Patsy Hendren’s “helmet” Photo Courtesy Sunday Express via The Bradman Digital Library
Patsy Hendren’s “helmet” Photo Courtesy: Sunday Express via The Bradman Digital Library

May 22, 1933. Taking cue from the Bodyline series, the West Indian fast bowlers — Manny Martindale and Learie Constantine — decided to give England a taste of their own medicine, resulting in an improvisation in headgear. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the day when Patsy Hendren walked out in what can be called the first “helmet” in the history of the sport.

The Ashes had been regained. Don Bradman, for once, was restricted to a “human” average of 56.57. Douglas Jardine and his artillery were hailed heroes by some and demons by others. Diplomatic relationships between Australia and England had reached its nadir. And despite everything, grudgingly or otherwise, Harold Larwood was hailed as the greatest contemporary fast bowler — and, according to some, the fastest in history.

But Bodyline had not come to an end. Vengeance came home to roost in the summer of 1933.

Elsewhere, the West Indians were on the ascent in international cricket. They had beaten England 2-1 in 1930 and Australia at SCG in 1931-32, where Bradman was bowled by Herman Griffith for a duck — a first for him in Test cricket.

When they arrived in England in 1933, West Indies had in their ranks George Headley, rated one of the finest of the era, which was saying something, given the presence of Bradman and Wally Hammond. They also had a ferocious fast bowling attack, consisting of Griffith, George Francis, and the champion Learie Constantine.

And then, there was the fastest of them all — Manny Martindale. When England had toured West Indies in 1930, Martindale had smashed the jaw of Bob Wyatt, then captain of England, in four pieces with a bouncer.

Martindale and Constantine were not reluctant to give the Englishmen a taste of their own medicine. David Frith, in The Fast Men, mentioned specifically that the duo was working on the orders of their captain, Jackie Grant.

Larwood had broken down with a stress fracture in the last Test of the Bodyline series. His 1933 adventures were restricted to 13 outings, where he played as a specialist batsman. He sent down a mere 10 overs in the season, and did not bowl at all in the last 10 matches.

The West Indians were different, of course, terrorising batsmen across the country. They lost heavily against Northamptonshire, and did not field Martindale or Constantine at Oxford. Then came the Leyton match, where Martindale hit the deck hard, pushing batsmen on to the back-foot, and taking 8 for 32 to skittle out Essex for 86. He claimed 4 for 73 in the second innings as well.

Patsy Hendren, master of the hook and the pull, was waiting for Martindale and Constantine when they visited Lord’s to play MCC. In his illustrious 30-year career, Hendren would score more hundreds (170) than anyone barring Jack Hobbs, and most runs (57,611) after Hobbs and Frank Woolley.

Unfortunately, Hendren was hit on his head at Lord’s in 1931. He had to be stretchered off the ground, unconscious. He did not return during the match, and needed to have six stitches done. Larwood (9 for 127) and Bill Voce (7 for 123) had led Nottinghamshire to a 126-run victory.

He had been in good form in the County Championship after two quiet outings. His 76 against Hampshire turned out to a match-winning effort; he followed it with 162 not out (in a team score of 299); and in his next outing, against Gloucestershire, he scored a neat 59.

Headley stamps his mark

Maurice Allom removed Teddy Hoad after Grant batted. This brought Headley to the crease; the two Cliffs — Roach and Inniss — scored forties, while Headley amassed 129. Unfortunately, none of them managed to reach 20, and Bill Bowes (4 for 72) and Allom (5 for 85) bowled out the West Indians for 309.

The tourists hit back. Jack Hearne (not to be confused with JT “Old Jack” Hearne) was caught-behind off Constantine. Jardine promoted Walter Franklin as night-watchman, and Martindale clean bowled him with the last ball of the day. MCC’s score read 33 for 2 at stumps; they trailed by 276.

The “helmet”; the three-peaked cap; whatever

The hearts of the Lord’s crowd skipped a collective beat when they saw Hendren walk out with Joe Hulme on the second morning. It was not something they have seen before. Hendren was wearing a cap, and yet it was not a cap. It was not anything remotely similar to what they had seen on a cricket field.

Cricket caps have a single peak. Hendren’s had three. One of them was the conventional, erect one — the one that carried the badge of the team, the one that made players proud of their identity. The other two hung limply, one on each side of his head.

Geoffrey Moorhouse mentioned in Lord’s that the “helmet” was a cap with “three peaks, two of them covering his ears and temples, lined with foam rubber.”

The “helmet” was designed by his wife Minnie. Hendren, as quoted by Geoffrey Boycott in The Best XI, confessed that “he needed protection after being struck on the head two years earlier by a new-fashioned short-pitched bouncer.”

Hendren’s headgear caused quite a stir. The comments, especially from the puritans, were not quite encouraging. The fact that he wore it at Lord’s probably scandalised the spectators even more.

