Few batsmen have been as outrageously brilliant as Wally Hammond in his pomp    Getty Images
Few batsmen have been as outrageously brilliant as Wally Hammond in his pomp Getty Images

Gloucestershire had awarded Tom Goddard a benefit match at his hometown in Wagon Works. However, all seemed doomed when Nottinghamshire were bowled out cheaply on what turned out to be a bowler-friendly track. Then Wally Hammond, seldom hailed as the greatest team-man, rose to the cause. On August 31, 1936, the second day of the match, Hammond carved out 317 of the best runs on a pitch that required tremendous application. Goddard s benefit match was thus saved, Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a day when a teammate brought the compassionate best in probably the most enigmatic character cricket has witnessed.

The story goes back decades, in the 1930s, when the professional-amateur bar was still prominent in English cricket. For the professional cricketer, what they earned from the club was perhaps enough to see them through their playing days, but perhaps not after retirement.

So clubs gave senior professionals benefit matches. The concept was simple: the club would assign a match; the beneficiary would arrange for everything (travel, security, umpires, scorers, and any other expense) and pay relevant amount; and he would keep whatever gate money was there.

In other words, every player wanted their benefit match to be (a) played in a big ground (b) full to the brim (c) against a glamorous opposition (d) in great weather and (e) a tight contest that would go till the end.

Of course, not everything went according to plan. In these pages we have seen how George Geary had himself ruined his own benefit by taking 13 for 43 in the match. There was also the benefit of BertieBuse that Brian Statham and Roy Tattersall ended in a day. And Clarrie Grimmett, blinded by vengeance, dismissed Don Bradman with a leg-break realising only too late that dismissing The Don would take toll on gate money. Vic Richardson, Grimmett s co-beneficiary, was also financially hit by that delivery.

Gloucestershire assigned Tom Goddard their last Championship match of 1936. Wagon Works Ground, Gloucester was chosen as the venue. While Wagon Works was not exactly obscure, it certainly did not enjoy the stature of Bristol County Ground or Cheltenham College Ground, Gloucestershire s two most preferred grounds.

However, Goddard was happy, and rightfully so. Born in Gloucester, Goddard s life centred around the Wagon Works Ground. His carpet shop was a stone s throw away literally, provided George Bonnor threw it from the ground. His teammates often joked that when his wife Flo wanted a second opinion over a sale she simply yelled at her husband, who was invariably bowling those lethal off-breaks at the ground.

Who was Tom Goddard?

But why were Gloucestershire so generous with Tom Goddard? What made the gigantic off-spinner with that enormous nose so special for Gloucestershire that they were willing to part with their income for his sake even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when clubs often slashed salaries of professionals to stay afloat?

Indeed, who was Goddard?

Goddard, all of six-foot-three and outrageously broad shoulders that made him look enormous, also boasted of a very long, almost hook-like nose that made him resemble a Greek scholar. When they took field at Bristol or Cheltenham, Goddard easily stood out among his peers.

But obviously that was not all. He was gifted very long fingers and strong yet supple wrists, which meant he could give the ball serious rip. Most importantly, his accuracy was legendary, and he seldom got tired.

All these meant Goddard had the potential to become one of the all-time greats. He played a mere 8 Tests (despite having 22 wickets at an average less than 27), but it was at First-Class level that he really thrived. His 2,979 wickets (at below 20) are fifth in history. He had 251 five-wicket hauls and 86 ten-fors; only Tich Freeman and teammate Charlie Parker had taken ten wickets in a match more often.

One must remember that Goddard achieved this despite beginning his career as an unsuccessful fast bowler, and had taken to off-spin only after pace did not work for him.

No, Gloucestershire were not being generous by granting that benefit despite their financial woes. They were merely being grateful, for barring WG Grace, Gilbert Jessop, and Wally Hammond, and perhaps Parker, no other cricketer has done as much for Gloucestershire as Goddard.

You can never tell at Gloucester

Arthur Paish, a left-arm spinner whose 354 wickets came at 24, had played for Gloucestershire at the turn of the century. It was certainly a good thing that Wagon Works had appointed someone of that stature as their groundsman.

Paish made what he thought a perfect pitch, but as it was the case with poor Geary s benefit match earlier that season, the weather did not help Goddard s case at all. Only Sam Staples (58) and Joe Hardstaff Jr (46) put up any resistance as Nottinghamshire crashed to 200 after being 142 for 4 at one stage.

