John Edrich © Getty Images
John Edrich © Getty Images

John Edrich, born June 21, 1937, was a gutsy England and Surrey batsman. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the man who had scored the most runs in boundaries in a Test innings.

The left-handed kid, a cousin of the illustrious Bill Edrich, had padded for his first net session at The Oval. The seniors of the side flocked around the net to have a look at him. He did not look good. The comments got sterner, often audibly, from “he’ll never make the grade playing like that” to “look at the way he played that one” (in a derogatory tone).

After he had batted for a few minutes, though, Bernard Constable, the most senior of the ‘spectators’, commented drily: “I’ve noticed one thing — he hasn’t missed one yet.”

That, in a nutshell, summed up John Edrich: He was a fine batsman, dour by default, devastating on his own day; he never got the recognition he deserved from the crowd. Edrich was not flashy: he was methodical, well aware of his limitations, always cautious, but he was not one to let a loose one go.

Predominantly an off-side player, Edrich not only square-cut ferociously, he could also place it clinically wherever he wanted — to either side of cover-point. He cover-drove with élan, and whenever anything was pitched even slightly on his pads, it was usually dispatched nonchalantly to the mid-wicket fence.

He was more businesslike than flamboyant. Colin Bateman wrote of him: “Unflinching, unselfish, and often unsmiling while going about his business in the middle, he was a fiercely formidable opener who knew his limitations and worked wonderfully within them.” In the words of Jerry Lodge, Edrich was “a chunky, strong left-hander whose success was founded on unwavering concentration, self-discipline, and a phlegmatic temperament”.

The ‘unsmiling’ adjective was not applicable outside the field, though. He always retained his own brand of dry humour. Whenever he came across a rough patch he usually checked out the latest version of Wisden to look up the number of First-Class runs against his name. That let him regain his peace, with the utterance of lines like “Twenty thousand, eh? I can’t be such a bad player after all!”

Edrich had a more-than-impressive Test career — with 5,138 runs at 43.54 from 77 Tests with 12 hundreds. At First-Class level he had scored 39,790 runs from 564 matches at 45.47 with 103 hundreds. Both are formidable numbers, but they do not reflect the courage and temperament Edrich showed against quality pace.

Edrich scored 2,644 runs in Ashes encounters at 48.96; of these, 1,283 came on Australian soil at 55.78; in West Indies, too, he scored 340 at 42.50. His overseas average (43.10) was almost the same as his home average (43.81). England never lost a single Test in which Edrich had scored a hundred.

Early days

Edrich began his First-Class career for Combined Services (while on National Service) playing four matches spanned over two seasons. He eventually made his debut for Surrey against Worcestershire at The Oval in 1958. Surrey had already won the Championship for the seventh consecutive time, so they had decided to give the youngster a breakthrough.

Edrich did not get to bat in the first innings but stood firm with a resolute 24 not out as Surrey were routed for 57. The innings came two weeks after Bill Edrich had played his last innings and two months after Geoff Edrich (another cousin — Brian being the fourth) had played his last — so in a way John kept the torch alight.

Come 1959, and he was asked to open batting against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. The nervous Edrich had to be encouraged by Micky Stewart with the words “you’ve got a good wicket out there; all you’ve got to do is play as you’ve always played and you’ll get runs”.

The words worked like magic. Edrich stamped his arrival with that match in 1959 with 124 and 113. He did not look back from there, and finished the season with 1,799 runs at 52.91 with 7 hundreds. Edrich and Stewart went on to become one of England’s best partnerships in the Championship at the turn of the 1960s.

The 1963 England Test cricket team that played West Indies at Old Trafford (Standing from left): David Allen, Brian Close, Keith Andrew, John Edrich, Fred Titmus and Mickey Stewart. Sitting from left: Brian Statham, Colin Cowdrey, Ted Dexter, Fred Trueman and Ken Barrington © Getty Images
The 1963 England Test cricket team that played West Indies at Old Trafford (Standing from left): David Allen, Brian Close, Keith Andrew, John Edrich, Fred Titmus and Mickey Stewart. Sitting from left: Brian Statham, Colin Cowdrey, Ted Dexter, Fred Trueman and Ken Barrington © Getty Images

Test debut

Edrich eventually broke into the Test side against West Indies at Old Trafford in 1963: opening batting with his Surrey partner Edrich scored 20 and 38. He did not really get going, and was shelved after scoring 103 at 17.16, and was dropped at The Oval and on the subsequent tour of South Africa. He found a place in the India tour, but was affected by a stomach bug, and could play only two Tests, scoring 41 and 35.

