Eddie Paynter © Getty Images
Eddie Paynter © Getty Images

Lancashire champion Eddie Paynter was born on November 5, 1901. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man with the fifth-highest batting average in Test cricket.

So deep has Edward Paynter’s name been etched in the history of the sport due to his courage in the Bodyline series and his extraordinary career numbers that the fact that he was a gifted stroke-player is usually forgotten. Relying mostly on back-foot strokes, he could hook and pull ferociously, and his experience of playing at Old Trafford meant that he could handle swing as well.

Paynter was also a gifted player of spin; unlike most others he was never reluctant to play his strokes and to step out of the crease and even swept the ball mercilessly, which was one of the most important reasons of his success against the likes of Bill O’Reilly. Few batsmen of the era were as attractive as Paynter in full flow. He loved to clear cricket grounds.

Eric Midwinter wrote of him: “A ferocious driver, a batsman who hooked seemingly with both feet off the ground or swept so fiercely that his pad knee-roll always looked tarnished, and one who indulged in what he [Paynter] termed ‘me fancy cuts’, he was highly regarded with affection as well as esteem.”

The main aspect of Paynter was, however, his numbers. With a 20-Test cut-off, Paynter ranks fifth in the history of Test cricket in terms of highest batting averages.

Highest Test batting averages (cut-off: 20 Tests)
M R Ave 100
Don Bradman 52 6,996 99.94 29
Graeme Pollock 23 2,256 60.97 7
George Headley 22 2,190 60.83 10
Herbert Sutcliffe 54 4,555 60.73 16
Eddie Paynter 20 1,540 59.23 4

In the history of the Ashes, too, Paynter holds a special place. Put a 5-Test cut-off, and his mind-boggling average of 84.42 is next to only Don Bradman’s. What is more creditable is the fact that he had scored a duck on the dead pitch at The Oval where England had piled up 903 for 7: his average would have gone past The Don’s otherwise.

Paynter also had the rather unusual penchant for keeping his best for the bigger occasions:

Paynter at various levels
M R Ave 100
Ashes 7 591 84.43 1
Other Tests 13 949 49.95 3
All Tests 20 1,540 59.23 4
Other First-Class 332 18,535 41.28 41
All First-Class 352 20,075 42.26 45

Paynter was also an exceptional fielder: his swiftness and anticipation at cover were well-known, and he was one of the best outfielders of his era: he was one of the safest of catchers and his throw was fast, hard, and almost always accurate. He could also take up gloves — even at Test level — in case of an emergency. What was more, all of this was achieved after he had lost the ends of two fingers at an age of 18.

Paynter was a late bloomer: however, even after his career went through a slump of form he had his best days, somewhat inexplicably, in his late 30s; unfortunately, it was just then that World War II broke out, and Paynter’s last stab at Test cricket received a cruel blow.

Early days

The third child of Arnold and Mary (née Thomson), Eddie was born at 14 Horton Street, Oswaldtwistle in Blackburn, Lancashire. Eddie’s elder brother Arundel (whom Eddie claimed was an excellent left-arm fast bowler) was killed during World War I on July 31, 1917. Eddie went to Mount Pleasant School in Enfield but left to seek employment in a cotton-spinning mill.

Paynter lost the ends of his index and middle fingers in a factory accident at an age of 18. Despite that he joined the Enfield Cricket Club under the tutelage of his father, who was the captain of the Second XI. By 19, Eddie was a part of the First XI and showed enough talent to be summoned to Old Trafford to be a part of one of Lancashire’s coaching schemes under Johnny Tyldesley and Thomas Lancaster.

Paynter was selected for Lancashire Second XI in 1921 as an amateur. He played for Barrow next season before returning to Enfield. He subsequently went on to play for Lancashire Second XI in 1924 and 1925 as well: in the second season, he scored 124 against Staffordshire at Old Trafford. He was eventually signed up by Lancashire at £4.50 a week in 1926.

He had a disastrous start to his First-Class career, scoring 8 and 0 at Old Trafford on debut. His next few innings read 1 and 1 (1926), 4 (1927), 12, 4, 13, 13*, 1, and 0 (1929). It was in his last innings in 1929 that he scored 21 (breaking the 20-run barrier).

He started with 2 ducks in his first 6 innings in 1930 as well — against the touring Australians at Liverpool and against Northamptonshire at Northampton. The first fifty came later that season when he scored 58 against Leicestershire at Aylestone Park. He finished the season with 547 at 22.69, and his career was clearly headed for nowhere at an age of 29.

