‘felt rather like a head boy called to a meeting of house masters’
Hutton, Fifty Years of Cricket, pp.72-73.
Les Ames, the first professional appointed to it on a permanent basis…
Hobbs and Rhodes had been seconded to the panel in the 1920s.
Charles Williams (2012, p.67) says Ames was ‘co-opted’ to the 1953 Committee, but I don’t think this is right – Ames had been appointed in 1950 and in his 1953 autobiography notes himself that it was ‘a very great honour indeed’ to be the first professional with tenure on the selection panel (Close of Play, p.11).
That autobiography reveals the mixed emotions about the prevailing system typical for a pro of Ames’s generation. But, in conversation with Michael Marshall, he told an anecdote about Kent’s search for a stop-gap captain in 1950, which confirms the impression he identified with Hutton: ‘They asked me if I would consider becoming an amateur and I said I couldn’t do that – it would just not have seemed right after so many years in the professional ranks’ (Gentlemen and Players, pp.217-18).
had recently suggested in their autobiographies…
Wyatt, Three Straight Sticks (1951): ‘From my experience, and my knowledge of others, I am convinced we’ve reached the time when the whole question of amateurs and professionals needs examination … My own solution would be to do away with amateurs altogether’ (pp.15-16).
Yardley, Cricket Campaigns (1950): ‘The problem of Test captaincy, and indeed of County captaincy, will have to be reviewed; though it may sound strange from a Yorkshireman, with our traditions, I believe I see the day coming when professionals will regularly captain both County and England teams, and when the whole present amateur position will be overhauled. At present we are losing a lot of good cricketers because amateurs, in this hard modern world, cannot afford to play cricket for long’ (p.225).
It should be noted that whereas the rather prickly Wyatt was embittered by his experiences of the MCC inner circle and the patrician secretariat at Warwickshire, the urbane and avuncular Yardley was prophesying the death of the amateur captain more in sorrow than in anger. He believed that ‘the gay, the adventurous – and victorious – amateur tradition’ should be sustained, lamented the way in which potential Harris and Hawke figures were being driven from the game and described A.J. Holmes, something of a hate-figure to Yorkshire crowds, as ‘a tremendous social asset’.
Brown, the selector with the most traditional attitudes…
Brown was proud of the fact he was the only player to have appeared in all three of the Gentlemen’s victories between 1931 and 1953. Although he too could see the writing on the wall, he thought it would be a ‘great pity’ if the game, or the distinction, between Gentlemen and Players was dropped (Cricket Musketeer, p.176).
‘the “inner circle”, who direct the policy of the game’
Hutton, Just My Story, p.73.
a socially exclusive ‘magic circle’
The Yorkshire novelist Winifred Holtby was employing this phrase as early as 1924 to describe the uppity ‘tradition-making’ prefects at the girls’ school where her heroine, Muriel Hammond, is unhappy (Crowded Street, p.27).
For Iain Mcleod’s famous use of the phrase in relation to the Tory leadership contest of October 1963, see this DNB article.
first dinner in the Long Room
This factoid is probably impossible to confirm but I am following Swanton: ‘the first dinner, I think, ever to be held in the Long Room’ (Sort of a Cricket Person, p.189).
receiving a special tribute for his 43 continuous years’ service…
MCC’s Cricket Sub-Committee, 26 October 1953, minute 1 – ‘Sir Pelham made suitable reply’.
(The MCC Archive reference for this minute book, often referred to in this chapter, is MCC/CRI/1/3.)
Warner was also presented with an inscribed silver salver at Middlesex CCC’s annual meeting in 1954, in recognition of 50 years’ service as a player and committee-man for the county (Times, 28 April 1954, p.3).
For a flavour of late Warner, see this newsreel where he gives a speech at the 1948 Hastings Festival before making an award to Denis Compton.
‘moral and intellectual damage’
Warner, letter to his wife, quoted at the beginning of Chapter 11 of Frith’s Bodyline Autopsy.
‘the gospel of British fair play’
Quoted in Howat’s biography, p.111.
‘There are two teams out there…’
Bill Woodfull’s famous dictum has been requoted with many small variations in wording and punctuation, but I think this is the most common version.
Warner, ever the string-puller…
See Howat, Plum Warner, pp.34, 86, 157 and Marshall, Gentlemen and Players, pp.9 and 13.
the crucial recovery mission after Bodyline
It is often forgotten that there had already been a recovery mission. In 1935/36, Errol Holmes (who will return to our story in Chapters 6 and 18) led a young MCC team which played against State sides – but Allen’s was the first Test tour to Australia after Jardine and MCC became fixated on there being no ‘incidents’.
‘Neither of Warner’s sons were identified with cricket…’
Howat, Plum Warner, p.159-60.
‘swollen-headed, gutless, uneducated miners’
This letter home is quoted by Birley (Social History, p.246) with a typically dry commentary.
Allen’s father won a knighthood…
Swanton, Gubby Allen, p.72.
‘divide the world clearly into “deadbeats” and those who are “awfully nice”’
Moorhouse, Lord’s, p.55.
‘when in doubt, play class’
Cited in Synge, Sins of Omission, p.133.
‘the traditions and culture of public school are coupled with…’
Arlott, Echoing Green, p.158.
