Read scored big hundreds, kept wickets, bowled both underarm lobs and roundarm fast, captained England twice and led them to wins on each occasion    Getty Images
Read scored big hundreds, kept wickets, bowled both underarm lobs and roundarm fast, captained England twice and led them to wins on each occasion Getty Images

Walter WW Read of Surrey, born November 23, 1855, was possibly the greatest amateur of the era after WG Grace. An all-rounder in every sense of the word, Read scored big hundreds, kept wickets, bowled both underarm lobs and roundarm fast, captained England twice and led them to wins on each occasion, and was a vital cog of a Surrey side that won the County Championship five times in six seasons. Abhishek Mukherjee lists 15 facts about a Surrey schoolmaster.

WG Grace s bulk, beard, and insatiable appetite for runs ensured The Doctor stood the test of time, but such fortune evaded most of his contemporaries. It is, thus, difficult to assess the stature of Walter William Read, of Surrey and England, by the standards of the 21st century.

To put things simply, Read was perhaps the second-greatest English amateur cricketer of the era. A tally of 22,349 runs at 32.06 runs barely seems impressive by today s standards. His Test record of 720 runs at 27.69 is even less impressive. However, put into perspective with the numbers of the era, Read had done a decent job of it, more so if we consider that both WG and Arthur Shrewsbury finished with sub-40 First-Class averages.

Wisden wrote of him: More forward in style than most of the great batsmen of the present time, he was seen at his best on true, lively wickets, but he came off under all conditions of ground and weather … In his young days Mr Read could be described as an orthodox player, depending as he did on his driving and the perfect straightness of his bat; but as time went on he developed a great fondness for pulling. He carried the pull to a higher pitch than anyone else in his day, but from being a good servant the stroke became, to some extent, his master, and impaired his batting.

Read had his admirers, of whom few were as generous as Grace himself. The great man wrote in Cricketing Reminiscences: For over twenty years [Read] was one of the most brilliant batsmen in England. The services he rendered to Surrey could scarcely be over-estimated. On scores of occasions his dashing and fearless batting snatched a victory or saved his county from defeat … His hitting was free and his scoring always rapid. Nevertheless his defence was remarkable, and though he seldom failed to punish a loose ball, he generally respected a good one. His favourite ball was a long hop to the off, which he stepped back to and hit with incredulous power in front of cover-point; he also was an expert with the pull stroke .

Read could do multiple things on the field. He batted, he sometimes kept wickets (he finished with 381 catches and 20 stumpings from 467 matches). When he did neither, he fielded at point with remarkable prowess, and bowled his mixed bag of slow under-arm (lobs) and fast round-arm a combination even WG Grace or Garry Sobers could not pull off. His 108 wickets came at 32.25.

Despite the presence of several champions in the side (Henry Jupp, Thomas Humphrey, and Bobby Abel come to mind) only George Lohmann matched Read s contributions for Surrey during his career. And then, there was more…

1. In the top bunch

As mentioned above, Read was one of the three greatest English batsmen of the 1880s. Of course, one must remember that these were not WG s best years. A comparison between the finest batsmen of the era may make this clear.

Year

Grace

Read

Shrewsbury

R

Ave

R

Ave

R

Ave

1883

1,352

34.67

1,573

47.67

1,117

29.39

1884

1,361

34.03

1,256

29.21

908

28.38

1885

1,688

43.28

1,880

44.76

1,130

56.50

1886

1,846

35.50

1,825

42.44

1,404

42.55

Total

6,247

36.75

6,534

40.58

4,559

37.07

Grace s numbers are remarkable, given the fact that he was approaching forty, and was well past his prime. He averaged less than both Read and Shrewsbury over the four-year span, but it is astonishing how he still maintained his stature despite his age. He would surge again in the mid-1890s…

Read s form continued, but Shrewsbury s voracious appetite overshadowed everyone a rejuvenated Grace included in 1887. It was a prolific season for all three, but while Read faded out, Shrewsbury grew in stature. Of course, WG was omnipresent…

Year

Grace

Read

Shrewsbury

R

Ave

R

Ave

R

Ave

1887

2,062

54.26

1,615

47.50

1,653

78.71

2. The Read who taught to read

Born at Reigate, WW Read went to Reigate Priory, the school where his father used to teach. I was a little more advanced in my ideas on cricket than most of the boys who played at school, Read later recollected. Humility was probably not his forte.

An amateur, he later worked as an assistant to his father in the first half of the summer and could play cricket only for the second half.

3. Baptism by fire

It was not easy being Read. He was hailed as a young talent from his Reigate days. He was first spotted by Jupp, who immediately mentioned him to Surrey Secretary Charles CW Alcock.

Surrey noticed him, and he was thrust into First-Class cricket at a mere age of 17, that too against a Yorkshire consisting of Tom Emmett and Allen Hill. He failed, but Surrey had faith in the teenager…

The big innings that established Read came in 1877. This time Emmett and Hill were backed by Billy Bates, Tom Armitage, and George Ulyett; in other words, Yorkshire had one of the finest bowling attacks in their illustrious history.