Goddard himself did most of the damage, taking 4 for 49. Monty Cranfield, the second off-spinner of the side, had 3 for 51. The ball was already turning. The possibility of the match lasting three days looked bleak.

Thankfully, Notts were without the services of Harold Larwood, but his partner-in-crime Bill Voce was spearheading the attack. He got two quick wickets before Hammond walked out, at 23 for 2. At stumps the score read 107 for 3; Hammond had already raced to 52.

Despite that, the situation looked bleak. True, Hammond was still around, and his presence would invariably result in footfall, but the others were probably not good enough to make the match go all three days. It was not a big ground, and if the crowd lost interest midway, Goddard was certainly doomed.

Paish found Goddard after the day s play. Sorry, Tom. How was I to know it were going like this? Trouble is, you can never tell at Gloucester, he apologised.

Goddard was justifiably not happy: I relied on you, Arthur. And here it is, bloody breaking up. Never going to last for three days. And that s hundreds down the pan.

He had probably forgotten to keep his voice down. Or perhaps Hammond was standing too close. Whatever it was, Hammond overheard the conversation.

And Hammond responded: Don t panic, Tom. I ll make sure the match lasts. For a start, I ll bat all day on Monday.

Was Goddard relieved? One can only speculate.

For one thing, Hammond never had a reputation for being the perfect team-man. If anything, he was aloof towards his colleagues.They called him self-centred, and justifiably so. This was the man whose egocentric attitude they often misinterpreted as narcissism.

His obsession with Bradman was ridiculous yet tragic at the same time. Bradman s reputation never let Hammond attain the stature he so richly deserved. Whether it was a good thing for cricket is debatable, for Hammond was almost certainly the more aesthetically pleasing of the two. Hammond, throughout his career, could never come to terms with the defeat. Eyewitnesses were surprised to see, for a change, an animated Hammond when Gloucestershire held the Australians of 1930s to a tie.

Hammond was also the man who would take up a job just to become an amateur so that he could lead England.There were rumours that he wanted to replace the immensely popular Bev Lyon as Gloucestershire captain. This was the man who, if one goes by rumours, had married Dorothy Lister for her father s money, and had numerous affairs during their turbulent marriage.

No, despite his amazing talent, despite his ability to draw crowds to the ground like almost no one in history Bradman, Walter Reginald Hammond was probably not the most-trusted man in the history of Gloucestershire cricket.

Goddard probably did not believe Hammond. If he did, it must have been because he did not have an option, for on that pitch Hammond was the only man who could make the contest last.

Sunday, the stipulated rest day of the match, passed by. Then, on Monday morning, Hammond strode out with Billy Neale.

Of tonsils and bouncers

Compared to his usual levels, Hammond s performance in 1935 had been ordinary. While 2,616 runs in a single season would have been spectacular for anyone, they had come at a very un-Hammond-like average of 49.35.

There was a reason for this. He had been diagnosed with tonsillitis at the beginning of the season. He suffered breathing problems. He found it difficult to eat and sleep, let alone score hundreds. He had eventually got the tonsils removed in early 1936.

There is a delightful story about Hammond s days in the St Mary s nursing home, Bristol, where they performed the surgery. Also admitted was Len Creed, later to become Chairman of Somerset CCC. Creed, remembered mostly for his role in signing Viv Richards for Somerset, treasured the autograph Hammond signed for him during their mutual stay at St Mary s the most.

But let us return to Hammond. He would play fewer matches that summer, but that average would zoom to 56.94.However, the season had not started on a high. In fact, Hammond had to wait till the end of July for his first hundred of the season, 167 against the touring Indians, a side already marred by internal conflicts.

The deluge began in August: 160* and 57, 6 and 43, 81 and 35*, 108 and 62, 217 and 5*, 44 and 0, 52, and 43 and 51. In August alone he had scored 964 runs at 80.33. This was the 31st, the last day of August: would he do a thousand in a month?

There were other scores to settle as well. Gloucestershire had toured Trent Bridge in May the year before. At that point Hammond was ill, very ill; and on a greenish pitch Voce had peppered him with bouncers and, of course, Larwood had not been too lenient, either.

Voce had probably gone a bit overboard that day with intimidatory bowling something bowlers in England typically avoided while bowling to Hammond. They knew better than that.

Larwood had tried to stop Voce: Look, Big un, you might be enjoying yourself, but the bugger, he ll get his own back. Voce had not paid heed.

Hammond scored a mere 13 that day before the leg-breaks of George Gunn undid him. But as we have seen numerous times in his career, Hammond never forgot.

