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Sammy Carter – undertaker, wicketkeeper and inventor of the ‘scoop’

Sammy Carter played 28 Tests and amassed 873 runs. He also took 44 catches and effected 21 stumpings. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Sammy Carter played 28 Tests and amassed 873 runs. He also took 44 catches and affected 21 stumpings. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

 

Hanson ‘Sammy’ Carter, born March 15, 1878, was a long-serving wicketkeeper of Australia who is credited with being the first stumper to sit on his haunches. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who often arrived at the cricket grounds riding a hearse.

 

Wisdom and Wisden

Warwick Amrstrong’s Australians had already won the series in an England still suffering from the aftershock of the First World War. The victories had been comprehensive, at Trent Bridge, Lord’s and Headingley.

However, at Old Trafford, for the first time, there was a disturbing sign of English resurgence. The first day of the three day Test had been washed away by rain, and the Englishmen had run away to a fantastic start on the second. CAG ‘Jack’ Russell of Essex had struck a well-paced hundred. Frank Woolley had struck the ball as only he could. Phil Mead had been slow, almost sluggish, but had got important runs on the board. And finally, Ernest Tyldesley and Percy Fender had come out hitting the ball with gay abandon.

At tea Australia was faced with the ticklish proposition of batting the last few overs of the day in case the Hon. Tennyson decided to declare.

 

During the break, a pensive Armstrong was approached by his 43-year-old wicketkeeper Hanson ‘Sammy’ Carter.

When Bert Oldfield had broken a finger back in Australia, Carter had been recalled to Test cricket for the last two Tests of the 1920-21 Ashes. Since then he had been enjoying a superb run, perhaps not as quick in his movements as he had been during his 1909 trip to the country, but still agile and fluid with gloves as safe as ever.

Born at Halifax, Yorkshire, Carter had had ironically been the only Yorkshireman in the fray from either side during the series clinching Test at Leeds. And now as an acknowledged walking encyclopaedia of cricket, he confided to his captain, “If they don’t close before ten to five, they can’t close today.”

And he was right. At the 1906 annual general meeting of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Frank May had proposed, “In a two-day match, the captain of the batting side has the power to declare his innings closed at any time, but such declaration may not be made on the first day later than one hour and forty minutes before the hour of drawing the stumps.” The motion had been accepted as Law 54. Furthermore, the Law 55 dealing with declaration was revised in 1914 and stated, “When there is no play on the first day of a three-day match, Laws 53 and 54 shall apply as if the match were a two-day match.” The stumps were scheduled to be drawn at 6:30 PM.

Just before play resumed, Carter opened a Wisden at the relevant page and placed it on the locker.

After the break, Archie MacLaren was rather surprised: “There is something important going on. Those Australians keep looking at the clock.” Yet the minds of the former captains Plum Warner and Johnny Douglas, and most importantly the present skipper Tennyson, could not unravel the mystery.

The game continued, and Tennyson remained blissfully unaware of the declaration deadline. When he attempted to close the innings, the score read 341 for four, and the clock showed 5:50 PM.

Armstrong instructed his fielders to stay on the ground as he approached Tennyson in the English dressing room, armed with Carter’s Wisden. Twenty minutes passed in confused arguments before the bemused Fender and Tyldesley walked back to the crease and resumed batting. England carried on till the close of play, and did not have sufficient time to bowl the Australians out twice on the following day.

This was one of the many unusual sparks with which Carter lit the game.

Few cricketers have arrived at the ground for a game riding a hearse. Carter did so frequently.

As a wicketkeeper, he was the first to sit on his haunches. His predecessors had preferred to bend from the waist. It was his style that caught on.

And although not really a serious batsman, he was the first to introduce a stroke that is used more and more in modern cricket with the proliferation of the Twenty 20 (T20) — format the scoop’.

Long apprenticeship

Carter grew up in Sydney attending the Sydney Boys High School. In early 1898, he made his debut for New South Wales and was selected for just one game.

