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The genial Geoff Chubb was born on April 12, 1911. Making his debut over an age of forty, Chubb had a small yet distinguished Test career. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the fast bowler with the unlikeliest of appearances.
What is your first impression when you come across a “fair-haired, studious and bespectacled” (Wisden) 40-year old? What do you make of him? A doctor? A professor? A scholar? A CEO? Woody Allen? Or a speedster about to make his Test debut and open bowling for South Africa?
Surprisingly, Geoffrey Walter Ashton Chubb fulfilled the last category.
Chubb was not express, but he was certainly quick — and more importantly, had impeccable accuracy and seemingly ageless, inexhaustible stamina. He was your quintessential workhorse who could go on bowling for hours. Wisden had called him a “disarmingly effective” bowler.
Chubb played 49 matches over a period that spanned close to two decades. Had he not had his business commitments, he would definitely have had a substantial career. He finished with a haul of 160 wickets at an excellent 23.91 with seven five-fors (he never took ten wickets in a match). A dependable man in the tail, he scored 835 runs at an acceptable 18.15 with five fifties. He also managed 21 wickets at 27.47 from five Tests.
The Chubb brothers (Geoff and Anthony, who also played for Border) were born in East London. A 20-year old Geoff Chubb made his First-Class debut for Border in a Currie Cup match as a specialist batsman against Western Province at Johannesburg, getting to bowl only four overs. In fact, he top-scored with 64 in the second innings against Bob Crisp and Dave Nourse. He followed this with 61 in his next match at Old Wanderers. However, he moved to Johannesburg in 1932 and did not play First-Class cricket for the five seasons.
When he eventually made a comeback in 1936-37 it was for Transvaal, and it was only then that he established himself as a bowler. “On moving to Johannesburg [Chubb] concentrated on his bowling. He worked hard at perfecting his medium-paced seamers and developing a high degree of accuracy,” wrote Wisden.
Chubb’s finest performance came in his only match of 1939-40: opening bowling at Old Wanderers Chubb picked up four for 24 to rout Eastern Province for 78 (they were 39 for seven at one stage after the Chubb burst). He then scored a career-best 71 not out as Transvaal piled up an almost unassailable 414-run lead, and came back to finish with four for 43 to bowl out the opposition for 168.
Teaching at prison
The Second World War followed. Chubb was taken Prisoner of War in the same camp as Jack Goldby, a colleague at Goldby, Panchaud and Webber. When they found a bright youngster, Goldby and Chubb acquired accountancy text books through Red Cross and tutored him. Mike Rosholt, their student, went on to pass the Board Examinations with distinction on his return to South Africa.
One would expect age and the fatigue from the war to drain out Chubb, but he surprised everyone with figures of four for 81 from 36 overs (48 six-ball overs) against Western Province at Newlands. He continued to play the Currie Cup, but missed the entire season of 1948-49. He came back the next season, starting with five for 35 and two for 27 at Salisbury.
Two matches later he scared Natal at Johannesburg with figures of seven for 54 (his career-best) and two for ten. Transvaal lifted the Currie Cup that season, and Chubb finished with 33 wickets 14.66, coming only next to Orange Free State’s Harold Wright’s tally of 35 wickets at 19.20. He was selected for the tour of England later that year with Dudley Nourse’s team (whose father Chubb had played First-Class cricket with): he was past his fortieth birthday when he embarked the ship.
After a couple of quiet matches, Chubb found form against Glamorgan at Cardiff, routing them for 130 and 186 with a match haul of seven for 65. He did a decent (though far from outstanding) job in the subsequent tour matches, but was selected for the first Test at Trent Bridge alongside three other debutants — Jackie McGlew, John Waite, and Clive van Ryneveld. At 40 years 56 days Chubb became the oldest Test debutant for South Africa (a record surpassed only by Omar Henry, who made his debut at 40 years 295 days).
South Africa piled up 483 for nine banking on Nourse’s 208. Chubb opened bowling with Cuan McCarthy (who was 18 years younger than him). McCarthy sent down 48 overs for his four for 104, but the forty-year-old’s spell of 46.2-12-146-4 left the spectators in awe. He had removed Jack Ikin with his second ball (thanks to a diving catch by McCarthy at short fine-leg), and had come back to remove Freddie Brown, Godfrey Evans, and Johnny Wardle. England declared 67 runs behind.
An unfit Nourse did not bat in the second innings, and Alec Bedser routed them for 121. Set a mere 186 to chase England were routed by Athol Rowan and Tufty Mann for 114. It was South Africa’s first Test victory in 16 years and their first ever on English soil.
Chubb etched his name on the Lord’s leader-board in the second Test with a haul of five for 77 as England were bowled out for 311, but Roy Tattersall ran through them with figures of seven for 52 and three for 49: England levelled the series with a ten-wicket win on Day Three.
Bedser came to the party again at Old Trafford, finishing with seven for 58 and five for 54. Chubb responded superbly, picking up a career-best haul of six for 51. “(George) Chubb presented the most difficulties (among South African bowlers) and worthily earned his analysis,” wrote Wisden. England won by nine wickets.
Eric Rowan’s 236 and unbeaten 60 earned South Africa a draw at Headingley. South Africa needed a win in the last Test at The Oval, but despite managing an eight-run lead they surrendered to Jim Laker (four for 64 and six for 55). England chased down the target of 163 with four wickets in hand (this was the innings where Len Hutton was given out obstructing the field, stopping Russell Endean from taking a catch). Chubb finished with two for 70 and three for 53.
In the humdinger Scarborough festival match — the final match on the tour — Chubb finished with four for 16 and two for 71. South Africa lost by a mere nine runs. He finished the tour with as the leading bowler with 76 wickets at 26.38 (McCarthy came second with 59).
Wisden wrote that Chubb “went through the tour always willing to keep an end going as long as the captain desired… His was an exceptional debut in the world of Test cricket.” Chubb retired from First-Class cricket after the tour, and was named a South Africa Cricket Annual Cricketer of the Year.
Chubb went on to become a National Selector and serve two terms (from 1955 to 1957 and from 1959 to 1960) as President in South Africa Cricket Association. He passed away on August 28, 1982 at East London at an age of 71 years 138 days.
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