He earned the Lancashire cap next season. He also scored his maiden First-Class hundred against Warwickshire at home with a round 100. In the next match, against the touring New Zealanders at Liverpool, Paynter scored 102 — and was suddenly called up to make his Test debut in the third match at Old Trafford from relative obscurity.

Test debut

It was not exactly a dream debut. Due to incessant rain there was no play till 3 pm on the last day. Opening with Herbert Sutcliffe, Paynter scored 3, adding 8 for the first wicket before being caught-behind off Ian Cromb. England, however, had no intent to declare, and finished at 224 for 3.

The break was all Paynter had required: the next season saw him score his first great innings, that too in a Roses Match. Against an attack that consisted of Bill Bowes and Hedley Verity, Paynter launched a furious assault at Bradford, adding 138 for the first two stands (his partners managed only 39 of these) and eventually finished with 152 where nobody else scored even 40.

Lancashire managed 263 before Frank Sibbles bowled them to an innings victory despite Sutcliffe’s resilience. In the next match against Kent at Old Trafford, Paynter scored 159 out of Lancashire’s 279. There was no stopping him now: soon afterwards he scored his third 150 of the season — a 153 against the touring Indians at Liverpool. As a result he was selected for the one-off Test at Lord’s.

The Test saw Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh bowl beautifully on India’s first ever Test. Batting at No. 6, Paynter was leg-before off the wily CK Nayudu for 14. England secured a 70-run lead but the Indian seamers were at it again, reducing the hosts to 66 for 4.

It was then that Paynter carved out an 89-run partnership with Douglas Jardine. He dominated the partnership, scoring 56 before being cleaned up by Jahangir Khan. However, England had acquired the runs they needed to, and went on to win the Test by 158 runs.

Paynter did not exactly take the world by storm that season: despite scoring 2,035 runs with 5 hundreds he had averaged only 37.68. Was it something Jardine saw in him during one of the matches — in the Lord’s Test or anywhere else? Whatever it was, he made it to the boat to Australia.

Bodyline, tonsillitis, and all that

Paynter scored an impressive 102 against Tasmania at Launceston, but there was little else of note that he had done in the early matches of his first Ashes tour. Then, with the series levelled at 1-1 he was drafted in for the third Test at Adelaide for the Nawab of Pataudi (Sr).

Pataudi had scored a 380-ball 102 in the first Test at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), which, though helpful in England securing a 164-run lead, was not the best of knocks; England had won by 10 wickets, which meant that he had retained his place. However, he was dropped for the third Test following his failure and the defeat at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Members of the 1932 MCC cricket team aboard the liner ‘Orontes’ at Tilbury, enroute to Australia. From left to right: Wally Hammond, Douglas Jardine (captain), Freddie Brown, Bill Bowes, George Duckworth (head turned), Harold Larwood, Maurice Leyland, Tommy Mitchell, Eddie Paynter, Herbert Sutcliffe, Hedley Verity, Bill Voce and Bob Wyatt. The tour was one of the most acrimonious in cricket history because of captain Jardine’s Bodyline tactics © Getty Images
Members of the 1932 MCC cricket team aboard the liner ‘Orontes’ at Tilbury, enroute to Australia. From left to right: Wally Hammond, Douglas Jardine (captain), Freddie Brown, Bill Bowes, George Duckworth (head turned), Harold Larwood, Maurice Leyland, Tommy Mitchell, Eddie Paynter, Herbert Sutcliffe, Hedley Verity, Bill Voce and Bob Wyatt. The tour was one of the most acrimonious in cricket history because of captain Jardine’s Bodyline tactics © Getty Images

Other reasons have been cited as well. Pataudi had refused to move to Jardine’s leg-trap for Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. The gesture had not gone down too well with the captain. “I see His Highness is a conscientious objector,” had been the captain’s retort.

Australia began well at Adelaide, reducing the tourists to 30 for 4 on the first morning. Maurice Leyland and Bob Wyatt then put up 156 before both fell in quick succession. Paynter found an ally in Verity, and the pair added 96 for the eighth wicket before England were bowled out for 341.

Paynter’s 216-ball 77 had lasted 185 minutes and had included 9 hits to the fence. Wisden wrote that he “pulled and drove well, while his cutting and leg-glancing were almost as good.” He eventually holed out to Jack Fingleton off Tim Wall.

Then came the innings that changed the fate of cricket forever: Larwood infamously hit Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield, an entire nation rose in unison against Jardine’s Bodyline tactics, and cricket was never the same again. England managed a 119-run lead.

One of the highlights of the innings was Paynter’s livewire performance on the field. He set the field alight with the brilliance he was renowned for, and injured his ankle as he crashed into the picket fence in the process. He ignored the doctor’s instructions and came out to bat at No 10 in the second innings. England set Australia 532 before Larwood and Voce bowled them to a 338-run victory.

