Sir Leonard Hutton, born June 23, 1916, was one of the greatest opening batsmen of all time and one of the most successful captains of England. Arunabha Sengupta remembers this personification of perfect technique who continued on his path to greatness even after his left arm was shortened by two inches due to injury.
March 1941. The last day of the Physical Training course in a York gymnasium, part of the commando drill preparatory to the forthcoming raid of Dieppe in 1942.
Len Hutton, the 24-year old sergeant instructor of the Army Physical Training Corps, was attempting a ‘fly spring’ when the mat slipped under him and he crashed on to the floor. His left arm was in excruciating pain and X-rays showed a fracture of the forearm and a dislocation of the ulna at the base of the wrist.
It appeared a temporary setback that would force him out of a few wartime cricket showdowns. However, even after supposed recovery, exertions of the left arm sent pain searing through like jolts of electric shock.
Within a few weeks, the army authorities transferred him to Wakefield where Leeds surgeon Reginald Wakefield operated on him. Even with the shadow of war looming in the background, Englishmen and primarily cricket fans from Yorkshire waited with bated breath. The future of the biggest batting hope of English cricket hung on the skill of medical men.
With time, he returned to the batting crease, playing for Plum Warner’s XI against RAF, and top-scored with 19 in a low scoring match. But, by the end of the game, he was in agony once again. Operation followed operation, with bone grafts from his right leg. He spent time reading — Boswell’s Life of Johnson among his favourites — but the uncertainty of his future as a professional cricketer left him in endless trepidation.
It was the summer of 1942 when weeks of massage and therapy brought strength slowly trickling back to the injured arm. The left arm was now two full inches shorter than the right. The movements were restricted, the wrist would never again go through full rotation. Len Hutton would have to learn to play his strokes again, with a modified technique. He would almost certainly never hook again.
The man who had 1,345 runs from 13 Tests at 67.25 with the world record score of 364 under his belt saw a huge question mark hanging over his future.
Yet, there was a delight awaiting him. On September 6, 1942, son Richard was born — and he would go on to play five Tests for England in his time. And Hutton had recovered sufficiently by that time to hold the infant in his arms with confidence.
He scored a duck in the game he returned, in late April 1943 for Pudsey St Lawrence against Bankfoot. But, that was perhaps a good omen. He had scored a duck in each of his debuts in Second Grade, First-Class and Test cricket. The important factor was he was playing again, working on his game with the same keen intensity that characterised his bouts of run making.
Soon Reginald Broomhead, the surgeon behind this miracle, was made a life member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club for enabling Hutton to play again.
It was because the cricketing world knew that Hutton was special.
The pre-War heroics
Indeed, the great Herbert Sutcliffe had publicly voiced that he had piled up records so that his protégé Hutton could break them.
The last the world had seen of Hutton was during the 165 not out at The Oval, against West Indies in 1939. Wally Hammond, his captain, had batted with him to add 264 for the third wicket, a duet of classical English batsmanship. Hutton, who had often been criticised for slow scoring and an excess of caution, had batted beautifully, with some back foot drives through the off-side that matched the grandeur of Hammond in every respect. All the while, an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a tractor had been conspicuous in the corner of the field. During the breaks Hammond had appealed over the loudspeaker urging men to enlist in the army.
Some days earlier, at Lord’s, Hutton had scored 196, adding 248 with Denis Compton in the first Test of the series. Aged 23 and 21 respectively, the two lads had given an indication of the phenomenal batting riches of young England.
And of course, there had been the monumental achievement of 364 at The Oval against Don Bradman’s Australians in 1938. Hutton had started his Ashes journey with a century that Neville Cardus had recorded as “intelligent, as old as the hills and technically correct.” He had ended with the 13 hour 17 minute epic in the final Test.
