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Cricketers Should Be Seen, But Not Heard

Cricketers Should Be Seen, But Not Heard

Cricket is a game which, more than any other perhaps, lends itself to the making of a “personality”. A cricketer’s personality peeps out at all sorts of odd moments. He may be batting, bowling or fielding when the crowd notices some little trick, some trifling habit peculiar to himself, which becomes lastingly associated with the player and which the crowd expects from the player on every subsequent occasion when he is on the green.

These little mannerisms, trickeries, peculiarities, what you will, never become stale. Years after the player has ceased active participation in the game people will recall to his peculiar “antic”.

In this respect no player in the history of the grand summer game has so indelibly stamped himself with a hallmark as Cecil Parkin, the idol of the Lancashire crowds and the delight of cricket lovers almost anywhere.

Those are the opening words from the souvenir brochure issued to mark “Ciss” Parkin’s benefit season in 1925. With the shortening of playing careers, and the increased movement of players between counties, there are not so many benefits now as there once were. Increasingly after the Second World War beneficaries have tended to issue some sort of booklet, and it has become usual in modern times for benefit brochures to be lavish, glossy publications running to up to 100 pages and occasionally more. In Parkin’s time the 10 years service needed to obtain a benefit was almost obligatory. Despite that his came after just three. The issue of a 32 page brochure was exceptional as well. No Lancastrian had ever had one before, and only a handful of county cricketers anywhere had. As far as I am aware only one as ambitious as Parkin’s had ever been available*. Given that the reason for this was, presumably, doubts about selling enough copies to make the exercise worthwhile, and you have a clue as to just how popular Parkin was, particulary as his benefit made over one thousand pounds, a handsome sum in those days. The fact that four years after Parkin the great Australian Ted MacDonald, a Lancashire legend whose 720 wickets at 21 in four full seasons with the county had been the major factor in a hat-trick of Championship titles, did not think the investment in a brochure worthwhile, is another indication of the Lancashire public’s respect for Parkin.

A remarkable feature of Parkin’s career is just how little First Class cricket he actually played. He lost four seasons to the Great War of course, but nine of his ten Test caps came before he was a full time county cricketer, and he was only that for four seasons, and didn’t start them until he was 36. His First Class debut had been for Yorkshire in 1906. The trouble was that Parkin wasn’t, by a few yards, a true Yorkshireman, as he came from a village near Yarm in County Durham. He had been playing as a professional for Ossett, a small village in West Yorkshire. His performance in that single game was modest, and doubtless that was the reason why the autocratic Lord Hawke, ironically himself born beyond the boundaries of the Broad Acres, who given his own way would have chosen to ignore those few yards, chose to let Parkin go once the MCC became involved.

For Parkin the end of Yorkshire’s interest was of no great concern. At the end of the day he could earn considerably more money in the leagues coupled with appearances for Durham in the Minor Counties Championship. Eventually, in 1910, he accepted a contract with Church in the Lancashire League which was to last for five years. His prolific wicket-taking eventually brought him to the attention of Old Trafford and he was invited to appear for Lancashire against Leicestershire in a mid-week match in July 1914. Whilst the visitors were one of the weaker sides in the Championship a debut haul of 14-99 was still spectacular and whenever he was available Parkin was invited back.

By the time the 1919 season began Parkin was already 33 and decided to carry on as he had in 1914 and fulfill a league committment, and fit in those mid-week Lancashire matches for which he was available. Before the war Parkin had always played things pretty safe and had largely stuck to bowling fast medium swing and seam. He had however always wanted to bowl spin as well and in order to perfect his technique he had spent many hours bowling to his long-suffering wife who, as a result suffered many times from bruised fingers as her husband’s deliveries beat her defensive pushes. By 1919 Parkin had the confidence to try out his full repertoire.

