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The Stories of England’s Captains, Part 2 of 4

The first ‘new’ England captain after the Great War was the larger than life Hampshire captain Lionel Tennyson, grandson of the famous poet. Tennyson could not defeat Warwick Armstrong’s men but did at least restore some pride to England’ s performances in the second part of the series. Tennyson wrote two autobiographies, From Verse to Worse in 1933 and Sticky Wickets in 1950, and in 2001 Alan Edwards’ Regency Buck was published.

Middlesex captain Frank Mann led England in all five Tests in South Africa in 1922/23. A generation later his son, George Mann, did likewise in 1948/49 and retained the job for the first two of the four drawn Tests in the 1949 series against Walter Hadlee’s New Zealanders. Neither father nor son was the subject of very much in the way of biographical writing until, in 2015, the ACS published a double biography in their Lives in Cricket Series, Frank and George Mann: Brewing, Batting and Captaincy by Brian Rendell.

Frank Mann was followed as skipper by, in this writer’s opinion anyway, the man who is by far the most interesting man to have captained England whose biography has yet to be written, Arthur Gilligan. I can help a little with this feature which, I hope, illustrates why I make the comment that I do. Hopefully our friends at the Sussex Cricket Museum will ensure that this particular gap in the game’s literature will be filled sooner rather than later.

In 1926 the Ashes came back to England for the first time since Armstrong’s men had taken them back so comprehensively in 1920/21. England had two captains in that series. The first four Tests were all drawn under the leadership of Arthur Carr before, for the fifth, Carr was dropped and replaced by the dashing Kent amateur batsman Percy Chapman who went on to lead England to a famous victory. Unusually for the times there was an autobiography from Carr, Cricket With the Lid Off, published in 1935. A controversial figure Carr’s book is a decent read and copies regularly crop up on the second hand market. There is also now a biography from the pen of Peter Wynne-Thomas, Arthur Carr being published in 2017. As for Chapman, who went on to greater glories in 1928/29 before himself being ‘sacked’ in 1930, he was the subject of a sympathetic and perceptive biography from the prolific writer David Lemmon. Percy Chapman – A Biography was published in 1985.

In 1927/28 an England side travelled to South Africa under the captaincy of the amateur Yorkshire wicketkeeper (albeit a man who was never a regular in his county’s colours) ‘Rony’ Stanyforth. The first four Tests in the 1927/28 series were the only Tests in which Stanyforth appeared and indeed his entire First Class career consisted of only 61 matches. England were led in the fifth and final Test by the 27 year old Middlesex leg spinner Greville Stevens. There is no book devoted to Stevens but, perhaps surprisingly, there is a 29 page monograph around that amounts to a biography of Stanyforth. The bad news is that, privately published by author Martin Howe in 2012 in a very small print run, I have never seen a copy on the market for sale.

Chapman missed the final Test in Australia in 1928/29 and England were led by his vice-captain, the Somerset orthodox slow left arm bowler Jack ‘Farmer’ White. White also shared the captaincy duties with Carr against the visiting South Africans in 1928/29. A Somerset Hero Who Beat The Aussies is the title of White’s biography, written by Basil Ashton Tinkler and published in 2000. Two more men whose lives had not been chronicled fully led England on two separate overseas tours in 1929/30. Harold Gilligan, brother of Arthur, took one side to New Zealand, and another led by the Honourable Freddie Calthorpe went to the West Indies. Gilligan was not at that stage Sussex captain, although he led them in 1930. Calthorpe led Warwickshire through the 1920s.

When Chapman was relieved of the captaincy for the final Test of the 1930 series the selectors turned to the Warwickshire batsman and useful medium pacer Bob Wyatt, who would end his career having led England 16 times altogether, although unfortunately with only three victories. Wyatt’s autobiography, Three Straight Sticks, was published in 1951 and an excellent biography, RES Wyatt – Fighting Cricketer by Gerald Pawle was published in 1985.

The selectors took the view that Wyatt was probably not the right candidate for the job of recovering the Ashes in 1932/33, and the man appointed for the 1931 series against New Zealand was Douglas Jardine. That the Iron Duke was a success is amply demonstrated by his record in his fifteen Tests as captain of nine victories against just a solitary defeat. Christopher Douglas’ 1984 biography Douglas Jardine – Spartan Cricketer is one of the very best cricketing biographies. For those with deep pockets there is also a slim 1994 monograph from Irving Rosenwater, Douglas Robert Jardine.

With Jardine retired Wyatt got an extended run as skipper in 1934 but, thanks to injury, he missed the first Test and Cyril Walters stood in. Walters only played for England on eleven occasions and averaged more than fifty with the bat. Another man with an interesting story he would also be a fine subject for a biography but, sadly, never has been although, as with Arthur Gilligan, I can refer readers to a piece of my own writing.

Once the selectors dropped Wyatt back into the ranks the leadership baton passed to Gubby Allen, who led England at home against India in 1936 and in Australia in 1936/37 and, as a 45 year old, in the Caribbean in 1947/48. Allen never wrote an autobiography but was the subject of Gubby Allen – Man of Cricket, a biography by EW ‘Jim’ Swanton in 1985. Swanton’s book is, to say the least, something of a hagiography. It is recommended reading nonetheless, although it should be read in conjunction with either or both of Brian Rendell’s later books, Gubby Allen – Bad Boy of Bodyline and Gubby Under Pressure, reviews of his letters home during his two trips to Australia and which demonstrate a side to the Allen character that Swanton chose not to reveal.

There were to be two more England captains before the Second World War closed the game down for seven long years.The first, who led England against New Zealand in 1937, was the Middlesex all-rounder Walter Robins. A biography of Robins finally appeared in the ACS Lives in Cricket series in 2015, Walter Robins: Achievements, Affections and Affronts. The author is Brian Rendell again.

England’s last pre-war captain, and he would still be in post for the first two post war series, was Walter Hammond. A great player in any currency the professional who turned amateur in order to take up the position led England twenty times, and has been the subject of a number of books. An autobiography appeared in 1946, Cricket My Destiny. That one is still easy enough to pick up, but is not one of the better books of its type. Biographies from Ronald Mason (1962), Gerald Howat (1984) and David Lodge (1990) are all worth reading, but by far the best is David Foot’s Wally Hammond – The Reasons Why, published in 1996.

Yorkshireman Norman Yardley was the man the selectors chose to be Hammond’s vice-captain in Australia in 1946/47 and he assumed the captaincy for the visit of the 1947 South Africans and, the following summer, Bradman’s Invincibles. Altogether Yardley led England fourteen times. His autobiography, Cricket Campaigns, appeared in 1950 and in 2015 Martin Howe’s Norman Yardley: Yorkshire’s Gentleman Cricketer was published in the ACS Lives in Cricket series.

Yardley was unavailable to lead England in South Africa in 1948/49 hence George Mann, referenced in part two of this post, getting the job. Before that Gubby Allen had led England in the West Indies in 1947/48. Injury badly affected Allen’s tour and he had to miss one Test. The Lancashire amateur Ken Cranston replaced him. A fine all-rounder Cranston played eight times for England before leaving the game for a career in dentistry. Sadly there is no biography.

The man who took over from Mann for the third and fourth Tests against New Zealand in 1949 was Freddie Brown one of the men who, 17 years previously, had toured Australia with Douglas Jardine. All told Brown was to captain England on 15 occasions. Surprisingly for such an interesting character he has still not been the subject of a biography, but his own Cricket Musketeer, published in 1954, tells his side of the story.


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