© Getty Images
Arthur Dolphin © Getty Images

Arthur Dolphin, born December 24, 1885, was a Yorkshire mainstay on either side of the Great War. Being a contemporary of a few champion wicketkeepers made things difficult for him, and despite his illustrious County Championship career behind the stumps, he got to play a solitary Test. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the man who kept wickets in a cap but umpired without a hat.

Being a contemporary of Herbert Strudwick, Tiger Smith, and George Duckworth was not easy for an English wicketkeeper. It did not help that World War I took away a chunk of Arthur Dolphin’s career, restricting him to a solitary Test, that, too, at 35, without much success.

That, however, did not deter Dolphin from being a giant behind the stumps for Yorkshire. A haul of 610 catches and 272 stumpings make spectacular reading. For Yorkshire alone he had 829 dismissals (fifth-best in their history), including 570 catches (sixth) and 259 stumpings (second).

Unlike batsmen and bowlers of the early 19th century, wicketkeepers of the era cannot be easily evaluated, for the number of catches and stumpings missed are seldom recorded, especially at domestic level, as are byes conceded.

There is something, however, in the fact that the ‘short, stocky’ and ‘solidly built’ Dolphin kept wickets from 1905 to 1927 — a phase when Yorkshire won the County Championship 8 times in 19 seasons, including a 4-in-4 run from 1922 to 1925.

When Bill Bowes wrote of Jimmy Binks in Wisden in 1969, he called Binks the “fourth great and long-serving ’keeper for Yorkshire” after David Hunter, Dolphin, and Arthur Wood.

Herbert Sutcliffe, no less, was an admirer of Dolphin: “His quick brain and exceptionally keen eyesight were responsible for disposing of large numbers of batsmen from chances which many keepers would have missed without even affecting their reputations.”

As batsman he was no Les Ames, but was stubborn nevertheless, and was often the first choice night-watchman. A tally of 3,402 runs from 449 matches at 11.30 without a hundred hardly speak volumes of his abilities, but he did have 7 fifties.

Post-retirement, Dolphin went on to become an umpire, and managed to retain his celebrity status on field. He cut a figure as authoritative in coats as he did in flannels. He stood in 6 Tests before another War intervened.

Early days

Born in Wilsden, Dolphin was playing for Wilsden Britannia by the turn of the century, and made it to Yorkshire Second XI in 1905. When he eventually made his debut for the county later that year, he became the first Bradford League cricketer to play for Yorkshire. There would later be some others, like Sutcliffe, Wood, Arthur Mitchell, Brian Sellers, and Emmott Robinson.

He played for Yorkshire mostly when Hunter was unavailable. It was not until 1910 that he became the first wicketkeeper for the champion county.

By 1914 he was one of the finest wicketkeepers in the country. In 1913 he had an aggregate of 80 dismissals; in 1914, another 77. The latter also saw him score 3 of his 7 career fifties as well. Dolphin was even in contention for a Test spot.

This season also saw Dolphin effect the most famous stumping of his career. Alonzo Drake was a left-arm medium-pacer who was known for the deceptive quick ball he sneaked in from time to time. Peter Clarke, the MCC batsman had no clue when Dolphin whipped the bails off; Christopher Sandford wrote that the dismissal “nearly defied belief in point of swiftness of eye and hand.”

Then The Great War broke out.

Leeds pals and more

Dolphin served in World War I alongside fellow Yorkshire all-rounder Roy Kilner and pace bowler Major Booth (Major was his name, not rank: Catch-22, anyone?). They formed a team called Leeds Pals that played cricket during the War. The cricketers mostly included members from 15th (Service) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.

Note: Drake could have been a fourth member, but he did not qualify for The War on medical grounds.

They even took on a full-strength Yorkshire side that featured Wilfred Rhodes, George Hirst, Sutcliffe, Percy Holmes, and David Denton. Booth claimed 4 wickets (out of 7), Kilner scored 86 (out of 150), while Dolphin was neat behind stumps. Unfortunately, it was not going to be enough, for Leeds Pals featured eight soldiers.

The trio later became Private Dolphin, Lance-Corporal Kilner, and Sergeant Booth. All three fought at Serre during Battle of the Somme, France. All three were injured on July 1, 1916, as was future Yorkshire and England cricketer Abe Waddington. Dolphin and Kilner lived to tell the tale. Booth did not last the day.

