Ten Thousand Wickets, But Only Ten TestsMartin Chandler |
Graeme Swann was fast approaching 30 when he made his Test debut for England in India in December 2008. He has never looked back and for some is now ranked as the finest English spin bowler who has ever graced the game. In this writer’s view that is probably a pedestal too far, at the moment, but there is no doubt that he is there or thereabouts, and that he is right up there with the likes of Jim Laker and Hedley Verity in the top half dozen or so.
Swann has 222 Test wickets now, and plenty of top batsmen amongst them, but when he set off on that tour of India, remarkably not yet even five years ago, his First Class record was a less than overwhelming 432 wickets at 32.90 after a decade in the game. It is a rather different situation than the one which faced four Gloucestershire spinners over the first half of the 20th century who, between them, took more than 10,000 First Class wickets, at less than 20 runs each, yet one of their number never played in a Test, two of them finished with but one cap each, and the last just eight.
The first in time was George Dennett, who made his debut for the county in 1903, when he was 24. He played on until he was 47, and took 2,151 wickets at 19.82 with his orthodox left arm slows. Dennett’s strength was a high arm action and a classical spinner’s loop, although he could still ally to that a steep bounce. He was also instantly recognisable, thanks to his habit of looking up at his bowling hand at the point he let the ball go, almost as if he was watching the ball out of his own hand.
There were some spectacular successes for Dennett, particularly in his early years with the County. In 1906 he became the first Gloucestershire bowler to take all ten wickets in an innings when he returned 10-40 against Essex. In the fashion of the times Dennett shared the new ball with a fast bowler, Fred Roberts. They bowled right through the innings, 19 overs each. They did so again in the second innings, and poor old Roberts toiled away for 30 overs this time, although at least Dennett shared the wickets with him, five each.
There were even more spectacular goings on in a match against Northamptonshire at Gloucester the following season. The home side batted first and were dismissed for 60. Again Gloucestershire used just two bowlers. Roberts had taken a well earned retirement, so Dennett opened up with Gilbert Jessop. The innings lasted only until the twelfth over. Jessop took 2-3 and Dennett 8-9 as Northants were dismissed for just 12. Dennett’s figures incuded a hat trick, which would have been four in four had not the wicketkeeper put down a catch. The wicket must have improved slightly as Gloucester got to 88 in their second innings, and Northants 40, with only seven down, but there were two men missing, so that was it, and Dennett had 7-12, and 15-21 for the match – had Northants had their full complement in the second innings then he might have had what would have remained for almost half a century the best ever figures in a First Class match, and he would to this day be tucked in, just behind Jim Laker, in second place in that particular table.
In that 1907 season Dennett took 201 wickets, with seven ten wicket match hauls, and 23 five-fors. Not surprisingly it was his best season, but there were still spectacular deeds to come, and in 1912, against Kent at Dover, he took six wickets without cost in 20 deliveries while taking 7-54. In the following season there were ten in a match six more times and, had it not been the one First Class season when a Wisden five were not selected, then surely he would have had at least that honour to show for his years in the game. As it was only Glamorgan’s Don Shepherd took more First Class wickets than Dennett without ever playing a Test. The Great War affected his chances of course, but he did play on for six full seasons after the armistice, but although his wickets were only a little more expensive than before the war, he was not nearly so prolific.
Why did Dennett never play for England? The answer is, realistically, just bad luck. Gloucestershire were not amongst the so-called ‘Big Six” of the County game but the shire of The Graces, Gilbert Jessop and Wally Hammond was more likely to attract the selectors’ attention than some. In truth the reason is simply that he couldn’t bowl quite as well as Charlie Blythe, or bat anything like as well as Frank Woolley or Wilfred Rhodes, so was never in pole position. In addition there simply weren’t so many Tests played in those days, and those that were usually involved Australia, and there was very little experimentation against them.