Things did not look good after his first five Tests. However, he got an opportunity in the Lord’s Test of the 1964 Ashes due to Geoff Boycott’s injury, and achieved two feats simultaneously: he scored a hundred on his Ashes debut and scored a hundred in his first Lord’s Test: after Australia were bowled out for 176 Edrich showed immense concentration and later exploded in an array of powerfully bludgeoned strokes as he was eighth out for 120: England scored 246 and nobody else crossed 35.

Despite an innings of such quality, Edrich found himself out of the side once again till he failed at Headingley and Old Trafford. It was not until the next season that he could finally make a comeback – against New Zealand at Headingley.

The magnum opus

Edrich’s career reached its pinnacle in the 1965 season. He found amazing consistency in the Championship, and ended up scoring 2,319 runs at 62.67 with 8 hundreds. England, meanwhile, had found a settled pair in Boycott and Bob Barber, and had already sealed the home series against New Zealand by an unassailable 2-0 margin.

However, Boycott (along with Ted Dexter) did not play at Headingley, and the Surrey pair of Edrich and Ken Barrington was recalled. Barrington joined Edrich at 13 after Barber fell, and after the two batsmen — known for their patience and temperament — erupted.

The New Zealand bowling was tight and their fielding was flawless, but they were no match for Edrich and Barrington. The rain intervals did not help. Barrington was eventually dismissed for 163 with 26 fours — and the partnership had yielded 369 from 339 minutes.

Edrich carried on, though. Seldom has a batsman dominated an attack to this extent and has yet managed to carry on for over a day and a half. There were speculations regarding whether he could go past Garry Sobers’ world record of 365 — but Mike Smith declared the innings closed at 546 for four with Edrich unbeaten on 310.

John Edrich… 238 of his 310 in a Test innings against New Zealand came in fours and sixes © Getty Images
John Edrich… 238 of his 310 in a Test innings against New Zealand came in fours and sixes © Getty Images

It would remain Edrich’s highest First-Class score. After the onslaught was over Fred Titmus picked up 4 wickets in 6 balls on Day Four, and England won by an innings to complete the whitewash. Edrich was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1966.

In the next Test, though, his confidence took a serious blow: Peter Pollock ran down the Lord’s slope and hit Edrich with a bouncer at on his forehead, and he had to retire hurt. Despite that Edrich ended up hitting an unbelievable 49 sixes in the season.

By this time Edrich’s injuries had become a joke at the county circuit. His forefinger was fractured four times and WE Tucker eventually found a solution by grafting a piece of leg bone in his hand. Edrich’s reaction to this unusual bit of treatment was his claim that he was now the only batsman who could be given out leg-before when the ball struck his hand!

The middle years

Edrich batted admirably in the Ashes Down Under next season, but despite his 109 at MCG, 103 at SCG, and 85 again at MCG, England could not regain the Ashes. He scored 375 at 46.87. Thereafter he scored runs here and there, and though he did manage to maintain his place, he did not do anything spectacular.

He eventually struck gold to his elements in the 1968 Ashes. He scored fifties in 5 consecutive innings (88 and 64 at Edgbaston; 62 and 65 at Headingley; and 164 at The Oval) — which made him the first person to achieve the feat in a single Ashes (Graham Gooch is the only one to have equalled the feat). He eventually scored 554 at 61.55, but the Ashes remained Australia’s after a 1-1 draw.

Regaining the Ashes

The next year (1969) Edrich found himself in the middle of another amazing streak. It began with a 79 at Headingley against West Indies, and he backed that up with 16 and 115 at Lord’s, 155 at Trent Bridge, and 68 and 22 at The Oval against New Zealand in the same season.

