Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 22 — County Cricket in England
County Cricket in England
It was now the beginning of June, with a month of the English cricket season gone. Thoughts other than those of engineering problems had been running through my mind, even during the time I was at school preparing for the examination. I took stock of my financial position and estimated that I could manage about three months' cricket.
The Essex authorities had previously asked me to advise them as soon as I was available. I played a Saturday afternoon game for Tottenham, had one knock at the nets at Leyton, and was then invited to join the Essex XI going north to play Notts and Lancashire.
It was a mistake to walk straight into county cricket after three years at sea; I should have had at least a fortnight at the nets before playing first-class cricket, for one needed to be in form to meet the crack county bowlers of these days. It was also necessary to be physically fit to stand up to the three-day matches, with sometimes two in a week. During my years at sea I had had very little exercise, except for walking the deck, which we did continuously on fine evenings. My last five months on the Dominion in the midst of ice, snow, and gales on the coast of Nova Scotia gave little opportunity for this. I was, therefore, not very fit, and was soon to find this out. I was so sore at the end of a day in the field, usually in the outfield, that I was glad of a hot bath and early to bed. On my return to London after this first trip to Nottingham and Manchester I had to get my ankles massaged, for this is where I felt the soreness most; I thought I had rheumatism, but it soon wore off and proved to be the result of the lack of exercise. During those three years at sea I may have had to run to catch a train, or in some such emergency, otherwise I had no running at all, so my lack of condition will be understood.
My first match was against Notts. I started off by jumping in to one of Johnnie Gunn's slow ones, hitting it very hard, to be beautifully caught by A. O. Jones at mid-off. The ball was never much more than a foot off the ground, but Jones had a page 300 fine pair of hands, as I had seen in Australia when he was there with MacLaren's team. In the second innings I was to have my first experience of playing for a draw. There were six wickets down, with half an hour to go, when I went in. We lost another wicket, but I finished with 5 not out. The field closed in and it was tantalizing to me who possessed what was considered a fairly powerful drive. Lack of condition and lack of form did not matter in these circumstances, for form is largely a question of timing, and timing did not matter in this pat-ball finish. I did not think I should ever get much satisfaction from a stonewalling innings, but I did out of this one. There was some fine batting in this match. Notts scored over 300 in each innings, so I got some running about in the outfield. John Gunn scored 92 and 72, while A. O. Jones, Hardstaff and Ironmonger batted well. As Gunn took seven wickets for 95 in our first innings, it will be seen that he was an all-round performer.
An incident happened in our first innings that must rank as something unique in first-class cricket. Johnnie Gunn, with his left-hand slows, was keyed up with his success. He was a very active fieldsman, especially to his own bowling, but had a bad habit of shying at the wicket if a batsman, in playing forward, moved out of his crease. He had done this several times, much to the annoyance of Gates, the Notts wicket-keeper. After one or two remonstrances from the keeper, Gunn did it again. The sequel was as amazing as it was unexpected; Gates stood up, folded his arms, and the ball, missing the wicket, raced to boundary. Whether A. O. Jones said to Gunn, “It serves you damn well right!” or upbraided Gates for giving away 4 runs, may be left to the imagination.
In this match I was to get my first impression of the batting of Percy Perrin whose 91 was a fine effort. Big and ungainly in the field, Perrin was a different man when he stood at the wickets with a bat in his hands; he was one of those batsmen who never appeared to be in difficulties; against fast bowling he was outstanding. The Rev. F. H. Gillingham played two fine innings.
I was by now becoming intimately acquainted with my Essex comrades. They were friendly in the extreme and, on tour, nearly as lively and boisterous as London County had been. Charlie McGahey was always the life of the party; he was a lovable fellow and a splendid player at a pinch. Perrin page 301 and McGahey, known as “The Essex Twins,” as I have previously stated, had been the main batting strength of the county for a number of years. I was also to get an insight into customs of a county team on tour. It was new to me to find that the amateur members of the team stay at a hotel and professionals went to their own selected billets. It should be stated that the latter mainly preferred to do this, for they were paid so much a match; often the professionals of one county would stay with those of another, and with their exchange of visits this proved a saving to both. Our genial secretary, Mr. O. R. Borrodaile, travelled with us, and with a private sitting-room for our six or seven amateurs, we had privacy and comfort beyond that to which I had been accustomed in New Zealand and Australia. The New Zealand footballers had toured England the previous year, and Perrin dubbed me “All Black”—a name that stuck to me with several of our team.
I must relate an incident that occurred one evening in our sitting-room. Gillingham turned to me and said, “Where do you live in London, Reese?”
“Canning Town,” came the prompt reply.
They all laughed and were probably as much amused at my frankness as with the locality of my residence. Canning Town for an amateur county cricketer! Well, it simply did not make sense. One might as well say lower East Side, New York, for one of America's polo players, or Darlinghurst, Sydney, for Billy Murdoch! My Essex friends scored lots of hits off me over my East End residence.
