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  • Writer's pictureThe Hambledon Club

Guest Speaker: Stephen Chalke

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Through Stephen’s private publishing firm Fairfield Books, he has written and published several highly acclaimed biographical and historical cricket books. His collaboration with the late Geoffrey Howard, At the Heart of English Cricket, won the 2002 Cricket Society Book of the Year Award, and he has twice won the Wisden Book of the Year award: in 2004 with No Coward Soul (his biography of Bob Appleyard, co-written with Derek Hodgson) and in 2008 with Tom Cartwright - The Flame Still Burns. In 2009 he won the National Sporting Club’s Cricket Book of the Year with The Way It Was - Glimpses of English Cricket's Past, a collection of more than 100 articles written for The Wisden Cricketer, Wisden Cricket Monthly and The Times. The Way It Was won the 'Best Cricket Book' category of the 2009 British Sports Book Awards. In the 2010 edition of Wisden, he contributed a 10-page article on English cricket and the Second World War.


Our Chaplain, The Reverend David Brown, said Grace.

The President, Douglas Miller, welcomed all members and their guests.

Apologies for absence: Richard Pettifer, Christopher Moger, Andrew Calender, Alastair Lack, Rick Ankers, Andrew Bruce, Mike Coeshott, Terry Johnson, Geoffrey Gough, Roy Birch, Stephen Green, Dudley Green, Jane & Peter Parsons, Helen & Kevin Beaumont, Chris de Mellow, Mike Gordon, Bill Kempton, David Robinson, Derek Andrews, Michael Knox, Martin Davey, Bernard Frowd OBE, Chrissie Marris, Grayston Burgess, Lesley Lloyd, Charles Wilkinson, Roy Clarke, Nick Bailey, Innes Marlow, Ann Knott, Keith Ebdon

Next Speaker: TBC

The Steward: Prize Draw: Members were reminded to put their place names in the containers provided for the prize draw for collection by our Steward, Dick Orders.

The Treasurer:

1. Outstanding cash subscriptions were requested by Stephen.

2. Ties: Please see Stephen – at a cost of £15.

The Steward:

1. Payment for lunch: Cash & Cards only - cost £27.50.

2. Dick introduced two guests from the Hambledon Vineyard who had kindly donated (for tasting!) to the membership, 6 bottles of their fine bubbly. Members were invited to approach them afterwards should their products be of interest.

The Secretary:

1. Cancellations policy reminder: members cancelling within 24hrs of the event will be charged at the full cost by the B&B management.

2. Lou apologised to postal members for the lateness of the previous meeting’s minutes due to a busy period with projects. Email members will find the speaker’s recording on the website within a week of the meeting, plus details of up-and-coming meetings.

3. When sending out club information, please contact Lou if you wish non-disclosure of your email address to other members of the club.

Committee Elections:

Douglas Miller, the President – 1st Dave Allen, 2nd Stephen Saunders

Stephen Saunders, the Treasurer – 1st Dick Orders, 2nd Lou Allen

Lou Allen, the Secretary – 1st Robin Brodhurst, 2nd Brian Scrimshaw

Dick Orders, the Steward – 1st Terry Crump, 2nd Susanne Marlow

All committee officers were voted in unanimously.

Prize Draw in support of Hambledon Youth Cricket:

The customary draw raised £265. After deductions of the speaker’s lunch, £237.50 was raised for Your Cricket.

The Toasts:

The President asked members to be upstanding for the traditional Toasts:

The Queen’s Mother, The King, Hambledon Club, Cricket, The immortal memory of Madge, The President: (Lou Allen asked the members to toast the President)

The Speaker: The President welcomed Stephen Chalk to The Hambledon Club.

It would be invidious to rank the more than 30 guest speakers who have graced the Hambledon Club since our formation at the end of the last century, but in its timing at least, Stephen Chalke’s visit to us in March 2015 proved to be particularly memorable as he introduced his brand-new publication Summer’s Crown, celebrating the 125th anniversary of the County Championship. That anniversary is not accepted by all historians and the most recent edition of the Cricket Statistician offers claims from Nottinghamshire that some counties considered the competition to have been in existence prior to 1890.

Nonetheless, many cricket followers understand that the formalisation of the Championship in that year, and its considerable expansion five years later were key moments and we can hope that the publication marking those events will contribute to the future health of the competition which is probably most favoured by members of our club – not least at a time when proposals for a city-based T20 competition represent merely the latest threat to its next 125 years.

Stephen’s book was reviewed in the same edition of the Cricket Statistician where Richard Lawrence praised the production values, the “very reasonable” price (£20) and how Stephen “captures as only he can the joy and delight of this enduring competition.” The journal gave it pride of place in its reviews, echoing our chairman (one of their regular reviewers) who, in introducing Stephen at the Bat & Ball, suggested it was already “one of the most special books of this decade.” Indeed, those of us who have ventured into the world of cricket writing must be sympathetic to any author producing this year, in the hope of winning any of the annual awards – they must be a foregone conclusion.

The book is full of fascinating facts, statistics and information and can be read in a number of ways, but it is never dry and, like Stephen’s presentation, it mixes that factual content with delightful stories and depictions of key matches and characters.

