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Paul Gibb – From Yorkshire Amateur to Essex Professional

paul gibb

His family’s origins were in Scotland, but Paul Gibb was born a Yorkshireman, a necessary prerequisite during his lifetime if a man was to play for the county of the White Rose. Gibb’s father was employed as a goods manager by the North Eastern Rail Company in York, but the real power in the family name came from a generation further back. Gibb’s maternal grandfather was a Judge, and his paternal grandfather was also a lawyer, in his case a solicitor, whose real success was not directly related to his profession. George Gibb eventually rose to be Managing Director of the London Underground, and in time was knighted.

Given his background it is no surprise to learn that Gibb was privately educated, in his case at St Edward’s School in Oxford. In his last year at the school Gibb, a wicketkeeper batsman, topped the batting average on 45.00 and elicited the comment in the Wisden review of the Public School summer of 1931 that he should be heard of again in Yorkshire cricket.

Having left school at 18 after that 1931 summer Gibb then, perhaps surprisingly, became what amounted to a professional cricketer. His employer was the furniture magnate Sir Julien Cahn, and although on the face of matters Gibb, like a number of other cricketers, was employed in the business the reality was he was employed to play cricket for Sir Julien’s private eleven. In 1933 he played for Cahn with considerable success, including during a twenty match tour of North America. He scored heavily again in 1934 a summer when, soon after his twenty first birthday, he made his First Class debut when playing for Scotland against the touring Australians. Opening the batting with New Zealand Test batsman Stewie Dempster Gibb scored 7 and 9 as rain helped Scotland to emerge from the game with a draw.

In October 1934 Gibb left Cahn’s employ to go up to Cambridge University where he spent the next four years reading history. Out of his twelve terms at university overseas tours took Gibb away from Cambridge for four. In addition when he was able to be ‘in residence’ he won his blue in each of his four years, so it might be argued he did well to emerge with the pass degree that he did in 1938.

During 1935 Gibb’s form for Cambridge was patchy, and certainly would not have created any expectation of the sensational events of his Yorkshire debut, which came at Sheffield at the end of July. A place opened up for Gibb because Yorkshire had five men on Test duty. When, early on the second morning, Yorkshire slumped to 110-5 against a Nottinghamshire attack including Harold Larwood, Bill Voce and Harold Butler the locals cannot have been confident when an unknown amateur came to the crease to join Herbert Sutcliffe.

Put down early on life was a struggle for the debutant, but he fought hard and whilst he batted slowly he gradually established himself and he and Sutcliffe added 178 before Sutcliffe was dismissed. In doing so they passed their opponents first innings score. Soon after tea Gibb went to his century and received a standing ovation. No Yorkshire amateur had previously done so on their county debut. With, by then, a decent lead the previously circumspect Gibb threw off the shackles and added another fifty runs in half an hour before he ran out of partners. The unbeaten 157 would remain Gibb’s highest score for Yorkshire.

The first overseas tour that affected Gibb’s studies was with Yorkshire to Jamaica in 1936. Years earlier a Kent side had visited North America making this only the second occasion a county had undertaken a foreign tour. Virtually all the club’s professionals travelled but skipper Brian Sellers declined as did Norman Yardley. With no other amateur available Gibb ended up in the slightly incongruous position of, at 22 and after six matches for the county, leading a team of seasoned internationals.

Gibb was not a man who took easily to social situations and speech making and he did not enjoy his trip, or any personal success although he led the team competently enough. He would doubtless have gained rather more pleasure when well and truly in the ranks with a strong side that Lionel Tennyson took to India in 1937/38. Gibb kept wicket in four of the representative matches, but after a big hundred against Gujarat early in the tour he did not distinguish himself with the bat.

Yorkshire’s first choice wicketkeeper in the 1930s was Arthur Wood, and his continued good form meant limited opportunities in Yorkshire for Gibb in 1936 and 1937 and it was not until 1938 that his form took off. At Cambridge Gibb scored over a thousand runs and averaged 67.18 and contributed a century in the Varsity match. His wicketkeeping was not however as successful as his batting and, when Les Ames picked up an injury prior to the third Ashes Test of that summer. Gibb was perhaps a little fortunate to get the call. As matters turned out however he was to be a victim of the Old Trafford weather as the Test became the first ever to be abandoned without a ball being bowled.

