George Cox Jr © Getty Images
George Cox Jr played 455 First-Class matches as a professional from 1931 to 1961, scoring 22,949 runs© Getty Images

Cricket goes a long, long way back in time in the county of Sussex. The first mention is found, surprisingly enough, in ecclesiastical court records in the year 1611 when two parishioners of Sidlesham in West Sussex had played truant from Divine Service because they had been engaged in playing cricket. These culprits had not only been fined 12d each but had beenmade to do penance for their religious transgression. There is documented evidence of village cricket being played in Sussex even before the English Civil War of 1642 to 1651, the earliest known match being a game between Horsted Keynes and West Hoathly on August 28, 1624. The first ‘great’ cricket match appears to have been played, possibly on June 30, 1697, for a purse of 50 guineas between a team representing Sussex and a team from either Kent or Surrey (details are hazy from so far back).

In the early 1700s, there were recorded cricket matches played between teams of the two great cricket patrons of Sussex, Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond and Sir William Gage, the 2nd Baronet. The ebb and flow of cricket in Sussex continued through the Napoleonic wars and the 1820s coincided with the emergence of the great champions of round-arm bowling, William Lillywhite and James Broadbridge.

When Sussex County Cricket Club was formally set up on March 1, 1839, it became the first county cricket club in England. The club played its initial First-Class match against MCC at Lord’s on June 10 and 11, 1839, going down to the might of the MCC by 7 wickets. Lillywhite became the first Sussex player to carry his bat through a completed innings in First-Class cricket with 42*. Sussex had their first taste of inter-county cricket against Gloucestershire, led by WG Grace, in 1872 at Hove, playing out a draw when the last day’s play was washed out.

The crest for the County Club bears a representation of six martlets (swallows), said to represent the six original administrative subdivisions of the county. There appears to be a heraldic connection with the bird and the hereditary Earls of Arundel (the French word for swallow is hirondelle), who were the leading county family for many centuries, and with the name of their castle.

The surname of Cox appears to be of English and Welsh origin. The earliest record of the surname in England dates back to 1556 from a Marriage Register kept at Westminster, London. Indeed, Cox also happens to the 69th-most common surname in England.

An August baby was born to Sussex professional cricketer George Reuben Cox (George Cox Sr) and his wife on August 23, 1911 at Warnham, Sussex. The family were not being very innovative as far as nomenclature of their offspring was concerned; the child was also named George, popularly known as George Cox Jr to distinguish him from his father.

Growing up in the household of a professional cricketer, it was not long before the young boy found a bat and ball in his small hands. Under the guidance of his father, the child gradually developed into an attacking right-handed batsman and occasional right arm medium-paced bowler. He also turned out to be a keen soccer player, practising his football skills whenever possible.

The scorecard of a single-innings game played between Sussex Club and Ground and Lancing College at Hove in June 1931 shows the first documented mention of the name of Cox Jr playing cricket. He scored 18*. Young George made his First-Class debut later in the month for Sussex against Essex at Chelmsford without doing anything of note.

Cox Jr played 455 First-Class matches as a professional from 1931 to 1961, scoring 22,949 runs. He averaged 32.92, scoring 50 centuries and 97 fifties, and held 141 catches. His bowling brought him 192 wickets at 30.91 and had 3 five-wicket hauls. For Sussex alone he scored 22,687 runs at 33.21. All his 50 centuries were scored for his County. They awarded him his cap in 1935.

In his 23 seasons of First-Class cricket, Cox Jr scored in excess of 1,000 runs 13 times, topping the 2,000-runs mark twice, in 1947 (2,032) and 1950 (2,369).

While the promise was always there for all to see, the definitive innings from his bat was proving to be elusive. All doubts about Cox’s batting abilities were finally dispelled against Hampshire in 1935 when he scored a commanding 162.

AA Thomson had this to say about George Cox: “… there are some batsmen so gifted, so dazzling on their day, that you wonder what little devil of malicious fortune has kept snatching an England cap away from them. Such a cricketer was George Cox, whose gay batting gave pleasure alike to the connoisseur of beautiful strokes and the cheerful chap in the wooden seats who likes to hear the scoreboard rattle. George Cox made quite a number of his 50 centuries against Yorkshire, but his manner of making them was so joyous that even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer. And in Yorkshire we are a Tuscan lot.”

Indeed, 6 of his 50 centuries had come against Yorkshire from an aggregate of 1,563 runs at an average of 43.41, in the days when Douglas Jardine, hearing about any batsman’s abilities being discussed, would invariably ask about his performances against Yorkshire.

Cox always had fond memories of a magical week in July 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, when it seemed that his bat could do no wrong. For the only time in their cricket history, England were experimenting with 8-ball overs in the season.