Charlie Parker became a regular member of the Gloucestershire side in 1908, by which time he was 25 years old. In those days, and in the remaining seasons before the Great War he bowled at something above medium pace, relying on swing to get his wickets. He could rarely be absolutely sure of his place in the side and his haul of wickets was generally modest, albeit relatively inexpensive. Dennett was of course the side’s leading bowler and he encouraged the young Parker to persist with his quicker style.
The first post-war season of 1919 was the only time that County Championship matches were restricted to two days each. Parker was back on the Gloucestershire staff but Dennett, still with the army in India, was not. So Parker reduced his pace and used spin rather swing to take his wickets and had his best season yet, falling only just short of one hundred for the season. He did not go back to his faster style, although he was certainly more from the Derek Underwood school of spin bowling than that of Bishen Bedi, or even George Dennett.
Parker’s improvement was rapid and in 1921 he took 164 wickets at 17.64. On seven occasions he took 10 wickets in a match, on 19 five in an innings including matching Dennett’s 1906 achievement of all ten, when he had figures of 10-79 against Somerset, by way of celebration for winning his first, and as it turned out last, Test cap the previous week. In that summer dominated by Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald’s thunderbolts England had lost each of the first three Tests by a distance before, with a side that had just three survivors from the first Test, an honourable draw was salvaged from the fourth. Parker certainly didn’t let England down, as he bowled 28 ecomonical overs, conceding just 32 and taking the wickets of Charlie Macartney and ‘Nip’ Pellew.
In the coming years Parker got better and better, five times taking more than 200 wickets for the season and it was as late as 1932, by which time he was pushing 50, that his powers finally started to wane. Even then he carried on for three more seasons, and even in his last, 1935, took his hundred wickets for a career total of 3,278 at 19.46 – bearing in mind that all but 467 of those came after his 36th birthday it is a remarkable career.
Why was there only the one Test cap? First it is necessary to know a little of Parker the man. He had little in the way of formal education, but was nonetheless an intelligent man. He taught himself much and was a voracious reader. After twice being rejected by the Army he served in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps and like many intelligent men was deeply affected by what he saw in the Great War, and while he was not and did not ever become a communist, he was certainly a student of and admirer of the Russian revolution. So tugging his forelock and fawning over the amateurs was not Parker’s way, and despite his fellow professionals all having the greatest of respect for him, and a number of the more enlightened amateurs as well, his card was marked.
One of the men who did not like Parker was Plum Warner, and Warner was on the selection panel in 1926 for the next northern hemisphere Ashes series. It is difficult to imagine that the obsequious Warner would have approved of Parker, and he could be vindictive to those he did not like. Parker certainly did not have much respect for Plum, but one does wonder whether Warner’s fellow selector Arthur Gilligan, a member of the British Fascists, might not have been just as anatagonistic towards the prickly left arm spinner.
Whatever the reality was Parker had an excellent season in 1926, and was called into the England squad for the third Test at Headingley. Legend has it that the day of the match dawned with perfect conditions for Parker, only for the selectors to leave him out in favour of local man George Macaulay. The great Australian left-hander Warren Bardsley was cock-a-hoop on hearing the news and could barely contain his glee as he hurried back to the visitor’s dressing room. Future England captain Bob Wyatt described it as …the most extraordinary decision in Test history. Warner tried, certainly unsuccessfully as far as Parker was concerned, to lay the blame on England skipper Arthur Carr, saying he had exactly the team he wanted.
To add to Parker’s resentment he stayed in the squad for the fourth Test but was left out of the side again, this time in favour of Greville Stevens. The name of the Middlesex amateur barely registers today with anyone who has only a passing interest in the cricket of the inter-war period, but he was a very good leg spinning all-rounder, albeit not in the same class as Parker as a bowler. An orthodox slow left armer was selected for the final Test at the Oval, when the Ashes were famously regained under the leadership of Percy Chapman. That man was Wilfred Rhodes, then 48. Parker could live with that decision though – he had the utmost respect for the Yorkshireman.
