Percy Fender © Getty Images
Percy Fender © Getty Images

Percy George Herbert Fender was born August 22, 1892. In the opinion of many a contemporary, Fender was the greatest captain to have never led England. A more-than-capable all-rounder, Fender achieved several remarkable feats as a player including the world record for the fastest First-Class hundred, but is remembered more for being an astute strategist, a great leader of men, and an outspoken maverick. Abhishek Mukherjee lists 22 things about a larger-than-life Surrey champion. 

1. Cult hero 

Percy Fender was not the greatest of cricketers, but he achieved cult status among his contemporaries, and later. Some of it had to do with his appearance, one that certainly did not resemble a cricketer’s.

Ronald Mason wrote: “Percy fender, tall, angular, beaky, balding, surprisingly reminiscent in appearance of Groucho Marx, looked about as unpromising material for an all-round cricketer as could be conceived. He looked decades older than he really was, and his large horn-rimmed spectacles over the assertive turfed moustache gave him the air of a fierce cashier peering angrily among the ledgers for a lost sixpence.”

John Arlott chipped in as well, calling him “unmistakable on the field, lanky, bespectacled, curly-haired, slouching along, hands deep in pockets and wearing a grotesquely long sweater.”

The hairline began to recede even when he was in his twenties. The moustache looked more suited to a comic opera than a cricket field. He was always a cartoonist’s favourite, but once he acquired those glasses, things reached a new level.

At times the portrayal backfired, for it often gave the casual student of the sport the impression that Fender had little to do on the field beyond providing comic relief. A perfect example of this happened in the 1984 TV series Bodyline, where Fender, played by John Gregg, was perhaps inspired by the cartoons, and did not come remotely close to the man behind the moustache and those glasses. A near-infuriated David Frith called the portrayal “an outrageous Bertie Wooster type”.

Remarkable and clumsy he might have looked, but that was not the only reason behind Fender’s popularity. His behaviour was unusual, if not eccentric; he was an unusually adept leader, which made him a darling of Surrey; and in an era when cricket was still dominated by the nobility, Fender ran into a public tussle against Lord Harris, no less, which effectively ended his Test career.

2. The leader of Gods

Fender’s popularity spread beyond the realm of cricket, and GH Hardy was perhaps the most famous of his admirers. For the uninitiated, not only was Hardy renowned for his work on mathematical analysis and number theory, he was also one of the few who spoke eloquently about the aesthetics of mathematics. A Mathematician’s Apology remains one of the most-read books by a mathematician.

However, Hardy considered his mentoring of Srinivas Ramanujan his greatest contribution to the field. Hardy and Ramanujan worked together for years.

Hardy’s soft corner for cricket was well-known: he had coined the term ‘Bradman Class’ for Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, and a handful of others. There was a ‘Hobbs Class’ as well.

Among Hardy’s researches, there was a piece of paper with three cricket teams. There were, of course, 33 slots; 6 of these were filled up by God (two each for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost).

Barring Jack Hobbs, Fender was the only cricketer to make it. In fact, Fender made it to two teams (compared to Hobbs’ 1) and was named captain of one.

The three surreal-looking teams read:

Team 1

Team 2

Team 3


D Spinoza

PGH Fender (Capt)


A Einstein

D Spinoza



A Einstein

M Angelo

B Disraeli (Capt)

A de Rothschild

Napoleon (Capt)

God (F)


H Ford

H Stinnes



PGH Fender

H Heine


E Lasker

B Disraeli

Johnson (Jack)


God (F)

Christ (J)

God (S)

God (S)


God (HG)

God (HG)

So, basically, Fender got to lead three Gods, Moses, David, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Disraeli, among others.

3. The entertainer

Fender went on the 1920-21 Ashes tour of Australia, where the tourists became the first team in history to be dished out a 0-5 drubbing. The Sydney Hill crowd barracked Fender (though it is not known whether Yabba was present) to the tune of “please go home, Fender”.