With Europe confronted with a programme of aggression, there had been doubts about the next time an England Australia match would be witnessed. The spectators, many of whom had camped outside the stadium the previous night, had thronged in and Hutton had batted on and on. It was a timeless Test and Hutton had gone in with the intention of batting as long as possible, and had stretched those possibilities to the limits of human endeavour.
All along, his Yorkshire colleague Hedley Verity, the legendary left-arm spinner who would die in action in Italy, had kept him going with astute care. Every time the young Hutton had returned to the dressing room during a break, Verity had stayed with his teammate, making sure that he sipped tea and nibbled sandwiches. On Sunday, with Hutton unbeaten on 160, Verity had wisely taken him to Bognor Regis to have lunch with a friend and engage in a round of tension-free beach cricket,
All Anglo Australian records had fallen over Monday and Tuesday. When Hutton had retired at 300 not out on Monday evening, he had been delighted by a telegram from the 89-year old mother of Reginald Foster whose English record of 287 he had eclipsed. The next day, he had cut Chuck Fleetwood-Smith to go past Don Bradman’s Ashes record of 334, and the great man had been the first to shake his hand and congratulate him. Some minutes later he had left Wally Hammond’s world record score of 336 behind. When he had been caught by Lindsay Hassett off Bill O’Reilly, 770 had been scored.
For a while, he had performed the magic of pushing past Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain into the front pages. The Oval had temporarily eclipsed Munich in the public thoughts. While he was approaching the landmark, the announcer at Movietone News had remarked, “The Empire holds its breath.” Leeds Mercury had perhaps stretched it a trifle, but it was understandable given the immensity of the feat, “Foreign commentators sometimes laugh at our devotion to a game when there are so many harassing world affairs … It is a fair reply that the spirit of Drake lives among us. We can win our game and still have time to defeat the Spanish Armada or whatever has taken its place today. England is not weakened but stimulated by [Hutton’s] superb demonstration. Young England will emulate his steadiness in the cricket field and those other fields where the spirit of cricket has stiffened British sinew and resolve.”
Even the American Time magazine had rejoiced in Hutton. Daily Express had observed, “clerks and managers in the offices, master and man in the factories, shared in the celebrations.”
Among the spectators had been the cricket-loving Edmund Blunden, poet and the biographer of Leigh Hunt and Shelley. His description of Hutton’s batting had been: “his body and bat were as truly one as love itself.”
The 22-year-old had become famous overnight. He had been requested to speak on wireless and newsreel — which he had done in his own manner of undiluted humility. “What is it like to achieve greatness?” he had been asked by Bill Oldfield. His answer had been, “It was very tiring and hard work.”
Billy Butlin had called, sending down a Rolls-Royce and inviting him down to Skegness to judge a bathing-beauty contest. Arthur Whitelaw, an Australian businessman living in England, had presented him with £1,000. In his native Pudsey, the bells had pealed 364 times in the old Moravian Church. The Mayor and Town Council had organised a dinner. And all over England, young boys had suddenly become Hutton as they had batted in their street-side games. Hammond had been left behind in the stream of time.
Best after Bradman?
And so, now as he recovered from his injury, the cricket lovers of the world followed his progress through the roaring gunfire the air raid sirens and the blackouts. Hutton responded with 84 for an England XI against the Australians in the summer of 1944, a wartime match played with the air of entertainment. Hutton strained to adjust his technique, but made his runs with free flowing abandon that suited the occasion.
The following year, within 11 days of peace, Victory ‘Tests’ were organised. In the second of these games, in the war-scarred Bramall Lane, Hutton top scored in the second England innings with 46 as England won the match. In this game he was confronted with a fighter pilot named Keith Miller, who ran in with great pace and let balls fly. It was the beginning of a long, long duel. And during the course of his 46, he was hit on his vulnerable forearm.
By the time international cricket resumed, Hutton was in prime form. His technique had been altered, but it remained as classical and correct as ever. Down the years, he would have a few problems with the short ball. He would not be able to unfurl the hook shot. Under Bradman’s captaincy, Miller and Ray Lindwall would not have too many qualms about peppering him with bouncers. Hutton would rarely flinch.