Then came the fourth Test at the Gabba, and a performance for which Paynter’s name has been etched permanently in the chronicles of cricket. Australia seemed to have recovered, with Vic Richardson, Woodfull, and Bradman all scoring fifties; however, some excellent bowling from Larwood saw the hosts collapse from 200 for 1 to 340.

This was, however, Brisbane at its merciless worst: the first day was an extremely hot one (the temperature was an estimated 102°F or 39°C), but more than that it was the infamous Brisbane sun that wore the players down. Paynter, never one to give his feet a rest, came off with a sore throat.

The situation aggravated as the evening went on. His health deteriorated and his temperature ran an alarming 102°F; when things got worse he had to be rushed to Brisbane General Hospital where he was diagnosed with tonsillitis. Fortunately for him, Sutcliffe and Jardine out till stumps on Day Two, finishing at 99 without loss, still 241 runs behind.

Jardine had possibly expected Paynter to be fit by the time play eventually resumed after the rest day. The truth was far from that. He was not happy with Paynter at all, and later wrote in In Quest for the Ashes that he felt the Lancastrian was unfit before the Test: “[Eddie] Paynter should certainly have reported to me that he was not fit.” However, he had added: “It is hard to blame over-keenness at any time and quite impossible on this occasion in view of his subsequent memorable performance.”

He had visited Paynter at the hospital on the rest day. Jardine later wrote: “He [Paynter] was the first to agree with me that if he had to break bounds and bat on crutches he would do so, were it humanly possible and without a thought for the consequences.”

When Pelham Warner queried Jardine of Paynter’s health, the captain responded with “What about those fellows who marched to Kandahar with fever on them?” referring to the heroics of Lord Roberts’ men. Indeed, for Jardine cricket meant nothing less than war.

Voce, ruled out of the Test with an injury, kept Paynter company at the hospital. Paynter later recalled: “We had the wireless on and a couple of wickets went down. So I asked Bill [Voce] to get a taxi for us to go to the ground. I got my dressing gown on and was just going down the ward when the sister appeared. She wanted to know where we were going. I said to the cricket ground, and she played hell. She said if we must, we were doing it at our own risk and neither she nor the doctor would be responsible for our action. So we left for the ground.”

Paynter arrived at The Gabba just when England lost their fifth wicket on 198, still 142 in arrears. With the specialist batsmen all back in the pavilion, ‘Gubby’ Allen had just walked out to join Les Ames. The English dressing-room was taken aback. With a warm shower and a diet of eggs, brandy, and champagne, Paynter was ready for war.

Allen was eventually caught-behind off Wall with the score on 216. David Frith later wrote in Bodyline Autopsy: “No sooner had the invalid buckled on his pads soon after tea than Allen was out. To thunderous applause the little man under the wide-brimmed panama transported himself slowly to the wicket, pale and trembling.”

Ames, who had no idea of this development, was taken aback and greeted Paynter. A concerned Woodfull walked up to Paynter and asked whether he needed a runner (could there be an incident that portrayed the wide gap between the attitudes of the two captains)? Paynter refused.

Nine runs later, Ames fell to Bert Ironmonger, but Paynter hung on. The new ball did not help as Paynter, in a stubborn partnership with Larwood, kept out the Australian bowlers. The pair added 55 with the frail Paynter playing a support act with 24. Larwood fell just before stumps and England finished with 271 for 8.

Paynter had Verity for company and only the rank tail-ender Tommy Mitchell to follow. “He [Paynter] then tugged his pyjamas back on, donned his dressing-gown, and returned to hospital in a bit of a daze,” wrote Frith. The ward sister tucked him into bed with the words “Well done, now get into bed.”

It was yet another scorching day at The Gabba, but Paynter felt significantly better as he left for the ground next morning with “pockets bulging with tablets and gargle mixture”. Then he opened up.

Paynter took two breaks — to consume his medicines and to gargle. Those were the only times he took a break during a session of quality batting. He was cheered — somewhat unusually for an Englishman on that tour — as he reached fifty, and shortly took England past Australia’s 340.

Then, in pursuit of quick runs, Paynter hit Ironmonger to Richardson for a 218-ball 83 that included 10 fours. He had braved severe, near-fatal tonsillitis for 238 minutes. It was an extreme example of not allowing pain come in the way of performing for his country.

Frith wrote: “When [Eddie] Paynter finally fell at 83 there was the rare sight of Australian cricketers clapping an England batsman as the small figure withdrew to the dressing-shed.” Jardine added: “Had he [Paynter] been stronger he would probably have added considerably to this number, but he was still a sick man and the weather was tropical as ever.”

