Johnny Douglas Biography
He could swing harder than most. Restricted to men of his own weight category, he was acknowledged as the very best on the most universally accepted platform. Yet, spectators groaning from the agony of watching his glacial progress at the wicket dubbed him ‘Johnny Won’t Hit Today.’ The initials actually stood for John William Henry Tyler, and JWHT Douglas was one of the fittest of cricketers and among the most pugnacious all-rounders of his day. However, not many would have paid to watch him bat.
His hits were furious and fast, but were mainly restricted to the boxing ring where he dominated. His batting gloves exchanged for the pugilistic ones, his fists flew with force, flourish and finesse. He regaled the blood thirsty audience at the National Sporting Club, won the Amateur Boxing Association Middleweight title in 1905 and then famously triumphed in the 1908 London Olympics. Those fists, once wrapped around a ball, could make them move either way at a lively medium pace. Those very fists could close around the travelling balls and gave him over 350 catches at top-grade.
But when sheathed in batting gloves, they seemed to lose their penchant for power and glory. Douglas batted as if, to quote David Foot, losing a competitive stroll with a tortoise. His stonewalling drove strong, silent men to depths of despair and away from grounds. But his limited ability did not stop him from scoring 26 hundreds, including one in a Test match. He was obdurate, a perfected template from which the barnacle like form of future England all-rounder Trevor Bailey seemed to emerge. However, no one could doubt his utility.
For good measure he led England, to one victorious series in Australia before the First World War. His captaincy record later suffered when the mad conflicts took toll of the Englishmen and they were trounced by Warwick Armstrong’s Australians when cricket resumed after the War.
In a career spanning 27 years, Douglas scored 24,531 runs at 27.90 with 26 hundreds and picked up 1,893 wickets at 23.32. In the Tests, he had markedly less success with the ball, but 962 runs at 29.15 and 45 wickets at 33.02 in 23 Tests indicate a useful cricketer.
And if cricket and boxing were not quite enough, Douglas turned out for the Corinthians, and also the Casuals, and gained an Amateur Football Alliance cap for England.
The death of this stalwart sportsman carries tragedy and heroism in equal proportions. In December 1930, Douglas was travelling on The Oberon, returning to England with his father after purchasing timber in Finland. In the foggy and turbulent seas also sailed the Arcturus. The vessels collided seven miles south of LaesoTrindel Lightship, Denmark. It took all of three minutes for The Oberon to sink and only four passengers survived. One of those who did recounted how Douglas had gone down, trying desperately to save his father with his final effort.