Sunday, February 3, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 5 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (5. Frank Woolley)

Equally, several people might question why Frank Woolley, with his modest Test record, is spoken of so glowingly. It is perhaps for the same reason as Trumper, for their abundant natural ability and uninhibited strokeplay. They were obviously different. For one, Woolley was a left-hander, He would hit long and straight, while Trumper was more wristy. Later generations who never saw Woolley play get a fair idea of the type of batsman he was from the fact that the golden boy of English cricket of the 1980s, David Gower, is often compared to him for the lazy elegance and nonchalance that characterised their play. So often has it been observed that the abundantly gifted do not achieve the same degree of results as the less endowed, for they do not have to strive as hard at their game, and invariably squander some of the bounty they are blessed with. So it would seem was the case with Woolley, as with Gower. They would exasperate as much as they would delight.

Nonetheless, it must not be forgotten that Woolley remains the second-highest rungetter in first-class cricket after Hobbs, with 58,969 runs at an average of 40.75, having cracked 145 hundreds with a best of 305 not out. Add to this the 2068 wickets at 19.85 apiece and his all-time record of 1018 catches, the only non-wicketkeeper to clutch 1000, and you have truly one of the finest left-handed allrounders that ever graced a cricket field, pun unintended. In all his 28 first-class seasons - interrupted by the First World War - Woolley never failed to reach 1000 runs. Only Grace achieved it as often, but not every time.

The versatile Woolley equalled the then record for six catches in a Test against Australia at Sydney in 1911-12. After the War he stood up manfully to the pace assault of Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald at Lord’s, hitting back with knocks of 95 and 93 even as his colleagues floundered against Warwick Armstrong’s victorious team of 1921.

Having achieved the double of 2000 runs and 100 wickets in the 1914 season, Woolley repeated the feat over three consecutive seasons from 1921 to 1923. No one else has ever done it so often.

Two of Woolley’s finest knocks in first-class cricket, both for Kent, were 215 against Somerset at Gravesend in 1925 when he clouted 8 sixes, and 229 in three hours versus Surrey at The Oval in 1935 when a straight hit landed in a garden on Harleyford Road. Woolley’s first-class record is remarkably similar to W.G. Grace’s, though it must be conceded that the good doctor played on far worse pitches, particularly in the early part of his career. In 64 Tests Woolley scored 3283 runs at an average of 36.07 and took 83 wickets at 33.91 apiece.

The reasons why Woolley was spoken of in such glowing terms can be found in Raymond Robertson-Glasgow’s words: “Frank Woolley was easy to watch, difficult to bowl to and impossible to write about. When you bowled to him, there weren’t enough fielders, when you wrote about him there weren’t enough words.” Indeed, and mere figures are not enough to unravel the delightful package that was Frank Woolley, a lovely gift wrapped in plain brown paper.

Peter Hartland concluded: “Frank Woolley is still the standard by which elegant left-handers are judged. Many words have been written about the effortless beauty of his play, the long reach and full swing sent the ball skimming to, or over, the boundary. Fast bowlers frequently posted a long-off. Perhaps there was something too loose about his batting - more so even than the man from a later generation most often compared with him, David Gower.” It might also be added that Woolley, it seems, had the mindset of an allrounder, rather than a pure batsman, and that is the context in which he should be viewed.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

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