his career after the 1930 season Newman remained a Hampshire mainstay in both batting and bowling.

1 comment:

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