Robertson-Glasgow wrote a character sketch of Robins which suggested ‘perky’ was just the word for him. As regards his leg-spin: ‘Even more than most of his kind, he varies from brilliance to futility’. As regards his temperament: ‘As a cricketer he lives on a sharp edge, and sometimes, as a captain, his keenness would turn to anxiety’ (Crusoe on Cricket, pp.163-64).
warned off a golf course by Enid Blyton
Rendell, Walter Robins, pp.97-98.
I hope I am forgiven for compressing the story slightly, which Robins’ son Charles tells with great élan and where Blyton may have shown at least as much temperament. The family were playing at what Rendell calls Studland Bay Golf Club in Dorset (Sam Hayward reminds me that the club’s official title is Isle of Purbeck) and he ‘threw a golf ball for a catch’ on the eighteenth green. Walter, already fuming after missing a putt, became embroiled in a heated argument with Blyton, who had just purchased the club with her husband: ‘there followed the most amazing couple of minutes of pure fury’. Robins was summarily banned from the club, although he was told he would be welcome any day Blyton ‘was not around’.
the residents of an old people’s home in a play by Bob Larbey
A running motif of Larbey’s A Month of Sundays.
‘the duty of captains … a ‘lack of amateurs of the right quality’
Rendell, Walter Robins, p.86, 102.
The 1944 Select Committee was chaired by Hon F.S. Jackson; the private note was written to Ronnie Aird in 1952. Among its radical suggestions was that ‘public schoolboys be encouraged to turn professional at attractive wages in some form’.
The first selection meeting in February…
Cricket Sub-Committee, 18 February 1953, minute 9(v).
Minutes of the next meeting on 19 May… show
MCC West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, 19 May 1953, minute 1. The only other amateur on this list of 19, marked as confidential, was Reg Simpson, who may also have been in the selectors’ thoughts: they would have made him captain of MCC v Pakistan in 1954 had Bailey not been available (MCC Selection Sub-Committee, chaired by Altham, 3 May 1954, minute 1).
might relieve Hutton of the captaincy in the not ‘far distant’ future
Wisden 1953: In ‘breaking with tradition’, the Selection Committee had made a ‘vital decision in the interests of England’ which meant that future captains should be worth their place in the team:
On the other hand, the time may not be far distant when England will have an amateur in charge again if P.B.H. May and D.S. Sheppard continue to improve. The task of captain is seldom a sinecure, and for a professional it could be onerous if disciplinary action was necessary against a fellow professional.
This was one of the classic objections to a pro captain which we shall find proving active in the inner circle’s relationship with Hutton (see especially Chapters 17 and 18).
At the start of June, another meeting concluded ‘as a matter of policy’…
MCC West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, 1 June 1953, minute 4: ‘It was decided as a matter of policy that the manager for the tour should not be selected until it was known who the captain was to be.’
This is perhaps the first indication that Hutton was now under consideration…
I did not want to make a categorical statement in the book, as it cannot be proved unless correspondence between Sheppard and Warner turns up, but I believe MCC offered the captaincy for the West Indies tour to Sheppard, and reverted to Hutton only when Sheppard was confirmed unavailable.
Warner sends a letter to Hutton on 31 May 1953 where he presses for Sheppard as an opener in the Ashes series and writes a postscript on the side of the page: ‘You would like to go to the West indies this winter wouldn’t you? I am Chairman of the MCC Cricket Selection Committee’ (MCC Archive, HUTTON 1-6). Is it reading too much into things to note that Warner is not asking Hutton whether he would ‘like to go’ as captain, and that the selectors had already met twice before he bothered to check Hutton’s availability? Then, in his next letter to Hutton of 15 July, congratulating him on getting the job, Warner shares the information that ‘Sheppard is not available’ for any of the remaining Ashes Tests.
‘reinforced rather than allayed’ the impression
Synge, Sins of Omission, p.116. According to Simon Wilde, Brown was the only chairman of selectors ever to pick himself for a Test match (England, p.268).
‘a middle-management executive…’ … ‘On the second day…’
Synge, Sins of Omission, p.116.
Several England players confirmed that Brown effaced himself…
It is Evans, worried that the decision was a ‘bad move’, who specifically says Brown ‘effaced himself’ (Gloves are Off, p.117). Brown insisted he had ‘absolutely nothing’ to do with the ‘running’ of the side at Lord’s and gave his opinion only when Hutton asked for it: ‘There was no friction between us and all the tales you may have read of it are pure moonshine’ (Cricket Musketeer, p.73). Brown protested that he was considered for selection only after Hutton was confirmed captain for the Test, and Hutton always insisted it was his idea to ask for Brown.
Arlott still read the selection as evidence of a ‘grudging attitude’…
Test Match Diary, pp.43-44.
Compare Alec Bannister: ‘Brown’s presence in the field leads to one disquieting question: How strong is Hutton’s hold on the Test captaincy?’ (Daily Mail, 22 June 1953). Bannister implied that ‘some influential sections’ of the Lord’s hierarchy were ready to unseat Hutton for his ‘excessive caution’. Fingleton, always a wry observer of English pro/am issues, found the whole business puzzling and implied Swanton was Brown’s main lobbyist (Ashes Crown the Year, p.63, 131, 156, 167).