It was a disastrous Ashes tour for England in 1946-47. They were trounced in the Tests. But, for most of them, after the horrors of the War and the frugality of post-War rationing, it was a delight to indulge in the gourmet spread on offer. It was in stark contrast to the spam, snoek and reconstituted egg they had lived on for long.
As far as cricket was concerned, Hutton was head and shoulders above the rest of the England batsmen. His showing in the tour matches earned him effusive praise from the Australian cricket fraternity, including a visit to the dressing room from Charley Macartney, and several accolades of being the best batsman in the world bar Bradman.
A counter-attacking 37 in the second Test at Sydney was a delight against the pace of Miller and Lindwall, and encapsulated all his talents to perfection. He was out in tragic manner, his bat slipping off his glove and hitting the stumps. Even the Australian fielders were disappointed to see him depart. Jim Kilburn, the Yorkshire cricket writer, documented the innings as:”Everyone of us was beneath a spell borne on wings of enchantment, high above figures into the cloud lands of great moments. Hutton scattered light, loveliness and brave beauty across the sunlit Sydney ground and took cricket to the pinnacles of artistry.”
This knock also fetched Hutton a letter from an elderly Australian who wrote, “To the connoisseur of batsmanship it brought back visions of the peerless [Victor] Trumper. My friends and I can pay you no greater compliment.”
However, after he had scored two and 40 in Melbourne, his old senior Yorkshire colleague Bill Bowes, now a journalist, walked with Hutton along the Torrens River to the Adelaide Oval. The wise old pro remarked, “Tha knows what they’re saying, Len? That tha’safear’d of them.” Hutton halted in his stride looked at Bowes and said nothing. At Adelaide he scored 94 and 76, the first a demonstration of technical perfection, the second an array of dazzling strokeplay. And in the final Test he batted all through the first day for 122.
An attack of tonsillitis prevented him from playing in New Zealand. Hutton caught the plane back home with a few journalists, becoming the first international cricketer to return from Australia by air.
By now Hutton’s fame had reached cricket-agnostic lands as well. He initially opted out of the tour of West Indies, when a middle-aged Gubby Allen took a limited English side to the Caribbean. Hutton was called in as reinforcement and reached in the novel way —flying to Lisbon, Dakar, Brazil and then Georgetown, Guyana. When he returned from Jamaica, flying through Nassau and New York, the magnificent ham in his baggage was excused from customs duty because he was projected as the ‘Babe Ruth of cricket’.
Runs flowed against South Africa, and along with Compton, Hutton was one of the few Englishmen who fought back with resilience against Bradman’s Invincibles in 1948. Among many tall scores, what perhaps stood out was the knock of 30 at The Oval, the scene of Bradman’s farewell Test. Five English batsmen got out for ducks and the innings folded for 52 against exceptional bowling on a sticky wicket. Hutton batted with customary ease and was the last out when a genuine leg glance was brilliantly taken at full stretch down the leg side by wicketkeeper Don Tallon.
After the series, the English cricket scene looked rather bleak. However, Hutton had emerged as the torch bearer as the best batsman of the world after Bradman’s retirement. As if in celebration, the normally risk eschewing methods of the technically perfect bat gave way to some explosive bursts of strokeplay in South Africa. With Cyril Washbrook he formed a profitable pairing at the top. During the tour, he played cover drives off the lively pace of Cuan McCarthy with a sense of adventure that prompted Arlott to write, “He threw his bat at the ball with the joy of a boy and elegance of a fencing master.” In spite of losing six of his prime seasons to war, and having had his left arm shortened, Hutton was still only 33 and looked set for a long stint at the top of the batting world.
