Welcome to the latest post in my “All Time XIs” series. This post has been more fraught with difficulties than most in this series because Sussex, today’s subject, have a very long but not particularly glorious cricketing history.
SUSSEX ALL TIME XI
- Charles Burgess Fry – an extraordinary character, in many ways the UK’s nearest equivalent to Leonardo Da Vinci. In public examinations he outdid two of the leading scholars of his day, F E Smith (later Lord Birkenhead) and John Simon who later got to put a Sir in front of his name. He represented his University (Oxford) in Athletics, Football and Rugby as well as cricket (and for 18 months, a period that has been massively exaggerated in some accounts, he was joint holder of the world long jump record). He played football as well as cricket at full international level, and had he learned in time that the 1896 Olympic was happening would probably have been a medallist there, while only an injury prevented him from making history by becoming a triple international (rugby, as well as football and cricket). He ran a training ship (The Mercury) at Hamble. He stood for election three times but was unsuccessful at that. He was even considered as a potential candidate for the throne of Albania! In amongst these and other varied activities he played enough first class cricket (including a stint at Hampshire) to amass over 30,000 runs at an average of 50, including 94 centuries. In 1912, when both South Africa and Australia visited for the Triangular Tournament (a rain ruined disaster) he captained England and emerged from his six game tenure with four wins and two draws. He once scored six successive first class centuries, a performance equalled by Bradman but unsurpassed. Iain Wilton is the author of a definitive biography of him, simply titled “C B Fry”, which I recommend.
- John Langridge – over 30,000 first class runs including 76 centuries and precisely zero international recognition. He shared an opening partnership with Ted Bowley worth 490 against Middlesex, Sussex’s record stand for any wicket and one beaten in English cricket only by two Yorkshire pairs, Brown and Tunnicliffe who put on 554 against Derbyshire in 1898, and Sutcliffe and Holmes who beat that stand by one run in 1932 against Essex.
- Ted Dexter – an attacking right handed batter, a fine fielder and a useful bowler of above medium pace. In 1962-3 he captained England in Australia and in the five test matches scored 481 runs at 48.10. Dexter, like Freddie Brown who I mentioned in passing yesterday, has a place in the ‘Exotic Birthplaces XI’ although Milan, Italy does not quite match Lima, Peru.
- Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji – a right handed batter who pioneered the leg glance, averaged 56 in his long and distinguished first class career and had a fine if brief test career. His two centuries at that level, 154 not out on his debut at Old Trafford (a match I wrote about in my Warwickshire piece in connection with Dick Lilley) and 175 in the first match of the 1897-8 Ashes show that he could make big hundreds. During his Cambridge days he achieved at Parker’s Piece, the green space that used to be considered the demarcation between ‘town’ and ‘gown’, the rare feat of three individual centuries on the same day, in three different matches that were taking place there.
- Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji – nephew of ‘Ranji’, and possibly an even better batter. His career was cut short by health problems, but he scored 989 test runs at an average of 58, including 173 on debut against Australia at Lord’s (a match Australia won by seven wickets in spite of England tallying 800 in their two innings). For Sussex he once scored 333 in less than a full day’s play, which stood as a county record until Murray Goodwin who subsequently alo played for Glamorgan surpassed it in 2003.
- +Matthew Prior – a fast scoring middle order batter and a fine wicket keeper. In 2010-11 his keeping and ability to score middle order runs when needed played a major role in England’s first Ashes triumph down under since the 1986-7 series.
- *Tony Greig – a genuine all rounder, an attacking middle order batter, two kinds of bowler (medium-fast or off spin according to conditions – he once took 13 wickets in a test match in Trinidad using the latter method) and a great fielder. Controversial because of his tendency to make ill-advised comments (e.g. “I intend to make them grovel” in the run up to the visit of the 1976 West Indies, who were provoked by the fury they felt at this to new heights of brutal destructiveness) and his activities as a recruting agent for Packer while still official England captain, but his record speaks for himself, and as Greig the commentator might have said of Greig the player “he could certainly come to the party”.
- James Langridge – brother of John, a slow-left arm bowler good enough to take seven wickets in an innings on test debut (which came late due to him being overshadowed by Hedley Verity) and a useful middle order batter, who often had to play the sheet anchor role in the weak Sussex sides of his time.