No, Tom Goddard probably had reasons to smile, too.

Larwood had warned you, big un

All Neale had to do that Monday was to exist at the crease, and he did, scoring runs almost invisibly. As for Hammond, nothing mattered: Voce, the pitch, the spinners, nothing. The partnership with Neale fetched 164, of which Neale got 66.

There were cracks in the wicket; the ball kept turning. The bowling demanded utter concentration, wrote David Foot in his seminal work Wally Hammond: The Reasons Why. As for the faithful who had come to boost Tom s fund, they couldn t decide what they wanted most some entertaining batting to justify their decision to take a couple of days off work, or Goddard at his match-winning best.

Hammond batted like only he could. One must remember here that Voce was at the peak of his career. His new-ball partner Harold Butler, still a bit raw, would play Test cricket after World War II. There was the just-above-medium-pace of Staples, Frank Woodhead, and George Heane, always dangerous on a wearing pitch. And Gunn held up the rear with his leg-breaks.

Hammond s first hundred came in three-and-a-quarter hours. At that stage he was merely warming up. There was a false stroke on 111, when he almost played on; but he resumed batting as if nothing had happened.

The second hundred took him another eighty minutes.On 226 came the second chance, a difficult one behind the stumps, one that Arthur Wheat could not hold on to. The third hundred took seventy.One must remember that the conditions were so ordinary for batting that they had driven Goddard to despair.

Hammond eventually scored 317 of the best in 390 minutes, just like that, before being bowled by Woodhead. He hit 34 fours and 3 sixes. Those 317 runs had taken his tally of August to 1,281 in other words, past WG Grace s record for most runs in August. Grace had amassed 1,278 runs in 1876.

The wicket also ended a ninth-wicket stand of 133 with wicketkeeper Victor Hopkins, who got 25. Hammond, ninth out, scored 317 out of 461 Gloucestershire had managed during his stay.

No, he could not keep his promise. He could not bat all day. But then, he had made sure Goddard s benefit match was a success.

As he walked up the stairs, he found Goddard s colossal frame waiting for him outside the pavilion. Worth more than a pint, Wally, thanked the big man. Hammond, according to Roderick Easdale in Wally Hammond: Gentleman and Player, even gave the bat away to Goddard for auction.

The rest passed in a blur. Nottinghamshire ended the day on 22 without loss. They were reduced to 64 for 4 the next day before Charlie Harris (50) and Staples (52) added 82. Then they collapsed to 215 and lost by an innings as Cranfield took 4 for 71. Goddard got the solitary wicket of Gunn, but he need not have worried: the benefit fetched him 2,097 in addition to what Hammond s bat fetched him.

More counterintuitive incidents

Sitting in the stands was one RW Spencer, a lifelong Gloucestershire supporter (to quote Foot), who, by his own claim, had watched the triple-hundred in entirety. Spencer later admitted in an interview for a documentary: Although I loved cricket as a small boy, I wasn t always able to attend county matches. When I returned, Wally came and sat beside me. He asked me why I hadn t been lately and I told him my meagre pocket money didn t run to it.

Shortly afterwards, Spencer received the schoolboy membership card of Gloucestershire CCC by post. He never claimed it was Hammond, though he always felt it must have been him.

No, that is not what self-obsessed, narcissistic men are like. Neither do they bat for their mates all day and give their bats away for auction.

Maybe this was the real Hammond. Or perhaps the real Hammond was the one they all knew, and this was an aberration. We will never know.

A Dickie Bird story, but still worth a mention

There are two things about Dickie Bird s cricket anecdotes: first, they are generally delightful; and secondly, they are often figments of imagination.

We will never know whether this one from White Caps and Bails was made up. However, let me quote Bird anyway: After the game Hammond led the full Gloucestershire team back out to the middle, told Goddard to set his field on a pitch that had been turning dramatically, and proceeded to play the bowler with the edge of the bat. Unplayable? Not for Hammond. That was a remarkable example of his excellent technique.

False, perhaps; but then, had it been anyone but Hammond, the word perhaps would not have been necessary. Hammond did make you believe in things.

Brief scores:

Nottinghamshire 200 (Arthur Staples 58; Tom Goddard 4 for 49, Monty Cranfield 3 for 51) and 215 (Charlie Harris 50, Arthur Staples 52; Charlie Barnett 3 for 25, Monty Cranfield 4 for 71) lost to Gloucestershire 485 (Wally Hammond 317, Billy Neale 66; Bill Voce 3 for 117) by an innings and 70 runs.