This prophecy was nearly fulfilled…
Certainly, the Yorkshire Post, when it reported the announcement (by Brown himself in his role as chairman of selectors) of Hutton’s fibrositis attack, then surmised that ‘F.R. Brown, who played in the Lord’s Test and led England on the last tour of Australia, might well be recalled [as captain] if Hutton drops out’ (8 July 1953, p.6). Crawford White made a reference to ‘profoundly secret’ plans should Hutton not have been passed fit (News Chronicle, 9 July, p.1).
‘I don’t know why Freddie Brown is not playing…’
Aird, letter to Henry Sayen, 6 July 1953 (correspondence in MCC Archive, SEC 3/54). Brown later claimed the selectors had told him ‘we don’t think we shall want you at Manchester or Leeds’ – where leg-spinners were thought to be less effective (Cricket Musketeer, p.72).
on 15 July, that Hutton was finally proposed as captain for the West Indies…
MCC West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, 15 July 1953, minute 1.
In fact, Hutton had been announced as captain for the last two Ashes Tests on 13 July, the fourth day of the Old Trafford Test (where no play was possible). He was expected to attend selectors’ meetings in London on 15 July when the West Indies tour sub-committee would also be convening. Charles Bray pointed out that selection for the tour ‘rests with MCC’ rather than the home panel and therefore it was not a foregone conclusion that Hutton would be appointed captain overseas: ‘I shall, however, be very surprised if he is not’ (Daily Herald, 14 July 1954, p.6). Bannister had been similarly briefed: ‘Hutton, named yesterday as captain for the last two Tests, will, I understand, also lead England in the West Indies this winter’ (Daily Mail, 14 July). And John Bapty, in the Yorkshire Evening Post, affirmed that Hutton ‘is likely to be chosen shortly’ as captain in the Caribbean, a move he found ‘entirely logical’ on the assumption Hutton would be leading MCC in Australia in 1954/55 (14 July, p.1).
So Australia’s little wobble on the fifth day, when Hutton declared after tea and they were reduced to 35 for eight, probably had little bearing on MCC’s thinking. Yardley sometimes opened the bowling with Wardle on rain-affected wickets, and Hutton’s deployment of Laker may not have seemed particularly unorthodox in the era of uncovered pitches (he tried the same thing with Lock in the next Test, with unhappier results).
Swanton tells the story that he ‘happened’ to be watching…
Sort of a Cricket Person, p.178.
‘When I passed on Harry’s message…’
Swanton says he sought out Hutton in the ‘players’ luncheon room’ at Bramall Lane – I doubt all of the players called it that (Sort of a Cricket Person, p.179).
[I have replaced a colon with a comma in the quotation to avoid two colons in a row.]
whom Swanton…considered a ‘natural’ for the role
Sort of a Cricket Person, p.178.
The Australian journalist Pat Landsberg described Griffith as ‘the most popular manager to come to the West Indies’ (Kangaroo Conquers, p.190). When Yardley announced he was unavailable for the tour of Australia in 1949/50, Griffith had even been touted, with Doggart and Insole, as a possible MCC captain (Fingleton, Brown and Company, p.23).
On 9 June, Griffith was quoted by The Gleaner as saying MCC ‘will this time take with them a Manager’, so seems to have been privy to, or perhaps the initiator of, the plan that he should assume this role. On 14 July, Bray noted that Griffith’s name had been ‘freely mentioned as manager’ (Daily Herald, p.6).
Bob Barber pays tribute to Griffith as manager of the 1965/66 tour to South Africa, at about 11.45 in this discussion with Stephen Chalke and Robin Brodhurst.
what Swanton called his ‘important piece of first-hand evidence’
Sort of a Cricket Person, p.178: ‘There is one important piece of first-hand evidence in which I have hitherto respected the confidence of one of the principal figures, the late H.S. Altham, and I hope that after twenty years, in the interest of history and in fairness to Len Hutton (belated though it is), I may be absolved for breaking silence.’ Perhaps Swanton did not have Altham’s full confidence at the time.
predicting the ‘delightful’ Griffith would ‘be a great help’
Warner, letter to Hutton 15 July 1953 (MCC Archive, ref. HUTTON 1-6; also reproduced in The Cricketer, May 1996, p.27).
‘depended on it being possible to make adequate arrangements…’
MCC West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, 15 July 1953.
Aird gave his ‘very definite opinion’, after ‘very careful consideration’…
MCC West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, special meeting, 17 July 1953 (attended by Warner, Altham, Robins, Wyatt, Brown, Aird and Griffith):
The Secretary stated that after giving the matter very careful consideration he was of the very definite opinion that he could not carry on the administration of the Club’s affairs satisfactorily if he was deprived of the help of Mr S.C. Griffith for four months of the year. He asked the Sub-Committee if, in these circumstances, they would recommend an alternative selection as manager of M.C.C. side to tour the West Indies during the winter of 1953/54.
he scored his maiden first-class hundred
Griffith was the first, and I think the only, England player to score his maiden first-class hundred in his first Test, and only the second England player to score it in a Test match – Henry Wood, also a keeper, scored his only first-class century in the against South Africa in 1891/92. The next England player to achieve the feat was yet another keeper, Jack Russell, and the last was Stuart Broad.
the one-word telegram he received from his friend Austin Matthews: ‘Really!’