Daily Sketch called it “ridiculous”, and added that it was “a cross between an airman’s helmet and an Eskimo’s headgear”. They added: “Patsy would be well advised to leave this ridiculous contraption in the pavilion, or better still, send it to Australia.”

Daily Mail was quite critical: “Hendren’s three-peak cap has cracked another glorious cricket tradition. No more excited babble of comment was ever caused by novel headgears as began at the Lord’s when a strangely head-muzzled figure, suggesting baseball or fencing and at some angles reminiscent of a bout wrestler, walked in to the wicket. The bowlers got a shock, and diehards dozing in the sun discussing the good old times were electrified.”

In White Cap and Bails, Dickie Bird called it a “kind of deerstalker hat”. Bird wrote: “A report at that time described it as ‘having the side-effect of converting his appearance from that of an amiable but hungry bull mastiff into that of an amiable but hungry bloodhound.”

Alex Britten agreed on the deerstalker hat aspect of it: “Patsy’s protective headgear looks like Sherlock Holmes’ hat — the three peaks ready to ward off bumpers.”

Patsy Hendren, in his “helmet”, flicks one from Learie Constantine Picture Courtesy: The Mail (Adelaide)
Patsy Hendren, in his “helmet”, flicks one from Learie Constantine. Picture Courtesy: The Mail (Adelaide)

Hendren justified his “helmet”, and rightly so: “The people can say what they like. I have been hit on the head four times, once by a Larwood bouncer in 1931 which caused a wound in which six stitches were inserted. I am still suffering recurrent headaches due to that bashing. Believe me, I’m taking no more risks.

“One of Constantine’s deliveries was like a bullet, and if it had hit me I would have gone to kingdom come. My wife made the cap out of cloth lined with rubber. It is a very fine job, but a little bit heavy on a hot day. Nevertheless it protects the temples. I don’t mind my face altered or my teeth knocked out if my head is protected. I don’t think other players will get similar caps. They wear pads and abdominal and chest protectors, but have not the courage to wear a head protector.”

It was probably too hot that day at London, for whenever Hendren reached the non-striker’s end, he asked the umpire (Joe Hardstaff sr and Arthur Morton, whoever was at the end) to hold it. He did not last long: Constantine removed him, caught Roach for 7.

MCC were reduced to 70 for 5 before Bryan Valentine (60) and Percy Chapman (97) took them to 246. As expected, Martindale (5 for 70) and Constantine (4 for 88) did most of the damage.

The onus fell on Bowes to stop the 63-run lead from getting substantial. He bowled well (3 for 69), and was supported by the left-arm spin of Jack White (4 for 77). But the tourists, despite being 165 for 7, reached 268 thanks to a Constantine blitzkrieg.

MCC were on course in their chase of 332 with Hendren (61) and Jardine (44) at the crease and the initial burst from Martindale and Constantine blunted out. This time Ellis Achong (5 for 49) came to the forefront with his Chinamen. With Oscar Da Costa taking 3 for 38, MCC, after being 145 for 3, crashed to 179.

What followed?

- In response to the uproar, Hendren made a compromise of sorts: he promised he would not use the headgear against anyone barring Larwood (and hence, Voce), Bowes, and Constantine (and Martindale). He abandoned it next season.

- Despite their stars, West Indies were completely outplayed in the Test series. Walter Robins, Hedley Verity, and George Macaulay led England to an innings victory at Lord’s. Though they managed to draw the second Test at Old Trafford, “Father” Marriott took 11 for 112 in his only Test to effect another innings victory at The Oval.

- Though Dickie Dodds of Essex “imaginatively wore part of a riding helmet under his cap in the 1950s” (Lawrence Booth), it was not until 1977 that Dennis Amiss became the first to use a proper helmet in competitive cricket. The following year Graham Yallop became the first to use it in a Test. Mike Brearley and Sunil Gavaskar, on the other hand, wore fibreglass skullcaps.

- Puritans did not approve of helmets, but Wisden took a different view. Norman Preston wrote the Editor’s Notes of Wisden 1979: “The 1978 season will go into cricket history as the one when the ugly helmet was used by many players to protect themselves from injury, not only when batting but also when fielding in the suicide positions… Now, when batsmen have been laid low by the spate of bouncers that captains and umpires have tolerated, how could I, as an observer in a safe and comfortable seat, blame the players for wearing something to protect themselves from serious injury.”

Brief scores:

West Indians 309 (Clifford Roach 41, George Headley 129, Clifford Inniss 42; Bill Bowes 4 for 72, Maurice Allom 5 for 85) and 268 (Learie Constantine 51, Cyril Merry 41; Bill Bowes 3 for 69, Jack White 4 for 77) beat MCC 246 (Bryan Valentine 60, Percy Chapman 97; Manny Martindale 5 for 70, Learie Constantine 4 for 88) and 179 (Patsy Hendren 61, Douglas Jardine 44, Oscar Da Costa 3 for 38, Ellis Achong 5 for 49) by 152 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)