This visit to Nottingham was the first of a number of enjoyable journeys to the chief cities of the various counties. It was a pleasure to play on the famous Nottingham oval, more often referred to as the Trent Bridge ground. I was thrilled to meet the giant William Gunn, whose first-wicket partnerships with Arthur Shrewsbury had contributed so much to make Notts, in the 'nineties, a great and famous side. I should have loved to see Shrewsbury, but he had died just after my arrival in England.
When Shacklock, the old Notts player, was in Christchurch, I asked him if it was true that on his captain's winning the toss against Sussex, at Brighton, Gunn and Shrewsbury would open the innings, one other batsman would put on the pads, and the rest of the team would go down to the beach for a bathe. Shack- page 302 lock laughed heartily over this far-fetched story, but said that at least five or six would go away for a swim!
Nottingham, like all old British towns, gave evidence of how it had grown from narrow streets and humble buildings. I did not see Robin Hood's caves, or have time to visit the surrounding countryside, so rich in historic associations.
We arrived at Manchester on the Sunday evening, and on the following morning began our match on the famous Old Trafford ground. The Lancastrians were a formidable side: Archie MacLaren, R. H. Spooner, Johnnie Tyldesley, J. Sharp, and A. H. Hornby—son of the more famous A. N. Hornby of the 'seventies and 'eighties, and just as fond of stealing short runs as his father; L. O. S. Poidevin and Kermode, with whom I had played in the London County team, were also in the side, and last, but not least, Walter Brearley. The last-mentioned, for a few years, was one of England's really great fast bowlers. He took ten wickets in this match, so I saw him at his best.
Essex did not bat well and were all out for 180, Brearley and Cuttell bowling splendidly. Lancashire's first three batsmen were MacLaren, Spooner, and Tyldesley. No stodgy start here! Tyldesley was one of the few professional batsmen who played with all the freedom of an amateur and appeared to cast to the winds any fears of spoiling his average. I had seen him in Australia where he was so successful with MacLaren's team. This time he played a rattling good innings for 83. England has had few better batsmen than Johnnie Tyldesley; on a bad wicket he was especially outstanding, for, like Trumper, he retained a degree of mastery over the bowlers and could hit the ball hard and surely when other players were often forced to play a purely defensive game.
Lancashire led by 141. Perrin was at his best in our second innings. Left 125 to win, Lancashire lost six wickets. They had some anxious moments. In the second innings I stood and watched Brearley rattle out our last three batsmen and was left not out; perhaps I was safer at the bowler's end!
The picturesque Brearley deserves a line to himself. He was one of the breeziest souls I have ever met on the cricket field. He knew he could bowl and believed he could get anyone out. In the previous season he had remarkable success against the Australians, getting Trumper's wicket several times. This increased his confidence, as well as his reputation. MacLaren page 303 loved to tell the story of the dressing-room talk and chaffing of Brearley about what would happen when Ranji and Fry came to Lancashire with the Sussex team. At the end of the first day Fry and Vine were the “not outs” and no wickets had fallen. This might have been the occasion when a local paper had for a headline: “Fry Not Out—Ranji Not in!” When Ranji joined in the fun next day, Brearley's discomfiture was complete. Several times he ran to the pavilion to get the spikes of his boots attended to. It would not have mattered if he had put crampons on the soles, for Ranji and Fry called the tune that day. By going to the pavilion Brearley was not running away from his job, for the best part of MacLaren's story was his description of how Walter would return and want the ball again to have another go! On this occasion he was up against a tough proposition, as tough as English bowlers ever had to face, for Ranjitsinhji and Fry in partnership were comparable with Grace and Shrewsbury at their best. Coming in to bat, Brearley was always in a hurry; his athletic figure and his look of determination gave him the appearance of a real batsman—until he took strike! On the way back to the pavilion he would be the target of good-natured chaff and banter which always made a merry ending to a Lancashire innings. Possessing extraordinary physical powers, they said he could hand-spring, on one hand, across a billiard table. Brearley could certainly be called a unique individual.
I left Manchester feeling that I had seen a really first-class English county side. The following day we were back in London, playing at Leyton against the West Indians then touring England. It seemed strange to be playing against this team after having seen so much of their islands, and visiting their leading cricket grounds. When Austin, their captain, learned of this, he was most interested and said, “Why didn't you look some of us up?”
Winning the toss, Essex got a bad start and Douglas Carpenter and Perrin were out with the score at 20. I then joined McGahey and we added 50 before the latter was bowled- We were eventually all out for 226, Reese being top scorer with 70. At last I was beginning to pick up form. I remember at first experiencing some difficulty in keeping a close watch on the ball leaving the dark fingers of these West Indian bowlers. I have heard other batsmen say they were affected in the same page 304 way. Layne, Cumberbatch, and Ollivierre, all medium-fast, were the native bowlers and made a pretty good trio. S. G. Smith, who later played for Northampton and eventually came to New Zealand, was in this West Indian side and a very good player he was, while Goodman was their other bowler.