Recounting this tale, Frank Keating suggests that ‘apart from the orders “Buy” or “Sell,” it might be the shortest transatlantic telegram ever’ (Guardian, 16 February 1998, pp.24-25).
‘In terms of friendly relationships and the spirit of the cricket…’
Swanton, Sort of a Cricket Person, p.156. See also Gubby Allen: Man of Cricket, p.234.
In the unauthorised version, relations broke down…
See, for example, Marshall, Gentlemen and Players, p.154; Knox, Bradman’s War, p.54; Stollmeyer, India Tour Diary, p.20; Ross, Testing Years, p.49.
Hardstaff bore a lifelong grudge against Allen, which he ventilated in a 1963 newspaper article entitled ‘GUBBY ordered BED at 9.30’. Allen is mocked for trying to run a ‘military operation’ with little empathy for a group which included many war veterans; then for the way, once he was injured, he kept trying to put acting captain Cranston ‘on the mat’: ‘I have never liked hearing fully-grown men getting a dressing-down. I liked it even less in a dressing-room’ (Sunday People, 28 July 1963, p.16).
This proved a happy, lucky and indeed happy-go-lucky expedition…
See, for example, Marshall, Gentlemen and Players, pp.156-57. Palmer (in Miller, p.48) thought Mann was ‘wonderfully well supported’ by Griffith.
Although perhaps the efforts of Mann and Griffith have become a touch mythologised. Alex Bannister remembered that ‘the four amateurs sat apart from the pros on the liner to Cape Town’.
…gain the respect of senior professionals such as Hutton, Washbrook and Compton
Compton says Mann consulted all three of them on the field, although always going on to ‘make up his own mind’. Compton thought Mann ‘the most effective captain I have played under’: he handled functions ‘perfectly’ and instilled his enthusiasm into the team, who were a ‘happy family’ (End of an Innings, pp.48-49). Washbrook recalled ‘a very successful tour and a very happy one too’: Mann ‘was a very nice chap and very keen on people doing the right thing, and he got a lot of support from everybody’ (Len Hutton Remembered, p.60; compare Dellor, Lost Voices). See also Chapter 11.
Although Aird and Griffith were comparatively new to their roles…
Aird, assistant secretary since 1926, had become secretary in 1952 upon the retirement of Colonel Rait-Kerr.
Griffith had become assistant secretary in the summer of 1952 (the special sub-committee confirming his appointment, and a salary of £1,050 per annum, was held on 25 July 1952).
Altham was also given full cover…
As noted in The Cricketer, 1954 Spring Annual, p.4 and in The Times, 10 March 1954, p.3: ‘So that he can devote the summer to watching first-class cricket, MCC have released him from all his other duties, including that of Treasurer.’
first choice as manager for Allen’s tour of Australia
See Rendell, Gubby under Pressure. Rupert Howard eventually took the role.
The next proposal was … John Nash
MCC West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, special meeting, 17 July 1953: ‘After very careful consideration of the qualifications required in this particular case, the Sub-Committee decided to recommend that the Yorkshire C.C.C. Committee should be asked if they would release their Secretary, Mr. J.H. Nash, for this purpose.’ There is no record of the response but we can presume Nash and/or Yorkshire quickly kyboshed the idea.
‘pure Gubby Allen’
Bailey, quoted in Miller, Charles Palmer, p.102.
‘the manager may well be a player able to take his place in the team…’
MCC West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, 1 June 1953, minute 5: ‘It was decided to recommend that the team be composed of 15 players and a manager having regard to the fact that the manager may well be a player able to take his place in the team should the occasion demand.’
‘Yours was one of the best innings I have seen in a Gentlemen v Players match…’
Quoted in Miller, Charles Palmer, p.76.
He did not have a typical inner-circle background…
Indeed, Palmer confessed that he sometimes felt ‘downstairs’ when dealing with the cricketing establishment. For whatever reason, though, he had several admirers in the inner circle, and it seems Allen had taken a particular shine to him.
But he had a certain cachet
There is a nice passage in Marshall’s Gentlemen and Players (pp.92-93) on Leicestershire’s ‘amateur instability’ in the inter-war years. They went through ten captains, including the amply initialled J.A.F.M.P. de Lisle, and it did not go unnoticed that the professional Ewart Astill, appointed in desperation for one season in 1935, took them to their highest finish in the championship.
After the war, Northants endured what the county historians, Engel and Radd, call ‘the double-barrelled years’ of amateur captains with little playing ability. The immediate post-war skippers, P.E. Murray-Willis and A.W. Childs-Clarke, were respectively an R.A.F. invalid and an amateur who had not played the game for 13 years. One senses one of the reasons – there were others – Brown appealed to the inner circle as a stopgap England captain was that he had done well as Northamptonshire skipper, having been able to take the post after being offered a sinecure by the local ball-bearing manufacturer, British Timkin.
Stephen Wagg’s article ‘Time gentleman, please’ provides an excellent overview of pro/am captaincy issues in county cricket.
Brown appears to have made the approach to Palmer
Miller, Charles Palmer, p.84.
‘I literally walked into the office …’
Miller, Charles Palmer, p.84.
Another less official but potentially sinister development…
This arrangement is mentioned nowhere in MCC’s minutes. Alan Moss (interview with author, 31 March 2015) had several early run-ins with Robins at Middlesex but thought he was a ‘straight’ customer who would not be in the business of using his daughter as a spy.
