22nd April 2015
Wagging the Tail – lower order contributions
James Haskins, my dear late Uncle Jimmy, was a devoted cricket enthusiast, and life-long member of Kent CCC.
I spent many a long, lazy afternoon in his pleasant company, sitting back idly watching the gentle ebb and flow of County Championship contests – exchanging stories, and execrable puns.
When he died last year after a lengthy illness, he passed on to me a series of papers that had come his way back in the early 1980s.
He had gone to watch a pre-season warm-up between the Kent 1st and 2nd XIs, and during a break in play, he sloped off to the back of the pavilion for a fag.
He was outside the St Lawrence Ground’s committee room when he overheard a brief exchange between the authoritarian President, E.W. ‘Jim’ Swanton, and the club’s Secretary. They seemed to be having a bit of a spring clean:
“Right, all that lot can go. Self-indulgent piffle. Sir Neville’s drivel. Silly old sod. Bin it.”
“Yes, sir,” and a bulging buff folder full of hand-written foolscap flew the short journey from room to wheelie bin via window.
Uncle Jimmy was intrigued. Checking his movements were unobserved, he retrieved the stuffed file and scurried away.
What he had in his possession, he subsequently told me, was what he believed were the long-thought-lost late papers of the legendary Sir Neville Cardus. Regarded as one of cricket’s greatest writers, Sir Neville was renowned for his florid prose and tall tales from cricket’s ‘Golden Age’.
Long on style, short on fact, in his latter years Cardus’ work fell into neglect and his reputation diminished. Basically, his sort of journalism went out of fashion.
Yet what Jimmy had rescued appeared to be copious pieces the great man had penned after the cricket magazine, Playfair (for which he had regularly provided pithy profiles and cricket yarns of yore) had been subsumed by The Cricketer magazine – of which Swanton had been General Editor (hence their ending up in E.W.’s possession) – unloved and unpublished.
So that’s what I now have – and have decided ought to be shared.
I cannot personally vouch for the authenticity of the documents, nor their content, but I circulate them in memory of Sir Neville, and Uncle Jimmy. I hope they both approve.
How ‘the Stumping’ Came To Pass by Sir Neville Cardus
Just before World War One, Lancashire unearthed a brilliant young wicket-keeper batsman in Cheadle by the name of Randolph De’ath Stilts.
An elegant middle order accumulator, young Randolph was electric behind the timbers – neat and unfussy, brave and competitive (standing up to all but the fastest of bowling), and as reliable and dependable as the British Postal Service.
He was also the tallest ‘keeper the game has ever seen – at 6 foot 11 and with arms of astonishing, telescopic length, he was able to smartly gather wayward leg-side deliveries while standing 6 feet wide of off-stump.
In the season immediately before the outbreak of hostilities, ‘Handy Randy’ (as the Old Trafford faithful belovedly christened him) effected an amazing 196 dismissals in 28 County matches, helping to take the Red Rose to the Championship title.
But the Great War dealt Randy a tragic hand.
Captured in Belgium by the boche in 1915 when establishing covert communications behind enemy lines, he was tried as a spy and sentenced to face a firing squad.
Only the intervention and clemency of an Oxford-educated German officer reduced the death sentence, but what a cruel one – he was to be ‘disabled’, or ‘permanently disarmed’. His two upper limbs were to be severed.
The barbaric deed was carried out, and Randy, or ‘Stumpy’ (as his jocular fellow prisoners-of-war now dubbed him with typical Tommy gallows humour), was left with a couple of mere protuberances poking from his armpits.
Cricket, you’d have thought was over for Randy.
When the war was over and with typical British phlegm, and a remarkable stiff upper lip, Randy returned to his rightful place in the Lancashire XI.
Donning a pair of specially tailored gauntlets, or ‘short mitts’ as he called them, Randy was straight back up to the wickets, and with a combination of his pole-length legs and short arms was once again gathering in everything that Tyldesley, Parkin and Brearley could deliver.
And in his very first game back in 1919, standing up to the legendary Australian quick, Ted MacDonald at Lord’s, Stilts took everyone’s breath away.
Calmly collecting a succession of hostile bouncers and beamers from MacDonald directed at Middlesex and England captain, Sir Pelham Warner, Randy then astonished the capacity crowd with a lightning leg-side take, whipping a single bail to the floor while ‘Plum’ had his back foot momentarily raised.
Ever the gentleman wit, Warner declared “Well, I’m stumped!” and handed our hero a sovereign.
Wise words by Warner were treated like holy writ back then, and thus ‘stumping’, entered Wisden’s official lexicography and the wickets have been termed ‘stumps’ ever since.
Handy Randy/Stumpy Stilts played a further 17 seasons in top class-cricket, playing 9 Tests for England.
He died in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 – but that is another story.
The above was inspired by a feature by Dennis Freedman for his thoroughly entertaining Dennis Does Cricket blog, entitled ‘A Rather Inaccurate Guide to the History of Cricketing Terminology‘. Please go and read it here.
Apologies to Dennis for nicking and running with his idea!
Imitation is of course the sincerest form of flattery – so I hope he and Sir Neville can forgive me!