The boy from Pudsey
It had been a long journey for the little boy from Fulneck, in the cradle of Yorkshire cricketing civilisation, a mile from Pudsey. There was no cosseting of talent for him as in an English public school. His father was a builder, and Hutton was used to hovering around the Pudsey St Lawrence Club pavilion, hoping against hope that the visiting team would turn up a man short.
It was R Ingham, member of Pudsey St Lawrence and Yorkshire County Committee, who sent Hutton to the county coach, the great George Hirst. The 61-year-old former all-rounder and his 16-year-old batting prodigy worked hand in glove in the Yorkshire indoor sheds in the winter of 1932-33.News filtered in from far-away Australia of England’s success, with pace bowlers using some tactics that were raising concerns. One of the less prominent among the English attack of that season was Bowes, whom young Hutton had interacted with from time to time in Headingley. It could have sowed the seeds of the methods he would apply during the Ashes series in what would be his last tour.
Soon after his Yorkshire debut, comparisons were drawn with the great Herbert Sutcliffe, who had sometimes given him instructions in his garden. A 19-year-old Hutton was embarrassed by Sutcliffe’s own appraisal which weighed him down with mounting expectations: “He is a marvel — the discovery of a generation. He has as many shots as a Bradman or a Hammond. His technique is that of a maestro. I shall not be surprised to find him attracting as much attention as any batsman, including the great Don, for his style and is polished skill must triumph.”
At 20, he became the youngest Yorkshireman to be honoured with a county cap. Initially, and time and again through his career, Hutton was criticised for his reluctance to unfurl his full repertoire of strokes. However, there was little doubt in important minds that he was destined for greatness. As Cardus put it, “a grave interference with destiny will occur if Hutton does not develop into one of the finest batsmen in the record of the game.” Broadcaster Howard Marshall, who would be behind the microphone when Hutton would go past Bradman and Hammond during the epic 364, put it in more pragmatic words, “he does his job and that is sound enough recommendation for any man.”
On his 21st birthday, Hutton put on 315 for Yorkshire with Sutcliffe against Leicestershire and the cake was cut during tea. A cartoonist depicted his coming of age by putting a key in his hand and making him stand outside a door marked ‘England dressing room.’
Hutton was soon called for England duty, and started with a duck and one at Lord’s against New Zealand in the 1937 summer. But, success was not far away. In his very next Test at Manchester, he scored exactly 100.
Post War success
The post-War success of Hutton was not limited to the cricket field. He was at par with Denis Compton in the advertisement world, although lending his name and face to pads and bats rather than hair cream and cigarettes. He struck a profitable deal with Slazenger. Later, he even played himself in a movie named The Final Test, made at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.
His line was to say “you’re as good as ever” to actor Jack Warner, who played a veteran cricketer making his final appearance in a Test match. Hutton later confessed that although the studio had brilliantly recreated the Surrey dressing room, the nagging feeling that Warner had never held a bat after school made it difficult for him to say the words with conviction.
Hutton’s mastery was complete by now. In 1949, a hundred and a double century came against New Zealand. The following year, as the dual and diabolical spin attack of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine wrecked the English batting, Hutton held his own and carried his bat for 202 not out at The Oval.
During another disastrous Ashes campaign in 1950-51, Hutton himself was in sublime touch, standing among the ruins, averaging 88.83 while no one else crossed 30. He was the only one to master the mystery spin of Jack Iverson, and, at Adelaide, carried his bat for the second time in six months scoring an unbeaten 156. England’s only success came in the final Test, with Hutton leading the way with 79 and 60 not out and Alec Bedser taking 10 wickets.
In the summer of 1951, Hutton wrote his name in the record books in both supreme and dubious letters. Both took place at The Oval. Against Surrey, in front of a Monday crowd of 15,000, he scored his 100th First-Class century, getting there in his 17th full season — a record among the select club. And in the Test against South Africa on the same ground, a spiteful ball from off-spinner Athol Rowan hit him on the glove, ran up his arm and hovered in the air over the stumps. Hutton struck again at the ball to prevent it from falling on to the wicket. Jack Cheetham’s men appealed, and umpire Dai Davies, in consultation with Frank Chester, decided that he had stopped the wicketkeeper from making a catch and ruled him out ‘Obstructing the Field’. Hutton was the first man to be dismissed in this manner in Test cricket.
