Patsy Hendren walks out to bat © Getty Images
Patsy Hendren walks out to bat © Getty Images

Patsy Hendren, born February 5, 1889, was blessed equally with a dry sense of humour and the art of batsmanship. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates a lesser-known Hendren anecdote.

Make no mistake: Patsy Hendren was no ordinary cricketer. Only Jack Hobbs had scored more First-Class hundreds than Hendren’s 170, and only Hobbs and Frank Woolley got more runs than his 57,611, mostly for Middlesex. His 51 Tests got him 3,525 runs at 48, and the intervention of the Great War meant that he played 24 of these after turning forty. He was also the first to wear a homemade headgear — a cap with three peaks — that could pass as a helmet.

But that was not all.Hendren’s exceptional sense of humour and ability to crack practical jokes at the drop of a hat made him immensely popular among teammates and beyond.Few have emulated him in this respect. Perhaps Lindsay Hassett,Sid Barnes, and Tiger Lance were comparable.

On one occasion in Australia he was asked to field in the deep. He did not have the most handsome features, which prompted barrackers to ask him: “What did they send you out for? Your good looks?” Prompt came the response, pointing at a random location in the crowd: “There’s one uglier than me!”

Even after turning a superstar, he had no hesitation in playing beach cricket with strange Australian boys without giving away who he was. While fielding, he once impersonated Wally Hammond vividly enough to make the latter throw the ball at him. Hendren was the ultimate entertainer, making them laugh when a match entered into a phase of stupor.

Sometimes it was strategic. For example, during their first encounter, Hendren had a plea for Alf Gover: “Well, be careful of how you bowl at me. I’m not as young as I used to be, and I don’t like fast bowling too much.”The ploy worked: Gover kept bouncing, and Hendren, a master against short-pitched bowling, kept dispatching them wherever he felt like — till Hobbs intervened to explain Gover how he had been hoodwinked.

The story in question was narrated to Arthur Mailey, whose mastery over words and sense of humour were matched only by the prowess of his uninhibited leg-breaks.

Hendren was returning to London from north after a match. Seated opposite him on the train was a very pale, miserable-looking youth, holding on to his coat collar with some desperation.

Hendren was obviously concerned: “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’ve come from a cricket match,” came the prompt response in an oddly hoarse whisper.

Hendren was relieved but confused: “I thought you had come from a hospital. What were you doing at a cricket match?”

“Playing.”

“Playing?”

“Yes, playing, and I was bowled first ball,” confessed the boy, who looked paler and whose grip on the coat collar grew tighter with every passing moment.

“Bowled first ball? That wasn’t too nice,”remarked Hendren. Of course, a golden duck was unacceptable in Hendren’s world, but he probably took pity on the youngster.

“That’s not all. I dropped four catches,” uttered the boy as the voice grew hoarser.

Hendren had enough, for he was also a fantastic fielder: “Four catches!Well, I’ve been playing cricket a long time, but if I dropped four catches I think I’d cut my throat.”

“I have,” uttered the boy, loosening his grip on his collar.