The visitors gave us a fright when they rattled up 379, of which Layne made 105—a splendid innings. We ran to 395 in our second innings, and I was again to see the great Perrin at his best in making 106. My score was 20. The West Indians collapsed in their second innings and we won by over a hundred runs. One of the sensations of this season was the West Indians' dismissal of Yorkshire on a plumb wicket for 50 runs—Ollivierre taking seven for 23.
After this West Indian match we left for Bradford to play Yorkshire. On the journey north Lord Hawke joined our train at one of the stations en route. When I was introduced he expressed pleasure at meeting me and turned to Perrin, who was sitting opposite, and said, “I should like your seat. I would like to talk with Reese about New Zealand.” For the next half-hour I was to experience the thrill of talking with this charming Englishman. In his talk with me, Lord Hawke was as natural and modest as any man could be. He showed an intimate knowledge of New Zealand, of the provincial teams, and of the cricket grounds in this country. He must have followed closely the play of his team that toured New Zealand in 1903, and no doubt Warner would have an interesting story to tell him. His opening remark to me, “Well, Reese, they tell me you are quite the best cricketer in your country!” reveals his pleasant and kindly manner. In Yorkshire, they told a charming story of Lord Hawke. He was much attached to his mother, and when touring with the Yorkshire XI, during his long bachelor days, he always sent her a wire, giving the day's scores and adding a message of love.
In county cricket in England there is no arriving with a day to spare before the match, as is the case in Australia and New Zealand. Three-day matches and often two a week meant arriving at night and starting another match the following day. And so it was at Bradford. Yorkshire batted all day for 315. Rhodes started with a half-century and Den ton, Tunnicliffe, and Hirst all scored well. It was fine to see these men in action. For years the Yorkshire XI had been at the top, or page 305 near the top of the list in the county championship. Although from time immemorial it was always their bowling that had made this county famous, their batting was also good. Rhodes played soundly, but Denton was as brilliant as Johnnie Tyldesley had been at Manchester. His drive through the covers and past mid-off was a beautiful stroke. The redoubtable George Hirst played as though he loved every minute of his innings and took the long handle towards the end of the day. I had my first bowl in county cricket in this innings, taking two for 32. That night it rained and on reaching the ground next morning we knew we were in for trouble with Hirst, Rhodes and Haigh against us. F. S. Jackson was not playing, or we should have had to face a famous quartette of bowlers. Now I was to see the Hirst-Rhodes combination on a sticky wicket. I was not left long in doubt about the greatness of this pair. At this time they were the bane of county batsmen; Hirst, in particular, with his devastating swerve, was stalking through the country, putting the fear of God into all but the stout-hearted. His first ball bowled Douglas. His second bowled Perrin. Two for o, soon to become four for 10, then eight out for 26; it was a débâcle reminiscent of my experiences against Fisher and Downes in New Zealand when they tumbled Canterbury out for such scores as 27 and 46. Our ninth wicket added a few only, but it was left to our bowlers, Buckenham and Mead, to add 70 for the last wicket, which took our total past the century. Taking all the risks of the game, they gave us a real thrill and earned the plaudits of the crowd for their brave effort. When our last wicket fell there was still a quarter of an hour to go before lunch.
We followed on. Again Hirst's first ball bowled Douglas; it was a full toss, swerved about a foot and hit the top of the off-stump. Douglas a “pair” before lunch! Surely a record in county cricket! The wicket had improved by the time play was resumed, but still favoured the bowlers. Perrin and Carpenter, by skilful play, added 60 for the second wicket. This brought on Haigh. I had expected Hirst and Rhodes to bowl as they had, but had not realized how great was this third string to Yorkshire's bow. He was a faster edition of Downes of New Zealand. Perhaps a better comparison would be with Bill Howell, the Australian medium-fast off-break bowler. Haigh put great vim into his delivery. There was no doubt about their being attacking page 306 bowlers; he dismissed Carpenter almost immediately. Perrin was next out and Essex was again in the doldrums. McGahey was batting doggedly, but six wickets had fallen for less than a hundred when Reeves walked to the wickets. He moved as though he were in a hurry; “Cockey” Reeves, some of his mates called him, and as he strutted to the wicket one could guess the origin of his nickname. McGahey walked out to meet him and whispered, “Hold on for a while as the wicket's improving all the time.” Reeves's idea of holding on was promptly to hit Haigh for five 4's in one over! It was an amazing effort. Every 4 went somewhere between long-on and square-leg. Haigh was nonplussed as the cocky Cockney carted his off-breaks to the on-side boundary. As is often the case when a bowler is being punished, Haigh bowled faster and shorter, but it made no difference to Reeves, for he had the bit in his teeth and nothing could stop him. But that was not all; Hirst had no terrors for him now, for he hit his off-swervers in the same way. We chuckled and the crowd cheered as our brave comrade changed the whole scene and made the bat the master of the moment. He raced to 30, then 50, and reached 74 in less than an hour, before being stumped in jumping out to Rhodes. There was never a better demonstration of the need of something more than mere skill when facing great bowlers favoured by such conditions. In England they call it grit and determination—in Australia it is called guts. I believe Reeves would have preferred the latter term in any description of his truly marvellous performance.
