Fenner   s Ground, where Ratcliffe set his record    Getty Images (representational photo)
Fenner s Ground, where Ratcliffe set his record Getty Images (representational photo)

Destiny waits alike for the free man as well as for him enslaved by another s might. Aeschylus.

It is a universal truism that the vast majority of humankind go about their daily business without any great aspiration for glory. A smaller number seek glory actively by the weight of their individual deeds. There are a handful of chosen people who are destined to bask in shared glory.

In 1885, one Thomas Osborn sowed the seeds of a small Welsh school with only 14 pupils. Initially named Rydal Mount, the school was renamed Rydal in 1915 and soon attracted more and more pupils, so that by 1920, the student strength rose to about 220. It became a Public School in 1922. Rugby became the main school sport by 1923, which was but natural, it being a Welsh institution. Gradually, new playing fields were added and new buildings came up and Rydal went from strength to strength, adding several activities, both academic and sporting, to their curriculum. There was another change in the name in 1995, and the school became known as Rydal Penrhos School.

Alan Ratcliffe was born March 31, 1909 at Dulwich, Surrey. He was educated at Rydal School, where he learnt the basics of both rugby and cricket, and the knowledge gained at school at this young age was to stand him in good stead later in his career.

He made his First-Class debut playing for Wales in a match against the touring 1928 West Indians played at Llandudno, in 1928. The West Indians were dismissed for 198, the legendary Syd Barnes taking 7 for 51. Wales did marginally better, being bowled out for 229, debutant Ratcliffe top-scoring with a well-made 71. The West Indian second innings was an even poorer effort of 137, Barnes picking up another 5 wickets. The home team won the game by 8 wickets.

His next First-Class match was also for Wales, against another visiting side, the South Africans this time, on his school ground, Rydal, in Colwyn Bay. The visitors won by 10 runs despite the 10 wickets taken by Barnes and the heroic century by William Bates (102), son of the celebrated England player Billy Bates.

Ratcliffe s next match against the MCC at Lord s in 1929 was his last before he went up to Cambridge. He top-scored with 73 and was promoted to open the innings in the second innings, though he scored only 4. Bill Bowes took 7 wickets in the match.

In a First-Class career spanning 1928 to 1945, Ratcliffe played 49 matches as a right-hand batsman, scoring 1,969 runs. His highest score was 201, and he averaged 26.25. He scored 5 centuries and 9 fifties, and held 39 catches. He also played 16 Minor Counties games, initially for the Welsh team Denbighshire, and then for Buckinghamshire, without doing anything spectacular.

He went up to Cambridge in 1930 and lost no time in turning out for the 1st XI. Opening the University innings against Yorkshire in 1930 he scored 34 and 47. Yorkshire won by 10 wickets, Wilfred Rhodes taking 10 wickets in the match.

Radcliffe s inclusion in the Cambridge playing XI for the Derby match against Oxford in 1931 was somewhat fortuitous and was made possible only because Jack Davies had sprained an ankle. Grabbing the heaven-sent opportunity with both hands, Ratcliffe opened with skipper George Kemp-Welch and shared a first-wicket stand of 149 before the skipper was dismissed.

Ratcliffe went on to score 201 (in 340 minutes, with 24 fours; this was his maiden First-Class century) in an innings total of 385. This was a new record for the highest individual scores made in the Derby clashes, and erased the 27-year old record set by John Frederick Marsh (172*).

Oxford replied with 453 for 8 declared. The fall of the first wicket at the team score of 29 had brought the third Indian Prince to play for England, Iftikhar Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi Sr, to the crease. There followed a 104-run third-wicket stand with skipper Alan Melville. The defining partnership of the innings was the fifth wicket collaboration of 174 with another South African, Tuppy Owen-Smith. The Nawab remained not out with 23al8, erasing the new mark set only the day before by the Cambridge man Ratcliffe for the highest individual score in Oxford-Cambridge cricket matches.

Cambridge imploded in the second innings to be dismissed for 122, and Oxford won this epochal match by 8 wickets. Till date, this is the only University Derby match in which there was been an individual double century from each side. Whatever misgivings Ratcliffe may have had on the second day of the game when his newly-set mark had been overtaken, both the principals were destined to go to their respective graves with their honour intact and the recognition of an unprecedented deed well done. Indeed, how much greater is the glory that is shared with another as illustrious as the Indian Prince?

Ratcliffe s next century was to come in one of the rare victories by the visiting Indian team of 1932 under the Maharaja of Porbandar, at Fenner s. The Indians won by 9 wickets but not before Ratcliffe had scored 112* out of a Cambridge total of 274. For

Later that season Ratcliffe was destined to score a century in each innings of a match for the only time in his career, achieving the feat against Surrey at The Oval. In a drawn game, Ratcliffe had scores of 130 and 104*.

Indeed, 1932 turned out to be a good year for Ratcliffe as he scored his fourth century (124) of the season against Oxford at Lord s. This was to be Ratcliffe s most productive season with him scoring 849 runs at 33.96 with 4 centuries and 4 fifties. Ratcliffe played 33 matches for Cambridge from 1930 to 1932, scoring a total of 1,545 runs at 30.29. He received his cricket Blue from 1930 to 1932.

His success while at Cambridge did not go unnoticed in the county circuit. Surrey signed him on and Ratcliffe made his debut for them later in 1932 against Hampshire at The Oval. Surrey, under Douglas Jardine, won by 129 runs: it was a formidable Surrey XI with, among others, Andy Sandham, Thomas Shepherd, Percy Fender and Freddie Brown in their ranks. It must have been an awe-inspiring experience for the 23-year old to be rubbing shoulders with these luminaries. Ratcliffe scored 13 and 1 in the game.

For whatever reason, Ratcliffe could not reach the heights for Surrey that he had attained for his University, playing only 7 matches for them. He aggregated 142 runs for Surrey with a highest of 34 and an average of 17.75. He also played 3 matches for MCC before World War II, but these performances did not do justice to his talent. He kept himself in trim during the War years by playing some charity games for teams like the British Empire XI, Lord s XI, etc.

In his book Towards Independence in Africa A District Officer in Uganda at the end of Empire, Patrick Walker hints that Ratcliffe had had a stint as a cricket coach in King s School, South Africa in the English winter of a few years in South Africa.

Alan Ratcliffe breathed his last on August 21, 1967, aged about 58, at Toronto, Canada, carrying his record by conjunction set in 1931 to the grave.