Frank Woolley Biography
For those who consider cricket to be art, Frank Woolley was perhaps the most virtuoso of artists. No batsman ever looked more elegant when at the crease. He scored tons of runs, 58,969 in First-Class cricket at 40.75 over 32 years, and 3,283 in Tests at 36.07 over a quarter of a century. But it was the manner in which he made them was what made him stand apart.
Frank Edward Woolley, who died aged 91, was beyond doubt one of the finest and most elegant left-handed all-rounders of all time. In a first-class career extending from 1906 to 1938 he hit 58,969 runs — a total exceeded only by Sir Jack Hobbs — including 145 centuries, to average 40.75; he took 2,066 wickets for 19.87 runs each, and he held 1,018 catches, mainly at slip, a record which remains unsurpassed.
In CP Snow’s mystery novel Death Under Sail, Fenbow the detective sits in an empty Lord’s and says, “I once saw Woolley make 87 on this ground. After that any innings that could be played is an anti-climax. There is no point in trying to repeat perfection. Cricket, having been created and evolved, has achieved its purpose, produced one lovely thing, and ought to die.” Such was the opinion of many a fan and critic.
Tall, left-handed and long-limbed, Woolley played straight, making full use of his reach, and was supremely nimble on his feet. His drives were poetry in sight and sound, his cuts delightful and his leg-side strokes etched with the brush strokes of an artist. It was all a combination of a wonderful eye and ethereal timing. His defence could have been a trifle shaky, especially in his early years, but he never put too much that part of his game. Batting for him was attack. Beaten by a delivery, he would hit the next for six if it merited so. He could pulverise the best of attacks, and often did so with an ease which beggared description.
“He made the game look so untidy,” said Australian skipper Bill Woodfull. “It appeared as if the wrong bowlers were on and the fieldsmen all in the wrong places.” Learie Constantine agreed that Woolly had handed him the worst hammering in his life.
He was not nearly as consistent or as successful as a Wally Hammond, or even a Maurice Leyland. But watching Woolley bat was special. For Kent, there has been no greater batsman till, arguably, Colin Cowdrey.
Yet, he was much more than just a batsman. He was one of the finest left-arm spinners of his generation, with excellent use of his height and easy action. He picked up 2,066 wickets at 19.87, of which 1,680 were for Kent and 83 for England. With his long arms, he stood in the slips and pouched 1,018 catches, a record that remains unsurpassed. 64 of his catches came in Tests.
A great all-round cricketer, and one of the most pleasing to watch.