In this week’s journey, one of English most famous cricketing names bookends a diminutive leg spinner, a character from the Golden Age and a tragic tale from Jamaica.
The Somerset right-hander was surely delighted to be first batsman to 1,000 runs this season but undoubtedly the champagne would have tasted even sweeter if that thousandth run had come just one day earlier. Missing cricketing immortality by 24 hours will no doubt rankle, especially since he would have achieved the milestone before the end of May but for rain at New Road. Only eight batsmen have done it previously, the last being Graeme Hick in 1988. Born and raised in South Africa, Compton scorched the grass during early days at Middlesex but has since exchanged NW8 for run-friendly Taunton. It looks a canny move. One of the famous octuplet to have achieved the May tally was…
For 20 years before the First World War, Tom Hayward was English cricket’s Mr Reliable. He was the first of Jack Hobbs’ great opening partners and they made 40 century-stands together, including four in one week in June 1907. According to former MCC president H.S Altham, Hayward was “genial and imperturbable”, with his moustache adding something of the “sergeant-major”. It surely bristled a bit at The Oval in 1907 when he became the only England batsman to be out to the first ball of a home Test. Even though his record across 35 Tests is not of the highest class, Denzil Batchelor suggested that he was good enough to open for England in any era. On his 34th birthday a future Test bowler was born, and his name was….
The Jamaican fast bowler took 16 wickets in six Tests, but even if he had taken 600 in 60 matches he would still be best known as the only Test cricketer to be executed, despite Wisden airbrushing the detail from cricket history. As reported by the Sunday Express, Hylton shot his adulterous wife and then “phoned the police”. His defence that the whole thing was a terrible accident was rather undermined by the seven bullets in his wife’s body, even so it took the all-male jury 90 minutes to convict. Tony Cozier recalls some “ghoulish” Caribbean humour at the home Test versus Australia in May 1955 at Bridgetown, Barbados. Hylton was actually hanged during the match and spectators who had grown impatient with the fielding of fellow Jamaican J.K Holt displayed banners reading “Save Hylton, Hang Holt”. Hylton died on the 67th birthday of…
One of cricket’s biggest draws and also one of its shortest. Despite starting late at the age of 26, only Wilfred Rhodes took more than his 3776 first-class wickets. It’s true that he occasionally he took some stick – he once went for 331 in one match, but that’s leg spin for you. Even though Denzil Batchelor suggested he never troubled the Aussies who were familiar with his art, nevertheless his stats beggar belief – thrice he took all 10 in an innings and on 123 occasions he took 10 in a match. In his History of Kent CCC, Dudley Moore suggests that because of “sustained effort and humility” cricket loved him, and that “he may not have wanted to be one of the game’s characters but he was”. English cricket writer R.L Arrowsmith called him “the greatest wicket-taker county cricket has ever known” – something that the 5ft 2in Freeman no doubt reflected on with satisfaction in his retirement cottage, appropriately called ‘Dunbowlin’. One record that will never be beaten is his 300 wickets in the 1928 season. A similarly untouchable feat is the 3,817 runs scored in a season, achieved in 1947 by…
“I was as fit as a flea – I did what came naturally and I enjoyed myself,” said Compton, as such a tally of runs and 18 centuries in 50 innings at 90 was a stroll in the park. His achievement was all the more staggering given that the Brylcreem Boy didn’t believe in heavy bats and unwieldy protection. He suggested the use of body armour was like “sending out Nureyev onto the stage at Covent Garden to dance the Nutcracker Suite in sea waders”. He wondered why modern batsman didn’t go out there and just “play off the back foot and enjoy it.” Unsurprisingly, Middlesex won the Championship title in that record-breaking season and Bill Edrich got within 77 runs of Compton’s total. The middle order must have spent plenty of time with their feet up. The Middlesex superman was the grandfather of Somerset’s No.3… Nick Compton!
Words: Richard H Thomas
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