Arthur Wellard © Getty Images
Arthur Wellard © Getty Images

Arthur Wellard, born April 8, 1902, was a useful bowling all-rounder, whose big hitting ability has made him a legend in cricketing chronicles. He scored 12,485 runs in First-Class cricket at a rather modest average of 19.73. With the ball, he was distinctly more successful, 1,614 wickets at 24.35. What remains amazing is that the sixes he hit numbered over 500. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the man who scored more than a quarter of his runs with sixes.

One more Over-boundary

Gaieties Cricket Club was founded in 1937 — a group of wandering recreational cricketers who played in the Home Counties. Through its initial years, it was captained by music hall artist Lupino Lane, the founder, who had his music company in the Gaiety Theatre, London. In 1972, the captaincy was taken over by Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize winning English playwright.

In July 1974, Gaieties Cricket Club was engaged in an excruciatingly tense contest against Banstead. The opponents had scored just 175, but the Gaieties batsmen had made a hash of the chase. The ninth wicket went down with still five runs required to win.

The last man who walked out had been complaining incessantly all through the innings. He did not enjoy being compelled to bat. He could not see the wicket from the pavilion in the appalling light. “How do you expect me to see the bloody ball?”At the age of 72, his rheumatism was killing him. It had not stopped him from bowling 18 overs for just 29 runs in the Banstead innings, though. Now, he grumbled as he trudged out to the wicket.

The Banstead quickie was in operation and the couple of balls that remained in the over were allowed to go through to the ’keeper. Whether the venerable gentleman saw them or not is debatable. The next over started with a boundary from the other batsman, after which the old man turned down several singles with an uplifted hand. “He was past the age, his hand asserted, when running singles was anything else but a mug’s game,” writes Pinter.

The next over started, and the Banstead fast bowler, with scant concession for age, charged in. The eyes strained to see the ball from the stands in that gloom. Arthur Wellard’s left leg went down the wicket, the bat swung in a majestic arc, and the ball zoomed away miles beyond the long-on. Gaities had won, and their star player had delivered at 72.

Wellard played his last game for Gaieties in 1975. By then his arm was low and discernibly crooked, his bowling accompanied by a remarkable range of grunts. He had obviously become slow, but his variation of length still asked questions of batsmen and the odd one would still move away late.

He moved to Eastbourne with his wife in 1977, living and reminiscing in his wonderful memories of the game before he passed away on the last day of 1980. Till the end of his days he was a generous soul, and gifted Pinter the England cap he had worn for the two Tests he played and the stump he had knocked over while bowling John Badcock second ball in the Lord’s Test of 1938. He had also scored 38 from 37 balls in the second innings of the match, with his solitary six in Test cricket, a hit into the Grandstand balcony off Stan McCabe.

More than just a hitter

David Foot classified Wellard as a village blacksmith cricketer as well as an England player.

On the field his major job was to bowl fast-medium, and he was good enough to open the bowling for England. However, Arthur Wellard will always be remembered for his spectacular big hits.

He scored 12,485 runs in First-Class cricket, mostly for Somerset, at a rather modest average of 19.73. With the ball, he was distinctly more successful, 1,614 wickets at 24.35. What remains amazing is that the sixes he hit numbered over 500, amounting to roughly a quarter of his career runs.

Wellard bowled fast-medium, and could make the ball break back dangerously — reminiscent of Tom Richardson. When the ball was old or the wicket taking spin, he could send down accurate, and often incisive, off-spin, mostly from round the wicket. He was also a superb fielder close to the wicket.

As a tall, powerfully built, loose-limbed batsman he was no mere slogger. He had a good, if sometimes awkward and always reluctant, defence. He was reasonably consistent — remarkably so given his penchant for the huge hit. He batted well enough to score a couple of hundreds in First-Class cricket. His hits were based on solid scientific theory: drives hit hard enough, high enough and long enough cannot be caught by any fielder.