The 16-run lead helped the target to come down to 160 as Australia capitulated meekly in the hands of Larwood and Allen. Paynter fielded for a couple of hours before being substituted by Freddie Brown. The Test, however, was far from over: Sutcliffe fell early, and Jardine hung around for a painstaking 112-ball 24. Wally Hammond also went into a shell, scoring a boundary-less 75-ball 14.

After Leyland fell for a brave 235-ball 86, Paynter walked out to join Ames, and immediately sealed the matter with 2 sixes, the second of which — off Stan McCabe — brought up the winning runs. The Ashes was regained, rather fittingly, in the hands of Paynter. He returned to the chants of “well done, Eddie” from the crowd.

His performance made Paynter possibly the only popular Englishman on the tour — even among the host cricketers, who cheered Paynter on every achievement during that Test. The locals even arranged a testimonial for him; however, the shy Lancastrian insisted Leyland and George Duckworth accompanied him when he went to receive the cheque.

There was a surprise waiting for Paynter at midnight. The Telephone and Telegraph Exhibition at Manchester had arranged for an international call so that Paynter, the new toast of the nation, could talk to his wife. His name came up in the House of Commons next day amidst tumultuous cheer.

England extended their lead to 4-1, winning the final Test at SCG by 8 wickets. On his return, his Lancashire captain Peter Eckersley arranged for a dinner in his honour at Oxford. It seemed a tougher ordeal to him than going out to face the Australian attack in the cruel heat of Brisbane.

All he could muster was “Mr Eckersley an’ la-ads’. Ah can’t mak’ any speech. Ah can only say thanks. Ah did me best at Brisbane for England an’ for Lancashire… but as for talk about mi leaving’ a sickbed at risk of mi dyin’ — well, beggin’ your pardon, Mr Eckersley, that were all rot. It were nowt more than a sore throat.”

The axing and the comeback

Paynter played 2 Tests at Christchurch and Auckland in the second leg of the long tour, scoring a duck and 36. Thereafter he was surprisingly dropped — and despite his heroics during the recently concluded Ashes encounter, he did not play a Test for the next four-and-half years.

He kept on scoring runs: he improved with every season; he scored 1,342 runs in 1933; 1,501 in 1934; 1,542 in 1935; and 2,016 in 1936. Meanwhile, Woodfull’s Australians had visited Australia and had managed to regain the Ashes, but Paynter was never reconsidered.

Then came 1937. He started off with a bang, scoring 40 and 150 in the season opener against Derbyshire at home. A string of half-centuries followed, culminating in a special innings at home in June. After Essex were bowled out for 199, Paynter outscored them single-handedly, scoring 266 out of a team score of 495 for 8. Essex crashed to an innings defeat.

He was in such good nick that he had to be brought back for the Lord’s Test against New Zealand where he scored 74. Shortly afterwards he scored 132 against Nottinghamshire (which had Larwood and Voce in their ranks) at home and 164 against Glamorgan at Blackpool in consecutive innings.

Picked for the next Test at Old Trafford, Paynter failed, scoring 33 and 7. He took the train to Hove to take on Sussex the next day. How the poor hosts later wished he had not!

To cut things short, Lancashire scored 640 for 8 in a single day. Paynter scored 322 in 300 minutes with 39 fours and 3 sixes; seldom had Hove witnessed such carnage. He was third out with the score on 546. An utterly demoralised Sussex sank to an innings defeat.

It remained Paynter’s highest First-Class score. In a matter of coincidence, Roger Moore also scored 316 for Hampshire against Warwickshire at Bournemouth on the same day, which made July 28, 1937, the first day in the history of the Championship when two triple-hundreds were scored.

Paynter finished the season with 2,904 runs at 53.77 with 5 hundreds and 19 fifties. He scored 2,626 in the Championship alone; it is still second in the history of Lancashire, only 7 less than Tyldesley’s tally in 1901. The 22 fifty-plus scores have been emulated only by Geoff Pullar in 1959. As a result, Paynter was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

The final Ashes

Paynter was recalled for the first Test of the 1938 Ashes at Trent Bridge at an age of 36. After Len Hutton and Charlie Barnett put on 219 for the first wicket, there was a mini-collapse, reducing the hosts to 281 for 4. Paynter then played an outrageous innings, adding 206 in 138 minutes with Denis Compton and 90 more in 54 minutes with Ames.