Read scored 140, almost outscoring Yorkshire (159) single-handedly. He added 206 for the opening stand with Jupp (87). The others could not take the score beyond 300.

4. Immortalised by the urn

In 1882-83 Ivo Bligh s England became the first team to clinch The Ashes. Several members of the tour were, thus, immortalised by the poem that still features on the urn one older than even The Olympics.

When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;

Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;

The welkin will ring loud,

The great crowd will feel proud,

Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;

And the rest coming home with the urn.

Perhaps buoyed by the triumph, he had an excellent summer. The next season he got his Surrey cap.

5. The hat-trick catch

Poor George Bonnor. Back in 1880 had already been caught by Fred Grace at The Oval. Many consider it one of the greatest catches of the 19th century. In 1882-83 against Bligh s men he walked out at 78 for 5 after Bates had taken Percy McDonnell and George Giffen in consecutive deliveries.

For the uninitiated, the Bonnor was an immensely strong man. He still holds the record for the longest distance (where known) at which a cricket ball has been thrown. His frame was imposing, his forearms and shoulders were intimidating, his beard perhaps next to only WG s in stature. Only the bravest fielded close to him.

Robert Lyttelton (brother of Alfred) and AG Steel recalled the incident in Cricket: Bates faithfully promised to bowl a fast shortish ball between the legs and the wicket, and said he was quite certain Bonnor would play slowly forward to it. Acting on the faith of this, W. W. Read boldly volunteered to stand silly mid-on for one ball … As Bates began to walk to the wickets to bowl, nearer and nearer crept our brave mid-on; a slow forward stroke to a fast shortish leg-stump ball landed the ball fairly in his hands not more than six feet from the bat. The crowd would not believe it, and Bonnor was simply thunderstruck at mid-on s impertinence.

It was Read s daredevilry that gave England their first Test hat-trick.

6. That hundred at The Oval

Read had already played 5 Tests, but his sixth was special, for it was his first at his home ground. Australia piled up 551 in an innings where all 11 members of England bowled.

Australia then hit back. When Read joined William Scotton (then 53) England were reeling at 181 for 8. The pair added 151 before Scotton fell for 90. Read had already outscored Scotton by some distance by then. He eventually fell for a two-hour 117 off only 155 balls (20 fours, a three, 12 twos, 10 ones) in an era when one had to hit the ball out of the ground for a six. It is rumoured that Read was furious at being sent that low down the order.

Wisden called it a superb display of hard and rapid hitting , which was something, given that the Australian attack consisted of Billy Midwinter, Joey Palmer, George Giffen, and the two men that had created history at the same ground two years ago Fred Spofforth and Harry Boyle.

Read s 117 remains the highest score by a No. 10 batsman in Test cricket. It was also the only time he batted that low in the order. At Lord s in the same series he batted once at 8; these were the only two occasions when he was sent below 6.

Interestingly, his next innings at The Oval was 94. In fact, 288 of his 720 Test runs came at the ground. He averaged 48 at the ground and 21.60 elsewhere.

7. The magnum opus

Curiously, Read s highest career score came when his form was already on the wane. Read had already warmed up when the match against Oxford in 1888 took place. It had been a mere two days since the touring Parsees had been thwarted by the Gentlemen of Surrey. Read had contributed heavily with 24 and 132, and 2 for 18 and 3 for 14.

Now the undergraduates bore the brunt. He joined Abel at 97 for 2, and thrashed the Oxford bowlers around The Oval for a 390-minute 338, adding 142 with Abel, 79 with Maurice Read (of no known relation to Walter), 204 with Bob Henderson, and 63 with Henry Wood.

Read became only the third man after WG (344 and 318*, both in 1876) and Billy Murdoch (321, in 1881-82) to score a First-Class triple hundred. As is evident, he fell 6 short of WG s aggregate. Of all Surrey cricketers, only Abel (357) and Kevin Pietersen (355) have bettered Read s score. On the other hand, the innings accounted for a quarter of his runs for the season.

This was not the first time Read had played a massive innings. In the previous season he had amassed 118 (against Oxford), 74 (MCC), 247 (Lancashire), and 244* (Cambridge) in consecutive innings.

8. The Australian summer

Read went to Australia twice, the first time as a part of Bligh s team that brought The Ashes back. He returned five years later and returned with 610 runs at 55.45 from all First-Class matches.

This included 183 against South Australia, 119 and 53* against New South Wales, and 24 and 142* against Victoria. The Ashes was a one-off Test, in which he scored 10 and 8.

9. Turner s bunny

For the uninitiated, Turner and Ferris were a deadly new-ball pair, perhaps at par with Spofforth and Boyle. Turner s 17 Tests fetched him an astonishing 101 wickets at 16.53, but his success against Read was another story altogether.

Turner and Read faced each other in 8 Tests, in which Turner dismissed Read 8 times. That is enough to call Read Turner s bunny , but there is more: Turner got Read in 6 consecutive innings, 5 bowled and one caught-behind. Poor Read managed a mere 62 from these innings.

