Cyril Walters – A Lost TalentMartin Chandler |
There is a well known phrase that casts doubt on the value of statistics but, generally, for cricketing purposes at least, they tend to tell the truth. By way of example is the question of who are the best opening batsman to have played Test cricket for England. Leaving aside the claims of WG Grace, who came to Test cricket too late in life for his figures to be a proper reflection of his pre-eminence, then the table of averages will tell you the answer is from the interwar period Jack Hobbs (56.94) and Herbert Sutcliffe (60.73), Len Hutton from the next generation (56.67), another Yorkshireman, Geoffrey Boycott (47.72). Despite occasional travails Dennis Amiss averaged 46.30 and only then do we have Alistair Cook (45.35). Parameters exist in that table for a good reason, but stretch them just a little and a name appears at 52.26. History has largely forgotten Cyril Walters, but he played in 11 Tests, five against Australia and three against West Indies at home, as well as England’s first three Tests on the sub-continent.
In his first Test against Australia Walters led England, although in fact he wasn’t English at all. He was born in Bedlinog in Glamorgan, and learnt his cricket at Neath Grammar School, coincidentally also the alma mater of the second Welshman to captain England, Tony Lewis. As a 17 year old schoolboy in 1923 Walters was fast tracked into a Glamorgan side that was competing in the County Championship for just the third time. He made seven appearances altogether, but an average of 14.90 showed he was not quite ready for the step up. He played almost a full season the following summer, but went backwards averaging just 11.91. Any forward progress in 1925 was imperceptible, another full season seeing that average rise only marginally to 12.41. Wisden’s summariser for the most recent addition to the County Championship had not yet bothered to mention Walters.
In the circumstances it was perhaps not surprising that the young amateur decided to concentrate on developing his career as an architect and surveyor, and was therefore available for only eleven of Glamorgan’s fixtures in 1926. His form was nonetheless much improved as he averaged 34.70, and recorded centuries against Warwickshire and Leicestershire. The following year he was only available to the end of May, and his average fell to 24.85. He played through most of June and early July in 1928 and his form was woeful, that average slipping to a mere 9.33. Something however rekindled his cricketing ambitions, or if not that something put him off his property work, as after that barren period he announced that he was going to join Worcestershire as their secretary, a position which would, once he had acquired a residential qualification, allow him to play for the county as an amateur.
As the image of Walters that accompanies this feature demonstrates he could only ever have been an amateur. He closely resembles the matinee idols of his time with the dashing good lucks, jet black immaculately groomed hair and the scarf or cravat and blazer regular fixtures when he was not on the pitch. He batted like a throwback to the golden age of amateur batsmanship as well. Even if at Glamorgan it was a case of rather more elegance than substance he was always a stylish and fast scoring batsman. He was particular strong off his legs, and signature shots were a flowing off drive and a leg glance in the style of Ranjitsinhji.
History seems not to record what Walters spent his summer of 1929 doing. We know he played just one First Class match, for Wales against MCC at Lord’s in late August. He didn’t make many runs, but saw enough of his teammate Sydney Barnes, then aged 56, to maintain for the rest of his days that he was the best bowler he had ever seen – and this was a man who faced Harold Larwood, Tiger O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett. What he did do, unsurprisingly given his playing record at Glamorgan, was to make the decision to start again with his batting, and play as he wanted to rather than the way the coaches wanted him to play.
The effect was immediate, if in statistical terms unremarkable. In his first summer as a Worcestershire player, 1930, Walters made 1,000 runs and averaged a respectable 27.84. His figures the next summer, when he assumed the captaincy, were much the same, but good enough to earn an invitation to tour the West Indies with a side raised by Hampshire skipper Lionel Tennyson. After that he seemed to add some consistency to his batting, as whilst 1932 saw him reach his century only once, as he had done in each of the two previous summers, he raised his aggregate by more than 500 runs and his average was up to 34.54.
Walters seems not to have been considered for selection for the ‘Bodyline’ tour that followed that 1932 summer but in 1933 his form was such that the selectors, unfashionable county notwithstanding, simply could not ignore him. He began with a century against Nottinghamshire in his very first innings of the season and never looked back. By the time of the first Test, against the second West Indian touring side, he had added what was to remain the highest score of his career, 226 against Kent, another century and four fifties. He was selected to open the innings with Herbert Sutcliffe.