Wellard had initially approached Kent for selection, and when the interest proved lukewarm, he turned to Somerset. In his first full season, in 1929, he captured 131 wickets at 21.38. In 1933, 1935 and 1937, he performed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets.

He was considered a steady all-rounder, ultimately awarded a Test cap against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1937, and captured four for 81.

His other Test came at Lord’s against Australia in 1938. It was a fine all-round performance. After bowling decently enough, he scored 38 in the second innings, adding 74 with Denis Compton. He played his part in rescuing England from a possible defeat, coming in at a delicate 142 for seven, and leaving them safe at 216 for eight. During this innings he played the famous pull-drive off McCabe that landed in the balcony of the Grandstand. His efforts would have won him a place in the England side for the tour to India had the War not intervened.

He also went to India to play a series of unofficial Tests under Lord Tennyson in 1937-38, and received reasonable success, mainly with the ball.

Arthur Wellard bowling against Surrey at The Oval, in June 1934 © Getty Images
Arthur Wellard bowling against Surrey at The Oval, in June 1934 © Getty Images

6, 6, 6, 6, 6 x 2

However, his immortal deeds were performed with the willow.

On the small home ground at Wells, he launched into Tom ‘Tosser’ Armstrong of Derbyshire in 1936. Wellard had taken 9 wickets in the match, and Somerset needed 274 for win when he came in at 140 for 5. Armstrong was a decent enough left-arm spinner, but that day Wellard struck him for five sixes off consecutive balls. He scored 86 in just over an hour, and Somerset won by 1 wicket.

Two years later, he was once again on fire at Wells, this time against Kent. In the away match that year, Frank Woolley had bowled Wellard for a duck. On this occasion, Wellard smote him for 5 mighty sixes, and was dropped off the sixth ball by Bryan Valentine just in front of the sightscreen, a single resulting in the bargain. Woolley finished with none for 40 off 2 overs, and Wellard scored 57 and 37 along with 13 wickets in the match, including Woolley’s prize scalp in both innings. Somerset won by 27 runs.

Till Garfield Sobers hit Malcolm Nash for six sixes at Swansea, Wellard’s feats stood as the record for the most sixes in an over.

Beyond the Boundary

As many as 72 sixes came in 1935, a record that stood for exactly half a century before Ian Botham, another mighty Somerset biffer, hoisted 80 in 1985.

During his initial days for Somerset, he paired with Jack ‘Farmer’ White in the bowling line up with excellent effect. In the latter part of his career, Harold Gimblett at the top of the batting order and Arthur Wellard in the lower-middle made Somerset batting brimful with attractive six-hitting ability.

In a wartime match at Hayes, Wellard regaled the war-weary spectators with a fifty in just eight minutes, hitting 2 fours and 7 sixes in the nine balls he faced. He spent the remaining War years serving in North Africa and Italy. After the hostilities ended, he continued to play for Somerset but by then his best years were over.

Among all his sixes, Wellard specially remembered the one he struck at Brabourne Stadium, Bombay off Amar Singh during the Indian tour of 1937-38. It was the last match of the tour for Lord Tennyson’s men, and Wellard won it with a spells of four for 59 and five for 58. In the second innings, he also unleashed some severe barrage of hitting. He recounted to Pinter years later:

“He wasn’t a bad bowler, Amar Singh. He moved it about a bit. He dug it in. You had to watch yourself. Anyway, he suddenly let one go, it was well up and swinging. I could see it all the way and I hit it. Well, they’ve got these stands in Bombay, one on top of the other, and I saw this ball, she was still climbing when she hit the top of the top stand. I was aiming for that river they’ve got over there. The Ganges. If it hadn’t been for that bloody top stand I’d have had it in the Ganges. That wasn’t a bad blow, that one.”

Let us forget for a while that the stroke needed to travel over half of India to get from Bombay to Ganges. Even Wellard could not hit a ball that far. His knowledge of geography may have done with some improvement, but Wellard could indeed hit it a long, long way — and could certainly pummel it out of the Brabourne Stadium.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)