When Ray Illingworth’s team famously regained the Ashes in 1970-71, Edrich conjured up an amazing streak of 79 at The Gabba, 47 and 115 not out at WACA, 55 and 12 at SCG, nine and 74 not out at MCG, 130 and 40 at Adelaide, and 30 and 57 at SCG. In the process, Edrich became the first batsman to score a fifty in each of 10 consecutive Tests (Viv Richards, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, and AB de Villiers have later done it in 11 consecutive Tests).

He eventually scored 648 runs in the Ashes at 72 — just 9 runs behind Boycott’s 657. They proved to be two of the most important cogs of Illingworth’s juggernaut. Edrich ended up batting 2,006 minutes in the Ashes — the world record for the longest time spent at the crease in a series – going past Hammond’s 1,912 in the 1928 Ashes.

The first ODI

When the third Test at MCG was abandoned during the 1970-71 Ashes the authorities decided to play a one-day match in front of a 20,000-strong crowd. Edrich hit the first four and scored the first fifty in ODI history. He top-scored with a 119-ball 82 and hit 4 of the 7 fours hit by his side. Though Australia went on to win the match, Edrich became the first Man of the Match in ODIs.


He later won another ODI Man of the Match award — against India at Headingley in 1974. India had scored 265, but Edrich led the chase with a 97-ball 90 with 6 fours and a six, and England romped home with 23 balls to spare.

Captain of Surrey

Surrey won the Championship after 13 years in 1971. Edrich, as always, had played his role with 2,031 runs at 47.23 with 6 hundreds in the season. By now Stewart had come down to No. 3, and Edrich had forged a new partnership with Mike Edwards. After Stewart’s retirement Edrich was appointed as the captain of Surrey in 1973.

It was a dramatic first season: Surrey sank to the ninth position with 3 defeats in their first 9 games and did not win a single match till July 10. After that they bounced back with back-to-back victories against Warwickshire and Yorkshire, and then ended the season dramatically with 6 wins on the trot, and finishing second.

It was an excellent first season, but his colleagues were not satisfied. Pat Pocock later revealed that several Surrey cricketers were not happy with Edrich’s leadership and had asked The Club to replace him on the ground that he was ‘not the right man for the job’.

The authorities stuck with Edrich till 1977. In the 1974 Benson and Hedges final Edrich led Surrey to the Benson and Hedges Cup, and won the Gold Cup himself for his batting and astute leadership skills.

Standing among the ruins

Edrich continued with his good form, and when England reached Australia for the 1974-75 Ashes they had no idea what was in store for them. They were blown away in the first two Tests at The Gabba and WACA before they realised what had hit them and had to recall Colin Cowdrey. After England got away with the third Test at MCG Mike Denness, the English captain, dropped himself from the side due to poor form — resulting in Edrich leading England for the only time.

In a bizarre move, Edrich went in with only two frontline fast bowlers — Bob Willis and Geoff Arnold — leaving out Chris Old on a dangerous-looking green SCG pitch that made Frank Tyson ‘worry about the safety of the English batsmen’. Australia eventually set England 400 for a victory (or a little over a day to survive).

Dennis Lillee had confessed in his book Back to the Mark: “I try to hit a batsman in the rib-cage when I bowl a purposeful bouncer and I want it to hurt so much that the batsman doesn’t want to face me anymore”. He went on to achieve that in this Test.

Edrich came on to bat at 70 for two, and the ball smashed his ribcage first ball as he ducked to a Lillee bouncer: he had to be carried off the field, and an X-ray had revealed that two ribs were broken. Determined not to give up, he returned with the score on 156 for 6, took multiple blows, but remained unbeaten on a 163-ball 33 as Australia won by plenty. After missing two Tests he eventually came back in the last Test at MCG to score 70 and topped the batting charts with 260 runs at 43.33 on a horror tour.

Redemption

The return Ashes followed in a few months, and it seemed that it would be a pushover for the Australians again when their fast bowlers gave England a thrashing by an innings at Edgbaston.

