Bill Reeves © Getty Images
Bill Reeves © Getty Images

There have been greater cricketers and more revered umpires than Bill Reeves, born June 22, 1875, but few gifted with such sense of humour. Abhishek Mukherjee cites a few examples.

Bill Reeves was a one-of-a-kind personality, even from his playing days. There are numerous anecdotes of him, some true, some possibly false, some definitely false. We have narrated some Reeves stories on these pages, so it is only fair that we add to the list. As mentioned above, not all of these are true, so you may classify them as cricket fiction.

The Oates incident

The first story dates back to Reeves’ days as an active cricketer. Reeves was bowling his military-medium pace for Essex (he was a good cricketer, with over 6,000 runs and 600 wickets).

Former Nottinghamshire wicketkeeper Thomas Oates (993 dismissals) was the umpire. There was an edge, and Oates, duty forgotten, gave in to wicketkeeping instincts, yelling “how’s that?”

“Out,” said Reeves promptly (he was the bowler, remember), pointing his finger towards the sky. The batsman left.

This story is definitely false. Oates never umpired in competitive cricket before 1925 (or in First-Class cricket before 1927). Reeves played till 1921. Curiously, in Amazing and Extraordinary Facts — Cricket, Brian Levison starts the tale with “the Essex player Bill Reeves told the story of Tommy Oates…”

Courtesy pays

Frank Chester stood many a time as umpire with Reeves, and had plenty of tales to tell as a result. For example, this one is about an unnamed Glamorgan medium-fast bowler, who made his debut against Hampshire at Swansea.

The youngster started well, and soon appealed for a leg-before. “Not out,” announced Reeves.

At the end of the over Reeves had a word with the boy: “Look, son, when you appeal to an umpire in county cricket don’t say ‘how’s that?’ Say ‘how’s that, Sir?’ You’ll stand a better chance.”

The boy nodded obediently. Sure enough, he hit the pad and went up again: “How’s that?”

Reeves kept quiet. A second or two later, the boy added: “Sir…?”

“Ah, that’s better,” winked Reeves as he raised his finger.

A glaring reason

Yet another Chester story ran like this. During a match at Leicester (Grace Road, presumably), the light got really bad, and Chester and Reeves had to stop play. “The clouds were so low that it was almost dark,” reminisced Chester.

As always, there was a disgruntled section of the crowd. One of them actually approached Reeves as he came off the ground: “What have you come in for?”

Reeves’ responded immediately: “We cannot stand the glare.”

The man uttered a word of thanks and returned to his seat.

The widow vanishes

The Old Trafford Test of 1938 was abandoned without a ball being bowled, but had its own share of glamour. The Test, you see, neatly coincided with the events of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.

As was norm, Reeves collected his match fee from the Secretary’s office soon after the match. Outside the room he bumped into Jack Hobbs (incidentally, Hobbs had heard the Oates story at Lord’s as well).

The Master decided to pull Reeves’ leg: “Surely you are not going to take money for being idle for the past four days; you haven’t done a stroke.”

“I’m going to give the money to charity,” came the response.

Now Hobbs was taken aback: “Charity?”

“To the Unknown Warrior’s Widow,” quipped Reeves as he stepped away.

The lowlands

It is only fair to follow a Jack Hobbs story would be followed by one involving Herbert Sutcliffe. The great man was battling it out in a Roses match when Cecil Parkin appealed for leg-before against him. “At square-leg I could see the ball was far too high,” Chester recalled.

Reeves ruled Sutcliffe not out.

Parkin wasn’t happy: “What was the matter with that?”

“Too high,” explained Reeves.

In the next over Parkin hit Percy Holmes on the stomach. Holmes was clearly nowhere close to being given leg-before, but Parkin appealed nevertheless. Obviously Reeves did not oblige.

This was too much for Parkin: “Well, what was the matter with that one?”

“Too low.”

More of Sutcliffe

Yet another Roses match. This time there was an appeal for run out, but Reeves said not out, much to the chagrin of the Lancastrians. They demanded an explanation.

Reeves was obviously ready with one: “Well, he’s got his old granddad here; [the grandfather had] come 150 miles to see him bat. You don’t think I was going to upset the poor man’s day, do you?”

Vocal tonic

This one is also from a Roses match. Reeves had ruled a young Lancashire batsman LBW. Now, as the umpires came off the field at lunch, Reeves spotted the youngster sitting dejectedly in the pavilion. He decided to have a word: “You weren’t out really.”

Now the boy was left in disbelief: “Why did you give me out, then?”

“Well, the ground’s a bit wet and I was thinking of your rheumatics. What would your poor mother have said to me?”

A lord at Lord’s

This incident, at Lord’s, involves Henry John ‘Tom’ Enthoven of Middlesex as non-striker, and Jack Newman of Hampshire as bowler. The striker pushed a ball towards mid-on, and Enthoven set off for a run. Newman, in an attempt to stop the ball, managed to block Enthoven.

Enthoven fell short of the crease, they appealed, but Reeves ruled him not out. This was obviously illegal, for Newman’s action was unintentional. Hampshire captain Lord Tennyson soon issued a complaint, following which Reeves was summoned by MCC.

Lord Hawke, presiding over the entire thing, asked Reeves to explain himself. Reeves countered with a question: “My Lord, what would you have made if you had been the umpire?”

Hawke was obviously stunned (wasn’t he Lord Hawke?). Exasperated, he blurted out “I don’t know!”

That was the opening Reeves needed: “A damned fine umpire you’d make, my Lord! You have had a week to think about it; I only had a second!”

He got away with a warning.

The Gover story

This one also came from Chester. Reeves once stood as umpire in a match where Alf Gover could not get his run-up right (“he bowled so many no-balls that I had a sore throat”). Reeves had Chester for partner in the next Gover match he stood in.

Reeves requested Chester to stand at Gover’s end. Gover duly overstepped, and Chester no-balled him. Then the Surrey captain decided to switch ends for Gover. Almost immediately Reeves went down on one knee to pray.

Who is out?

There was utter chaos in a match at The Oval. Both batsmen were left stranded on the pitch before making a dash for Chester’s end. Once there, they realised that something was wrong — and both of them sprinted towards Reeves’ end. Amidst all this, there was a wild overthrow.

When they eventually broke the stumps at Reeves’ end, both batsmen were left stranded mid-pitch next to each other. By this time Reeves was completely in splits, rolling on the grass, and had no clue who had to be given out. So he flipped a coin and ruled one of the batsmen out.

It took some convincing from Chester, who had somehow managed to stay calm, to reconstruct the entire scenario and take the correct decision.

A bone-crushing retort

Wilfred Rhodes had an unnatural stance. His left (front) foot faced the bowler, and not sideways, when he took guard.

Harold Larwood was not impressed by the sight. “What’s he doing that for?” Reeves assured him that it was Rhodes’ natural stance.

Larwood was having none of it. He bowled a very low full-toss at tremendous pace. The ball hit Rhodes’ toe with an audible crack. And up went Larwood: “How’s that?”

“Bloody painful, I should think,” came the nonchalant response.
RC Robertson-Glasgow was right, you see. Indeed, “if silence or dullness fell upon the game, there was Bill Reeves to put it right.”