- Maurice Tate – More first class wickets than any other Sussex bowler – 2,784 of them, and a useful middle order batter as well. His official bowling designation of ‘right arm fast medium’ tells only part of the story – on all surfaces and in all types of conditions he could get significant lateral movement (both Woolley in “King of Games”, see my Kent piece, and Monty Noble in “Gilligan’s Men”, his account of the 1924-5 Ashes tour state that Tate never spun the ball at all, so trusting the judgement of these two writers who had both been top class all rounders before taking up the pen I will assume that he achieved his movement either by means of swing or cut), including 38 wickets in the 1924-5 Ashes.
- John Wisden – right arm fast bowler, also good enough with the bat to make two centuries in major matches during his career. He is the eponym and original creator of the Wisden Cricketeter’s Almanack, also known as “The Cricket Bible”. His greatest bowling achievement was to take all 10 wickets in an innings, all clean bowled.
- John Snow – right arm fast bowler. Between the retirement of Trueman and the emergence of the 2005 Ashes winning attack probably only Bob Willis and Devon Malcolm on his good days among English bowlers bowled as quick as Snow. In the 1970-1 Ashes, when England reclaimed the little urn after 12 years, Snow joined Larwood (Nottinghamshire) and Tyson (Northamptonshire) as an England quick who could claim to have blitzed the Aussies in their own backyard. I am relying with this selection on skipper Greig to be able to administer a metaphorical kick to the Snow backside when needed, as Snow was a somewhat temperamental character. Snow could be a bit of a practical joker: once at Leicester he bowled a bouncer with a soap cricket ball purchased at the local Woolworths, the batter, Peter Marner, hooked fiercely and the ball shattered into fragments. The scorer put an asterisk next to the dot and at the bottom of the page recorded, dead pan, “ball exploded”. On another occasion, Snow, desirous of spinning things out a bit and knowing the character of the bowler’s end umpire, deposited a pocketful of cake crumbs at the end of his run up, whereupon “birds swooped, Bird (the umpire) panicked, Snow smiled.”
This team comprises a high calibre top five, a good no six who was also a fine wicket keeper, two genuine all-rounders at seven and eight and three guys picked predominantly as bowlers. The bowling, with two purveyors of outright pace, Tate’s swing and cut, two genuine spin options in James Langridge and Greig and two medium-fast options in Greig in his other style and Dexter also looks strong and varied, missing only a leg spin option for completeness.
HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE ON THE FIRST GREAT BOWLING PARTNERSHIP
In the 1820s and 30s Sussex had the first documented example of a genuine bowling partnership, William Lillywhite and James Broadbridge, whose exploits made Sussex a force capable of taking on and beating the rest of England, a position they have never since occupied (nb if you think this is taking things a long way back, Philippe-Henri Edmonds begins his “100 Greatest Bowlers” with David Harris, star of Hambledon in the 1770s and 1780s, while the first known match to have taken place between teams using county names was between Kent and Surrey in 1708, there are verifiable references to cricket from the late 16th century, and some claim references from even earlier than that). I gave serious consideration to including this pairing in my all-time Sussex XI, but decided that the documented test match successes of Snow and the historical significance of Wisden just had the edge, with the latter being a nod to the old guard as well). The fact that one of this duo was a Lillywhite leads on to…
You will have noted that my XI included an uncle and nephew pairing and a pair of brothers. Sussex has a more extensive history of family involvement in cricket than anywhere else I can think of. The first of Sussex’s cricketing families were the Lillywhites, who as well as William produced among others John, and James who led the 1876-77 tour party to Australia that inaugurated test cricket. The ruling family of Nawanagar have already been covered by the inclusion of two of them in the XI, as have the Langridges. Maurice Tate was the son of Fred Tate, a Sussex stalwart in his day and a one cap wonder for his country. Tate Sr’s sole test experience, at Old Trafford in 1902 was eminently forgettable – he got to play because of a spat between chairman of selectors Lord Hawke (Yorkshire) and skipper MacLaren (Lancashire), and was involved in two very unfortunate incidents in that match. First, in the second Aussie innings, Fred Tate, who normally fielded close to the bat, found himself at deep square leg because MacLaren would not countenance making the gentleman amateur Lionel Palairet (Somerset) move all the way from deep square leg to the right hander to deep square leg for the left hander. The left hander Joe Darling sent a skier in that direction which had it been held would have made Australia 16-4, but it went to ground, and Darling went on to 37, and Australia, who would not even have topped 50 without the reprieve, scraped up 86 setting England 124 to win. Then, England suffered a major attack of nerves in the chase, and Fred Tate found himself walking in to bat at 116-9, eight still needed to win. He snicked a four to halve the requirement, but then Jack Saunders produced his quicker ball (there were suspicions about his action when he bowled that one – such are nothing new under the sun), which also kept fiendishly low, and all poor Fred Tate ever knew of it was the death rattle as it clattered into the timber behind him to give Australia victory by three runs. Afterwards someone tried to console him and he said “I’ve got a little lad at home who’ll make the Aussies pay for this”. The boy was of course Maurice Tate, and 24 years later he was a key part of England’s first post World War 1 Ashes winning combination.