He was picked for his state once again in 1901-02, and had played only two games when he was selected to tour England in the great cricketing summer of 1902. He went as the understudy of senior glove-man James Kelly. Carter turned out in plenty of tour matches, but would still have to wait five long years to break into the Test team.

When the Australians toured England again in 1905, South Australian Phil Newland was chosen as the reserve wicketkeeper to Kelly. It was a somewhat unfortunate selection, having little to do with cricketing merit or glove-work. Newland’s parents were part of the Adelaide establishment and he had gone to all the right schools. This was the first of the many Australian selections strongly influenced by Freemasonry.

It was a bitter pill for Carter to swallow. Not only had his keeping been magnificent, in late 1904he had also hit his career-best score of 149 at Sydney as New South Wales had piled up 686 against a hapless Queensland.

’Keeping for Australia

AO Jones’s England side visited Australia in 1907, although the illness of the captain saw Frank Fane leading in almost all the games. Although batting ability was seldom a criterion for being chosen as a ’keeper in those days, Carter made his selection doubly sure by scoring 46 and 125 against South Australia in the match that immediately preceded the first Test match. It was to be his second and final hundred in a long First-Class career spanning 128 matches.

In the Test at Sydney, Carter impressed one-and-all with his smooth and easy collection of the fastest balls bowled by Tibby Cotter. Additionally, he came in to bat in the second innings at 124 for six, with Australia needing 274 to win. He went on to top score with 61 precious runs as the Australian tail knocked off the runs with two wickets to spare.

He carried on his success with the bat with a fighting 53 in the second innings of the second Test at Melbourne. The rest of the Tests witnessed excellence with both bat and gloves as Carter scored a strokeful 66 when the series returned to Melbourne for the fourth Test.

Hence, a man not really renowned for his batting had hammered three half-centuries in his first four Tests. For the rest of his career, however, his bat could not keep up this momentum.

He toured England again in 1909 and was soon considered the best wicketkeeper since Jack Blackham. His opposite number during the series was Dick Lilley, and he was full of admiration for Carter’s brilliant work behind the stumps.

However, those were the days of bitter power struggle between the Australian players and the newly formed Board of Control. It was a prolonged tussle for control over the team — and mainly the finances. The feud that had started in 1905 with the establishment of the board. Since then, there had been several attempts to appoint vice captains and managers of the touring teams who would act as the eyes and ears of the board and would also double up as cashiers.

While travelling to England, the Australian cricketers had played a match in Ceylon that had courted unusual amount of controversy.

The Times of Ceylon had been critical about the commercial demands made by some of the players: “We are sorry that [Monty] Noble, Amrstong, [Bert] Hopkins, Carter and [Frank] Laver should have taken a ten-pound note apiece for a few hours cricket in Colombo and it is a pity that at this end the public should have been made to pay through the nose.”

This was taken up by the board and the players were censured, aggravating the already rancorous relationship.

Carter went on to play the home series against South Africa and the subsequent Ashes contests against the England team under Johnny Douglas. Even as Frank Foster and Sydney Barnes routed the Australians 4-1 in the series, Carter walked in as night-watchman at Adelaide, batting at No 3, and scored a courageous 72 — his highest-ever Test score.

The Big Six affair

However, during this series matters had come to a head between the players and the board. Captain Clem Hill and board member Peter McAlister had already exchanged a number of nasty telegrams. It finally came down to exchange of physical blows when they had met at a Sydney Hotel to select the team for the following Test. The final altercation had lasted for almost 20 minutes, and at one point Hill had had to be physically restrained from hurling McAlister out of the third-storey window.

When the board announced that their favoured candidate George Crouch would be the manager of the Australian team for the 1912 Triangular Tournament in England, there was outright rebellion. The players wanted Frank Laver. When the board disagreed, six of the biggest names, Hill, Armstrong, Victor Trumper, Cotter, Vernon Ransford and Carter, announced that they would be unavailable for the tour. A largely second string side left for England under the captaincy of Syd Gregory.