He began his talk by acknowledging the support of the ECB, in particular Giles Clarke, in enabling Fairfield Books to keep the price manageable. He added the ECB do want County Cricket to succeed, and this is part of their campaign to ensure the Championship is part of that success.

Over lunch, he sat opposite Hampshire’s 1950s batsman Alan Rayment, and he began by describing Alan’s cricketing development at Finchley CC before moving down to Hampshire. Alan was a professional but played with an enthusiastic ‘amateur’ spirit and after a few games at his new county with not too many runs, he was summoned by his captain and secretary EDR Eagar who revealed that some members were not entirely sure why Alan would return after a low score still smiling! Stephen added that ‘Bomber’ Wells described Alan as the “nicest chap” he ever played against as he always came in with a smile on his face, didn’t make many runs and went off again with a smile.” To be fair to Alan, one of our members, he played many good innings in almost 200 first-class matches and one of his finest was on the Saturday at Bristol over Coronation weekend 1953 when he made 127, sharing a third wicket partnership of 246. The Gloucestershire bowler whose figures were 47-14-92-3 was none other than ‘Bomber’ – and no, he didn’t dismiss Alan. In the second innings, however, Tom Graveney did – caught by ‘Sam’ Cook.

There was a ‘Sam’ Cook story too, from his days as an umpire and one of a number of tales about Geoff Boycott of whom Stephen was playfully respectful. Apparently, Boycott has the Championship record average for any player on any one ground having played twice against Essex at Colchester in 1970 and 1971. In the first, he scored 260* and in the second was on 233 when a ball from Robin Hobbs brushed his pad and trickled down the leg side. As Boycott set off for a leg bye, Robin Hobbs appealed more in hope than expectation but up went Sam Cook’s finger. Geoffrey expressed his astonishment, but the umpire turned to the bowler remarking, “I think we’ve seen enough of him.” So, Boycott retired with a career average at Colchester of 493.

On the subject of Boycott’s averages, Geoff Cook had passed on another end-of-season tale when Yorkshire Captain Boycott watched his bowlers dismiss Northants fairly cheaply and on the second day moved ahead with plenty of wickets in hand when Boycott, not out, suddenly and unexpectedly declared. Only later did it come to light that the closure occurred immediately after he scored the run that took his season’s average above 100.

Nonetheless, Boycott was generous with his contribution to Stephen’s research, describing the Championship as “our breeding ground for Test Matches … it breeds character it breeds courage … the things you can’t get out of one day cricket, which is fun.” But Boycott added if it is our breeding ground why do those in charge relegate it in importance?

A rather different opening batsman was Roy Marshall one of a number of Hampshire references Stephen made, mindful perhaps of a fair percentage of ‘locals’ in his audience but also reflecting that his childhood in Salisbury took him often to Bournemouth and Southampton. He recalled Jimmy Gray suggesting that he might have scored another 10,000 runs with an opening partner willing to run for him but had no regrets since he had the “best seat in the house”. He revealed that on an overseas tour, Peter Richardson asked Roy whether he would be prepared to run his singles to which came the retort “Why not just hit the bloody ball to the boundary.”

Stephen nominated Peter Sainsbury “always in the game” as one of his favourite cricketers and noted that through his early watching years in the 1950s and 1960s, Shackleton, Marshall and Sainsbury were always there – a marked difference from many of the frequent personnel changes of today.

In his forties, Stephen sought some coaching with the former Somerset bowler Ken Biddulph and was delighted when he described him as “Shack”. However complimentary, it was the after-practice sessions that to some crucial degree transformed Stephen’s life as he sat and listened to Biddulph’s stories about county cricket. He wrote this up, published it, and his career as a cricket author and publisher blossomed.

Ken Biddulph revealed that Roy Marshall was such a formidable opponent that he would lie awake worrying about him. Unlike all the other opening batsmen of his period, Marshall would not gently pat back the ball in the opening overs but in the glorious summer of 1959 at Taunton Ken had Marshall caught at short leg by James Lomax without scoring. Ken retired in high spirits to long leg, close to the entrance and heard two latecomers enter the ground with one exclaiming, “Marshall’s out! I’ve come all the way from Southampton to see him bat and some bugger’s got him out!” There is incidentally a conundrum about this on the Cricket Archive scorecard for Marshall is shown facing first and out for nought, the fall of wicket is shown with the score one, yet there were no extras in the innings. Perhaps Jimmy Gray really faced first?

Ken recalled that as a young man arriving at Somerset for his first season, he walked into the ground alongside Harold Gimblett, whereupon a group of young boys sought their autographs. Ken, somewhat embarrassed, walked past saying “You don’t want mine” but was reprimanded by Gimblett. Ken protested that “they haven’t seen me bowl” to which came to the retort “Don’t worry when they have, they probably won’t want it!” Having arrived, Ken reported to the Somerset secretary to collect his netball for the summer, not a new ball, just his ball which he looked after and polished regularly. However, by mid-July the seam was coming unstitched so Ken went to ask for a replacement – “Another one? Another one? You’ve only had it one summer”.

