Hugh Bartlett (left) could have played a Test or two had he not irked Wally Hammond (right) © Getty Images
Hugh Bartlett (left) could have played a Test or two had he not irked Wally Hammond (right) © Getty Images

There are plenty of factors that determine success at the highest level. As also failure. Recounting the plight of Hugh Bartlett, Arunabha Sengupta dwells on one of the unusual components.

It is never wise to irk your skipper, to casually push his buttons and bring out the worst in him. And if the captain happens to be someone like the great Wally Hammond, one is always better off avoiding the buttons in one particular area.

As Lancashire professional Eddie Paynter, long-time teammate of Hammond, recounted, “Wally, yes, he liked a good shag.” Women were his weakness, and that is one domain where none of the team members would be wise to cross him.

In 1938-39, Hammond had changed his status from professional to amateur, and had been rewarded with the captaincy of England. True, hardly anyone else could be expected to be skipper in a side that included Hammond, and that he had to change his status to skip over men like Bob Wyatt and Gubby Allen just underlines the ridiculous class system in cricket of the time.

After drawing the 1938 home series 1-1 against Don Bradman’s Australians, this great batsman took his side to South Africa for the five-Test showdown.

It was a handy side, the strongest English team to visit those distant shores till then. There was class in Hammond and the young sensation Len Hutton, plenty of depth in batting with Paynter, Les Ames and Bryan Valentine, and some incredible bowling riches in Hedley Verity and Ken Farnes alongside Doug Wright and Tom Goddard.

There were other players of promise as well. Bill Edrich, the batting all-rounder, had not had a good time at the top level till then, but there was expectation that he would eventually come good. And then there was the Surrey southpaw Hugh Bartlett, who was fresh from 1,548 runs in the 1938 season at 57.33 with 5 centuries.

Bartlett began the tour splendidly, with 91 unbeaten runs against Western Province. And after a lukewarm outing against the weak Griqualand West, he hammered a delightful century against Orange Free State.

According to Jim Swanton, who was on the tour as broadcaster, ‘Bartlett was a magnificent player and a very attractive chap.’ And it was during the same game against OFS at Bloemfontein that saw him stroke that hundred, that he made “the cardinal error of showing a great deal of interest in the girl Hammond had his eye on.”

David Foot writes in his wonderful biography of Hammond that Swanton added: “It was an unwise thing to do — to cross the captain like that.”

Of course, Hammond was married and all that, and much of his amateur status depended upon the business of his father-in-law. However, that had never stopped good old Wally from making his amorous advances. And when Bartlett, young and dashing, stepped directly on his philandering foot, the results were not very good.

Immediately after that outing against OFS, Bartlett’s appearances in tour matches grew less frequent. The excellent form vanished, and the runs dried up. On the other hand Edrich, despite failure upon failure dogging his steps, kept getting his chances.

By the time England played South Africa in the Timeless Test at Durban, Edrich had a tally of 87 runs at an average of 8 with a highest of 28 in 7 Tests. In the current tour, his run of Test scores read 4, 10, 0 and 6.

Yet Bartlett was still not given a go, and Edrich was persisted with. The Middlesex man grabbed the final opportunity with both his hands by getting 219 in the second innings.

Bartlett never played a Test.

Success and failure hinges on many factors, and some can be as far from cricket as imaginable.

But there was some good news around the corner for the young man.

As the players returned home on Althone Castle, Bartlett, along with teammate Norman Yardley, had parted with almost all his money. They had enjoyed themselves a bit too much in South Africa.

However, they decided to stake their last ten shillings on the Grand National sweepstake and split the proceeds.

The horse, a rank outsider, trotted in first. And the pair won £50. After buying the organisers of the sweep three bottles of champagne, the young men returned with £23 each.