The first day of Walters’ debut was marred by rain, only 45 minutes play proving possible after Douglas Jardine won the toss and chose to bat. At the end of that time England were 43-0 with Walters on 21, The Cricketer observing that he seemed far more confident than Sutcliffe. On the Monday Walters started well with Walter Hammond but having raised the hundred both were quickly out and England were dismissed for 296. Only Les Ames, with an unbeaten 83, made more than the 51 Walters scored. The bowlers then dismissed West Indies twice in short order for England to win by an innings.
The second Test at Old Trafford was altogether a more competitive affair. Unlike for the first Test the West Indians were able to secure the release of their pace bowling all-rounder Learie Constantine from his League commitments. The result was an opportunity for West Indies to give England a taste of the fast leg theory they had inflicted on Australia the previous winter. The game began with a much improved batting performance from the visitors who, thanks to centuries from Ivan Barrow and George Headley, reached 375. Eventually England got within a single run of them, but only after Douglas Jardine scored his only Test century.
At the start of the England innings Second Slip of The Cricketer was content to glory in the attractive batting of Walters, as Sutcliffe’s new partner made 46. The game ended in a draw before the visitors, once again without Constantine, failed once more to make England, this time without Jardine, bat twice at the Oval. There was a rare Walters failure as well. He scored only two, dismissed in the first over of the match. Despite that his season was a remarkable one as he ended up with 2,404 runs at 50.08. Prior to 1933 he had scored five centuries in ten years. That summer alone there were nine, for many years a Worcestershire record.
Prior to the final Test Walters had already accepted an invitation from MCC to tour India the following winter for what would prove to be Jardine’s last Test series. The party was not a full strength one. In addition to their captain only Hedley Verity had been in Australia the previous winter, but there were plenty of good players selected for the first Test series to be played on the sub-continent. As Jardine’s vice-captain Walters had to get to know the Iron Duke, a man to whom he was very different and by all accounts he did not particularly warm to him.
The main difference between the two men was that Walters, albeit as firm in his resolve and determination as Jardine to play sport at the highest level, was also a great believer in good manners. He would have struggled with the brusqueness that Jardine often showed, and in an interview in the autumn of his years with David Frith told him of an occasion at a reception in India when Jardine even went so far as to walk past his own uncle without acknowledging him.
On the field in India Jardine was the tourists’ leading batsman, followed by Walters. There were three Tests. In the first Walters scored 78 and 14* as England won by nine wickets. In an innings victory in the second he scored 29 before, in a 202 run victory in the third at Madras, he scored 59 and 102, an innings that was to remain his only Test century.
After his run of form there was never any doubt that Walters would play against Australia in the 1934 Ashes, but he wouldn’t have expected, as proved to be the case, that he would be leading England in his first Test against the oldest enemy. That he did so was because of an injury to the man appointed, Bob Wyatt. The game ended in defeat for Walters and England, although no blame could be attached to the captain.
Unfortunately for him Walters lost the toss, although to then restrict a side containing the names Bradman, McCabe, Woodfull and Ponsford to 374 was something of an achievement in itself. The Australian line up was a curious one as it relied on only three specialist bowlers. They were the two great leg spinners, Clarrie Grimmett and Tiger O’Reilly, and just one pace bowler, Tim Wall, who shared the new ball with Stan McCabe, a wonderful batsman but with the ball no more than a modest medium pacer.
Walters took the first ball of the England innings and probably expected what he got, a distinctly quick bouncer from Wall. If he hadn’t taken any lessons in etiquette from Jardine he showed he had learnt something about batting from his display against the West Indian leg theory a year before as he drew himself up to his full height and presented a defensive straight bat to a delivery that climbed towards his shoulder. He saw off the new ball easily enough, but was deceived by Grimmett on 17. In the second innings England’s victory target was 380. They never looked like winning the game and were beaten by 238 runs but got within ten minutes of saving it. Walters top scored with 46, and looked markedly more confident against Grimmett, marking him out as a quick learner.