My failure to get runs against these northern counties was off-set by the experience and pleasure of meeting and seeing in action county XI's that I had read about since I was a boy. Whenever I read of the War of the Roses on the cricket field, I am able to visualize these stern contests, watched by lively, interested, fun-making crowds, whose knowledge of the game is not exceeded anywhere in the world. The humour of the men of the North of England is proverbial: their dialect entertaining in the extreme, especially to one from the colonies. I remember hearing one of the Yorkshiremen say to a comrade, “T'oompires are out.” This preface of a “t” to so many words was fascinating. “Bah goom” was an oft-heard phrase. The people of the North took intense pride in their county sides. In Yorkshire, they worshipped George Hirst; “Oor Jarge,” they page 307 called him, and well they might idolize their champion. In this season of 1906 Hirst made over 2,000 runs and took more than two hundred wickets. He was considered an even greater all-rounder than George Lohmann; some said you had to go back to W. G. Grace, Studd, and Steel to find his equal, although one should not forget F. S. Jackson. At this time Hirst was at the peak of his career and his all-round performances rivalled those of George Giffen's in the early 'nineties. I left Yorkshire with memories of Lord Hawke, David Denton, John Tunnicliffe and David Hunter, all stalwarts of Yorkshire's greatest days, and of Hirst, Rhodes, and Haigh, a trio of bowlers never bettered in county cricket, unless it be Richardson, Lockwood, and Lohmann of the Surrey XI of the middle 'nineties. Comparison is difficult, for the Surrey men were fast-wicket bowlers.
This match being all over in two days, we were able to catch the afternoon train to Leicester and arrive in good time for dinner. This was more comfortable travelling than was often the case when playing till six o'clock, then catching a night train in moving to another county.
The Leicestershire team was much the same as three years earlier, when I was playing for London County, except that a very good bowler named Jayes was now included. Winning the toss, Fane lifted me in the batting list and I opened the innings with Carpenter. We put on over 60 for the first wicket, of which I made 31. Although my form continued to come back slowly, I still longed for some hard net practice. This was a good match. We scored over 300 in each innings. Leicester made 221, and in the final innings got such a good start that they gave us a fright. Vivian Crawford, who hit brilliantly for 45 in the first innings, repeated his form in the second. About half-way through the second innings, Fane threw the ball to me. I got Crawford caught at cover. Albert Knight, their best batsman, followed and he fell to my slower ball before he had scored. I went on to get four for 55, my best bowling performance for Essex. Reeves got three for 22. We thus succeeded where Mead, Buckenham and Douglas had failed. Leicestershire finished with a total of 268, which left us with a comfortable margin.
Back in London, I had more than a week's spell before the next match. I needed the rest, for I had been playing continuously page 308 for more than two weeks. I now knew how necessary it was to be physically fit to play strenuous county cricket. My ankles still troubled me a little, but more massage put me right. I also had some net practice at Leyton and another pleasant match with Tottenham before our match against Middlesex.
It was good to be back at Lord's, and a pleasure to meet Warner and Bosanquet whom I had not seen since they were in New Zealand. I had played against Tarrant in Melbourne, against Trott and Hearne in the London County-M.C.C. match three years earlier, and had met Beldam at Crystal Palace, so did not feel such a stranger on this occasion.
It was an extraordinary match. Essex, winning the toss, scored 471; Carpenter played a fine innings for 177. I had read of the Carpenters in English cricket from the earliest years. It may have been our professional's grandfather who came to New Zealand with Parr's team in 1864. At any rate his display was worthy of his ancestors. McGahey played solidly for 92. I was out l.b.w. for 5, just on time, at the end of the first day: I hit the first ball for 4, then a single, then plumb in front! Hearne and Trott, now advancing to the veteran stage, were a different pair of bowlers from what they had been on the soft wicket three years earlier.
Middlesex replied with 460. Tarrant played soundly for 124, but the handsome Bosanquet hit brilliantly for 75; he had shown glimpses of this form in New Zealand, but this time looked a real batsman. Warner made a good 48, and nearly all the others made runs. Reeves stuck gamely to his task and finished with six for 120—a good performance, for it was a hot day.
Next day away went Essex again. This time it was Fane and Perrin, and real Test Match batting. Fane declared at four for 226, and the game ended with Middlesex having made 119 for three; another dashing innings by Bosanquet, who reached 60 in quick time. This brought the grand total for the match to 1,276, so it will be seen that the batsmen were on top all the time.
I was interested to see in action Gregor MacGregor, famous as the greatest of all English amateur wicket-keepers; he certainly lived up to his reputation.
Lord's is the only cricket ground where I had the experience page 309 of being able to have a hot plunge-path after a hard day in the field. With a steward in attendance, the service was typical of that of an ocean liner, where bathroom attendants are always on hand. As the Essex XI was to leave by the night train for Wales we all revelled in this luxury.