First Professional England captain of this century
In 1952, the English selectors finally gave in to the changing times, and appointed Hutton captain. As a cricketer, no one had better credentials. But, unlike Hammond, Hutton had not agreed to become an amateur. Given his humble background, he could not afford to.
It was a landmark decision and was fraught with several undercurrents. While most of England and the entire cricketing world welcomed the triumph of common sense, there remained sceptics. He was appointed one match at a time for several Tests. Hutton himself was slightly uncomfortable. As a professional, he was not a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). For all these years the nearest he had got to the pavilion was the professionals’ room with the hard seats and obscure view of the playing field. Later, during the tour of Australia in 1954-55, he asked Geoffrey Howard, the manager, not to wear his ‘bacon and egg’ tie, because he himself could not do the same.
However, his first assignment was against an Indian side terrified of the pace of debutant Fred Trueman. Hutton led astutely, playing on the psyche of batsmen with the pace at his disposal and a field of three slips, three gullies and two short-legs. He matured with every outing, gradually excelling at press conferences, evading difficult questions with grace and humour. He spent hours reading and re-reading Game’s The Thing by Monty Noble, applying the principles of captaincy on the field.
During the 1953 Ashes, he was dogged by pressmen who found faults with every tactic. If he kept Bedser on, he was ‘over-bowling him’. If he took him off, he was ‘releasing the pressure’. His negative tactics, when he asked Trevor Bailey to bowl wide outside the leg-stump with Australia running against the clock for a win, was questioned in many quarters. However, he kept scoring runs as a batsman. And the final move of bringing on Tony Lock and Jim Laker for a spell at The Oval proved decisive as England won the Test and thereby Ashes. Arlott took an ironical pot-shot at the legions of critics — “He did not make the mistake which mattered, that of losing the match.”
However, Hutton did realise captaincy was a strain. As in his batting, he was fully absorbed in the job. And it did take soak a generous portion of life-force out of him.
The Caribbean Crisis
Hutton’s next job as captain was an away series against the West Indians in 1953-54. It was a supremely difficult tour with numerous non-cricketing factors. The political tensions were aplenty, with the forces of freedom, nationalism, West Indian federation and economic advancement making a combustible cocktail of the situation. Hutton led the side well, was gracious in his interactions with the press and dignitaries. He was magnanimous to the veteran George Hedley during his ill-advised comeback Test, allowing him a single to get off the mark out of respect and perhaps some native Yorkshire caution that had the volatile crowd at the back of his mind.
Hutton batted splendidly and used his bowlers with canny judgement. His 169 at Georgetown steadied England after being down by two Tests. He followed it up with the gutsy stance, refusing to take his men off the field after crowd trouble had prompted umpires to suggest an early end of the day’s play. Hutton stood there steadfastly and remarked, “I want two wickets before close of play.” Denis Compton later recalled it as the ‘saying of the century’.
In the final Test, at Kingston, it was his epic 205 that earned West Indies the series squaring victory, the last of the great batting days of Hutton. Aged 37, he had batted for more than a day. At tea on the third day, he had trudged back, head down, feet almost refusing to make the distance to the dressing room, eager for refreshments and yearning to change his sweat soaked shirt. As he approached the gate, he was congratulated by a voice. He nodded in response, murmuring ‘Thank You’ without really looking at the man. Moments later, having put his tired feet up and gratefully sipping a cup of tea, he was stunned when someone ran into the dressing room and accused him of having insulted the Chief Minister. Hutton had no idea what he was talking about. It was clarified to him that the man who had congratulated him at the gate was the Jamaican Chief Minister Alex Bustamante himself.