Whether Hutton knew that the Surrey captain Stuart Surridge was planning a business trip to the West Indies, and whether Surridge packed his whites just in case, is unknown. However, Surridge himself seems to have been ‘not quite’ in the eyes of Lord’s and, like Sellers before him, was probably considered not quite a good enough player to hold his place as England captain, even if by 1953 he was already establishing Surrey’s ascendancy over Yorkshire as the new hegemonic county. As it turned out, Surridge gave press interviews in the West Indies providing strong support to Hutton.
Hutton’s sense of himself as a captain ‘on appro’
I have borrowed this phrase from C.B. Fry, who used it in The Cricketer when Hutton was being appointed on a Test-by-Test basis in 1953 (see Howat 1988, p.114).
‘entirely’ to Hutton … nevertheless ‘informed that the Manager…’
Cricket Sub-Committee, 26 October 1953, minute 3(d): ‘It was agreed to recommend… that the choice of a Selection Committee for the tour be left to the Captain. It was agreed that the Captain should be informed that the Manager in this case was eligible to be a voting member of such a Committee.’
what Palmer called the ‘two-fisted’ nature of the manager/captain relationship
Miller, Charles Palmer, p.87.
‘In my experience it is just about the worst decision….’
Sort of a Cricket Person, p.181.
Swanton always believed, with some justification, that the ‘most important combined factor in success of these intricate enterprises is the work of the captain and manager’ (Last Over, p.103; compare p.165). He had recently seen Mann and Green work well together in South Africa in 1948/49, certainly better than Hammond and Rupert Howard in Australia in 1946/47, or Hammond and A.J. Holmes in South Africa in 1938/39: ‘Rupert Howard was a genial fellow…but had he the toughness to handle Hammond? Like Jack Holmes in South Africa, was he not too nice a chap?’ (quoted by Foot in Hammond, p.222).
‘to cap the performance MCC, for the only time in my memory…’
Sort of a Cricket Person, p.180. Swanton may be mistaken in two ways as Percy Fender, reflecting on Johnny Douglas’s last tour to Australia, noted that ‘as was often the case in those days, he did not have an official vice-captain’ (Marshall 1987, p.102).
admittedly taken as late as 26 October
Cricket Sub-Committee, 26 October 1953, minute 3(a).
‘A captain who had never led the side abroad…’
Bailey, Wickets, Catches and the Odd Run, p.185; compare his very similar comments in Len Hutton Remembered (Trelford 1992, p.79-80) and in the MCC video on Hutton’s tours (Chadwick 2009, at about 6:33).
usually in at least two tranches
Indeed, the 1932/33 Bodyline party, Allen’s 1936/37 party (Rendell, p.62) and Brown’s 1949/50 party (see Fingleton 1951, p.26) were all announced in three tranches. In Chapter 18, we will see that Robins was instrumental in putting a stop to this long-running convention.
a fixture especially close to his heart…
Warner, who wrote an official history of the Gentlemen v Players series, thought it was ‘the best training for Tests’ (quoted in Howat, p.188). For other examples of the match being considered a trial, see Williams, p.23; Marshall, pp.18-19, 101, 237, 240; Lemmon, p. 31.
‘someone may suddenly arise’
Warner, letter to Hutton 15 July 1953 (MCC Archive, ref. HUTTON 1-6; also reproduced in The Cricketer, May 1996, p.27).
except Watson, whose place was taken in that game by Edrich
Edrich had in fact come back into the side in the third Test, in an attempt to solve the problem position of Hutton’s opening partner (Don Kenyon had failed in the first two games). For the last game, Watson lost his place to May (who had himself been dropped after the first Test).
MCC had hoped to finalise the other selections on 29 July
West Indies Tour Sub-Committee, 15 July 1953, minute 2.
He remembered this being a ‘concession’ to Warner
Hutton, Fifty Years of Cricket, p.70.
Howat … explains
Howat, Len Hutton, p.124.
‘the timing could not have been more inappropriate’ … ‘rushed’
Hutton, Fifty Years of Cricket, p.70.
a separate ‘consultation’ after the previous one
To borrow the phrasing used in an MCC Committee minute of 29 July 1953. The side-meeting with Bedser must have taken place at some point between 15 and 17 July.
…or – as Hutton later suspected – Surrey
Hutton, Fifty Years of Cricket, p.71.
Bedser seemed to confirm this in an interview with Ralph Dellor (Lost Voices): after bowling 3.200 overs in 18 months ‘I was tired out and the Surrey president, Sir Henry ‘Shrimp’ Leveson Gower, said to Plum Warner, the chairman of selectors, that Surrey didn’t want me to go, that I should have a rest, so I didn’t go’.
Warner had publicly suggested that Bedser … would benefit from ‘rests’
Long Innings, p.194.
a ‘winter’s rest’ would be beneficial in 1953/54
This is Aird’s minute (5 (ii)) for the MCC Committee, which discussed the issue on 29 July 1953.
The main Committee was ratifying the conclusion made by the West Indies Tour Sub-Committee meeting of 17 July 1953 (minute 2):
The Chairman reported that he, the Treasurer and the Secretary had met A. Bedser to discuss the advisability of his making the tour to the West Indies with the M.C.C. team during the winter.
