The great Percy Fender (above) was the nephew of Percy Herbert © Getty Images
The great Percy Fender (above) was the nephew of Percy Herbert © Getty Images

The Gentlemen of the South clashed with the Players of the South in a match that had started July 3, 1920. Percy Herbert made his First-Class debut in that match. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the truncated career of a man who never got to see his entire First-Class career.

Percy Herbert was born at Shoreham-on-Sea, Sussex. He was a decent club cricketer, but nothing is documented regarding his batting or bowling style. His illustrious nephew Percy George Herbert Fender, however, went on to become a cult hero of sorts in English domestic cricket: not only did he miss marginally on a magnificent double (he scored 19,034 runs and claimed 1,894 wickets), but he was also one of the finest strategists English cricket has seen. A month after the match in question he would score the fastest First-Class hundred, in a mere 35 minutes. It is not clear whether Fender was named after Herbert.

On that day at The Oval, however, Fender was faced with a predicament. At first glance everything seemed to be going along smoothly. The match between the Gentlemen of the South and the star-studded Players of the South was supposed to be a benefit match for JJ Reid, the pavilion attendant of the ground. It was an ensemble cast, consisting of names like Jack Hobbs, Patsy Hendren, and Fender himself, among others.

The problem lay elsewhere: the Players batted first, and when Fender’s men took field, they were a man short. They used a local substitute, but in reality they were a team of ten men (they already had a debutant in the form of Burnett Bullock). Hobbs made Reid substantially richer by virtue of a sublime 90-minute 115 with 13 fours, while Jack Russell (yes, yes, he would have a more illustrious Gloucestershire namesake) accompanied him, scoring 71 and helping him add 185 for the opening stand.

Jack Hearne and Hendren took over, scoring 62 and 68 respectively; with Andy Ducat contributing with 48 and Andy Sandham amassing 89, the score soon crossed the 400-mark. Alan Peach then joined the fun with an unbeaten 50, and at stumps on Day One the Players were 551 for 9.

Fender had captured 3 wickets, Jack Crawford and Nigel Haig two apiece, while Sri Lankan Hector Gunasekara went wicketless. However, that was the least of Fender’s concerns, since he knew that they were a side of ten men and would have to bat next morning.

A desperate Fender thus summoned his uncle (brother of his mother Lily), who, as mentioned above, was a decent club-cricketer at Brighton. Herbert, almost 42, arrived at the ground before Day Two to make his First-Class debut. Unfortunately for Herbert, rain washed away the next two days, which meant that Herbert never got to play despite making his debut.

Herbert never played another First-Class match. There have been men who have not batted, bowled, or fielded in their careers despite playing matches, but Herbert remains one of the very few — he may even be unique — in the sense that he never got to see his own First-Class career.

What followed?

- Bullock later played for Surrey.
- Six months after this match Fender made his Test debut.
- Not much is known about the future life of Herbert. He passed away in relative obscurity at Hove when he was 79.

Brief scores:

Players of the South 551 for 9 (Jack Hobbs 115, Jack Russell 71, Jack Hearne 62, Patsy Hendren 68, Andy Sandham 89, Alan Peach 50*; Percy Fender 3 for 114) drew with Gentlemen of the South.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)