Parkin’s second Championship appearance of the 1919 season was the Roses match at Old Trafford. One of his teammates in that game was a young leg spinner Charles “Father” Marriott. There were to be only occasional games for Lancashire for Marriott before his teaching career took him to Kent and, his availability restricted by his duties as a schoolmaster, his 20 year career comprised just 159 games. He is perhaps best known for his single Test appearance in 1933 against West Indies, when he took eleven wickets. As a bowler he was highly regarded, but he was a poor batsman and fielder hence his limited international career. Following his death his acclaimed book The Complete Leg Break Bowler appeared and in that he wrote about that Roses game:-

When Yorkshire went in, Parkin embarked upon a performance I shall never forget. He took 14 wickets in the match. He bowled every variety of ball from fast medium away swingers to the highest of slow full tosses; he swung it both ways, he spun like a top, producing out of the hat leg break, off break, top spinner and googly, with an occasional straight ball for good measure. In Yorkshire’s first innings he was comparatively serious, content with making an occasional laugh, and a general expectation of things to come. But when they batted the second time needing 294 to win, he flung off all restraint. Had it been possible he would have bowled more than six types of delivery per over. In his continual startling variations of pace he actually gave the illusion, at the end of one over, of having brought his right handover empty and serving up a lob with his left. In another, he played the farcical trick when he suddenly stopped dead three yards behind the bowling crease and delivered a high, slow donkey-drop which, of all people, foxed out George Hirst. He even did Learie Constantine’s famous juggling turn when the next wicket fell, throwing the ball high over his head and catching it one-handed behind his back without looking.

In between his obligations to Rochdale in the Central Lancashire League Parkin found time for just four County Championship fixtures in 1919, and five the following season, but it was still enough, coupled with 9-85 for the Players in the Gentlemens’ first innings at the Oval in June 1920, for him to be invited to join the England party that travelled to Australia for the first post-war contest in the winter of 1920/21. England were whitewashed in the five Tests, and comfortably so. Their leading wicket taker was Parkin, with 16 at just over 41 runs each. Only Percy Fender headed Parkin in the averages. In a disastrous campaign Parkin had done pretty well and, as he always pointed out, he was much less effective than he might have been had skipper Johnny Douglas not insisted that he keep to a strict off stump line and set his field accordingly. This effectively prevented him from bowling what he always referred to as his “dolly mixtures”

For 1921 Parkin was still with Rochdale but he played in all but the first Test of that summer’s return series with Australia. He could do nothing to stop Australia adding two more thumping victories in the second and third Tests to the one they had achieved in the first but, by the time England were able to regroup under Lionel Tennyson for the fourth match it was largely down to Parkin’s 5-38 that, after rain ruined the match by washing out the first day, Australia were dismissed for 175 and England secured a large first innings lead before the game petered out into a draw. There was enough time left at the end of the game for Parkin to give the spectators some entertainment with the bat as he followed his county colleague Dick Barlow in becoming only the second man to open the batting and bowling in the same Test.

For the 1922 season, aged 36, Parkin at last signed a contract to play full time for Lancashire his release by Rochdale having been sought by the county and not opposed by the club. He took 189 wickets at 17.46 over the season and the following year it was 209 at just 16.95. His best season of all was 1924 when he took exactly 200 wickets at only 13.67 runs each, but overall it marked the beginning of the end for Parkin as he became embroiled in a controversy which ended his Test career and led to an increasing disenchantment with the First Class game generally.

At the time the England team for the first Test against South Africa in 1924 was chosen Parkin was the leading bowler in the country. Taking into account his performances in the last two Ashes series it came as no surprise when, despite by now being 38, he was chosen for the first Test. Arthur Gilligan lost the toss but South Africa put England in and had to watch the home side score 438 before their innings closed just before half way through the morning session on day two. Some would have been surprised that Gilligan chose himself in front of Parkin to open the bowling with Maurice Tate. That it was the right decision cannot, with the benefit of hindsight, be doubted as South Africa were skittled out for just 30 by the two Sussex men. Even at the time it was difficult to criticise the decision. As Parkin himself readily accepted the wicket was harder than he would have liked, and as county colleagues Gilligan and Tate worked well together. South Africa did better in their second innings scoring 390 before eventually succumbing when in sight of making England bat again. Parkin took 0-38 in 16 overs – all the wickets that fell to bowlers were again taken by Gilligan and Tate.

At this point in his career Parkin lent his name to a weekly newspaper column. His explanation for what happened next is that while he normally wrote his own copy on this occasion he did not have time and asked a journalist friend to write the article for him. When it appeared the headline was Cecil Parkin refuses to play for England again. The body of the article was critical of Gilligan’s handling of his bowling resources in the Test. Parkin maintained in his autobiography that was published a decade later that he had no idea what his “friend” was writing and that it in no way reflected his own views. He proffered an apology to Gilligan, which was accepted in good part by the recipient, but he never played for England again.