It was at Lord’s that England turned things around, thanks to a classical hundred from Edrich. Opening the batting in the second innings Edrich amassed 175 off 420 balls with 21 fours. Lillee, Jeff Thomson, and Max Walker were finally mastered, not by reckless bravado, but as the result of determination, discipline, and application. The drives and cuts came out of the quiver, and Lord’s applauded in unison in acknowledgement of what would become the veteran’s last Test hundred.

England drew the remaining Tests, and Edrich finished his final Ashes series with 428 runs at 53.50. It was also his second benefit season which raised £20,000 (after £10,551 in his first benefit season in 1968).

Holding’s blows

England managed to draw the first Test of the infamous ‘grovel’ series of 1976 at Trent Bridge. The West Indian fast bowlers prevailed, but Edrich played defiantly, scoring 37 and 76 not out. After missing the Lord’s Test (which England almost managed to win) the teams met at Old Trafford.

The pitch looked ominous from the Day One, and it was only due to Gordon Greenidge’s superlative 134 that West Indies could reach 211; the West Indian fast bowlers then shot out England for 71, and after a merciless onslaught (Greenidge scored another hundred) Clive Lloyd declared the innings closed, asking England to score 552.

The 39-year old Edrich went out to open batting with the 45-year old Brian Close to bat out 80 minutes on Day Three. What followed was a ruthless bouncer barrage from Andy Roberts, Wayne Daniel, and the fastest of them all, Michael Holding. As per an estimate of The Times, only 10 balls in the afternoon would have hit the stumps.

Both batsmen were left battered and bruised. Wisden wrote: “The period before the close of the third day brought disquieting cricket as [John] Edrich and [Brian] Close grimly defended their wickets and themselves against fast bowling, which was frequently too wild and too hostile to be acceptable.”

Close reminisced: “It must have been the worst wicket I experienced in Test cricket. The faster the West Indians bowled the worse it got because the balls broke through the surface of the wicket. They exploded and flew at you.” Lloyd refused to admit that there the bowling was intimidating and said the following: “Our fellows got carried away. They knew they had only eighty minutes that night to make an impression and they went flat out, sacrificing accuracy for speed. They knew afterwards they had bowled badly.”

After Edrich (24) and Close (20) put on 54 for the opening stand England were bowled out for 126. Ironically, Edrich and Close, the top two scorers of the innings who displayed courage of such stature —were dropped for the rest of the series, and never played for England again.

The hundredth hundred

The Derbyshire match at The Oval in 1977 was headed for a draw: Derbyshire scored 315 for 6; Edrich declared Surrey’s innings closed at 251 for 6, and when Eddie Barlow declared at 256 for 8 Surrey had no chance of winning the match. The match was headed for nowhere, but Barlow agreed to play on to let Edrich score his hundredth hundred — that Holy Grail that has eluded many all-time greats. A sparse crowd witnessed Edrich become the 17th batsman to reach the milestone as he hit Alan Hill for four at 5.32 PM. Lodge wrote: “Few people were watching, but nothing could detract from the fact, which had come after years of resolution, utmost concentration, and exemplary courage.”

He was awarded an MBE that season. After resigning as the captain of Surrey that season he went on to play for another season and eventually retired in 1978.

Edrich became a Test selector in 1981 and England’s batting coach in 1995.

The greatest battle of them all

Edrich was diagnosed with Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia — a rare form of incurable leukemia — in the summer of 2000. The doctors told him that he would survive for only seven years. He still lives on, fighting the incurable ailment, and went on to replace Richard Stilgoe as the President of Surrey County Cricket Club unanimously in 2006.

In an interview later he said: “I hadn’t seen a doctor for about 10 years, but I’d been feeling tired for a while. Having taken blood tests they discovered leukemia. It was quite a shock. You can’t fight it. You have to have faith in your consultant and the treatment. I asked how it was going to affect my lifestyle. They said I would feel tired from time to time and would have to live with it. I think we’ve got to be grateful for what we’ve had. I did something which I loved and had the ability to play cricket at the highest level.”

A fighter, out and out, was John Edrich. He had never given it up, and still refuses to do so — despite being up against the most formidable of opponents. There have been greater batsmen, but few as brave.

(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)