Hutton apologised profusely, saying that he had no idea it was the Chief Minister. In the apprehensions of the possible diplomatic fallouts, he was out soon after tea. The next day his apology made it to the papers. The dignitary did accept it with grace, forgetting for a while that Hutton had not paused to allow photographers to capture him and the great batsman in the same frame. Yet, the press made a big issue out of it.
While Hutton attributes the incident to his own tiredness that made him unaware of the presence of Bustamante, Frank Tyson analyses it to be another example of Hutton’s total absorption in the task at hand, namely batting as long as possible. Whatever be the reason, England won the match and tied the series 2-2.
Hutton had done exceptionally well to guide his team to a drawn series after being two down. Yet, not everyone was happy. Fred Trueman in particular had been involved in a lot of issues during the tour and the opinion of the press was he had been handled too leniently by the skipper. Hutton had not really been keen on his team fraternising with the opponents, and that had not rubbed off well with some of his players as also many of the West Indians. Additionally, Trueman had the impression that Hutton was not readily available. On the other hand, his bowling partner on the tour, Brian Statham, was of the opinion that Hutton was the best captain he had ever seen.
In his defence, Hutton’s Caribbean tour was the first by a professional captain of England in the twentieth century. He could not afford to lose and had come within a hair’s breadth of doing so. The strain had been almost unbearable. Hutton would never recover from the experience.
The final triumph
Hutton’s final tour was the epochal 1954-55 voyage Down Under. Plagued with health problems, by this time the batsman in him was spent. However, the voyage was his crowning glory as a captain. Apart from putting Australia into bat at Brisbane in the first Test and not handling the omission of Alec Bedser with optimal tact, he did everything with sharpest insight and time honed diplomatic skills.
He was brilliant in his press conferences, was a father figure to young Colin Cowdrey. He steadfastly stuck to his weapons of pace, Statham and Tyson. He used the fast bowlers in short spells to counter the extreme heat. And when victory was achieved, he lavished praise on his team and was talked about the defeated Australians with grace.
Never a conventional disciplinarian, his way of checking up on players was to pop in their room with a cheery “’Ow are you then, alright?” It kept the young brigade disciplined without planting seeds of antagonism.
Finally, the Ashes victory was as much due to Frank Tyson and Brian Statham’s fiery fast bowling as Hutton’s prodigious planning. As a boy he had heard of Douglas Jardine’s tactics and had shared the dressing room with Bill Bowes. As an established England batsman, he had endured the barrage of bouncers from Lindwall and Miller, rueing the lack of artillery to return fire with fire. Now, as captain he had executed his long germinating plans with excellent effect. He had implemented his policy of pace to perfection, and had not flinched from leaving out the great Alec Bedser from the team. England under Hutton had beaten Australians in their homeland for the first time since the Bodyline series. He had become the only English captain to win back to back series against the arch rivals.
His final Test was at Auckland, during the New Zealand leg of the tour. Hutton batted at No 5 and was instrumental in securing a 46 run first innings lead with an innings of 53. That proved to be enough as New Zealand were bowled out for 26 in their second essay.
In his fantastic stint as captain, Hutton won five series and drew one.
On his return to England, Hutton was made an honorary member of the MCC. Rules had to be modified drastically to make this happen, to allow a current professional player to join the exclusive club.
By now used to the idea of a professional at the helm, the selectors appointed him captain for the series against South Africa in the summer of 1955. However, Hutton’s health failed to shoulder the honour. The various afflictions that tormented him included fibrosis and slipped disc. He captained MCC against the tourists, but withdrew from the final day of the match with lumbago and resigned as captain. That June, Len Hutton was knighted for services to cricket.
After seeking medical opinion, Hutton announced his retirement from First-Class cricket in January 1956.