As his performances in 1924 demonstrated Parkin was still a fine bowler and had his article not been published he would in all probability have gone with Gilligan’s party to Australia for the 1924/25 Ashes. As it was he stayed in England and continued to write his column at one stage making the point that if a sufficiently good amateur could not be found for the captaincy of England that a professional such as Jack Hobbs should get the job. In the 1920s this seemingly perfectly reasonable remark was looked upon by the cricketing establishment as amounting to blasphemy and it led directly to Lord Hawke making his famous Pray God may no professional ever captain England. The furore reignited the issues raised by the previous article and in 1925, his benefit season, Parkin was falling out of love with the game. He did well enough in 1925, capturing 152 wickets at 19.30, but as noted that was some way down on his best and after 14 games of the 1926 season he sought, and was granted, a release from his contract. Parkin went back to the leagues and although he continued to play professional cricket until 1935, by which time he was 49, he never played another First Class match.

So that is the end of the tale of Ciss Parkin as far as his cricket is concerned, but it would be wrong to leave his story there without looking a little more at the way he played the game and which inspired the editor of his benefit brochure to write of him in the terms in which he did. Parkin was, doubtless as a result of his days in the leagues when the player who scored 50 or took five wickets was entitled to a collection, acutely aware of the need to keep the paying public entertained. I dare say there was, as well, a more sinister motive to some of his antics as they doubtless helped to unsettle opponents or disturb their concentration.

One of Parkin’s best known eccentricities was to sing popular show songs as he walked back to his mark. Another was his juggling activities with the ball and, often as a prelude to that, his ability to get the ball into his hand with his boot without bending down to pick it up. There is a ball in the Old Trafford museum that he used for one of his great bowling feats which is apparently covered in marks made by his studs when pulling that particular stunt. I first read that story years ago. On re-reading it now I really must go and look at that ball some time – I find myself wondering if there are a preponderance of marks on one side of the ball, and whether Ciss Parkin had worked out the secret of reverse swing long before recent generations supposedly invented it.

One of the more often quoted Parkin anecdotes relates to his batting rather than his bowling, and comes from a County Championship match between Lancashire and Middlesex in 1923. Parkin and Dick Tyldesley, a rotund leg spinner, were adding some useful lower order runs together when Parkin called Tyldesley for a sharp single. Tyldesley roared “No” but Parkin kept going and both batsmen ended up at the same end. All “Young Jack” Hearne had to do was walk up to the stumps and take the bails off but he got caught up in the general panic and took a shy at the stumps, missed, and conceded four overthrows. A delighted Parkin promptly put his bat on his shoulder in the manner of a rifleman and proceeded to walk back to his crease singing The British Grenadiers – those watching from the Committee Room were said to be horrified by this display of levity. Parkin was no scholar but he did once have a poem, or more precisely a limerick, published in a cricketing anthology and which one suspects might have been inspired by that incident at Lord’s;

A bowler there was, name of Parkin,
Who had too much liking for larkin’,
He made people stare,
And provoked a Lord’s prayer,
And set all the little dogs barkin’.

In later life Parkin was the avuncular host and licensee at a Manchester Hotel, but he rapidly put on weight after giving up the game and died at the relatively early age of 57 in 1943. He was cremated and his Ashes scattered on the wicket at Old Trafford, the scene of so much of his success.

Whilst writing about any Lancashire player from the first half of the 20th century it would be akin to sacrilege not to quote anything from the pen of Neville Cardus, so I will conclude with his description of Parkin bowling; … he walked back to his mark erect as a Grenadier, head tossed back jauntily, his black hair gleaming in the sun, elbows up – the image all over of snapdragon, angular alacrity. He turns suddenly on his heels, eagar to attack. Down dips his head gracefully; then he runs in a lovely rhythmical curve to the wicket; his arms describe a wide cartwheel circle; the ball fizzes from his long, supple fingers – and we behold the finest breakback of modern cricket as it uproots a stump. Or maybe the spinning ball thuds against obstructing pads, whereat we hear for a certainty the most spirited and resonant appeal of the modern game – an appeal which is as much a statement of fact as it is a request for information

*Arthur Morton of Derbyshire – oddly neither a big name player, nor a man from one of the “Big Six” First Class counties

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