It was a long and tedious journey to Neath, in Glamorganshire, where we were to play our first match. It was not a county match, for our visit was in the nature of a holiday tour, to play matches at Neath and at Llanelly in the adjoining shire. Beautiful weather prevailed and, as the Welsh people received us enthusiastically, we had a pleasant time. Mr. David, a leading barrister of Neath, was very hospitable. He took a great fancy to Charlie McGahey, a confirmed bachelor. There was a pleasant social side to our matches and the local young women turned out in large numbers. One Welshman, bent on making a match for McGahey, said he could get him a girl “with a coal mine”! Needless to say, we all joined in the hunt for Mrs. McGahey, but our Charles was good on the defence and came through unscathed. After our match at Neath., Mr. David arranged a grouse-shooting party and gave us a splendid luncheon. The entertainment reminded me of my earliest days of cricket in New Zealand and Australia, when there was so much hospitality.
When we went to Llanelly, the parties were more hectic; there was champagne for dinner the first evening, and a late night to follow, for many sportsmen of the district were present. Next day we were to witness an extraordinary performance. Dear old Charlie McGahey, as always, was the life of the party “the night before.” When he went in to bat he had obviously not recovered. He said he didn't see the first ball at all; the second also missed his stumps; he then cocked one over short-leg's head and later put one through slips. After running one or two for his partner he gradually improved and began to get them more in the middle of the bat. On he went, first to 20, then 50 to 100, then 200, and eventually reached 300; the last two centuries being the result of fearless hitting. It was a small ground, so he hit many boundaries both to and over the fence. We certainly celebrated the event. I believe old Charles got more kick out of that innings than any other he ever played.
It was on this ground that the Welshmen had beaten the page 310 New Zealand native football team in 1889. I met the player who potted the goal that won the match for Llanelly. During this cricket tour the famous football match, New Zealand v. Wales, played at Cardiff a few months earlier, was often discussed. The Welshmen were very proud of having beaten the All Blacks and, of course, Deans's “try” always cropped up. The great majority of the 50,000 spectators took the referee's decision as being correct, for only those able to look along the goal-line could give a definite opinion, but I did meet Welshmen who admitted that it was a try; best of all was to be told that the splendid Teddy Morgan had said: “Yes, New Zealand scored!”
This week of holiday cricket in Wales was one of the brightest parts of my stay in England. I got to know my Essex colleagues as intimately as I had known the men of Grace's London County XI, and Trumble's team in Melbourne. They were splendid comrades.
Back in London we began a match against Surrey at Leyton. It was my first experience of seeing Hayward and Hobbs in an opening partnership. In the previous week the famous Tom had made double centuries at Nottingham and Leicester, and when he and his young partner ran to 100 for the first wicket, then on to 150, it looked as though he was going to make his fifth century in succession. Buckenham then clean bowled the Surrey champion. Hayward was their greatest batsman of that time and 1906 one of his best seasons. I had seen him play in Melbourne, but I was immensely impressed with the batting of Hobbs, who went on to make 130. It was a grand innings, sound, attractive and enterprising. Surrey totalled 342.
When Essex batted next morning, they ran into some sensational bowling by N. A. Knox, the young Surrey fast bowler. There was no doubt about his pace, and he could make the ball lift off the pitch. A long slim lad, he took about twenty yards' run and for short spells could be extremely dangerous. Essex lost five wickets for less than 40 runs; both Perrin and McGahey had failed to score. I then joined Captain W. M. Turner, who was a sound player and the only one to shape well against Knox. We added nearly 50 before I was run out. A brilliant piece of fielding by J. N. Crawford at third man caught us both in the middle of the pitch. It was my fault, so page 311 I called Turner through and went on to the certain loss of my wicket. Although Turner played Knox finely, I found difficulty in making scoring strokes off him. One rising ball hit me in the ribs and made a bruise the size of a saucer. Knox was one of the sensations of the 1906 season and in the Gentlemen-Players match at Lord's had all the professional batsmen scared stiff. The bowling of this young man of Surrey revived memories of the very fast bowlers of the 'nineties, when Richardson, Lockwood, Mold and Kortright were all at their best and fastest. We certainly found Knox a bit too fast for our liking. W. M. Turner's score of 75 was an outstanding performance. My 18 was the second highest score, so it will be realized how the rest failed.
In the second innings we got rid of Hayward and Hobbs for nominal scores, but Surrey had lots of other good batsmen. Reeves played a characteristic innings and passed the half-century in his usual breezy, confident manner. After I had scored a dozen, Crawford bowled me neck and crop, with one on the blind spot.