Among other Sussex family combinations were Albert and Bob Relf, brothers who were both considered all rounders of differing types. Albert had a curious tour of South Africa in which he scored 404 runs at 25.25 and took 16 wickets at 25.25 – he conceded precisely as many runs as he scored and took the same number of wickets as he suffered dismissals. Bob Relf was once sent in as nightwatchman with no prior notice by his captain CB Fry and is alleged to have said to Joe Vine who he joined at the wicket “right, let’s keep the old B__ waiting all today tomorrow as well”. The two of them stayed together until after 5PM the following day, before Vine was out, with Relf on about 130. Fry finally got his innings and found himself in the shadow of Relf who was by now thoroughly enjoying himself, and ultimately finished the innings on 210 not out. George Cox Sr and George Cox Jr between them spanned 66 years (Sr made his debut in 1895, Jr played his last first class game in 1961), the latter once scoring 234 v India in a tour match. In more recent times there have been the Wellses, of whom Colin, Alan and Luke have all played first class cricket, with Alan experiencing test cricket, although not much of it – his test batting career lasted one ball. Finally, there is the commentator-player link of Christopher and Robin Martin-Jenkins (whose middle order batting and right arm medium-fast were not sufficiently potent to merit serious consideration), father and son.
Other than Bowley and Vine who have already been mentioned in passing Roger Prideaux and David Smith (who attended Battersea Grammar, one of the forerunners of my own secondary school, Graveney) also had respectable records. Bill Athey, who made Sussex his third home after spells at Yorkshire and Gloucestershire was good without ever approaching greatness. Chris Adams, Paul Parker, Neil Lenham and Martin Speight all had decent records in the middle order without seriously challenging my chosen nos 3,4 and 5. Billy Griffith, Tim Ambrose and Michael Burgess all had or have good records as wicket keepers, with the first two having received England recognition, and the third possibly in the frame (although the England selectors have still not got the message, clear to everyone else, that Jos Buttler is not, repeat not, a test cricketer or even a particularly good wicket keeper, and Ben Foakes, Ben Cox of Worcestershire and Oliver Graham Robinson of Kent would all probably be ahead of Burgess in the queue). Among the home grown bowlers not making the cut were Jason Lewry, a left arm paceman who had been a yard or two quicker than he actually was would have given me pause at the very least, Ed Giddins and James Kirtley who both did gain England recognition, Ian Thomson, who once took a first class all-ten but was basically a workaday medium pacer, and also Ian Salisbury, a leg spinner who could bowl good ‘uns, but also bowled far too many bad ‘uns to warrant serious consideration. Also of course there is the old (in two ways) record breaker James Southerton who used to regularly turn out for both Surrey and Sussex before qualification rules were tightened and who was one of the combatants in the inaugural test match, becoming at 49 the oldest ever test debutant, which record he is likely to hold for ever more.
Of the overseas players I might have considered, Murray Goodwin was ruled out on my usual ‘go for a bowler’ grounds, while neither Imran Khan nor Garth Le Roux had sufficiently imposing records to warrant excluding any of my chosen XI, though at a pinch Imran might have got in in place of John Snow. The foreign omission I felt most keenly was Mushtaq Ahmed, the leg spinner who played such a key role in Sussex’s first ever County Championship win.
If you are going to suggest changes, which you are very welcome to do, please consider the balance of the side, and who you would displace for your chosen ones.
LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
Yes, our excursion along the highways and byways of Sussex cricket has reached its end, but before my usual sign off I have a couple of things to share. Firstly, a piece by Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK titled “The FT says its time for the Bank of England to start direct funding of the government: modern monetary theory has won the day.“
Second, Ritu Bhathal who has an author website and also blogs at But I Smile Anyway has a novel titled “Marriage Unarranged” out, and she has recently done a very entertaining interview with Rebecca at The Book Babe – please do take a look.
Finally, it is time for my usual sign off…