He escaped Turner twice in the next Test at Lord s, but sure enough, in the one after that at The Oval, Turner bowled him twice for 1 and 6.

10. Walking out in the blazer

Read led England twice, the first time in the one-off Ashes match mentioned above, at Sydney. This deserves some details. There were two England teams visiting Australia at that time. The first was a team of professionals that lost substantial money to the extent that C Aubrey Smith, an amateur, was drafted in as captain. The other was led by Martin Bladen Hawke, who had to leave mid-tour after news of his father s demise came in. He would succeed as Lord Hawke.

Hawke s team was led by George Vernon. Both sides played a Combined Australia side, but neither match was given Test status. The sides then combined to form a single team. In a truce of sorts, Read led England in the Test.

England collapsed for 113 and 137 against Charlie Turner (11 for 87) and JJ Ferris (8 for 100), but Australia did worse: George Lohmann (9 for 52) and Bobby Peel (9 for 58) wrecked them for 42 and 82.

Read led them once more, this time at Cape Town. The circumstances were unusual, as England were also The Ashes at that time in Australia. Three Hearne brothers played in the Test Alec and George for England and Frank for South Africa. Ferris and Murdoch, both former Australian Test players, turned up for England, while Frank Hearne had earlier played for England.

Amidst all this pandemonium, Ferris (13 for 91) shot out South Africa for 97 and 83. Between the two innings England were reduced to 144 for 5, but Harry Wood s unbeaten 134 took England to 369. Read scored 40. He never led England again, thus finishing with a 100% win record.

Read is one of 16 captains (of whom Rangana Herath is the only active cricketer) to have led his side to victories in every Test he has led in. Of the 16, only 6 men have been successful in more than a single Test.

11. Odes; well, of sorts

In 1890, The Sporting Life featured a poem by The Man on the Spot . It ran thus:

TO MR. WALTER READ

See him make his boundary cuts,

He ain’t the sort to play for nuts:

Hooks em here, and carves em there,

Bangs em off, and hits em square;

And when I shed my little bob,

I like to see him on the job.

Not much literature there, but still…

In 1891 there was another, this time on The Punch, this time on Scotton and his legendary stonewalling abilities. The poem is too long, but the last four lines deserve a mention:

Block, block, block,

At the foot of thy wicket, ah do!

But one hour of Grace or Walter Read

Were worth a week of you!

12. The hat-trick at Scarborough

The 1891 match between Gentlemen of England and Mordecai Sherwin s XI at Scarborough was granted First-Class status. In a match full of contemporary superstars The Gentlemen prevailed, winning by 115 runs.

Read had a good match, scoring a fifty and claiming 6 for 24 in the first innings. It would remain his only five-wicket haul. It also included the only First-Class hat-trick of his career: he dismissed Billy Barnes (caught Andrew Stoddart), Billy Gunn, and Francis Dixon (both bowled).

12. That yellow almanac

The Wisden Cricketer of the Year award came almost as an afterthought. He got 1,088 runs in 1892, but they came at 34. The season also saw his last great innings, when his marathon effort batted Sussex out of the contest at where else? The Oval.

Sussex were bowled for 137, but they had Fred Tate in their line-up. They kept denting the Surrey line-up, but Bill Lockwood came to Read s aid with 80. Sussex kept taking wickets, but Read held firm, eventually carrying his bat with 196 out of a total of 413. Sussex folded for a mere 166.

Surrey gave him a benefit match in 1895, a contest between Surrey and England (basically Rest of England). It was reduced to a no-contest after Dick Pougher took 9 for 34 to bowl out Surrey for 85 in the first morning.

14. Jobs and all that

Of course, being an assistant schoolmaster was never going to be enough for an amateur cricketer. By 1881 Read was appointed Secretary of Surrey CCC. In other words, his income from the sport was at least equal to that of the amateurs. In other words, he was what they called a shamateur (a sham amateur). He became an MCC member in 1890.

Read also wrote a book, a cross between history of the sport and an autobiography. The title read Annals of Cricket: A Record of the Game Compiled from Authentic Sources, and My Own Experiences during the Last Twenty-Three Years. John Shuter, Read s captain at Surrey for many years, wrote the introduction himself.

In 1885 he became a partner of Frederick Wells, an auctioneer, surveyor and valuer of London, and coached Surrey from 1905 till his death. He spent his last days at Colworth Road, Addiscombe Park.

Walter Read passed away on January 6, 1907. He was 51.

15. The little-known legacy

This will perhaps not make Indian readers happy. Let me quote CB Fry, teammate and friend of KS Ranjitsinhji, verbatim from his 1939 piece The Founder of Modern Batsmanship: The original exponent was the noted Surrey batsman W. W. Read, who used it with much effect against accurate slow bowlers such as [Ted] Peate, [Bobby] Peel and [Johnny] Briggs. In fact, the stroke is the genuine leg hit. Ranji told me later that Walter Read had shown him how to do it at the nets and that it was an easy stroke, but I never saw Ranji try it in a match; he had plenty of strokes without it.

Yes, Fry was talking about the leg-glance.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry. He blogs at ovshake.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter @ovshake42.)