The second Test, for which Wyatt was back, was ‘Verity’s match’, the only time England beat Australia at Lord’s in the twentieth century. The Yorkshireman’s 15-104 were the decisive contribution, but Walters scored 82 to set England on their way. He was a little fortunate, being dropped twice, but even Jardine, from the press box, described his innings as a delight.
With the series level at 1-1 the third Test was drawn. England set the tone with a record 627-9 in the first innings, and in benign batting conditions there was never going to be a result after that. Walters’ contributions to the cause were 52 and 50*. The fourth Test was likewise drawn, although a second Bradman triple century at Headingley meant Australia were well on top. By contrast no English batsman scored even a half century, although Walters was close, scoring 44 in the first innings and 45 in the second. He was batting well in both when he was dismissed, in the first by giving a tame return catch to the Australian third string leg spinner, Arthur Chipperfield, and in the second bowled by O’Reilly when he seemed to have a complete lapse of concentration shortly after being at fault when Hammond was run out.
With all to play for the final Test at the Oval was timeless. England lost the match when they lost the toss and Australia’s margin of victory was the small matter of 562 runs. Walters made 64 in the first innings as England set off in pursuit of Australia’s first innings of 701. They were all out for 321 but, as was only to be expected in a timeless Test, Australia batted again before England limped to 145. For once Walters failed, scoring just a single before giving McCabe his third wicket of the series.
From Walters’ personal point of view his first Ashes series was a great success. He averaged 50.12, just a tick below Sutcliffe and 17 short of Maurice Leyland. In the press box all summer was Jardine, whose verdict was; Walters proved himself the prettiest bat on the England side, nor was he lacking in consistency. His swinging of the bat is a perpetual delight, whilst his confidence against the new ball is a phenomenon of the utmost value. Although he did add a barb, expressing the view that Walters was essentially a natural, rather than a thinking cricketer, he still has much to learn. England’s former captain was also critical of Walters’ consistency in the field and, understandably, his habit of getting out when well set, a problem he believed was best cured by playing a series in Australia.
On 31 January 1935 Walters married Clara ‘Peggy’ Pitt. He had only met her the previous July, and they had become engaged in the November. Ominously a contemporary newspaper report said of Clara; She professes little interest in cricket, but is an enthusiastic tennis and hockey player. Clara was also a woman of means. An only child she was the daughter of a chartered accountant who had died earlier in 1934. Clara was granted Probate of her father’s substantial estate, the equivalent of around £2,000,000 today. Her mother was still alive at that time, but she was independently wealthy thanks to a successful family butchery and meat product business so, to use the vernacular of the day, Walters had most certainly ‘married well’.
Despite his marriage Walters remained Worcestershire skipper and he began the 1935 season by leading his side against the touring South Africans in their traditional first fixture at Worcester. He missed only one of the county’s first ten matches, and that was only to enable him to accept an invitation to play for MCC against South Africa. After that there was an injury to a tendon in his left hand and Walters was out of action for almost two months. He returned to play twice more, at home against Kent and then an away fixture at Chelmsford. Worcestershire supporters did not know that the 118 and 94 they saw Walters make in the drawn encounter with Kent would be the last time they saw him. He took 53 from the Essex bowlers as well before ending his career in disappointing fashion. A thumb injury delayed his appearance in the second innings until number nine in the order and, in what proved to be a heavy defeat, his final First Class innings brought him just six runs.
There was no expectation when Walters left the field at Chelmsford that he would not play again, but in August he resigned both the captaincy and his position as county secretary. There was talk of a comeback from time to time, and Walters was asked to captain England in Australia in 1936/37, but he never reappeared. Even today 29 is no age for a batsman to end his First Class career, and cricketers played at the top level for much longer in Walters’ time. Why did he stop playing? The answer seems to be for the love of a good woman, and it cannot have detracted from that motivation that she was a wealthy one as well. The explanation seems to be as simple as Clara not caring for the prospect of following her husband round the country, nor a six month sojourn in Australia.
Instead of cricket Walters started working in the family business. His marriage was clearly a happy one, although not blessed with children. Clara died in 1979. For some years Walters remained in the family home but in the 1980s he returned to South Wales where he died, shortly before Christmas in 1992. He was 87.