Bedser stated that while he would much like to accept the invitation, he felt that in his own interest and in the interest of English cricket he should remain at home in view of the strenuous season just finishing and the possibility of being required to bowl winter and summer for 18 months starting next May.
His preparation the day before the Oval decider
Crawford White (News Chronicle, 18 August, p.6) complained bitterly about the fact Bedser, and Laker, were ‘bowling their feet sore on the eve of such a crucial Test’.
Alec was inseparable from his twin brother Eric
Indeed, their inseparability, even by the standards of identical twins, was legendary: they took great pride in their appearance on the BBC programme Know Your Partner, where ‘we supplied the same answers and were the only pair to be 100 per cent. correct in our replies’ (Following On, p.215). Laker thought the main reason for Alec declining to tour in 1953/54 was the thought of being away from Eric.
the games he enjoyed most ‘were the Tests between England and Australia…’
Bedser, in a 1961 Wisden article.
Tom Graveney suggested that in the 1950s, ‘the only Test series that counted really’ in the selectors’ minds was the one against Australia (Cricket over Forty, p.16)
He would never make a tour as a player outside the old Dominions
It may or may not be pertinent that Bedser was a founder member of the Freedom Association, although he insisted that he never ‘declined’ to go to India and that at that time MCC simply did not select the big-name players for tours there (Dellor, Lost Voices). He would later manage an MCC tour of Australia which would take in the Jubilee Test in Bombay.
In his last set of memoirs, he says the decision upset his masterplan…
Hutton, Fifty Years of Cricket, p.71.
He had previously written that he already suspected…
Just My Story, p.46.
Derek Shackleton of Hampshire was Bedser’s nominated reserve…
MCC Selection sub-committee for Gentlemen v Players, chaired by Warner, 7 July 1953, minute 1.
Warner leant towards the young Surrey paceman Peter Loader…
In one of his letters to Hutton (31 July), Warner thought Loader ‘a good keen bowler’ and ‘worth considering’. But he recorded Bedser’s view that Loader was ‘not perhaps strong enough’, and that ‘Bedser thinks well of Jackson, of Derbyshire, as a possible substitute for himself’. In his next letter (5 Aug), Warner still felt ‘Loader, or Moss’ should fill the last fast-bowling spot (MCC Archive, HUTTON 1-6).
He had not received an availability letter…
Although this may not have been too significant, as Bedser and Trueman appear to have been the only fast bowlers sent one.
the only thing he seemed to receive from Lord’s was short shrift
A running theme of Mike Carey’s biography, Les Jackson: A Derbyshire Legend. Trueman thought Jackson was the victim of ‘a general bias against northern players’ (Ball of Fire, p.59) but it seemed more complicated than that: a good summary is provided in this unsigned 2017 article. Even when Jackson had reached the veteran stage, Cowdrey thought he should have been an automatic selection on the ‘seamer’s paradise’ of Lord’s (MCC, pp.86-87).
‘remembered that bruise a few years later…’
Hutton, Fifty Years of Cricket, p.62.
Although Tyson had to finish his qualification period for Northamptonshire in 1953…
Tyson’s selection in 1954/55 is often characterised as a left-field surprise but his pace had already made an impression in 1953, even on the limited evidence of the games he could play. As early as 18 May, Crawford White, in an article on candidates for the Coronation Ashes, was saying ‘Try Tyson’. Later in the summer, he noted Brown’s opinion that Tyson was ‘even faster than Trueman’ (News Chronicle, 3 July 1953, p.8). In the same paper, Bill O’Reilly noted Tyson’s ‘striking turn of speed’ in the tour match (6 July 1953, p.8). Writing during the West Indies tour, Fingleton thought Tyson was one of Trueman’s ‘rivals’ for the role of strike-bowler the next winter (Ashes Crown the Year, p.303). Near the start of the 1954 season, Stuart Surridge was predicting to the Daily Mirror that Tyson, ‘the fastest bowler I saw in England last summer’, would be on the boat to Australia.
However, Brown had taken Brian Close …
Another fast bowler doing his National Service in 1953 must have been on the shortlist. Palmer remembered (in Miller 2005, p.124) that his county teammate Terry Spenser did well in the 1953 Test Trial. Bannister noted Spenser was ‘less erratic’ than Moss (Daily Mail, 30 May 1953).
Hutton wrote a note in 1954 remembering a Yorkshire v Leicestershire game two years earlier where Spencer took nine wickets: ‘The first over young Spencer bowled to me he made my bat handle jump around in my hands. Tate did the same sort of thing bowling at me 20 years ago on a green, fast wicket at Eastbourne…’ – ‘I feel that when he completes his National Service we shall hear more of this young man’ (MCC Archive, HUTTON/TEMP 15).
So my guess is Hutton had two bowlers in mind, whose pace had made its mark on him, whom he may have preferred to Moss – even though he thought Moss was a promising and keen cricketer. There is an intriguing passage describing the final selection meeting in Fifty Years of Cricket (p.71):
When Sir Pelham gazed across the table at the young captain, who showed such an interest in fast bowlers, I wondered what thoughts were passing through his mind. Had he known that, like Jardine, my ancestors came from across the border, he might have been troubled. But he knew I was a true Yorkshireman from a county who never believed it unprincipled to play hard. Sir Pelham often gave me his gaze as if trying to read my mind, but kept his thoughts to himself.