I had now seen another of England's great county sides. With such an opening pair, Surrey was bound to make runs. As Knox, Lees and Crawford each took over one hundred wickets that season it will be understood that they also had a good bowling side. Strudwick, then on the threshold of a Test Match career, provided much amusement in the way he chased the ball. Standing back to Knox, he had to cover a good deal of ground, for the Surrey “Speed Merchant” was not as accurate as a Richardson or a Lockwood. If a ball hit the pads and went for leg-byes, the crowd watched the wicket-keeper; he was as active as a Rugby half-back and his large-sized pads did not seem to impede his speed when he raced for the ball as if his life depended on it. I was impressed with young Jack Crawford; he bowled with the same energy and vim as Haigh, the Yorkshireman; he made pace off the wicket, had a nice off break, and bowled a ball that came with his arm—like Hugh Trumble, he did not bowl it too often—it was one of these that left me standing after keeping out a sequence of good spinners. His batting reminded me of his brother Vivian's, for he had the same follow-through like a golfer, and hitting a 6 seemed no effort to him. Hayes made a fine half-century. J. E. Raphael played well in each innings, and with page 312 Lord Dalmeny as captain it will be seen that this Surrey XI was an attractive side. Buckenham, the Essex fast bowler, put up a fine performance in taking thirteen wickets in the match.
As was my experience in 1903, when playing for London County, there arrived a moment when I realized my bank account was dwindling; lunches, dinners and theatres with young men who always seemed to have money in their pockets placed a limit on the time my “sea-life” savings would last. I found I would be able to play in but one more match. It was now mid-July and the height of the cricket season, with glorious weather prevailing, so my disappointment will be understood. I had expected to be able to carry on until about the middle of August; even this would have been hard to bear, for August is usually the best month of an English cricket season. It is then that schoolmasters spend their holidays on the cricket field, and dashing young amateurs, knowing that they have reached the limit of their claims on their fathers' generosity and that a city career must be faced, play a few county matches. Great amateurs, reaching the end of their cricketing careers, also made July and August the occasion of their dwindling appearances for their counties. Yes, the height of the season is the correct description for these months! I had swallowed my disappointment when I said good-bye to W, G. Grace in the mid-summer of 1903; I could swallow it again now.
And so it came that the return match against Lancashire, at Leyton, was my last appearance for Essex. It turned out to be a great match. Each side made just over 200 runs in their first inning, and when we dismissed Lancashire again for 145, and were left only 156 to get, we felt confident of victory. Gillingham played finely, as did Carpenter, but Lancashire squeezed home by 13 runs. I remember being impressed with the way MacLaren whipped his team along to victory. They fielded like a Test side, and made it appear to the batsman as though there were more than eleven men in the field. A bowler whose surname was Harry did not bowl in the first innings, but took seven wickets for 53 in the second. He bowled a very good off break and, after lunch, on a wicket that was worn a little, was irresistible. I was again lifted to first-wicket position and felt sure that I was getting the ball in the middle of the bat and hitting with a degree of confidence. page 313 When I reached 19, MacLaren made a smart catch in the slips. I thought I was in for some runs that day. Johnnie Tyldesley again played splendidly for 80 in Lancashire's first innings, and MacLaren was equally brilliant in the second. Johnnie Douglas took seven Lancastrian wickets in their first innings and Walter Mead six wickets in the second. These were high-lights in a keenly contested and interesting match.
I had time to see two days of the Essex match against Kent, at Tunbridge Wells, close to the border of Sussex. K. L. Hutchings was at this time one of the most brilliant amateur batsmen in England and I saw him play a glorious innings for 90. His drive past mid-off was tremendously powerful and a feature of his play. His fine physique, shining black hair and tanned face made Hutchings stand out as a fine example of English youth.
To be no-balled seven times in one over is surely an extraordinary experience, but that is what happened to Johnnie Douglas in this match. Each no-ball seemed to make him more upset, until he bowled the last two balls at reduced pace and more deliberately. Imagine Johnnie's feelings when two or three catches were held off no-balls!
Kent was the most evenly balanced side in the county championship. No other county in England organizes its cricket on such a scale; Canterbury week is one of the features of an English season; Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and other towns get a share of home county matches, with Folkestone coming in for the holiday cricket of the early days of September. The county's organization of its young players, through what is known as the Kent, or Canterbury Nursery, is the finest of its kind in England. Whether it be village, club, or county cricket, there is no part of England that equals Kent in demonstrating the part that the great summer game plays in the life of the people of the Homeland. The retention of a large proportion of amateurs in their county XI has contributed much in maintaining public interest, as well as keeping alive the social side of the cricket of this county.
It was not only the present that appealed to me in connection with Kent cricket. Here was the county of Alfred Mynn and Fuller Pilch. I once heard a woman, getting heated in an argument on the Irish question, say, “You want to read history to understand the Irish point of view!” I read history, page 314 but there was a period when it was cricket history that held my attention. Arthur Sims and I knew all about Mynn and Pilch; we read of even earlier days when players wore bell-toppers, of how they played for big stakes, played single wicket matches and generally got more out of the social side of the game than we do to-day. I knew a man in New Zealand who saw Alfred Mynn play at Colchester in the early 'forties, and was proud of quoting his experience, believing he was the only man in New Zealand who had. I have many times had people say to me, “Fancy you playing with W. G. Grace!” I have met men all over the world who “had bowled to Grace.” This was in the days when players went out and played a few balls in front of the pavilion before the day's play began; crowds of young fellows would wait for the opportunity to have a bowl at the champion. Spofforth, as a lad, bowled to Grace in this way in Sydney and knocked down the single stump the “Old Man” had put up for them to bowl at. “Who bowled that?” called the great “W.G.,” as the lanky cornstalk slipped away into the crowd. In more modern times the greatest man of Kent was Lord Harris, captain of All England, President of the M.C.C., and a distinguished cricket administrator whose fine influence was to be felt beyond the shores of England.
