Andy Ducat dug out a yorker to mid on and the bowler was about to start for his next delivery, when Ducat fell on his back. According to some players of that day, "he dropped like a stone and was dead as he hit the ground". © Getty Images
Andy Ducat dug out a yorker to mid on and the bowler was about to start for his next delivery, when Ducat fell on his back. According to some players of that day, “he dropped like a stone and was dead as he hit the ground”. © Getty Images

On July 23, 1942, multifaceted cricketer Andy Ducat played a ball down to mid on and collapsed to his death. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the only time the scoreboard read: Not Out Dead.

Truth be told, Andy Ducat was a versatile and fantastic sportsman with enough talent and exploits to represent England in both cricket and football. Playing for Surrey, he scored over 23,000 runs between 1906 and 1931, notching up as many as 52 First-class hundreds. And when the summer sun set on the cricket season, he swapped his flannels for jersey and shorts, playing for Woolwich Arsenal and, later, Aston Villa, leading the Villa to FA Cup victory in 1919-20. He appeared in one Test against Warwick Armstrong’s all-conquering Australia in 1921, and was considered good enough to bat at number four. He also put on the English colours six times as a centre forward, memorably scoring the only goal in a win against Wales in 1910.

For this doubly dexterous athlete, was it the untold blessing or inconceivable irony of fate that he carried on playing literally till his last breath? It may be viewed as a romantic end, or a morbid finality, but it certainly does seem unfair that his name is remembered today only because of appearing in the scorebooks followed by the unique fatalistic oxymoron — not out dead.

The war years saw precious few cricket matches, but crowds did flock to the handful played at Lord’s. It was on July 23, 1942, that an encounter was organised to boost public spirit between the Surrey Home Guard and the Sussex Home Guard.

Private Ducat, turning out for Surrey Home Guard, was 56 by then, but bronzed and fit. According to Wisden, he was “well-set-up, vigorous, healthy-looking and careful-living”. He batted at number five and was not out on 12 at lunch. According to Bob Attwell, who joined him at the fall of the fourth wicket, “He told us that he had visited his doctor for a check-up the day before, for insurance purposes, and had been told he was good for another 20 years at least.”

After lunch, Ducat proceeded steadily to 29 and faced Jack Eaton, the occasional wicketkeeper for Sussex, who had picked up 3 wickets till then. It was a yorker, which Ducat dug out past Attwell to mid on. The ball was returned to Eaton, who was about to start for his next delivery, when Ducat fell on his back. According to some players of that day, “he dropped like a stone and was dead as he hit the ground”.

Attwell, a chemist by profession, ran up, and, removing Ducat’s false teeth, tried to revive him with heart massage and artificial respiration — all to no avail. The lifeless body was carried from the field on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital in Paddington where he was pronounced dead. The post-mortem hinted at the failure of a weakened heart.

The match was discontinued with mutual consent.

Unusual endings

Ducat, who played alongside Jack Hobbs for Surrey and combined in a few rewarding partnerships with the great man, was quite familiar with peculiar endings to stints at the crease — although not malignant ones. The only Test that he played was in the famous series in which Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald struck terror into the hearts of the English batsmen. Ducat, walking in at 13 for 2, was not out on 3 at the end of the first day. When play resumed the next morning, he was doubly dismissed without adding to his score — caught by Gregory in the slips off McDonald while a splinter of wood came off his bat and landed on the stumps, dislodging the bails.

More games of death

Ducat still remains the only man to have died during a game at Lord’s. The incident that comes closest occurred way back in 1870. George Summers, batting for Nottinghamshire, had been struck on the head by young fast bowler John Platts representing MCC, and had retired hurt before succumbing to the injury a few days later.

This week, however, seems to be one historically associated with cricket matches abandoned due to death, although the following incident does not involve the demise of a participating player. When Lancashire hosted Gloucestershire at Manchester for a three day county fixture beginning on July 24, the game was called off shortly after lunch on the following day.

Having conceded a 23-run first innings lead, the visitors were 25 for one in their second innings. EM Grace had just been brilliantly caught at mid-off and his brother, skipper WG Grace, had just started his innings. It was at this juncture that a telegram reached the ground, announcing the death of Mrs Martha Grace, the mother of the Grace siblings. After a short consultation, the match was abandoned with mutual consent.

Brief scores:

Surrey Home Guard 132 for 4 (John Eaton 3 for 32) vs Sussex Home Guard. Match abandoned.

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)