Fender turned around and played the conductor as the crowd laughed, applauded, and chanted merrily. Among the crowd was a little boy, who had turned up to watch Test cricket for the first time.

The paths of Don Bradman and Percy Fender would cross again. 

4. An unremarkable career

Let us get the basics out of the way first: Fender, to put things very politely, had an ordinary Test career. He played 13 Tests, never as captain, scoring 380 runs at 19 with 2 fifties and capturing 29 wickets at 40.86 with 2 five-wicket hauls.

However, some things do stand out. To begin with, one must remember that Fender was a powerful hitter. He once hit a ball straight out of The Oval (the stadium, not the ropes).

He typically scored at a breakneck pace, and still holds the record for the fastest First-Class hundred (more of that later). Ball-by-ball numbers are not available for Fender’s entire Test career, but the 6 innings that document the balls faced show his strike rate as 72.

In First-Class cricket the numbers —19,034 runs at 26.65 and 1,894 wickets at 25.05 — make better reading. However, the numbers are not outstanding.

5. That fastest hundred 

Fender’s greatest achievement, of course, remains the world record for the fastest First-Class hundred, against Northamptonshire in 1920. He reached hundred in a mere 35 minutes. Of course, this excludes innings played under ‘contrived’ circumstances (Wisden), where the fielding side deliberately bowled poorly to push the batting side for a declaration.

Fender scored 113 not out (16 fours, 5 sixes) in the innings. The entire innings was part of an unbroken 171-run stand with Alan Peach, who despite being the senior partner and scoring a double-hundred, was reduced to a spectator.

The stand lasted a mere 42 minutes. Even if one assumes 3 minutes per over (there were several boundaries) that amounts to 14 overs. Even if they bowled at 2 minutes an over they added 171 in 21 overs. Now calculate the run rates.

The exact number of balls he faced is not clearly known, but subsequent estimates have measured it at somewhere between 40 and 46.

6. O’Shaughnessy and all that

Steve O’Shaughnessy famously equalled Fender’s feat in 1983, reaching his hundred in 35 minutes. However, the innings came against ‘joke bowling’, with David Gower and James Whitaker bowling deliberate full-tosses and long-hops in tandem.

O’Shaughnessy himself did not think much of the hundred, but as was expected, there was a telegram waiting for him: CONGRATULATIONS ON EQUALLING MY 63-YEAR-OLD RECORD FENDER.

O’Shaughnessy went to Fender’s Horsham residence two days later. By then Fender had lost his eyesight. He wanted to feel the youngster’s bat, and when O’Shaughnessy handed it over, Fender responded: “It was very good to come all this way to give it to me.”

It was all in jest, of course.

7. Bowling feats

Had he played for any other county or in any other era, Fender would probably have been able to concentrate more on batting. Wisden noted that Fender would have been a “fourth or fifth bowler in a strong bowling side”.

Unfortunately, given Surrey’s poor bowling attack in the 1920s, Fender had to bowl longer spells than he probably would have wanted to. He carried on gamely, and his 1,586 wickets for Surrey rank only behind the aggregates of Tom Richardson (1,715) and Tony Lock (1,713). One must remember here that Fender also played for Sussex, and unlike Richardson and Lock, lost crucial years to World War I.

Fender had a remarkable spell of 1.5-0-1-6 against Middlesex in 1927. His eventual figures read 7 for 10, and the wickets included those of Patsy Hendren and Frank Mann.

Apart from that, there were two hat-tricks, against Somerset (1914, in his second match for Surrey) and Gloucestershire (1924), both at The Oval.

8. Surrey’s man for all seasons

Having started his career for Sussex, Fender moved to Surrey in 1914, and played for them till 1935. Fender remains the only cricketer to do the 10,000 run-1,000 wicket career double for Surrey. In fact, another 883 runs would have given him the 15,000 run-1,500 wicket double.