Dolphin was later posted in Egypt. The scorching sun took a toll on him. Reminiscing his days of fighting in the desert, Dolphin called it “the cruellest of all tests, which I pray no Englishman of my time will ever see again.”

Dolphin was 33 by the time the Championship resumed, but the comeback season was one of his best (though he scored four consecutive ducks in June). Essex had scored 354 before Johnny Douglas, Dolphin’s only Test captain, reduced Yorkshire to 245 for 9.

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Arthur Dolphin appeals for a stumping, albeit in vain; Johnny Douglas, the batsman, would later become Dolphin’s only Test captain © Getty Images

  The follow-on margin was 100, which meant that Essex still had the option. But Dolphin hung on grimly, and put the match out of Essex’s grip. He scored 62 not out, adding 103 with Edward Smith for the last wicket.

Against Derbyshire at Bradford that season he held 8 catches and effected a stumping, thereby equalling Hunter’s Yorkshire record of 9 dismissals in a match. The record was not broken till 1982.

Dolphin had a career-best of 89 dismissals (59 catches, 30 stumpings) that season. For Yorkshire he had 82, bettering his own record of 78 (in 1913). In 1920 the tally came down to 64 (the stumpings remained on 30), but he was still one of the finest in the country.

Wisden makes special mention to the Hampshire match of 1920, at Headingley. George Brown (232*), Alex Bowell (95), and Phil Mead (122*) went on a rampage, and Hampshire declared on 456 for 2 after 130 overs of savagery — before Alex Kennedy took 6 for 69 and 4 for 66 to bowl Hampshire to an innings victory, but one of the highlights of the match was Dolphin’s wicketkeeping: despite the wayward bowling there were only 2 byes.

Thus, when England left the shores for the antipodean summer of 1920-21, Dolphin found himself on the boat as Strudwick’s understudy.

The Test cap

The Ashes is remembered by statisticians, for it was the first ever 5-0 drubbing in the history of the sport. England did not stand a chance against Warwick Armstrong’s men: with three world-class all-rounders (Jack Gregory, Charles Kelleway, and Armstrong himself), backed by Herbie Collins, Charlie Macartney, Nip Pellew, Warren Bardsley, and Arthur Mailey, the hosts were as formidable as any other in history.

MCC’s sorry performance started in Ceylon, where they hung on to save the match, 9 wickets down. Dolphin effected four stumpings in Ceylon’s only innings. Dolphin’s two tour matches were both against Victoria, and with England trailing 0-3, he was drafted into the side in the fourth Test at MCG.

England got off to a good start, with Harry Makepeace 117 and Douglas himself 50. Then Mailey and Kelleway triggered a collapse, and England, from 270 for 4, were suddenly skittled out for 284. Batting at No. 9 Dolphin got a run off the first ball he faced, and was bowled by Kelleway second ball.

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Arthur Dolphin is keeping wickets. The others are Abe Waddington (left) and Rockley Wilson. Cartoonist: ‘Rep’. Courtesy: Sydney Mail.

Collins (59) and Bardsley (54) got Australia off to a solid start. There was some trouble at 153 for 5, but Gregory (77) and Armstrong (123*) fought back. Australia responded with 389. Dolphin’s only dismissal was a catch when Ciss Parkin found Gregory’s edge.

Once again it was Mailey’s turn: this time he ran through the Englishmen with a career-best 9 for 121 (the 13 for 236 also remained his best match figures). Once again England started well, reaching 305 for 5. Once again they collapsed magnificently, for 315. And once again Dolphin failed with the bat, caught by Gregory off Mailey for a 2-ball duck.

Australia needed 211, and reached there for the loss of 2 wickets. Dolphin never played another Test. Even amidst the carnage, Wisden admitted: “Strudwick and Dolphin upheld the highest traditions of English wicket-keeping.” Monty Noble came out in support as well, in Sydney Mail: “The Englishmen are fortunate in having Strudwick and Dolphin as keepers. They are both of high standard.”