By the time the side for the fourth Test was named Gibb was back at Yorkshire and was named in the squad again. He was thwarted once more however as he managed to duck into a bouncer from Jim Smith of Middlesex on a fiery pitch at Lord’s and the consequent head injury kept him out. To the extent that it was of any consolation he did at least play a part, as the only uncapped member of the team, in the side raised by HDG Leveson-Gower that defeated the Australians at the end of their tour (their first defeat other than at the hands of the full strength of England since 1921). He did sufficiently well with Yorkshire to be selected to tour South Africa in 1938/39 with the full England side. Walter Hammond led the side, and Gibb was chosen as Ames’ understudy.

In the early tour matches Gibb achieved little but, as a result of an injury to Len Hutton, he unexpectedly found himself opening the batting in the first Test. He might have been dismissed almost straight away, but a chance in the gully was first juggled and then dropped, and after that Gibb went on to 93, and then in the second innings added 106. It was not attractive stuff by any means and the match was a tame draw, but Gibb had done enough to keep his place for the remainder of the series.

In the second Test, another dreary draw, Gibb contributed a painstaking 58 after England suffered a couple of early shocks and, in the third Test, won by England by an innings, Gibb’s 38 out of England’s first 153 runs was the foundation on which the win was built.

It was during that third Test, in Durban, that Gibb managed to make the local press for reasons other than cricketing ones. A number of the members of the England side purchased some old cars to drive around in, a remarkable concept in itself. The first time Gibb drove his the brakes failed, and he ended up demolishing a fruit stall. The following day, the brakes presumably by now functioning, Gibb drove to the ground only to be greeted by a police officer insisting that he present himself at the local station given his inability to produce either driving licence or insurance certificate.To compound his offending Gibb assumed for some time, his often being the butt of practical jokes, that his teammates had set the whole thing up. Doubtless considerable diplomacy had to be displayed before the problem was resolved.

The fourth Test saw Gibb, at last, fail in the first innings and indeed when England began their second innings they were 134 adrift of South Africa. Fortunately for them the third day had been lost to the weather and two and a half hours of Gibb, for 45 runs, then ensured there was no alarm as the draw was secured on the fourth and final day. Nonetheless the series still alive the final Test was scheduled to be played to a finish although, famously, it was still drawn when, after ten days of play, the tourists had to call a halt or miss their voyage home. Whilst there were many timeless Tests played between the wars, it was this one that that has become known as The Timeless Test.

In the first innings Gibb failed, but the situation in the second was tailor made for him as England set off in search of 696 for victory. Gibb, nicknamed Gibbraltar by the South African crowd because of his rock like qualities, proceeded to take seven and a half hours to score 120 and set England off on a journey that ended with them on 654-5. The innings contained just two boundaries and, at the time, was the slowest century recorded by an Englishman in Tests.

The trip to South Africa marked the end of Gibb’s pre war cricket. In its 1939 Spring Annual The Cricketer announced that he would not be available for Yorkshire having taken up a teaching post at Hurstpierpoint College. Ordinarily that would have left the schoolmaster available from August but Gibb had decided to return to Cahn for the latter part of the season, and he did not play in a single First Class fixture in 1939. In his personal life Gibb married in October of 1939. His bride was the daughter of the Lord Mayor of York.

World War Two brought an end to Gibb’s teaching career, and he joined the RAF for the duration. Trained as a pilot Gibb spent his war in the cockpit of flying boats, mainly in Wales and Scotland. Demobbed in 1946 he did this time return to Yorkshire. By now he was 33 and had had little opportunity during the war to play very much cricket, but despite Wood still being on the Yorkshire staff, as well as Ken Fiddling, Gibb established himself as the county’s first choice until injury brought his season to a premature end in August.

The first post war summer in England saw India visit for a three match Test series. Gibbs was selected for the first Test and whilst the match is remembered for Alec Bedser’s bowling and Joe Hardstaff’s double century Gibb’s 60, compiled with his usual obduracy, was an important factor. He kept his place for the second Test although, after a couple of spilled chances in the dying moments of the match that enabled India to hang on for a draw he was dropped in favour of Godfrey Evans for the final Test. It was a case of gone but not forgotten however as both Evans and Gibb were included in the party that Hammond took to Australia that winter for the first post war Ashes series.

England’s aging side did not have a great deal of luck in 1946/47, and lost the series 3-0. Their captain was not the batsman he had been and, domestic troubles going on at home, remained distant from his team and was not the batting force he had been in the past. Gibb’s tour was as miserable as anyone’s and he eventually left for home when the main party went on to New Zealand.