Barring 1927, he crossed the 1,000-run mark every time from 1921 to 1929; in each of these seasons he crossed the 80-wicket mark. There were 6 ‘doubles’ in all, in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, and 1928.

Of these, he did for Surrey alone in 1922 and 1923. Fender is one of three men (Bill Lockwood and Jack Crawford being the others) to have done the ‘double’ for Surrey twice. Curiously, all of them have done it in consecutive seasons.

Against Essex at Leyton in 1926, Fender became the third Surrey cricketer to score a hundred and take 10 wickets in the same match. He was also a splendid slip fielder.

Before all that, in 1914, he played a stellar role in Surrey’s Championship victory. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. The numbers (820 runs and 83 wickets) were more impressive than spectacular.

He also led Surrey quite commendably from 1921 to 1931. Surrey came runners-up twice during his reign, in 1921 and 1925, and generally featured high on the Championship table. Wisden hailed Fender for this success: “it was generally recognised that it was his captaincy more than anything else that kept a side so deficient in bowling so high in the table.”

The last season was a somewhat bizarre one, but more of that later.

 9.  The eyes

As mentioned above, Fender was a popular figure for cartoonists and caricaturists, and the distinctive glasses simply added to the effect. There was much speculation whether Fender would be the same aggressive batsman once he had those glasses on.

He responded by smashing a 130-minute 185 for the first time he batted in glasses, against Hampshire in 1922.

A cartoon by Tom Webster in The Daily Mail showing Percy Fender, wearing glasses for the first time, scoring 185 against Hampshire. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
A cartoon by Tom Webster in The Daily Mail showing Percy Fender, wearing glasses for the first time. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Fender had apparently acquired those glasses to put an end to his recurring headaches. However, Richard Streeton mentioned in Fender’s biography that they were zero-power spectacles. Whatever they were, the glasses served their purpose.

Unfortunately, he went blind in his later days.

10. The unfortunate uncle

Percy George Herbert Fender was the son of the Director of a firm of stationers who went by the name of Percy Robert Fender, and Lily née Herbert. Lily’s family played club cricket in Brighton, and young Percy grew up in a cricket atmosphere of sorts.

Young Percy went to St George’s, Weybridge, and St Paul’s, London.

One of Lily’s brothers went by the name Percy Herbert. It is not clear whether our hero’s naming had anything to do with his uncle’s name. What we do know is that Herbert was a competent cricketer.

Fender was leading Gentlemen of the South against Player of the South in 1920 in JJ Reid’s benefit match when he realised that his side was a man short. Thankfully, Fender’s men bowled first, and Jack Hobbs lit up The Oval on Day One with a sublime hundred. By stumps the Players had amassed 551 for 9.

Given the informal nature of the match, the Players were fine with Fender not submitting the name of the 11th man. Now, with things getting desperate, he summoned Herbert, who responded immediately.

The 11th name was added to the team list as 42-year-old Percy Herbert made his First-Class debut. Unfortunately, the rest of the match was washed out. Herbert never played another First-Class match, which meant that he did not get to see his entire First-Class career.

11.  Of Bradman: Wrongs and rights

Fender was a journalist when England travelled Australia in 1928-29. England trounced the hosts 4-1, but amidst all that, Bradman arrived in Test cricket.

At first sight Fender did not have a very high opinion of Bradman, calling him “one of the most curious mixtures of good and bad batting I have ever seen.”

He was not very optimistic of Bradman’s success in England in 1930. Bradman proved him wrong, slamming 974 in 7 Test innings and helping Australia regain The Ashes. Fender had to swallow his words.

But there was hope. Bradman scored 232 in the decider at The Oval, but there was a phase of cricket when he was particularly bothered by the hostile pace and bounce of a certain Harold Larwood.

