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George Parker: A meteoric rise and fall

George Parker
George Parker (second left from back) had a career that fizzled out early despite a great start to his career  © Getty Images

Born May 27, 1899, George Parker had one of the shortest domestic careers among Test cricketers. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the South African with one of the most intriguing First-Class careers.

An exceptional fast bowler, George MacDonald Parker played only three First-Class matches; the South Africans had a good look at Parker (who was playing for Eccleshill in the Bradford League at that point of time) on his First-Class debut, drafted him in to play two Tests, and that was it.

Born in Cape Town, Parker moved to England to try his luck in League Cricket. Herbie Taylor’s team had a dismal start on their English tour of 1924, winning only the Varsity match at Fenner’s Ground of the ten he played. The only bowler to have some success was Sid Pegler, who was not even a part of the original squad.

A desperate Taylor drafted in Parker for the match against Oxford University. There was no play in the match barring four hours on Day Three, but it was enough for Parker to show his skills: he had four wickets (three of them bowled), had three catches dropped off his bowling, and finished with four for 34. Play was called off with Oxford on 117 for nine.

The Oxford match had ended on June 13. The next day Parker was given his Test cap at Edgbaston.

Test debut

Taylor gave Parker choice of ends ahead of Pegler. Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe belted the South Africans around the park, and Frank Woolley and Patsy Hendren joined in the fun as well. Parker toiled hard, and as Wisden wrote, he “He bowled himself to a standstill and became so exhausted that he had to leave the field shortly before the drawing of stumps, the South Africans finishing the day with ten men.” As things had turned out, Parker had left the field without informing anyone and not responding to any question from his teammates. When Taylor asked him, he mentioned that he was tired, and did not return.

The Times mentioned that Parker bowled “a quick, almost fast” ball, but when he bowled them, a full over “takes an unconscionable time to deliver.” The Guardian wrote: “He [Parker] is immensely deliberate as he walks to his bowling place; his eyes are cast on the earth, and he walks slowly and solemnly as though pondering mighty problems. The wildness of his bowling made a quite sensational contrast to his solid deportment.”

He had other oddities as well. When he was having trouble bowling to Woolley, he went up to the batsman and asked whether the field placement was right for a left-hander. Despite all that, he had taken five wickets (including Sutcliffe, Woolley, Hendren, and Percy Chapman) on Day One before leaving, and bowled George Wood the next morning. England were bowled out for 438, and Parker finished with six for 152 in a display of hostile fast bowling. In the process Parker became the sixth South African to take a five-for and the third to take a six-for on Test debut.

Arthur Gilligan and Maurice Tate then bowled out the tourists for 30 in 12.3 overs; they did a lot better after following on, but were bowled out for 390, Gilligan and Tate sharing nine of the ten wickets this time. Batting at eleven, Parker scored a duck and two not out.

Desperate for a fightback, Taylor summoned Aubrey Faulkner at Lord’s, and retained both Pegler and Parker. The bowling attack looked formidable on paper, but Hobbs and Sutcliffe decimated the Protean attack, adding 268 for the opening stand before Woolley had two century stands with Hobbs and Hendren.

Gilligan declared on 531 for two, scored at 4.50 runs an over; both wickets went to Parker: Sutcliffe played one on, while Hobbs played an almost bored shot. Parker finished with two for 121 while South Africa managed 273 and 240 (Parker scored one not out and a golden duck); he never played another Test and went back to Bradford League.

Final days

Back to South Africa, Parker married Marguerite Grace ‘Peg’Illingworth in 1929 and had five children. He became a sheep-breeder and moved to Australia. He passed away at Thredbo on May 1, 1969 — 26 days short of his 70th birthday.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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