England were 6 down for 577; Hammond finally declared the innings closed at 658 for 8; the last three partnerships had amounted to 81, of which the bowlers had contributed a mere 6 between them. Australia followed on but eventually saved the Test. Paynter scored 216 not out off 333 balls with 26 fours and a six: it was a new highest for an Englishman in a home Ashes.

In the second Test at Lord’s — also a drawn affair — Paynter scored a 188-ball 99 and a 105-ball 40. That was not all, though. After Ames had broken his finger, the 36-year old Paynter kept wickets throughout Australia’s second innings worth 48.2 overs: he conceded only 5 byes and caught Ben Barnett.

The third Test at Old Trafford was abandoned without a ball being bowled, and Australia retained the Ashes with a 5-wicket victory at Headingley. The tourists led by only 21 in the first innings (Paynter had scored 28), but collapsed to 123 after an opening partnership of 60. Batting at No. 5, Paynter stood alone amidst the ruins, remaining unbeaten on 21.

England levelled the series at The Oval thanks to Hutton’s famous 364. Paynter and Compton waited with their pads for a wait that lasted for close to two days. They saw Hutton bat for 45 minutes with Bill Edrich, 381 with Leyland, and 141 more with Hammond.

A bored, exasperated Paynter challenged Compton: “Denis, I bet you a pound you and I don’t make ten between us!” As things turned out, Paynter fell for a duck and Compton scored 1 as England went on to amass 903 for 7. The rubber was levelled.

Paynter averaged 407 runs at 101.75 that series. Despite his failure in the Test where everyone succeeded, he finished next to only Hutton among Englishmen, and fourth in the series, in terms of runs. Paynter finished the season with 2,691 runs at 58.50 with 8 hundreds. The best performance possibly came against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, where he scored 125 out of 226 and 113 not out in 207 for 3 as Lancashire cruised to a 7-wicket victory. No other Lancastrian reached 30 in the match.

Up with the best

Paynter began the South African tour with 158 against Griqualand West at Kimberley and followed it with 102 against North-Eastern Transvaal at Pretoria. The 37-year old was an obvious selection for the first Test at Old Wanderers.

England lost Edrich early but Paynter added 184 with Paul Gibb in 176 minutes. He dominated the partnership, scoring 117 with 8 fours and a six; England reached 422, but South Africa responded well with 390. With the Test as good as drawn, Paynter scored his second hundred of the Test — a 189-minute 100 with 10 fours.

After a failure at Newlands, he came back to his elements in the third Test at Kingsmead. He scored a career-best 243 in 334 minutes with 24 fours and England won by an innings. He followed this with 40 and 15 at Old Wanderers, and in the historic timeless Test at Kingsmead, Paynter scored 62 and 75, the last innings coming out of a fourth-innings total of 654 for 5.

Paynter finished the series with 653 runs at 81.62, leading the runs chart for either side by a significant margin. It remained a record series aggregate for an Englishman in South Africa till Andrew Strauss scored 656 in 2004-05. He finished the tour with 1,072 runs at 76.57.

Paynter’s last series was against West Indies at home: he scored 34 and 32 not out in the first Test at Lord’s but failed at his home ground, falling for 9 and 0. It turned out to be his last Test. He had a good season, scoring 1,953 runs at 42.45, but whatever chance was left for a comeback was ruled out by The War.

Post-war

Paynter did not serve England in the War. Lancashire granted Paynter a benefit season in 1945 — one that resulted in a purse worth £1,078. Thereafter he decided to quit First-Class cricket and decided to play in the League Cricket instead.

Paynter played two matches at Harrogate in 1947 at the age of 45. In the first, for North against South, he scored a 180-minute 154 with 19 fours and 3 sixes, followed by 73 in the second innings, thereby virtually winning the match single-handedly. In the other, for The Rest against Maurice Leyland’s XI, he made an outrageous 85-ball 127 with 11 fours and 7 sixes.

He toured India as a part of a Commonwealth XI in 1950-51, playing only two matches (though he was actually the Assistant Manager). He scored only 11 against the Raja of Jath’s XI at Poona, but in the other — his last First-Class match — he scored 75 not out against Bombay Governor’s XI at Bombay.

Later days

Paynter had married May Smith at Sydney Street Methodist Church in Enfield on February 27, 1927. His only son, also called Edward, was born on June 24, 1934 at Haslingden. Edward Sr’s great-grandson David played 5 First-Class and 4 List A matches for Northamptonshire in the early 2000s.

Paynter acquired the licence for Sailor Hotel, Auddingham in 1945 and Roebuck Hotel, Keighley in 1947. He also stood as a First-Class umpire in 1951.

Edward Paynter passed away at Keighley, Yorkshire on February 5, 1979. He was 77.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)