Gibb had not hit form in the lead up to the first Test, his highest score at that point being only 37. It was his previous Test batting record and, perhaps, a degree of sentiment that played a part in his getting a place in the side for the first Test. The Australians won by an innings and 332 runs. Gibb kept poorly and, England getting caught on a rain affected pitch for both their innings, contributed only 13 and 11 with the bat. It was no surprise when he lost his place to Evans after that, and to compound his misery a finger injury and then an eye injury conspired to restrict his cricket to just three matches in the next three months as he waited for his early return home.

By now Gibb had been married for some years and had a young family so there was a pressing need to earn a living. He decided to join a men’s clothing company owned by his father-in-law. It was not a job to which Gibb was particularly suited, although he did his best to use the connections he had, securing a contract to supply the 1950/51 Ashes touring party with dinner suits. The problem he had was that he negotiated a deal at such a favourable rate to the MCC that his employers lost money on the deal.

At the end of the 1950 season Essex wicketkeeper Tom Wade retired. He had played for the county since 1929 and there was no replacement on the county’s staff. An offer was made to Gibb who, having at least given it his best shot, was keen to leave the rag trade behind and accepted, clearly not troubled by the archaic and, by today’s standards ludicrous, requirement that have switched from the ranks of Gentleman to the lesser status of a Player he had to resign his MCC membership.

As he had done previously Gibb soon found his feet after his long lay off, and doubtless took great satisfaction from his first century in Essex colours, against Yorkshire. He ended the season with more than 1,300 runs and four hundreds, and was a safe pair of hands behind the stumps.

There is no real statistical measure of the quality of a wicketkeeper. To the extent that the number of catches and stumpings he makes must be an indication then in 1952 and 1953 Gibb was certainly keeping as we’ll as he ever had given that by that measure in both summers he was the best in the country. In 1953, an Ashes year, he even won a place in the Test trial, so if Evans had been injured perhaps Gibb would have had a last hurrah in the Test arena.

A fractured cheekbone at the start of 1954 meant that Gibb missed a number of fixtures, so he was never going to top the wicketkeepers’ table for a third time although he regained his form when he did return. He then enjoyed a decent final season in 1955, albeit on a few occasions, the county having this time done some succession planning, he played alongside the man who followed him, Brian ‘Tonker’ Taylor. Gibb’s final season was 1956. He played half a dozen times for the first team, but dropped out of the side in June and spent the rest of his final summer in the second eleven.

Having left his playing career behind Gibb was disinclined to leave the game, and he spent the next ten years on the First Class umpires’ list. He travelled round the country with a caravan, which became a familiar sight in car parks on the county circuit. There were no Tests for Gibb to umpire. He was a sound umpire but controversial in one respect and, in reality a man ahead of his time. Back in those days umpires simply did not give a batsman out lbw if he took a stride down the pitch. Bucking the trend Gibb wasn’t averse to doing so on occasion, and as DRS has subsequently shown batsmen there is no reason at all why that shouldn’t be done.

Outside the game Gibb ‘enjoyed’, despite the slim physique, a considerable reputation as a trencherman. Stories abound of his eating huge amounts of food, not always on the basis of wagers. On one occasion he was challenged to eat twenty slabs of ice cream by Joe Hardstaff, and having achieved that consumed two more, just because he could. Fruit salads seem to figure in several such stories, and on another occasion huge quantities of strawberries, even though, presumably believing it to be cream, Gibb had first smothered them in mayonnaise.

At the end of the 1966 season Gibb stopped umpiring. He was having health problems and his marriage had broken down and he decided to move to South Africa where he did some coaching and umpiring as well as some writing for travel magazines. In time he returned and his first job back in England was at the prestigious Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. It proved not to be congenial employment for Gibb who struggled to find somewhere to park his caravan. He then moved on to what was to be his last employment, as a bus driver based in Guildford, and where he was able to leave the caravan in a nearby village, Shamley Green.

By now a very private man and something of a loner Gibb kept himself to himself, although his equable temperament made sure that he was well liked amongst his workmates. He didn’t dwell on past achievement and rarely discussed his cricket career although clearly some of his colleagues knew who he was as it was, apparently, they who persuade a reluctant Gibb to accept an invitation to attend the centenary Test in Melbourne in March 1977. Despite his misgivings and the fact that having taken to wearing a wig meant that many he knew failed to recognise him Gibb much enjoyed the reunion. Sadly though he died just nine months after his return, unexpectedly collapsing on a December morning as he clocked in for his day’s work.

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