It was later in 1926 that Parker and Warner had their famous clash in a hotel lift following the annual dinner of the Gloucestershire Club at which the latter had been an honoured guest. After the evening concluded it was the suggestion that Parker should give way to Warner to allow Plum the use of the lift first that caused Parker’s temper to boil over. He took hold of Warner by his lapels and accused him of blocking his England career. He let go eventually, but not before the blood had drained from Warner’s face and the very real impression that blows would follow had been given to those in the vicinity.
Although it might have been expected that there would be no way back for Parker after that incident he was in fact called up once more, by an entirely different selection panel, for the final Test of the 1930 Ashes series. There were two distinct parallels with four years previously. Again the match was to decide the series, and as with Rhodes a left arm spinner in his late forties was called up out of the blue. But there was to be no repeat. Parker was left out on the morning of the match, Bradman scored 232 and Australia won by an innings. The England captain this time was Wyatt. As his comments on the 1926 Headingley Test implied Wyatt was a great admirer of Parker, but he felt he had a tendency to react badly when batsmen attacked him, and he no doubt felt that if anyone could knock him off his length it would be Bradman. Despite the outcome of the match Wyatt always maintained that in leaving Parker out he had made the correct call.
In the fourth Test of the series Tom Goddard had made his debut for England, and it had turned out very like Parker’s had done almost a decade before. The 29 year old off spinner had bowled very well in the Australian first innings to keep their free-scoring batsmen in check. His 32 overs had cost just 49 runs, and he had a couple of wickets to show for his efforts as well, but the rain came, the match petered out and the selectors picked an extra batsman for that final Test, which England needed only to draw.
Goddard was, in terms of international recognition, the most successful of this quartet, although a mere eight caps is scant reward for a man who took 2,979 wickets at 19.84, all the more impressive when it is borne in mind that all but 153 of them were taken after his 28th birthday. Like Parker he started off as a seamer before, after taking just 26 expensive wickets in 1927, he decided that his career was going nowhere at Gloucestershire so he left and joined the Lord’s groundstaff. With much more opportunity to practice his off spin Goddard made rapid strides and when his former skipper Beverley Lyon saw the bowler he had become he quickly persuaded Gloucestershire to take him back on in 1929. Goddard took more wickets, 184, in 1929 than he had in those six seasons of seam, and he paid just 16.38 runs each for them.
A tall man, around 6’3”, the recurring observation amongst those who knew Goddard concerned the size of his hands and the length of his fingers. He was a big spinner of the ball and was a master of subtle changes of pace and flight. Many of his wickets came when bowling round the wicket, to catches in the leg trap. It should be borne in mind in considering Goddard that until the LBW law changed in 1935 he could not get a decision unless the ball pitched in line. This also in part explains his limited Test career – off spin and inswing seldom got a look in before the Second World War.
To return briefly to 1930, after their experiences at the hands of the selection panel that summer both Goddard and Parker had something to prove to the selectors, and a week after the final Test the tourists came to Bristol. No county downed the Australians between the wars, and indeed it wasn’t until Ian Johnson’s men were “Lakered” by Surrey in 1956 that one did, but Gloucestershire in 1930 came closest of all, the match ending in a tie. There were ten wickets for Parker, and seven for Goddard.
In 1931 Parker was in his 49th year but he still took 219 wickets at a cost of just 14.26 each. He was clearly too old by then for England, and in any event Hedley Verity, probably the greatest ever exponent of orthodox left arm spin emerged that year, but Parker continued to support Goddard and take his hundred wickets each season until he retired in 1935.
For Goddard the seasons up to 1937 were not quite as outstanding as 1929 but he did take 200 wickets in 1935 and, two years later there were 248 victims for him all told, including 13 ten wicket match hauls and 32 five-fors. He got back into the England side for the second Test against New Zealand, and whilst he went wicketless in the tourists’ first innings a matchwinning 6-29 in the second meant that he held his place for the third and final Test.
Unsurprisingly Goddard was chosen as one of Wisden’s cricketers of the year in 1938 and he must have been confident of taking his place against the Australians that summer, particularly given that Hammond was the new England captain. Sadly for Goddard however he broke his thumb at the end of May, and missed the first two Tests. He was back for the third, but never took the field as the match was abandoned without the teams leaving the pavilion. For the fourth Test England decided to partner Verity with a leg spinner, Doug Wright, and with an extra batsman selected for the timeless finale at the Oval that was it for another Ashes season.