Fender was famously present at his home ground, watching an uncomfortable Bradman. He later wrote in The Observer: “I feel convinced that something new will have to be introduced to curb Bradman, and the best way of selecting that something new is to seek it along the lines of theory.”

Fender had a theory, which he subsequently passed on to Douglas Jardine, his Surrey heir, and corresponded with contemporary Australian journalists on Bradman’s progress in the Sheffield Shield. This knowledge, too, was conveyed to Jardine. Fender was set out to reveal the chink in the armour of the greatest batsman the world has seen.

Sadly, Star did not send Fender on the Bodyline tour that followed; they opted for Hobbs instead. If anyone deserved to be in Australia during that tour, it was Fender, for he played a role as crucial as Arthur Carr in helping form the strategy.

However, Jardine did write back to Fender during the tour that his observations were, indeed, correct. One of them in particular, dated sometime in November 1932, mentioned specifically that Jardine might need up to seven men in the leg-trap.

12. The Jeacocke incident

Alfred Jeacocke played for Surrey from 1920 to 1934, which meant that his career overlapped with Fender’s. He was born in Middlesex, but qualified for Surrey by virtue of residence.

Jeacocke married in 1920. He could not find a suitable residence, so his father provided him with accommodation without rent. So far, so good.

In 1922, Kent raised a protest that though Jeacocke had been staying in Surrey, his new residence on the other side of the road was technically in Kent. As a result, Jeacocke was ruled out for the rest of the season.

At this point Lord Harris was Chairman of Kent. Fender, then Surrey captain, defended Jeacocke in the press. In the same season Lord Harris had raised objections regarding the inclusion of Wally Hammond in the Gloucestershire side.

The rules were changed before the 1923 season. As per the new rules, if a player represented a county for three seasons he would be eligible to play for the county for the rest of his life. Fender had his man, but a strained relationship with Lord Harris was never good news for an English cricketer of the era. Their paths would cross time and again.

13. The Leyton incident

Everything was normal with the first two days of the Essex match of 1925 at Leyton. Hobbs scored a hundred, Fender declared at 431 for 8, and Essex finished Day Two on 333 for 7.

Unfortunately, at starting time on the final day, only Fender and Jeacocke had turned up. Johnny Douglas refused to delay the start, which meant that Fender and Jeacocke took field. When Claude Treglown and Robert Sharp, the overnight not out batsmen, delayed their entry, Fender immediately sent out a message that he would claim a walkover if play did not resume immediately.

Fender and Jeacocke then started bowling from each end, bowling well wide of the batsmen. Neither Treglown nor Sharp (perhaps out of embarrassment) made an attempt to score. Thankfully, the other Surrey men arrived soon.

Note: Though Streeton narrates the incident, the match scorecard does not mention Jeacocke on the bowling card. Maybe the overs did not count towards the final score. The event remains vague.

 14. The 1931 controversies

Fender wanted to resign before 1931, insisting the club committee to appoint Jardine as Surrey captain. The committee did not agree. So Fender found a way.

A detailed list is beyond the scope of this piece, so I will restrict myself to highlighting the major incidents.

Things moved smoothly till the Lancashire match at The Oval. It rained heavily on Saturday, and Lancashire batted after the rain. Every ball caused a dent on the pitch, which spelled doom for Surrey, who would have to bat last after Sunday.

So Fender came up with a solution: he asked his players to walk on the pitch after every ball, smoothing up the dent. Lancashire protested, but Fender was acting within the laws. The match was rained out before a single innings was completed.

The Bournemouth match started the day after the previous one. Hampshire batted slowly, which did not make Fender happy, so he decided to play Hampshire at their game. He took the ball himself and started bowling lobs, placing every fielder on the fence.

A right-hand-left-hand combination meant that Fender changed the field after every single, making deep square-leg walk to deep point (making sure they did it at a leisurely pace).

The next match started next day, at The Oval. Incessant rain meant that when play resumed on Day Three, not even one innings of the match was completed. But both teams seized the initiative, played aggressive cricket, and Kent set Surrey a steep 204.