Hutton’s career spanned 79 Tests, and saw him score 6,971 runs at 56.67 with 19 hundreds. In First-Class cricket his total was 40,140 runs and 129 hundreds. Often combining as a bowler-fielder combination with Alec Bedser to dismiss batsmen, he took 57 catches. In his early youth he was a leg-spinner of loopy flight and occasional utility. But with time, he bowled less and less.
After cricket he played the role of a selector for England for a brief while in 1975-76.But, he could afford little time due to his business commitments for the engineering firm JH Fenner. Besides, he disliked committees. He remained in touch with the game by writing about it, and becoming the president of Yorkshire cricket a few months before his death in 1990.
The inscrutable man within
In his very early days, The Times, not really a staunch supporter of the Yorkshire prodigy, observed that he approached batting with the “passionate concentration of a scientist dissecting a beetle”. This absorption in the act of occupying the crease and making runs remained intact till the end of his days. Hutton once remarked that a “batsman must think as he walks out to bat.” He was a cerebral cricketer. Statham maintained that he was a master captain who filed every scrap of cricketing knowledge in his brain.
He was also widely regarded as an introvert, whose mental processes were obscure and almost labyrinthine in their subtleties. He carried his total focus into other activities as well. Later as a journalist reporting Test matches, he often became engrossed in the match and could not recognise known faces around him.
However, there was a very human side to him as well. Cowdrey never forgot Hutton’s kindness and thoughtful care when on his first tour as a homesick youngster. When Cowdrey’s father passed away three weeks into the tour, Hutton quietly took the young man under his wing, made him his golf partner on Sunday, and guided him through his initiation into Test cricket.
It was not only being a professional captain that made him averse to losing Test matches. When England lost the first Test match at Sydney after Hutton had put Australia in, a sympathetic soul said to the morose captain, “Come on Len, snap out of it.” Hutton replied, “It’s all very well for you to tell me to snap out of it. I know it’s only a game, but there are millions of cricket lovers back in England in the middle of floods and gales and blizzards and this is a nice thing to happen to them, isn’t it?”
Along with this devotion to the game, Hutton did have an impressionable mind. After all his numerous tours, he still remembered his 1935 voyage to the West Indies with the Yorkshire side. He recalled “the splendid palm trees, humming birds, heat-blistered buildings and wickets baked by the tropical sun.”
During the 1947-48 tour of South Africa, he was fielding on the boundary when he heard a familiar accent in the crowd and turned around exclaiming, “You Yorkshire lass.”
He found quiet pleasure in the success of others, and often enjoyed the success of Denis Compton as it took the focus off him. In spite of difference in temperament and individual star status, the two remained friends.
Along with Jack Hobbs, Hutton is considered the most classical and correct batsman ever produced by England. Hobbs and Hutton, along with Herbert Sutcliffe form the three most successful opening batsmen of England and the world. Although Denis Compton was the more flashy and debonair of the two, Hutton’s successes surpassed the feats of the Middlesex maestro, and he was seldom challenged as the leading batsman of England after Hammond. Most agreed on his reputation as the best post-Bradman batsman of the world till the end of his playing days.
The technical perfection was tinged with aesthetic brilliance as well, although the risk free approach often robbed it of the romance that it could have generated. According to Alan Gibson, Hutton’s off-drive was the glory of the game. In the tradition of Hobbs and Sutcliffe he was also one of the best batsmen on bad wickets.
The rare videos of his batting show a master of every coaching manual, who was able to play as late as possible, with an initial back and across movement. Perhaps if his arm had not undergone the injury, he could have been a more attacking player and more keen to get on the front foot. However, the technique worked wonders for him, and from time to time an enthralling innings showed the fireworks he was capable of.
Towards the end of the English season in 1990, Hutton was watching cricket at The Oval, the scene of his many triumphs, including the 364. Shortly after the game the great England batsman and captain suffered a ruptured aorta and passed away on September 6.
In Pics: Len Hutton’s cricketing career
(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://twitter.com/senantix)