There was another ‘new ball’ story from the Sussex wicketkeeper Rupert Webb about the marvellous captaincy of the Rev David Sheppard in 1953. The players still “glow” about that year, and they worshipped him, but he could show a touch of ruthlessness. Sussex were frustrated during a Leicestershire innings, waiting on a declaration so Sheppard told Ted James to take the new ball but wait while he carefully re-organised the field. As he took some time doing this, the Leicestershire captain and secretary Charles Palmer ran out of the pavilion to declare and the Sussex captain said to James, “I knew they couldn’t afford a new ball.” They were different days indeed.

Stephen entertained us with tales of the cricketers most of us grew up watching, but he also looked back to the start of the Championship in Victorian times when crowds for the Championship were often bigger than for Test Matches. He noted too that almost from the beginning, critics prophesied its imminent demise, and complained of “too many counties, too many players, too many overseas players and too many games.” Plus, change indeed, yet somehow this wobbly structure has survived.

In the early days, the county game was often not very different from club cricket. Somerset for example often had just two professionals and some of the amateurs were not too keen on long trips north. In 1902 they went to Old Trafford with only ten men but on the train met SE Ellis (whose first names have never been discovered). He regaled them with tales of his cricketing achievements, so they prevailed on him to play – only discovering later that he had never played cricket after his childhood. Still, his name appears on the records of Somerset CCC for that one match in which he scored five and nought and participated in a thrilling Somerset victory. In a low-scoring game, Lancashire needed 139 to win and at 75-7 they were in trouble. A partnership of 54 took them to within ten of victory at which point all three remaining wickets fell without addition – Beaumont Cranfield taking 8-65.

While the smaller counties relied on “a cast of amateurs” playing perhaps 16 matches, wealthier counties like Surrey could play a full 28 matches. In Hampshire, similarly impoverished, military personnel like ‘Teddy’ Wynyard played a key part – and in 1899, in particular, the remarkable ‘Bertie’ Poore. He was a self-taught cricketer while serving in India, after which his posting to South Africa led him to be selected for the home country against an England side in what would later be designated three Test matches.

In 1899 he had two months' leave in England, and after a prize-winning performance at the Royal Tournament and the winning goal in an inter-regiment Polo tournament, he travelled to Portsmouth and became the only man ever to score two centuries in one Championship match on that ground. Shortly after he went to Taunton to score Hampshire’s first triple-century and share a partnership with Wynyard that remains an English county record for any side. Before the season’s end, he went to South America and then to South Africa for the second Boer War but he departed with a Championship average of 116 - only bettered once, by Wally Hammond.

The Championship was suspended for the duration of the First and Second World Wars, but Stephen revealed that had it continued in 1915, both Gloucestershire and Worcestershire would have had to withdraw for economic reasons. Ironically these wars benefitted some counties because while they had almost no expenditure, loyal members continued to pay their subscriptions and once play resumed in 1919 and 1946, the crowds flooded back.

Worcestershire could not afford to resume in 1919 when all matches ran over just two days, but they returned in 1920 although Stephen observed they would have to search for players locally. On one occasion they invited a local headmaster to play and, unable to make it, he sent a member of his staff. In 1925 they discovered a local Rector, Reginald Moss, who had an Oxford University ‘Blue’ and they selected him. Unfortunately, his blue was obtained 36 years earlier, and at 57 he remains the oldest man to make a Championship debut. He bowled three overs in the second innings, dismissed Gloucestershire’s top-scorer MA Green and with figures of 1-5, stands at the head of Worcestershire’s first-class career bowling averages! That county career ended in defeat on the third day, bowled by Wally Hammond for nought.

An example of the differences in playing resources between the wealthier counties and the less well-to-do is in the fact that while the players used by counties like Yorks & Lancs number in the 300s, Hampshire is now past 530 and Somerset past 600. Many of these were amateurs who played at most a handful of games. Stephen also compared the extraordinary Hampshire victory of 1922 after being bowled out by Warwickshire for just 15, with the ‘Roses’ match of that year at Old Trafford when Wilfred Rhodes (48*) played out the final over with Yorkshire eight down needing just three to win – in a ‘Roses’ match, Rhodes could not risk any shots which might lead to defeat.

Stephen admitted that it is easy to “romanticise” the past - our past - but speculated that if the Hambledon Club is still meeting in 50 years its members will speak warmly about the good old days of 2015. He referred also to the recent PCA Survey, which revealed that of current county cricketers, 274 of 301 respondents chose the Championship as the most important form of county cricket.

He concluded with a wonderful quote from George Dobell who writes for Cricinfo that “like the NHS, a reliable car and the health of our parents, the County Championship will probably never be fully appreciated until it’s gone – it’s too easy to conclude that it doesn’t matter. The roots of almost everything good in English cricket can still be found in the county game and if all involved just believed in it a little more it could produce an even richer harvest…”

It was a wonderful talk, praised warmly by the Chairman. Any Other Business: None

The President also thanked the manager and staff for an excellent meal and service, with a reminder to guests to pay on the way out if not already done so.

Newsletter 33: 28th March 2015

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