Fender opened with Hobbs, called for a suicidal single, was run out first ball, and called the chase off. With Hobbs and Andy Sandham in the side, to be followed by Jardine, the target was not too steep…

The three incidents in little over a week had almost certainly annoyed the authorities. Our hero did not do anything unusual for another month till the Yorkshire match, once again under gloomy conditions at The Oval.

It started with Fender not making an attempt to inspect the pitch before the match. Then, 3 overs into the match, Fender left the ground, called Yorkshire captain Frank Greenwood, and requested him to call the match off on the ground that the bowlers’ footmarks were not up to the mark.

When Greenwood did not agree, Fender appealed to Dennis Hendren (brother of Patsy) and Frank Chester, the umpires. They agreed with Chester and play was called off, and this led to a riot of sorts.

At the sight of an angry 5,000-strong crowd, Surrey CCC insisted the match resumed, much to Fender’s chagrin. Play started after a hold-up that lasted over an hour, and thankfully, petered out to a draw — though not before the crowd was treated to hundreds from both Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe.

Fender had done his bit. Needless to say, he was sacked after the season, though he led sporadically in the absence of Jardine, and later, Errol Holmes.

15. The revolutionary

Years before modern coaches tried to use methods to improve the fitness of players, Fender recruited a baseball coach at Surrey for the same purpose. He got special caps made, with longer peaks, to avoid the players looking into the sun. He even introduced sweat-absorbent underwear.

In many ways, Fender was way ahead of his era. He even wanted to remove the amateur-professional bar, which went a long way to cause his downfall.

16. The elusive national blazer

Tommy Mitchell of Derbyshire, who went on the Bodyline tour hailed Fender as a superior captain to Jardine. Whether the statement is correct is debatable, but it cannot be denied that Fender and Jardine formed an excellent strategising pair for Surrey.

In 1924 Hobbs expressed opinion that Fender be elected England captain, hailing his Surrey leader as “a finer and more interesting captain than any man now playing.”

Jardine himself wrote that Fender had “the ablest, the quickest and most enterprising cricket brain.”

Fender’s spearhead Alf Gover added that Fender “was worshipped by the whole team.”

But despite the general consensus that Fender was an excellent captain, he never got to lead England. One must remember that unless you were from Oxford or Cambridge, it was very difficult to rise through the echelons of society to become an England Test captain in the 1920s.

Fender never had that image. If anything, he was in the wine business, which was never looked upon as a respectable profession. While his strategies made him popular among players and crowd, he seldom wanted to please the conservative authorities. There were also speculations (for reasons unknown) that he was a Jew.

But most significantly, Fender set out to change an age-old system, making an effort to do away with the amateur-professional bar in Surrey cricket. He tried to abolish separate meals and dressing-rooms.

The effort would almost certainly have resulted in Surrey losing their best leader of the era. Thankfully, Hobbs saw sense, and convinced Fender from not taking the move, albeit with the lamest of excuses (“with respect, Mr Fender, we like to talk about you and laugh at what you’re going to do next”).

Fender almost certainly realised what was going on, but like Hobbs, saw sense.

17. Harris, again

Throughout his career, the outspoken Fender ran into arguments with Lord Harris. Soon after the Jeacocke incident, Fender strode out to bat at Lord’s through the gate reserved for the professionals. Lord Harris was not amused: “We do not want that sort of thing at Lord’s, Fender.”

When South Africa toured England in the wet summer of 1924, two county authorities covered their pitches before matches against the tourists, and were duly criticised by MCC and Lord Harris, who claimed that this was not a common practice in England.

Fender wrote a letter to the press that both MCC and Lord Harris were aware of the fact that pitches were kept covered before Scarborough Festival matches. During Fender’s next match at Lord’s he was cautioned by Lord Harris.

