The Sussex all-rounder Ken Suttle was born on August 25, 1928. Abhishek Mukherjee looks a diligent cricketer who missed out the opportunity to play at the top level.
Test cricketers have always enjoyed the top rung of the long list of illustrious people who have made this sport proud. However, for every cricketer who has made it to the top level there have been thousands who did not, and have spent years serving their a county or a state side with a diligence matched by few.
Kenneth George Suttle was one of the most perseverant of this lot. He never won a Test cap, and nor did he ever take the world apart. However, he stayed and went on for over two decades. In the process he played 423 consecutive Championship matches for Sussex, still a world record, and one that is not likely to be broken given the current schedule.
The Telegraph wrote in his obituary: “This achievement, spread over 15 years between August 1954 and July 1969, was the more remarkable in that Sussex at that period readily left out proven professionals in order to accommodate brilliant occasional amateurs such as David Sheppard, Hubert Doggart and the Nawab of Pataudi.”
The diminutive Suttle’s nimble footwork made him a treat to watch: his innings were formed mostly of shots played square of the wicket, and it was his adaptive improvisational skills that made him a formidable batsman. Forever busy at the crease, he earned the phrase “an endless bat-kicker and a real heel-kicker” from Robin Marlar.
He was also gutsy. Alan Oakman recalled two incidents: when the touring West Indians played Sussex in 1963, Suttle was hit by Charlie Griffith. Despite losing a lot of blood he decided to carry on. When the West Indians arrived three years later there was an encore. Once again Oakman was the non-striker. He went up to Suttle and asked whether he was fine. Suttle replied: “Oh yes, he’s not as fast as he was.”
After the initial years (he bowled only 13 overs across seven seasons) he turned out to be a quality left-arm spinner. In addition he was quite athletic in the field, specialising in all possible positions. He was also supremely fit, which was perhaps the reason for his uninterrupted tenure. His teammate Les Lenham claimed that “Ken was an amazing cricketer and the consummate professional.”
The Telegraph suggested another reason: “Ever eager, he [Suttle] liked to change positions frequently in order to find a new audience for his irrepressible chatter.” Marlar called him “the spirit of Sussex on the cricket field”. It was perhaps his agility and incessant banter that made him an occasional wicketkeeper.
Suttle played 612 First-Class matches: he scored 30,225 runs at 31.09 with 49 hundreds, picked up 266 wickets at 32.80, and effected 385 catches (both with the gloves and without) and three stumpings. He had scored the second-most runs (29,375) for Sussex after only John Langridge (34,150).
Suttle was born at Brook Green, Hammersmith. He moved to Worthing at the age of nine and showed outstanding aptitude in all sports. He was all set to become a lawyer and even cleared some of the exams. Thereafter he finished his National Service in the Parachute Regiment.
A proficient fast-moving left-winger, Suttle was signed by Chelsea, and eventually made three League appearances for Brighton and Hove Albion in 1949. However, after receiving a call-up from Sussex, he decided to stick to cricket.
He made his First-Class debut against Hampshire at Hove the same season, scoring an unbeaten 12.The next year he married Sheila Murphy. He had to wait for three years for his first hundred, against Worcestershire at Eastbourne in 1952 — the season when he won his Sussex cap.
It was a special innings: Sussex trailed by 271, and were down at 264 for eight in the third innings. Suttle was joined by Peter Kelland (who eventually finished with a batting average of 9.00). Suttle shielded Kelland brilliantly, and added an unbeaten 119 to save the match: Kelland had managed only five. Suttle scored 114 not out in the 135 scored during his stay at the wicket.
1953 saw Suttle scoring 1,445 runs at 41.83 with six hundreds, the last two (103 against Derbyshire at Hove and 108 against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham) coming in consecutive matches. His form earned him a spot in the West Indies tour later that year.
Narrowly missing a cap
Suttle had an excellent start to the tour: in the second tour match against Barbados at Kensington Oval he opened the batting, top-scored in each innings with 96 and 62 against Garry Sobers, Denis Atkinson, and John Goddard, and it was largely because of him that MCC won a nail-biter by one wicket.
The Barbados Test that followed was perhaps his best opportunity at winning a Test cap. However, Len Hutton preferred the amateur player-manager Charlie Palmer for the Test. A livid Fred Trueman called the selection “grossly unfair” towards Suttle. As things turned out, England lost by 181 runs, Palmer scored 22 and a duck, and never played another Test. Suttle, on the other hand, finished the tour with 251 runs at 41.83.
Back to Sussex
After a quiet 1954 (where his amazing run began), the next season saw Suttle emerge as an all-rounder. Not only did he score 1,466 runs at 28.74 but he also picked up 24 wickets at 16.75, topping the Sussex bowling charts in the season. He claimed 37 wickets the next season.
Thereafter the old warhorse carried on season after season, his batting average remaining steady between 30 and 40 from 1957 to 1964, picking up wickets on a consistent basis at the same time. Had he been born later he may have made an excellent utility player in the shorter versions of the sport.
In 1962 Suttle scored 1,962 runs — the most for Sussex that season (do note the number and the year). It was in the same season that he scored 204 not out in a team score of 393 for six against Kent at Tunbridge Wells. Sussex won by an innings, and it remained Suttle’s highest First-Class score.
The Gillette Cup started in 1963 and Suttle played a crucial role in Sussex’s victory in the first two seasons: he scored 104 on his List A debut with 16 fours and a six against Kent at Tunbridge Wells, and finished the first two seasons with 175 runs at 35.00 and 165 at 33.00.
In 1964 he carried his bat through an innings against Lancashire at Liverpool, scoring 97 against Ken Higgs, Ken Shuttleworth, Peter Lever, and Sonny Ramadhin out of a team score of 166 (the next highest was 22). He repeated the feat in 1966 against Leicestershire at Grace Road, scoring 89 against Tony Lock and Jack Birkenshaw out of 161 (the next best was 31).
The onus of informing Suttle about his axing against Surrey at The Oval fell on Mike Griffith, Sussex’s captain in 1969. Griffith called Suttle, received an earful, and informed after keeping the phone down: “Christ, he [Suttle] wanted to know why ten other buggers hadn’t been left out before him.” Determined to prove a point, Suttle top-scored against Middlesex at Hove later that month with a 127 against Fred Price, Alan Connolly, Fred Titmus and Peter Parfitt.
He picked up his only five-for against Worcestershire at New Road in 1970 when he picked up six wickets (out of the top seven batsmen) for 64. The next season he scored two hundreds (112 and 120) for the only time in his career, against Cambridge University at Horsham. At 43, it also turned out to be his last season.
Sussex had earlier given him a benefit season in 1966, which had raised £5,500. In 1972 he shared a testimonial year with Jim Parks, which raised £10,000. That season he was relegated to the Second XI, upon which he promptly retired. “The episode recalled Sussex’s appalling treatment of Maurice Tate, their greatest-ever bowler, who was summarily dismissed in 1937 after a quarter of a century of strenuous service,” wrote The Telegraph.
Suttle played for Suffolk and then became a qualified umpire, officiating in four First-Class matches in 1983. Three years later he lost his wife, who was survived by two sons. Suttle remarried in 1989 — this time to Valerie Jones (née Pickett). The same year he took up a job in a sports equipments company.
In his later days he coached at Christ’s Hospital in Horsham and took them to tours of South Africa and Barbados. A prolific golfer, Suttle was appointed the captain of The County Cricketers’ Golfing Society. The bus route 885 in Brighton and Hove has been named after him.
Ken Suttle passed away on March 25, 2005, while on a vacation in Mauritius.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)