In retrospect, my cricket experiences in England in 1906 make an interesting picture to me. The enjoyment of what was to me a holiday leaves happy memories. After the first few weeks of soft wickets, the summer broke brilliantly fine, and everyone revelled in the sunshine that made 1906 a notable season.
My Essex comrades were a grand bunch, as the Americans would say. F. L. Fane made a good captain—perhaps a little too stereotyped—but sound in judgment. He was certainly kind to me. Having played against me in New Zealand I suppose he was expecting me to reproduce the same form. Charlie McGahey was always a source, of amusement, whether on the home ground or away on tour. He was still a good player, although advancing to the veteran stage. I could never understand MacLaren preferring McGahey to Perrin for the Australian tour of 1901. To my mind, Perrin was one of England's greatest batsmen at a time when the standard was very high. He was magnificent against fast bowling. It has page 315 been said that Perrin was the greatest English batsman who never played for England; he got the reputation of being clumsy in the field and never lived it down. Gillingham was a splendid batsman; he had a glorious drive through the covers that scored him many runs. Fane was already a Test Match player and Captain Turner a good batsman. When Carpenter's name is added it will be realized Essex had a first-class batting side. Mead, Buckenham, Douglas and Reeves made a good quartette of bowlers and helped as much as the batsmen to enable the county to finish well up in the list at the end of the season. Kortright, by this time, had dropped to medium pace in his bowling. The Australians used to say that he was the fastest bowler against whom they ever played. I heard many amusing stories about the days when, in a few overs, he would break a batting side in half. Against the Australians, in the 'nineties, a rising ball hit the peak of George Giffen's cap, knocking it off. No wonder “Old George” did not like Kortright's bowling!
Essex had a fine side, one of the best they ever had, and only the want of a couple of good slip fieldsmen prevented them from finishing nearer the top of the list. It was heartbreaking to Buckenham and Douglas to have so many catches put on the carpet for the want of a Trumble, a Lohmann or a Braund.
Looking beyond the play of the Essex XI, this view of county cricket completed my education, in that I was now better able to appraise the respective merits of English and Australian cricket, both past and present. My intimate association with Bruce, Trumble, McLeod, Armstrong and Hill, and talks with Trott, Giffen, Darling, Noble and Worrall, had given me the Australians' view of the great English players and great matches; in 1903, Grace and Murdoch had enthralled me with stories of the 'eighties and 'nineties; now I was to have the views of other great players of England, and learn what they thought of the Australians.
English cricket in 1906 was extraordinarily good. Kent won the championship, largely on account of being such a uniformly good side, right down to the last man. Fielder and Blythe were an exceptional pair of bowlers. It was after seeing Blythe bowl in Australia, and again in England, that I quickened the pace of my own bowling a little. Originally, I had page 316 bowled about the pace of Rhodes, perhaps slower; the inclusion of a swinger was probably the reason for my making this slight change. Peel was always faster than Briggs, and probably the better, for it. Batsmen certainly could not jump in to the Yorkshireman's bowling as they could to the tantalizing deliveries of little Johnnie Briggs. They told me in England that as Grace grew older and heavier he found Briggs more difficult than Peel, and this affected his judgment of the respective merits of the two; on hard wickets there was no comparison. Trumble's view was that Peel was amongst the best bowlers England sent to Australia; we know how he could bowl on English wickets!
In this season of 1906, Yorkshire came second to Kent. It is amazing how this great northern county maintains its position at, or near the top. Since the days of Emmett and Peate, they have always possessed great left-hand bowlers. Yorkshire gets more soft wickets than most of the counties, and they seem to make a point of being always in search of left-handers. Hirst, this year, was as great as ever, and Rhodes, though thought to have gone back a little, was still a fine bowler. Lord Hawke had lifted his restraining influence, so far as Rhodes's batting was concerned, and at times run-getting may have taken some of the edge off his bowling.
When one turns to Lancashire and finds such names as MacLaren, Tyldesley, Spooner and Brearley, it is easy to understand why this side finished so near the top of the list. It is champions that make great sides, and Lancashire had her share of great players.
Surrey, finishing third, owed much to the Hayward-Hobbs combination. J. N. Crawford was becoming a great all-rounder. Knox was a tower of strength, even though in this season he showed signs of the lameness that came to him after a hard spell of bowling, and shortened his career. Unfortunately, he did not have the physique to stand the strain of very fast bowling.
