Reg Bettington. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Reg Bettington. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Reg Bettington, born February 24, 1900, was a versatile sportsman as well as a qualified doctor. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life of the first Australian to be the skipper of Oxford at cricket.

Reginald Henshall Brindley Bettington.

It was a pretty voluminous name to be christened with. And the man lived a life that was proportional to all that weight included in the nomenclature.

Bettington was six foot three: very tall, very dark and very imposing. He was born in Merriwa, New South Wales, and was brought up in the family sheep station. At 19, he strode through the New College gates at Oxford, leaving EW Swanton bemused. We watched in awe, the man, who turned a celebrated commentator on the game in later life, recalled.

Bettington had already excelled at Latin, Greek and cricket at King s School, Parramatta. He fitted seamlessly at Oxford. Playing there for four seasons, he became the first Australian to captain the University side.

His debut was striking. Against Warwickshire, he bowled his leg-breaks to great effect and captured 5 for 48. He also got useful knocks of 23 and 24 from the lower order. In fact, his debut was far more impressive than those of the two other Oxford debutants in the same match, two gentlemen named RC Robertson-Glasgow and Douglas Jardine.

Bettington followed it up with 5 for 52 against Middlesex in his second match. The next game was against Essex and he captured 5 for 48, including a hat-trick.

The sequence of successful outings was nearly miraculous. He continued with 7 wickets against Free Foresters, in his fifth outing 12 against Somerset and in his sixth, 13 against Surrey. Oxford, riding on his phenomenal bowling, won 5 games on the trot. Bettington raced to 50 wickets in 7 matches and was selected for the prestigious Gentlemen vs Players fixtures that season.

That summer saw him pick 62 wickets at 17.64. But he was not idle away from the cricket field either. That same year, 1920, saw him win his Rugby and golf Blues.

The following seasons were not as successful, but he did continue to get a fair share of wickets. 1921 saw him capture 35 wickets at 27.62 and also got him his first century, against HDG Leveson Gower s XI, an innings of 105 in an hour. In 1922 he managed 33 wickets at 22.87, which was again more than decent but short of the phenomenal first summer.

And then came his magnificent swansong for Oxford. In 1923 he captained the University, capturing 61 wickets at 16.55, with figures of 11 for 85 against Cambridge. 182 wickets at 19.38 and 1,351 runs at 24.12: there have been few more successful cricketers for Oxford.

Bettington left Oxford with a medical degree and worked in Glasgow before moving to practise at St Bartholomew s Hospital, London. These four seasons he played only part-time cricket for sides full of gentlemen cricketers, such as Free Foresters, Leveson Gower s XI and, of course, the Gentlemen. In 1925, Oxford was at the other end of the stick as Bettington captured 12 for 127 for Free Foresters and 9 for 76 for Leveson Gower s XI within the space of 2 weeks.

It was in 1928 that he finally played serious First-Class cricket by turning out for Middlesex. However, strangely, it was as a batsman he made more of a mark. He scored 3 hundreds that season, although none of them for Middlesex. He hammered 118 for HDG Leveson Gower s XI against Cambridge, hit 127 for the Harlequins against the visiting West Indians and the 114 against Kent for MCC. For Middlesex he got 605 runs at 30.25 alongside 54 wickets at 29.44. He was at his best when he powered Middlesex to a 112-run victory against Sussex at Lord s with 10 wickets and knocks of 28 and 95.

Returning to his homeland, he played for an Australian XI against the visiting Englishmen. The side was full of Test probables, and included some rather talented young men like Don Bradman and Archie Jackson. Bettington scored 34 from No. 8 and then finished with figures of 3 for 98 and 1 for 25. In both the innings he accounted for his University teammate Jardine.

However, it was difficult to break into an Australian side where leg-spin was in the hands of Clarrie Grimmett. There was also Bill O Reilly coming through the ranks. Bettington played a handful of matches for New South Wales, two as captain, with limited success.

Yet, his contribution to the cause of Australian cricket was significant. As captain of North Sydney, he encouraged a young O Reilly. And when the selectors left the young leg-spinner out of the New South Wales side in 1931-32, Bettington declared himself unavailable. He thus forced the selectors hand to play O Reilly. That was the break the great leg-spinner needed and he never looked back.

Bettington did not achieve too much further success in cricket. But he continued to play golf and won the Australian Amateur title in 1932. He captained New South Wales in both cricket and golf that year. He and his wife Marion won the New South Wales mixed foursomes title from 1931 to 1934.

It was in late 1932 that Jardine, captain of England, stayed with the Bettingtons for a while. This was during the Bodyline tour and Bettington did let his friend know that he did not quite approve of the tactics.

After practicing in Sydney, Bettington moved back to London in 1938, taking up a position as an ENT specialist in Harley Street. He was also accepted into the Royal College of Surgeons. This was the summer when he played his last bit of cricket, for Free Foresters and MCC.

Just before the War, Bettington returned to Australia and during the years of madness he served as a medic in the army for four years in the battle zones.

In the 1950s, Bettington migrated to Napier in New Zealand and continued to practice there as an ENT specialist. That is where he spent the remaining years of his life.

It was while driving to his clinic in 1969 that this remarkable man perished. His car left the road and fell 100 feet onto a railway line.