Warner was conscious of ‘bombarding’ Hutton with letters…
Warner, letter to Hutton 31 July 1953: ‘I fear I bombard you with letters. If so my excuse is that I am most anxious to do anything I can to help you in any way’ (MCC Archive, HUTTON 1-6).
In all but one of them, he kept pressing the claims of Robin Marlar
On 30 July, Marlar is the only spinner Warner proposes ‘for West Indies remaining places’. On 31 July, he says Marlar ‘should be asked’ because ‘he is, I fancy, the best of the off-spinners with his clever flight and is young and strong’. On 5 August, Marlar duly becomes the first name on Warner’s recommended list for the second tranche (MCC Archive, HUTTON 1-6).
‘He will want to know fairly soon…’
Warner, letter to Hutton 31 July 1953 (MCC Archive, HUTTON 1-6).
‘almost certain to be asked’ … ‘gentle twiddle’
Swanton, West Indian Adventure, p.23.
Bannister thought Marlar was, one of the two ‘saddest omissions’ of younger players from the tour party, along with Cowdrey (Cricket Cauldron, p.18). Peter May was also an advocate of his University teammate: ‘I personally regretted that a place was not found for Robin Marlar’ (A Game Enjoyed, p.51).
But Rupert Webb, Marlar’s Sussex teammate – if that word can be used for two men who had a running feud – calculated that Marlar’s figures when he came into the Sussex side, in mid-summer after the University season, ‘compared unfavourably’ with those of Alan Oakman, who had been bowling the off-spin earlier in the season until he broke a finger (Chalke, Remembered Gate, p.172).
Perhaps a reminiscence of Norman Yardley is also significant, even though he was only a home selector and even though he was recalling the Gentlemen v Players match at the Scarborough Festival, played several weeks after the second tranche was selected. Hutton scored 241 for the Players (Marlar’s figures 28-1-147-1). According to Yardley, Hutton’s innings was magnificent and there was a bit of background to it because he had some kind of row with Robin Marlar’ (Marshall 1987, p.247).
MCC had agreed for the first time … to covered wickets
Wickets had been covered in domestic cricket in Australia and the West Indies for some time, but this was not permitted in Test cricket – hence the famous Brisbane ‘gluepots’. MCC’s Cricket Sub-Committee, by eight votes to three, approved the complete covering of pitches in Australia ‘as an experiment’ (24 December 1952, minute 6 [MCC/CRI/1/3]). No doubt with Australia in mind, they also agreed to the covering of wickets on the West Indian tour, provided bowlers’ run-ups were also covered.
even if Warner (and Swanton) had a soft spot for Leicestershire’s Jack Firth
Warner, letter to Hutton 30 July 1953: ‘Spooner seems to be favoured but is not Firth’ (MCC Archive, HUTTON 1-6). Compare Swanton, West Indian Adventure, p.23.
‘Give me Cyril’
I am appropriating Grace’s famous petition for Shrewsbury: ‘Give me Arthur’.
In his retirement memoirs of 1956, Hutton paid fulsome compliment to the only opener with whom he established a consistently successful partnership for England: ‘To my mind, one of the biggest blunders made was to discard Cyril Washbrook after the Australian tour of 1950/51. In particular, England could have done with his experience against Australia in 1953; he was, I thought, still one of the world’s best opening batsmen’ (Just My Story, p.23). I think it is safe to assume that Hutton would have wanted him on his last two tours, if MCC, or Washbrook himself, had been persuadable: ‘Since Cyril Washbrook was passed over for Test cricket the problem of England’s opening pair has never been solved’ (p.24). Washbrook himself simply said: ‘It would have been very nice to have played under Len as captain’ (Len Hutton Remembered, p.60).
Hutton and Washbrook are the third most successful opening partnership in England Test history, averaging a round 60, behind Hobbs and Sutcliffe and Hobbs and Rhodes (who played on better pitches against less hostile fast bowling). They trail only Hobbs and Sutcliffe measured on total runs scored.
Wyatt’s captaincy was fatally compromised…
Hutton mentions this case specifically in Just My Story to help explain why he was ‘not prepared, single-handed, to make an outright demand’ for Washbrook’s inclusion (pp.23-24).
The excellent Old Ebor website provides a good summary of the power struggle between Wyatt and Warner back in 1935. It is amusing to read that Warner was critical of ‘Wyatt’s obsession with his pet theories’.
the alternative selections averaged 23.13
In the first two Tests, Don Kenyon scored 8, 16, 3 and 2. Edrich scored 6 in the third Test but did make two important contributions thereafter (10, 64, 21, 55*).
Washbrook … apparently still persona non grata at Lord’s…
According to Hutton, on the 1953 home selection committee, ‘those who said that Cyril Washbrook could not be over-keen on playing again for England following his “No-Yes” change of front before the 1950/51 tour to Australia were able to sway those who were undecided’ (Just My Story, p.24).
Edrich was probably Hutton’s next preference
Both Howat, in his biography of Hutton (1988, p. 124) and Frank Garrick, in his biography of Watson (2013, p.111), imply that Edrich was Hutton’s first preference, without providing any supporting evidence. I still think Hutton would have wanted Washbrook first, if he thought there were a realistic chance of his being available and/or MCC being receptive to his selection.