The War followed soon, and it meant that the Sydney Test of early 1912 would be the last played by four of the Big Six. Hill and Ransford never represented Australia again, Trumper died of illness in 1915 and Cotter was killed by a sniper in Beersheba, Palestine, in 1917.

Post-War

However, Carter was still in excellent shape after the end of the mayhem. As his old friend Armstrong took the reins of the side, he was drafted in to replace the indisposed Oldfield and crouched behind the stumps with full and familiar zest. And in the fifth Test at Sydney, when Patsy Hendren jumped out to drive Arthur Mailey and the ball turned the other way, Carter removed the bails with hands like lightning to prove that nothing had changed in all these years.

After the England tour of 1921, the team travelled to South Africa. With Armstrong ill, Herbie Collins led the side to a 1-0 victory in the three Test series. With just one run required to be scored in the fourth innings of the final Test at Cape Town, Collins sent in Mailey and Carter to open the innings. Mailey struck the first ball to mid-off and scampered down for a suicidal single. Dave Nourse gently picked up the ball and did not bother about sending in a return, allowing the batsmen to complete the run. On this victorious note the Test career of Carter came to an end.

The tour with Bradman

It was not quite the end of his cricketing days though. In 1932 Mailey arranged a tour to North America for a party of some of the biggest Australian players. Led by Vic Richardson, the team included Don Bradman himself. And a 54-year-old Carter, still sharp and supple, was engaged as the wicketkeeper.

He kept with usual energy, and was greatly impressed by the left-arm wrist spin of Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. “I would love to play one Test with Fleetwood Smith, he can win a Test for Australia one day,” he was often heard saying.

However, Carter’s cricketing days came to a rather tragic end. During this very tour, the Australians played a team of West Indians in Harlem, New York, on a treacherous wicket. A ball flew from a crack in the pitch and struck the wicketkeeper in his eye. Carter retired bleeding and the eye could not be saved.

The style and the man

Short and slight in build Carter did not stand as close to the stumps as some of the noted keepers used to, but his collection was smooth and effortless. He was particularly impressive while keeping to Cotter and the matches he played in are particularly noticeable because of the very few byes conceded. As mentioned earlier, Carter was the very first stumper to sit on his haunches rather than bend from the waist.

As a batsman, he seldom batted above No 10, but often got useful runs for his team. His speciality was the over the shoulder scoop, a stroke that sometimes threatened the ’keeper of the other side.

In 28 Tests, Carter pouched 44 catches and affected 21 stumpings. His collection of runs was 873, scored at 22.97 with four fifties.

Carter’s father was an undertaker, and he himself went on to become a funeral director. This resulted in the unusual sight of a cricketer regularly arriving at the grounds in a hearse.

He also became a partner at the Carter and Trumper Sports Store in Sydney for five years, running the shop with friend and teammate, the great Victor Trumper.

When the legend passed away at an early age, it was Carter’s father who conducted the funeral. The wicketkeeper himself remained as fond of his business partner as he had been during his playing days. He once told Jack Fingleton, “You must never compare Hobbs, Bradman or anybody else with Trumper. If you want to classify other batsmen in the game, put Victor way up there — on his own — and then you can begin to talk about the rest.” To stress his point he often pointed heavenward with a gnarled index finger, perhaps pronouncing every other batsman in the world to be ‘out’.

Due to his profession as undertaker, Carter shared the grief of many of his colleagues. It was he who buried Aileen Armstrong in 1940 as grieving husband Warwick looked on.

Soon, Carter himself became confined to a wheelchair. Yet, his connection with cricket remained strong. During the 1946-47 tour of Australia by the English team, he was visited in his Sydney home by the England captain Wally Hammond and manager Major Rupert Howard — the latter also the secretary of Lancashire County Cricket Club. The Old Trafford, where once his knowledge of the rules of the game had turned out to be so vital to Australia, had been bombed during the War. Carter had donated £1,000 for the restoration of the historic cricket ground. The captain and manager had come to convey their personal thanks.

Carter passed away one and a half years after this, in the Antipodean winter of 1948. He was 70.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)

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