Of course, not the Charles Dickens and Keats we come across in the pantheon of greatest writers, but their lesser-known namesakes nevertheless  © Getty Images
Charles Dickens (left) and John Keats (Photo Courtesy: Getty Images & Wikipedia)

With the popularity of the concept of fantasy cricket being at an unprecedented high, the literature aficionado may well dream of a contest between well-known literary giants. For the information of those dreamers, it may be stated here that such a situation, had, indeed, occurred, and there was a Keats and a Dickens on opposing sides of a cricket match.

Charles John ‘Beau’ Dickens was born November 20, 1924 at Kimberley, in the Cape Province of South Africa, son of Walter Dickens. He played 4 First-Class games between 1945-46 and 1952-53, and 2 Second-Class games, all for Griqualand West. In his First-Class matches, he scored a total of 220 runs with a highest of 105, and an average of 27.50. He had 1 century, 1 fifty, and 1 catch.

Dickens made his First-Class debut against North-Eastern Transvaal, at Kimberley, starting Boxing Day, 1945. NE Transvaal, led by Charles Bromham, batted first and put up 143. Robert Hicks (51 not out) was the only man to make a mark with the bat. The wickets were shared between five of the six bowlers used.

Dickens opened the Griqualand West innings and scored 3, the team putting up 188. One Lisle McNamara top-scored with 82. The next highest individual score was 39 by wicketkeeper Andrew Steyn. Of the seven bowlers used, five picked up wickets. NE Transvaal were bowled out for a mere 121. The brothers Waddington, John and Alfred, opened bowling for Griqualand West, John picking up 6 for 18 and Alfred taking one more. ALSO READ: Ashes 1882-83, the ‘extra’ Test: When 4 innings were played on 4 pitches

Griqualand West won the match by 8 wickets, scoring 79 for 2 in the 2nd innings, with Dickens, again opening the innings, contributing 13, and Joseph Charlton an even 50. ALSO READ: Sidney Adams: The man who bowled a Nobel Laureate with his first ball

The magic moment for English Literature enthusiasts came in a Second-Class match against Orange Free State (OFS), played at Kimberley in March 1949. The home team put the opposition in. OFS were dismissed for a round 200, Ian Kirby 53. John Waddington and Russell picked up 4 wickets each. The home team’s score of 310 for 6 declared was built around a solid and well-compiled innings from our man Dickens (129).

The OFS 2nd-innings total was 198 for 6 declared, with a player rejoicing in the name of John Newton remaining not out on 63. The home team won the match by 4 wickets, scoring 92 for 6 with 4 run outs. One entry is of particular interest to us here, as follows:

Charles John Dickens c Eldred Hansen b Keats (absolutely no other information is available in the archives about this mysterious player, not even his full name) 16.

The last 2 First-Class matches played by Charles Dickens were his most productive as far as run-scoring was concerned. He scored his only century (105) in a Currie Cup match against Rhodesia, at Kimberley, in January 1951. Rhodesia batted first and scored 473 with a century from Cornelius Pretorius (140 not out).

Griqualand West could only manage 273 in response, Dickens 16. Cyril Helfrich top scored with 86. For the visitors, skipper Percy Mansell and Peter Johnson took 4 wickets each. Following on, the home team scored 287, Dickens top-scoring with 105 (in 175 minutes) at the top of the order. Rhodesia won by 5 wickets.

The match notes inform us that the Rhodesia wicketkeeper Cecil Harris had broken a finger during the home team’s 1stinnings (but not before he had effected 2 stumpings and taken a catch before he was forced to leave the field) and had been replaced behind the stumps by compatriot Roy Ashburner. The substitute wicketkeeper acquitted himself quite creditably, making 2 stumpings in the home team’s 1st innings and holding a catch in the 2nd. The 1st innings of the home team, therefore, remains an interesting example of 4 men being dismissed stumped, 2 each by 2 different wicketkeepers.

His last First-Class was to bring Charles Dickens his only other fifty score. The home fixture against NE Transvaal was played at Kimberley in January 1953. The visitors batted, scoring 295, skipper Murray Hofmeyr top-scoring with 125 at the top of the order. For the home team John Waddington took 6/98. Griqualand West were dismissed for a paltry 99 with both openers, Ronald Draper and Charles Dickens, registering ducks. For the visitors, Peter Heine (4 for 31) and Joseph Blewett (4 for 34) were the most successful bowlers.

NE Transvaal then scored 204, Stephanus Spies scoring 66 and Hofmeyr contributing 55. John Waddington was again the top wicket-taker, with 5 for 72. The home team were all out for 296, but not before Dickens had scored 56 at the top of the innings, sharing a 1st-wicket partnership of 95 with Ronald Draper (40). For the visitors, Derek Drake (5 for 52) picked up his first 5-wicket haul. NE Transvaal won by 104 runs.

We now arrive at an intriguing part of this narrative, and find two of the major archives for player information being at odds regarding the later life (and death?) of our hero. One states that he had passed away on September 4, 1992 at his native Kimberley, aged 68. Another wishes him longer life and informs us that he is still with us, though at the current age of 91, he is now in a relatively enfeebled state.

Brief scores:

Orange Free State 200 (Ian Kirby 53; John Waddington 4 for 60, Russell Searle 4 for 50) and 198 for 6 decl. (Lloyd Koch 46, Ian Kirby 51, John Newton 63*; John Waddington 3 for 54) lost to Griqualand West 310 for 6 decl. (Charles Dickens 129, Cyril Heinrich 64, Lux Denman 47) and 92 for 6 by 4 wickets.

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical practitioner with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)