The following winter Goddard toured South Africa and played in three of the Tests, probably doing well to be left out of the dreary timeless finale that had to be left drawn at the close of the tenth day of play. Two more Tests against the visiting West Indies in the last pre-war summer brought the curtain down on Goddard’s Test career. In his eight matches he had taken 22 wickets at 26.72, which is nothing remarkable, but it is worth bearing in mind that Swann’s average is currently 28.50.
Already 45 by the time First Class county cricket began again in 1946 it might have been expected that Goddard’s best days were behind him. In fact there is a strong argument for saying they were still to come. There had been one better season’s haul than the 238 wickets that Goddard took in 1947, and on three occasions he had paid less than 17.30 runs his wickets cost that summer, but 1947 was beyond question a batsman’s season. It is best remembered for the remarkable scoring feats of Denis Compton and Bill Edrich, but they were not the only men to enjoy wielding the willow by any means. In his feature County Points Dave Wilson carried out an exercise in comparing all players contributions to selected English summers, and for 1947 Goddard came out of that exercise above even the “Middlesex twins”, and it wasn’t even close!
In 1946, then 24, the last of this quartet, Cecil “Sam” Cook, made his debut for Gloucestershire, taking a wicket with his very first delivery. He was the only one of the four whose career average was to exceed 20, but not by much, the 1,782 wickets that he took over the next 19 summers costing him 20.32 runs each. Just over two months into his career Cook found himself playing in a Test trial, and although he did not make his international bow against that season’s Indian tourists, he did make his Test debut the following year, against South Africa at Trent Bridge. Goddard advised him to find an injury to prevent him from playing, such were his worries about the featherbed that he feared Cook would encounter, and his concerns turned out to be well founded, 30 wicketless overs at a cost of 127 being the extent of Cook’s contribution to what proved to be his only Test.
After that disappointing start the selectors went back to Wright to turn the ball away from the right hander and when, later in the series, they decided to go back to an orthodox slow left arm option they tried Jack Young of Middlesex, and then Dick Howorth of Worcestershire. With the emergence too of Johnny Wardle, and later still Tony Lock it is perhaps not surprising that there was never a place for Cook again. As a bowler he was known for his steadiness. He conceded barely two runs per over over the course of his career, and relied on subtle variations of pace and flight rather than prodigious spin, and was not therefore a particularly attacking option.
As Parker had before the war Cook proved an excellent foil for Goddard through the late 1940s and indeed it was 1951, by which time he had turned 50, that bouts of pleurisy and pneumonia meant that Goddard’s effectiveness was seriously undermined, and at the end of the following season he decide to retire. Gloucestershire had as many as three young quality off spinners in John Mortimore, David Allen and Bomber Wells. In due course Mortimore was capped 9 times and Allen played in as many as 39 Tests. Both were useful batsmen as well. Many thought Bomber the best bowler of the three, and certainly he was a truly great character, but he never played for England, and eventually moved on to Nottinghamshire.
All three of the younger men partnered Cook at various times and he was a consistent performer year in year out. His best season was 1956, when he was fourth in the national averages with 149 wickets at just 14.16. In 1962 he finished top of the pile, but it was a restricted season for him, a couple of bouts of injury restricting his bag of wickets to just 58, although he paid only 17.13 runs for each of them. Two years later he wasn’t the player he had been and although, at not even 43, he was still a young man if compared to his predecessors, he decided that he had reached the end of the road. He went back to the plumbing trade that he had originally trained for after leaving school and, for 22 more summers, he stood as a First Class umpire.
With Cook’s retirement the span of the four man chain who had carried Gloucestershire’s spin attack came to an end after more than 60 years. Not surprisingly they are the four leading wicket takers in the County’s history and, given the way the game is now played, will remain so in perpetuity.