As it happened, Edrich played in the television version of Rattigan’s Final Test (Radio Times 1446, p.39) but gave way to Washbrook for the film version.
effectively been suspended from international cricket for three years
See Lemmon, Crisis of Captaincy, pp.85-86 and Down, Is It Cricket?, pp.96-97 for brisk accounts.
The suspension was never official, but there did happen to be a gap of three years and a week between Edrich’s appearances in the 1950 series against West Indies and the 1953 Coronation Ashes. There is an MCC Committee minute, from its meeting of 12 February 1950, stating that Edrich ‘should remain on the probationary list’ for twelve months, and another (24 May 1950, minute 5) stating that anyone on this list should not be considered for Brown’s tour of Australia.
appeared all at sea against Ramadhin in 1950
Fingleton, Brown and Company, p.25; Lord’s, p.65. Hutton also remembered Edrich’s difficulties against O’Reilly (Fifty Years, p.25).
By earmarking Watson as a potential opener, the selectors were following a hunch…
Alex Bannister appears to have been tipped off about Watson being ‘a long-term plan for Australia’: ‘A left-hander as an opener must have some value in unsettling the bowlers … Members of the MCC committee are sure he is the answer to the problem…’ (Daily Mail, 24 August 1953).
Bannister pointed out that the left-handed Jack Ikin had done relatively well opening with Hutton for England. Warner was always somewhat fixated on a left/right opening combination, and could point to recent evidence when England had been beaten: Morris/Brown in 1948, Rae/Stollmeyer in 1950. Even Sutcliffe/Scott in 1949 had helped secure four draws for New Zealand.
about selecting left-handers in an attempt to negate …
Another Warner hobby-horse was that the omission of the left-handed Eddie Paynter was the decision which cost England the Ashes in 1936/37. It was no doubt more complicated than that but O’Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith did have success turning the ball away (the left-handed Leyland was arguably England’s best batsman).
Reg Simpson…admitted there were ‘far too many’ of them
Westcott, Class of ’59, p.68.
Simpson … despite Warner being a great admirer
Judging from Warner’s letters to Hutton, Simpson seems originally to have been the preferred option as opening batsman. On 15 July, he is described as a ‘strong candidate’ who would thrive in a ‘warmer climate’ (15 July); On 30 July, he seems to be the first preference and Suttle the second. The next day Warner has a little wobble, noting that Simpson could be ‘glorious’ one day but ‘pawky and strokeless’ the next, but by 5 August he is again pressing for ‘an opening batsman who is in splendid form and playing his strokes with which he bristles – and a magnificent field’. Simpson scored three more fifties before the final selection meeting, but Suttle scored more heavily and it appears Warner vacillated again.
‘die in the attempt’ … ‘natural ability and enterprise’
Warner, Long Innings, p.215.
who scored a sparkling century by giving free rein to his ‘natural attacking game’
The report on the game for The Cricketer is under the byline of the Wisden staff writer E. Eden – who was very possibly under the supervision of P.F. Warner: ‘In an age when so many English batsmen are unwilling to leave the crease, the eagerness with which Suttle moved down the pitch to meet the slow bowlers on the half-volley was most refreshing’ (Cricketer, 13 June 1953. p.208).
‘any surplus weight put on since the end of the county season…’
Hutton, Just My Story, p.47.
Alec Bannister wrote a piece for the Daily Mail (21 November 1953) which gives similar details of Hutton’s letter to the players and records him saying: ‘I am trying to prepare the lads for the heat and hard pitches’. From Bannister’s article, and other press reports, especially one by Basil Easterbrook for Thompson regional newspapers (14 December 1953), we can piece together some of the ways in which the squad was preparing:
Hutton himself was using a field in Pudsey for exercises and road work, and playing golf.
Trueman and Wardle were attending ‘indoor sheds’ at Headingley twice weekly.
Statham was practising at Lancashire’s indoor nets.
Compton and May were playing squash regularly.
Laker, excused Old Bailey jury service in light of his MCC engagement, was getting in a lot of golf.
So was Graveney, who also training with Bristol Rovers.
Palmer, who Bannister noted ‘may play on tour’, was playing squash and golf, as well as swimming.
Suttle was playing non-league football with Betteshanger Colliery in the Kent League – and there is a nice photo of him jogging on Worthing Beach.
Watson was playing his final season for Sunderland.
Spooner trained with Aston Villa.
Moss trained with Arsenal.
South Africa … had a programme created for them by Danie Craven
Fingleton, Ashes Crown the Year, p.18.
Allen had set the tone for a 2-0 defeat… by pulling a muscle skipping on deck
Hardstaff, with an unsurprising lack of sympathy, reflected that Allen ‘was 45 at the time, so you didn’t need to be a genius to see that he was going to have trouble standing up to the strain.’
In fairness to Allen, he could see that too – and was reportedly reluctant to take on the captaincy of the tour. But, for all the bad luck he had with injuries, there was a general view that his handling of players had veered from the nannying to the sadistic. Hardstaff was especially bitter about the treatment of Notts fast bowler Harold Butler, suffering from serious back trouble, whom Allen sent for long runs to keep him ‘moving’ (Sunday People, 28 July 1963, p.16).