Tom Pritchard – Greatness DeniedMartin Chandler |
Author: Williams, Paul
Publisher: Trio Books
Rating: 4 stars
Tom Pritchard is currently 97 years of age, and whilst he might have a little way to go yet before he can claim to be the longest lived First Class cricketer, to him most certainly goes the honour of being the oldest to have contributed to his own biography.
For those unfamiliar with Pritchard’s name he is a New Zealander by birth, upbringing and current domicile, although his cricketing pedigree comes largely from his time in the County Championship with Warwickshire.
It is a sad fact that Pritchard never played Test cricket. Coming from Manawatu in the days before Central Districts competed in the Plunket Shield he had never played a First Class match when the 1937 team to tour England was selected. Despite that there were plenty who thought he should have been picked despite being just 20. He was a tall rangy bowler who was genuinely fast and hostile, and whose batting was far from negligible.
Had he travelled with “Curly” Page’s side in that far off spring there might have been a New Zealand win against England 40 years before the duck was finally broken, at the 48th time of asking. In that 1937 series the Auckland Bull, Jack Cowie, took 19 wickets at 20.78. Cowie was a great bowler, but there are a number of people whose opinions merit serious consideration who thought Pritchard his superior. New Zealand performed with great credit, thoroughly deserving their two draws in the Tests, and hardly being thrashed in their sole defeat. With Pritchard, the result might have been very different.
Pritchard joined the New Zealand Army in 1941, and spent time in the Middle East and Italy. After the war he was, understandably, looking forward to getting home to the Shaky Isles. The story of why he ended up as a professional in England is an interesting one and, for all concerned, somewhat serendipitous. By 1947 he had secured a residential qualification that enabled him to play for Warwickshire in the Championship.
The stories of the lives of many cricketers and other sportsmen who lived through and served in the Second World War have been written. Some have been told more than once, firstly by the players themselves, and then later by professional biographers. The privations of wartime and the sometimes pernicious austerity of the immediate post war period have been dwelt on many times. Never before however have they been illuminated from a distance of sixty years by the observations of a fit and vital nonagenerian.
After acquiring his residential qualification Pritchard’s finest season by far was his second, 1948, when he took 172 wickets at 18.75 with 16 five-fors and five ten wicket match hauls. By then he was already 31, and just how effective a man generally recognised as the fastest bowler in the country might have been half a decade earlier is an interesting subject for speculation. Not surprisingly when Walter Hadlee brought his 1949 New Zealand side to England there was a clamour for Pritchard to join them. The reasons why he chose not to are one of the more interesting parts of the book.
By 1950 Pritchard was qualified for England, but he was 33, and young tyros like Trueman, Tyson and Statham were beginning to appear, so the Test arena never saw him. He remained a fine bowler for a couple more years before a decline from 1954, but even at 39 he played a few matches for Kent as an amateur. After cricket he enjoyed a successful business career before, in 1986, going back home to New Zealand where a number of First Class cricketers of his vintage have lived well into their 90s. As far as I am aware none has yet raised his century, Eric Tindill at 99 years and 226 days setting the current mark, but Pritchard looks a good bet to overhaul him as, if the 2013 photograph of him in the book is anything to go by, he won’t be departing this mortal coil any time soon.
Paul Williams has written a thoroughly absorbing life of Tom Pritchard. It is not a long book by any means, but what it does not have, that so many books of this type do, is the sort of rehashed match reports that can make a cricketing biography heavy going. What you get here is simply the story of Tom Pritchard’s long and interesting life, with much material from the man himself. It is an excellent read and well worth tracking down.