The bizarre accident

It could have been just another Lord’s match. Middlesex, the hosts, had won both editions of the tournament after The War, and were the side to beat in the tournament. Things did not look good for Yorkshire when they were bowled out for 221 by Nigel Haig (5 for 33).

Patsy Hendren (105) and Leslie Kidd (90) then added 170 for the fourth wicket, and the last four men scored 118 between them despite a marathon 5 for 132 from Rhodes. Yorkshire reached 100 for 2 before being bowled out for 139 (Sutcliffe injured himself before scoring a run) and lost by an innings.

It was a humiliating defeat, but worse was in store for Dolphin and Yorkshire. Our hero was sitting on a chair in the dressing-room, minding his own business. Then, he tried to carry out a perfectly harmless act: he reached out for his clothes. He somehow managed to fall, break his wrist, and get ruled out for the rest of the season.

Bowing out on a high

He was back at his best next season, which was also the beginning of Yorkshire’s four consecutive Championship titles. He chose the match against Kent match at Headingley that season as his benefit match — one that made him richer by £1,891.

During this phase Yorkshire was significantly stronger than any other side. Rhodes was ageing, but still a more than formidable force, if only with bat. In Sutcliffe, Holmes, and Maurice Leyland they had an outstanding triumvirate of batsmen. There was Robinson, immortalised by the (somewhat over-the-top) prose of Neville Cardus; and Kilner; and Waddington; and Edgar Oldroyd; and behind the stumps, Dolphin.

Dolphin was appointed coach by Maharaja of Patiala. He was a part of Arthur Gilligan’s side that toured India in 1926-27, and when MCC played Patiala, he actually played for Patiala against MCC. The final season was his last, for fighting sciatica was becoming a bigger challenge with every season. He let Wood take over.

The hatless umpire

 It all started during Gilligan’s tour, at Lahore. MCC bowled out (Indian) Army for 73, but the hosts held on to a draw. There was nothing exceptional about the match — barring the fact that it marked the First-Class umpiring debut of Dolphin and Rhodes.

Of the two Yorkshiremen, Rhodes did not stand in a First-Class match after the tour (though he stood in three others during it), but Dolphin’s illustrious 250-match career lasted till before World War II.

He was the famous “the man who never wore a hat,” for, as Wisden pointed out, “even on the hottest day he stood bare-headed in the middle.” Perhaps even the hottest day seemed nothing to him after what he had endured in the Egyptian deserts.

A confused Cardus once wrote: “It was also disconcerting to see Arthur Dolphin walking about the crowd without his hat and umpire’s white coat. Apparently he was under the impression that he was still at Manchester waiting for the waters to subside.” Typical Cardus.

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The umpire who never wore a hat: Fanny Walden (smoking) and Dolphin oversee things at the India Test at Lord’s; it was the first ever Test where blankets were used © Getty Images

 Between 1933 and 1937 Dolphin stood in 6 Tests, and was usually impeccable in the middle. Always popular with the players, Dolphin officiated in some historic matches, witnessing Don Bradman’s 304 at Headingley (1934) and being a part of the first Test where blankets were used to absorb moisture from the pitch (India vs England, Lord’s, 1936).

Writing for Sporting Globe (Melbourne), George Hele wrote highly about Dolphin and Len Braund, calling them “a class above our own [Australians].” In another article, in The Mail (Adelaide), Hele compared Dolphin with Frank Chester, no less.

The man

Dolphin’s Yorkshire accent was rather pronounced, which meant few non-Yorkshiremen, especially foreign cricketers, could understand him. This helped build a reputation, especially among Australians, that Dolphin was a quiet man. The Newcastle Sun, however, wrote on this: “Actually he was not [a silent man]. He would eagerly discuss current matters with those who did not ask him for repetitions or his quaint statements.”

In real life Dolphin was no-nonsense with a dry sense of humour. There is an anecdote, where a man tried to con him by selling him a fake diamond ring. Dolphin ‘held out his gnarled and knotted hand’ and wanted to try it out.

When the seller asked him why his hand looked like that, the response was curt and prompt: “Heavyweight boxer”. The conman vanished.

Arthur Dolphin settled down in Lilycroft, Bradford. He passed away on October 23, 1942. He was 56. It was perhaps a coincidence, but as Sandford pointed out, it was the day when the Second Battle of El Alamein started.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)