There has always been a “Big Four” in English county cricket: Yorkshire, Lancashire, Surrey and Kent being nearly always in the van, with Nottingham or Middlesex not far away. This time Nottingham won fifth place, but Middlesex was a long way down. P. F. Warner was their leading batsman, but Albert Trott and J. T. Hearne were past their best; page 317 Tarrant, the Australian, played very well, but Bosanquet, who at times batted brilliantly, played in few matches. Middlesex had a better side than their position in the list would indicate.
I finish this story of county cricket on three great names—Jessop, Ranjitsinhji and Fry. Jessop still captained Gloucestershire and, although he did not have a very successful season, remained one of the greatest draws wherever he went. Even 30 or 40 from this great hitter was enough to lift the spectators to a state of excitement. Gloucestershire beat Yorkshire by one run at the end of the season. It was this defeat that lost the championship to Yorkshire, and enabled Kent to slip into first place.
I was glad I had seen Ranjitsinhji and Fry play in 1903, for the Prince did not return from India for the 1906 season, while Fry suffered an injury to his leg and played in just a few matches. I had seen, read and heard enough of these two famous players to know what their influence on English cricket was. I was always an admirer of C. B. Fry's—I think all boys of my time were. New Zealanders have reason to remember at least one part of his outstanding athletic career. In 1892 he created a sensation with a record long jump of 23 feet 5 inches and, in the next year, again won this event at the inter-Varsity sports. The year 1895 was Fry's last at Oxford, It was also W. Mendelson's first year at Cambridge. The latter was from Christ's College, Christchurch, New Zealand, where he was the champion athlete of his year. The long jump was his best performance. In the Cambridge team he was thus the counterpart of the great Oxonian. Each side had won four events, and the final result depended on the long jump which everyone thought was a foregone conclusion. That Mendelson did not suffer from an inferiority complex may be gathered from his remark, made over-night to amused and incredulous colleagues, that he would beat Fry on the morrow. On this occasion the famous “C.B.” was not quite at his best and the confident New Zealander carried Cambridge to victory with a jump of 22 feet 5½ inches.
Fry's triple blue at Oxford would have become a quadruple blue but for a leg injury that kept him out of the Rugger XV. Next came his cricket, and long sequences of centuries. What a tragedy for England that he never came to Australia! The Australians would have attempted to block his on-side page 318 play, but the pace of the out-field would have enabled him to turn the tables on Trumble, who so troubled him with a packed leg field in England in 1902. Fry in Australia would have played like a right-handed Bardsley.
It was not until I went to England that I learned of Fry's scholarship and brilliant attainments at Oxford. It is interesting to read in “C.B.'s” book, Life Worth Living, of how, in examinations, he and John Simon and F. E. Smith would compete with one another as though it were an athletic contest, and tell each other, “I'm after you this time!” Is it any wonder that Fry, in England, stood out as a peer among young men?
It took strength of mind for him to retire from cricket when he had scored 94 centuries and looked certain to be the first to follow Grace to make a century of centuries. But Fry had already tarried too long. It is true that he had long been a success in journalism, for Fry's Magazine was widely read. He was one of the best of all cricket writers; no one could condense his story and yet tell so much of a cricket match; his short, pithy sentences illustrated incidents of the game. No better example of his powers of brief yet adequate description could be found than in an incident of forty years ago. During the progress of the second Test in Australia in 1904, a cricket dinner was held in London. Fry asked leave to propose a toast; this is what he said—“Gentlemen: the Test Match in Melbourne—a treacherous wicket … Hirst and Rhodes the English bowlers … Trumper first man in, last man out! I ask you to drink to the health of Victor Trumper!” No amount of embellishment could improve this charming tribute. In a later period, Neville Gardus was to charm the cricket-loving world with what has been termed his lyrical style. His descriptive writing of the game and its players has made a notable contribution to the literature of the game; the soundness of his judgment, his ability to compare the past with the present, and be fair to the players of both periods, added to Cardus's reputation as a cricket writer of rare distinction.
Fry left the cricket field to take up an important post in a Naval training college at Portsmouth, which became his life's work. The sporting world will always rejoice that such a personality was given to cricket and athletics. When I think page 319 of the brain, the fine physique and handsome figure of C. B. Fry, it is impossible not to wonder what his attainments would have been had he taken the same road as Birkenhead and Simon. As with Grace whom we remember as the greatest of all cricketers, so I think the youth of the Empire will prefer to remember Fry as England's greatest all-round amateur athlete.
Of Ranjitsinhji there is little need to say much. His greatness as a batsman, admitted by all, lifts him to the level of W. G. Grace. He was the first player to dispute the great “W.G.'s” right to stand alone and above all others. Conservative Englishmen were loath to have their old champion threatened, let alone displaced, but the dazzling performances of the young Indian prince, beginning in 1896, were so wonderful that Englishmen and Australians alike were compelled to herald the arrival of another champion of champions.
These sketches of famous players and great county sides may assist the reader to picture English county cricket as I saw it in 1906.