Then Came A CloudMartin Chandler |
Author: Keddie, John
Publisher: JWK Books
Rating: 3.5 stars
It is not very often that the publication of a biographical work concerning a First Class cricketer gets under my radar. It is rarer still when the player concerned played for Lancashire, yet that is what happened with this life of Kenneth MacLeod. The book is privately published, and not necessarily aimed at an exclusively cricketing audience, which is my explanation for why it has hidden its light under the proverbial bushel. Having eventually managed to track a down a copy of the book it certainly deserves greater exposure than it has so far had.
The first question is the obvious one. Who was Kenneth MacLeod? Few will know without looking him up and I must confess that, whilst I did eventually recall reading a little about him in the past, my own initial reaction was along ‘Who on earth was he?’ lines.
The answer is that MacLeod played for Lancashire in four English summers prior to the Great War. He went up to Cambridge and eventually emerged with a Degree in Law. It must have been close as the Degree was unclassified, but then as he succeeded in becoming a triple blue MacLeod had many honourable distractions with which to justify his failure to devote all his time to his studies.
A Scot, and one who was fiercely proud of that fact, MacLeod was also an amateur, able to play because his father founded a tobacco business in Edinburgh which thrived and led to offices in London and Liverpool. The latter was where MacLeod ended up thus creating the connection with the Red Rose.
One of three brothers who all excelled at Rugby Union MacLeod came close to being capped by Scotland whilst still at school, and as it was he made his international debut when still not 18. He was a powerful centre and played for his country on ten occasions before, at just 20, he retired from the game in 1908. He had not yet finished at Cambridge, but unsurprisingly had earned his blue. His middle brother Lewis, like MacLeod a fine Rugby player, had died after an appendectomy the previous year and it seems their father held the sport partly to blame and prevailed upon his youngest son to give up the game.
The second sport at which the young MacLeod excelled, and won a blue, was athletics. His events were the sprints, the long jump and the high jump. This was another sport the 20 year old MacLeod retired from. We know he was a good enough athlete to get his blue, but it is difficult for Keddie to make a true assessment of his talents as it seems MacLeod was not very enthusiastic where training was concerned, and for that reason had not come close to fulfilling his true potential.
In 1908 and 1909, after two years in which he played little cricket, MacLeod played for the University in the first half of the summer and Lancashire in the second. He didn’t play at all in 1910 nor, after a full season in 1911, did he play in 1912. In 1913 MacLeod appeared in more than half the county’s matches, but after that a single appearance for the Free Foresters against his old university in 1914 apart his First Class career was over at the age of 26.
Where his cricket was concerned MacLeod was an all-rounder, primarily a hard hitting lower order batsman, but an average of 23 for a man who scored six centuries, including one in a Roses match, seems to confirm he could be a little impetuous at times. He was also a useful if irregular bowler who paid a respectable 26.67 each for the 103 wickets he took in his 94 match career. As befits a sprinter he was a pace bowler and also, in an era when such were relatively uncommon, an outstanding fielder.
Outside the game MacLeod worked in the family business which continued to be successful. In common with so many of his generation he fought in the Great War. His surviving brother lost his life on the Western Front. MacLeod was more fortunate. He was a casualty as well, but at least he survived, shrapnel wounds to his left arm ending his war in 1915.
Sadly for MacLeod the losses of his two brothers were by no means the only tragedies in his life. In 1916 his first wife died a few months after giving birth to their first child. He married for a second time, a union which produced a daughter and a second son, and then divorced in 1935. There was a third marriage before MacLeod was widowed for a second time, an episode that seems to have been at least in part the catalyst for his emigration to South Africa in 1937. In South Africa he played enough golf to get a handicap of just a single stroke and to win the South African Seniors Tournament. Soon after his arrival MacLeod married for a fourth time and after a long marriage was to be widowed yet again. In 1965 he married for a fifth and final time before, after fighting ill health for some time, he died two years later at the age of 79.
It is against that background that Then Came A Cloud is not a purely cricketing biography. A single chapter of 22 pages and a couple of pages of statistics are all that is devoted exclusively to the game. Keddie’s purpose in writing the book is to put forward his belief that his man is Scotland’s leading all-round sportsman. He argues his case very well, and he clearly believes that MacLeod was a better all-rounder even than his much better known Oxford counterpart CB Fry. He has a point there too.
Privately published books have, understandably, a tendency to lack polish. Then Came A Cloud is the exception that proves the rule. I saw no typographical errors and no mistakes. Importantly the book is well written, and has a decent selection of photographs and a useful statistical appendix covering all three sports. It is not Keddie’s first book, which doubtless helped, and equally importantly he was able to look to two of MacLeod’s children for assistance, as well as a detailed scrapbook kept by his mother. Both the MacLeod children died in the 1990s, so the book has had a gestation period of at least twenty years. It was well worth the wait.