Herbert Sutcliffe Biography
In cricketing terms, Herbert Sutcliffe was a Yorkshireman and a half.
He was one of the greatest batsmen ever. He ended with an average of 4,555 runs at 60.73 in Tests, yet one finds precious little in terms of documented eulogies to his craft of batting. Wisden does talk about his artistry and goes on to state that his off-drive wore a silk hat — but that was in his obituary, when noble cricketers departing for the happy grounds of the other world carry away characteristics that seldom graced them in their active days.
Sutcliffe was not a pretty batsman to watch. His technique was his own; he could not stoop low enough to plagiarise those of his illustrious teammates such as Wally Hammond or Jack Hobbs. Nor did he subscribe to coaching manuals.
He grasped the bat as if to chop wood with the south-west corner, and met the ball with less than the full width when he played forward. CB Fry called him “The Hatchet Man” and Ray Robinson observed that Sutcliffe’s bat reminded him of a twisted front tooth.
He lunged while playing off the front-foot — giving the indication that at least to leg-spinners on fast wickets, he thrust his bat and left the rest to luck. Australia, the land full of fast wickets and legendary leg-spinners in his days, waited for him to succumb as he was beaten time and again outside the off-stump. The country would still be waiting when somehow, hours later, Sutcliffe would raise his bat and acknowledge applause on reaching his hundred. In Australia he did so six times, scoring 1,529 runs at 63.
Ray Robinson noted, “Sutcliffe almost made the snick respectable.”
For all the Wisden eloquence about his drive, he often scored very few in the ‘V’. His most productive off-side stroke was the dab past point for a single or two. The most inviting half-volleys often escaped without a drive. No, he was not an elegant batsman; just a great one, who ended with better returns than Hobbs, Hammond, Frank Woolley, and the rest of them. Neville Cardus, that doyen of cricket writers and flamboyantly fraudulent historian, seldom wrote a word about Sutcliffe while weaving his intricate tapestry of metaphors around his celebrated opening partner Jack Hobbs.
Sutcliffe’s collaboration with Hobbs has remained unmatched. They patted balls gently, rolled them barely clear of the pitch and singles were stolen under the noses of fieldsmen, although neither seemed to hurry between wickets. They added 3,249 runs at a whopping average of 87.81. He also held the record for the best opening stand — 555, no less — with Percy Holmes.
Although he seldom ventured into adventurous offside strokes, Sutcliffe left balls outside the off-stump with magnificent flourish. If the ancient scorecards show a six against his name, a reasonable wager is that the stroke was a hook.
His tenacious and often crabby batting technique may have seen him scratch his way to tall scores on good wickets, but it was on bad, sticky and unplayable tracks that Sutcliffe proved to be a phenomenon. There have been few better batsmen on bad wickets.
Sutcliffe also had the sleekest hair-do in Test cricket.