He played 2 Tests that summer. England won both by an innings. Fender, batting only once, scored 36, took 2 wickets, and was promptly dropped.

After that season he played only one more Test, in 1929. He took 3 of the 11 wickets to fall, but there was no coming back from him.

 18. The footballer

Like several Englishmen of the era, Fender took to a second sport. An excellent goalkeeper, Fender played for amateur clubs. He also played for Fulham, though he restricted himself to the non-league matches.

Cricket opportunities were sparse when he worked for his father in France and Belgium before World War I, so he stuck to football. He later played for Casuals, helping them win Amateur Football Alliance Senior Cup, 1912-13; he manned the goal brilliantly, helping win the final 3-2.

19. Behind the noisy typewriter

Fender became an insightful cricket journalist in his later years. In his playing days he gave an impression that he rarely cared about numbers, but his columns were studded with deep insights into the sport, often backed by data.

In ESPNCricinfo, Steven Lynch credited him for “revolutionising the tour book”. According to Lynch, Fender improved on his predecessors (who penned down little more than catalogues) and brought in-depth analysis.

Fender’s presence at the press-box was characterised by his typewriter (he was, according to all sources, the first to do the same), the clanking of which bothered his colleagues to no end.

Fender contributed to at least five books: Defending the Ashes (The tour of the M.C.C. team in Australia, 1920–21); The Turn of the Wheel: M.C.C. Team, Australia, 1928–1929; The Tests of 1930: The 17th Australian Team in England; Kissing the Rod: the story of the Tests of 1934; and An ABC of Cricket. He also became a radio commentator.

20. Filming Bradman

Unlike other journalists before him, Fender believed in carrying a home movie camera across the world. Perhaps he realised the power of video archives for future generations. Or maybe he used videos to strategise.

 Fender made a 30-minute home movie on the 1928-29 tour, one that has been discovered only recently. While the video features former cricketers (in context of the tour) like Monty Noble and Clem Hill, it also has Vic Richardson, Archie Jackson, and the biggest name of all — Bradman.

Indeed, Fender shot the oldest-surviving video of Bradman. Had he known how Bradman would dominate England in 1930, he would probably have shot something even more vivid.

21. The other career

Aiming for a career in the paper industry (where his father had already established himself), Fender worked in a paper mill in Horwich in his late teens. When he was 18, his left hand got trapped in a machine, and three fingertips were broken. Immediate medical attention improved things, but the tips remained numb throughout his life.

The Fenders was not rich enough to support Percy’s ambition of becoming a barrister, so young Percy joined his father’s firm. His father, though supportive, did not think much of Percy’s passion for cricket.

Percy moved to London, which meant that he also switched alliances from Sussex to Surrey, for whom he qualified to play by birth.

After he served in The Great War as an air pilot, Fender started a wine business with his brother Robert Evelyn. He also launched his own whiskey brand, but neither worked out. The wine brand was finally established when his son joined forces after World War II. Percy and Robert also founded Fender Brothers, a paper manufacturing firm.

Before all that, in the 1920s, Fender declined four requests to stand as a Conservative Party Candidate. However, he served as a Conservative Member from 1952 to 1958. He was subsequently appointed Deputy Lieutenant of London.

22. Marriage and beyond

Fender met Ruth Clapham, daughter of a Manchester jeweller, at Monte Carlo in 1923. They got married in September 1924. They had two children before Ruth died in 1937 from Bright’s disease.

He married Susan Gordon in 1962. Unfortunately, Susan, too, passed away in 1967.

Fender was the oldest of the former Test cricketers present at the Centenary Test at MCG in 1977. When Jack MacBryan passed away on July 14, 1983, Fender was the oldest-living Test cricketer in the world till his death on June 15, 1985. Wisden wrote in his obituary that he was “the last survivor of those who had played county cricket regularly before the Great War”.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor of CricketCountry and CricLife. He tweets at @ovshake42.)