It began with the match against Northamptonshire first of the month. Sussex won by 5 wickets despite the heroics of Jack Timms of Northamptonshire, who scored 101 and 114*. Cox had scores of 58 and 232, his first double-century. In the very next game, against Lancashire on the 5th, he scored 182. Although the match was drawn, Cox had scored 472 runs in 3 consecutive innings in the week, a performance that would surely have caused a warm glow in his heart. His father (and lifelong coach), however, was not that effusive about it all: “Oh! So you went mad, did you?” The professionals of older generations were a hard lot to impress.

In 1945 Cox Jr played one match, for RAF against Yorkshire at Scarborough, scoring 5 and 31. It was soon 1946 and the nation was gradually recovering from the ravages of a horrendous and wasteful war, and English social life was in the process of re-establishing itself. Cricket was the one anodyne for soothing the nerves frayed by War. Incredibly, Cox found that he had not lost his pre-War touch, scoring 129 and 184 in successive games, and following up with scores of 161, 117 and 101. Then came the match against the visiting Indians at Hove.

The visitors batted first and declared on 533 for 3, the first four batsmen in the order all scoring centuries. Sussex were bowled out for 253 in response. Following on, they scored 427, Cox top-scoring with 234* (in 490 minutes, with 20 fours, 1 five, and 1 six) and anchoring the innings. This was to be his highest individual score in First-Class cricket.

In 1949, Headingley became the scene of one of Cox Jr’s magical performances. After disposing of Sussex for a mere 181, Yorkshire replied with 520 for 7. Sussex began their second innings with a mammoth deficit of 339, and were soon in trouble when their third wicket fell at 116. It was at this point of the game that Cox joined James Langridge at the crease. At the end of the drawn game, the Sussex total read 442 for 3, with Langridge on 133* (405 minutes, 14 fours) and Cox on 212* (320 minutes, 36 fours). Even the hard-nosed and dire Yorkshire fans appreciated the audacious counter-attack, the unfinished fourth-wicket stand producing all of 326 runs.

Sussex awarded Cox Jr a benefit season in 1951 that raised him £6,620. The brochure issued by Sussex County Cricket Club included articles by such eminent people as Jack Aldridge, John Arlott, Arthur Gilligan, Bob Green, Percy Hendren, ‘Billy’ Griffith, RC Robertson Glasgow and George Washer, a measure of the respect and affection that George Cox had evoked during his playing days.

George Cox’s brochure issued by Sussex County Cricket Club.
George Cox’s brochure issued by Sussex County Cricket Club.

Cox had taken up a coaching assignment in South Africa with Grey High (and Junior) School in Port Elizabeth in the winter seasons of the early 1950s. Among his star wards were Graeme Pollock, who had come under his care from at the tender age of about 9, and his brother Peter. Peter wrote in God’s Fast Bowler, “To George Cox the thrill of unearthing my brother must have rivalled [Thomas] Cullinan’s delight in finding that famous diamond. ‘There is nothing I can teach him,’ he was once overheard to say and he confidently predicted a Test player — labelled, packaged, and delivered. No argument about it. There was an inevitability about it all.”

In his later years, his appearances became more infrequent, and he played a solitary game in each of 1960 and 1961.

While his cricket career was flourishing, he became involved in a winter sport — football. He played for Arsenal FC, following the footsteps of many distinguished First-Class cricketers before him. He represented Arsenal 7 times between 1933 and 1936 (the ‘Glorious 1930s’ of the club history) as centre-forward. He had signed on as an amateur for Arsenal in November 1933, and had turned professional the next month.

Cox made his Arsenal debut on March 8, 1934 against Leicester. He then transferred to Fulham on May 5, 1936 for a fee of £150. He remained with his new team for one season only before bringing his football adventure to an end playing for Luton Town. Although he scored only 1 goal in his Arsenal colours, Cox’s Football Combination record shows a figure of 53 goals from his 75 matches.

Having retired as a professional cricketer from First-Class cricket, Cox Jr was involved with Winchester for four years as coach and player. During this time he turned up for some 2nd XI matches for Sussex.

From all accounts a witty conversationalist and warm-hearted person always willing to go the proverbial extra mile to help youngsters, he was also known for his quick-witted gift of repartee. It is said that during his stint of coaching in South Africa, he had once taken a mighty heave at the ball while at practice and hit it clean out of the nets. A local acquaintance had remarked: “Why! You swept that just like a native!” He had replied, “True, because, you see, when I’m home in England, I am a native.”

George Cox Jr passed away on August 23, 1985 at Burgess Hill, in his beloved Sussex, aged about 73. This is what Wisden commented on him: “… a player who will be remembered with affection long after some who occupy a bigger space in the records have been forgotten. Though cricket was his profession, to him it was always a game, a game to be won certainly and, if not won, at least saved, but it was a game to be enjoyed: he enjoyed it himself and he did his best to make it enjoyable for the other players and the spectators.”