“What the blazes do you want to do a weedy thing like that for? Dammit, man, I’ve now got to find another player”.
Somerset captain John Daniell discovers that opening batsman Jack MacBryan had been selected to play Hockey for Great Britain at the Antwerp Olympics in 1920.
Words: Richard H Thomas
Jack MacBryan was described by David Foot in the Western Daily Press as the “richly-talented son of an Edwardian shrink”. Something of a polymath, he played golf and rugby (for Bath and Richmond) to a high standard and Frank Keating reported that during four years in a German POW camp in WWI, the Somerset man taught the guards to speak English, schooled Russian officers in mathematics (through the medium of French) and developed “a serious expertise in butterfly-breeding”.
Back in Blighty, his Olympic experience – though not endorsed by his county captain – was also a success. The GB team, which also contained Cyril Wilkinson who led Surrey to the Championship in 1914, took gold, with the King of Belgium awarding the medals.
Despite his multi-talents, MacBryan is perhaps best known for being the only man to appear in a Test match without batting, bowling or taking a catch. His taste of cricket at the highest level was 66.5 overs in the field where he stood at second slip with not so much as a sniff of any serious involvement.
He doesn’t even get a mention in the Wisden report of the fourth Test between England and South Africa in 1924. With less than four hours of play possible before the Manchester rain ruined the match, the report focused on some minor crowd discontent and a low-key pitch invasion which was only disarmed when spectators were appeased with some free passes for the Roses match the following Saturday. MacBryan had taken to the field but, as Keating reported, “that, just about, was that”.
At least MacBryan could stencil ‘Somerset and England’ on his kitbag, noted Mike Selvey. But David Foot suggested that he “seldom had a good word to say for those who ran cricket in this country” and one can only imagine what he would have said if he had realised at the time that it was to be his only Test appearance.“Tetchy Jack”, as Foot called him, already had form for not suffering fools. The Western Daily Press reported that MacBryan was convinced that he wasn’t selected for a Varsity match because he disapproved of the Cambridge captain’s habit of drinking sherry from a pint mug, describing it as “disgraceful behaviour”.
Of course, he wasn’t the last player to have the imminent expectation of Test cricket dashed before it started. In the Independent, Stephen Brenkley noted that Steve Davies was called up as a potential replacement this summer when Matt Prior’s eye infection looked like preventing him from turning out against the West Indies at Edgbaston. “Disappointed not to be playing but nice to be in selectors thoughts… thanks for your messages guys,” tweeted the still upbeat Davies when Prior recovered. Brenkley noted that MacBryan’s tweets from Old Trafford “do not survive”.
In retirement, ‘Tetchy Jack’ became a stockbroker, and Mike Amos of the Northern Echo reported that he “had the compensation of being the oldest surviving England player when he died, eight days short of his 91st birthday, on July 14 1983”. As Frank Keating concludes, only one Test but a wonder nevertheless.