Herbert Sutcliffe, born November 24, 1894 was a former England right-hand opening batsman widely regarded as one of the greatest cricketers to have graced the willow. He is amongst those rare breed of cricketers who have a Test average in excess of 60. Having off-drive and hook as his trademark shots, Sutcliffe could focus for long durations and absorb pressure under difficult circumstances. He is often considered as the greatest opening batsman to have played Test cricket along with Sunil Gavaskar. He was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1920. On his 122nd birth anniversary, Bhaskar Narayan takes a look at 15 interesting facts from the life of one of the greatest cricketers produced by England.  

1.  Raised in Pudsey and Darley: When Herbert Sutcliffe was young, his parents shifted to Pudsey, a market town in West Yorkshire, England. Sutcliffe began playing league cricket there. Rising up the ranks, he went on to play for the county. His father, Willie Sutcliffe, was a club cricketer and a rugby football enthusiast and worked at the sawmill.  Willie died due to an injury during a rugby football game. Herbert’s mother Jane Sutcliffe then shifted to Darley, North Yorkshire. She died when Herbert was only nine-years-old. Herbert was brought up by his sister Carrie.

2.  Club cricket: Sutcliffe started as a bowler for Wesleyan church team. This was his first club; he took 10 wickets in an innings playing for the club in 1907. A year later, he started playing for Pudsey St. Lawrence’s second team. One of his associates in the team was Len Hutton’s father Henry Hutton. Three years hence he started playing for Pudsey Britannia Club. But the real break came when he got the opportunity to play for Yorkshire second XI in 1914. Sutcliffe made 727 runs in a season in Bradford League, which was a record. It was later broken by his future opening partner in Test cricket Jack Hobbs.

3.  Fantastic First-Class record: Sutcliffe played 754 First-Class matches in which he piled up an astounding 50,670 runs at a very good average of 52.02 with 151 centuries and 230 fifties. Sutcliffe and Percy Holmes formed a formidable opening pair for Yorkshire and shared 74 century partnerships. He made the highest partnership of 555 runs with Holmes for Yorkshire.

4.  Delayed Test debut: Sutcliffe played cricket at the club and county level for a long time but he made his Test debut at the age of 29. This was because of the First World War. Sutcliffe served the English military during the war as the Second Lieutenant in Yorkshire Regiment. However, he continued playing along with his military engagements. He played his first Test in 1924 against South Africa and made a healthy contribution of 64 in England’s first innings score of 438. England won the match by an innings and 18 runs.

5.  Exceptional Test average: Sutcliffe is one of the finest batsmen the game has ever seen. He did not have a very good technique but still he made up for it with his exceptional batting talent and great temperament. He played 54 Tests for England accumulating 4,555 runs at a phenomenal average of 60.73. He made 16 hundreds and 23 fifties with a highest score of 194. Only three more batsmen have a better average than him viz. Don Bradman, Graeme Pollock and George Headley. If we look at cricketers who have played at least 50 Tests, he is second only to Bradman. Among openers in Test cricket, he has the best batting average of all time.

6.  Good on difficult tracks: Sutcliffe was a cricketer who relished playing in all conditions. He was one of the best batsmen of his era when it came to playing on pitches not conducive to batting. In Ashes 1928-29, on a wet wicket he made 135 and helped England win. This was probably his best knock ever and is regarded as one of the best centuries made on a deceptive wicket. Besides this, on numerous occasions when the ball moved a lot, he kept one end tight, making sure that he takes the sheen out of the new ball to make batting easier for him and other batsmen to follow. He was so sure of where his off stump was that it was very easy for him to leave deliveries outside off.

7.  Fastest to 1,000 Test runs: Sutcliffe has an amazing record to his name. He was the quickest to get to 1,000 Test runs, beating even the great Bradman. He achieved this in his 12th innings in a Test against arch-rivals Australia on January 16, 1925. He made 59 runs in the innings but ended up on the losing side. The record stood for 23 years until Everton Weekes got to his 1,000 Test runs too as he cracked a century against India in his 12th innings.

8.  Partnership with Jack Hobbs : Sutcliffe played a lot of matches along with another great batsman of his generation Jack Hobbs. It was very difficult to stop the duo when they were in full swing. Together they piled up 3,248 runs at an average of 87.81 in 38 innings, the highest of that time. Sutcliffe and Hobbs had 11 century stands between each other. In the second Ashes Test against Australia in 1925, the duo put up a 283-run first wicket partnership after Australia made a mammoth 600 in their first innings. Unfortunate for them, England lost the match by 81 runs. Sutcliffe and Hobbs’ pairing in Test cricket is considered as an elite opening pairing with parallels to Gordon Greenidge-Desmond Haynes and Matthew Hayden-Justin Langer.

9.  Bodyline controversy: The infamous Ashes 1932-33, when England employed bodyline tactics against Australia, Sutcliffe is said to have backed the then England captain Douglas Jardine. However, many skeptics and Sutcliffe’s friends have revealed that he backing the skipper was more out of him being faithful and committed to obligations; he did not favour bodyline on a personal note.

10.  Besides cricket: Sutcliffe worked in a coalmine as the person responsible for checking the weight of coal mined by the miners. When Sutcliffe was playing for England, he also ran a sportswear shop along side. After opening the shop he resigned from his work in the coalmine.

11.  Post-retirement: Following his retirement, Sutcliffe got employment as a manager in an investment firm and was quite successful in this endeavour of his. He later also served as a selector in the England Cricket Board and was also a club committee member of Yorkshire for 21 years.

12.  Personal life: Sutcliffe married Emily Pease when he was 26-years-old. He had three children; two sons and a daughter. One of his sons William Herbert Hobbs Sutcliffe also played for Yorkshire for nine years. His son later took over his sports gear business.

13.  Tragic death: Sutcliffe suffered from arthritis in his final years. It was so serious that he required a wheelchair. Around four years before his death, his wife passed away because of serious burns that she sustained in a fire at their house in Ilkley, a town in West Yorkshire, Northern England. Sutcliffe passed away in Cross Hills nursing home on January 22, 1978.

14.  Legacy: Sutcliffe was arguably the greatest England batsman in Test cricket. He is kept in the league of other great English batsmen like Hobbs, WG Grace and Len Hutton. Gates at Headingly, Yorkshire County Cricket Club were named as a tribute to him. The International Cricket Council (ICC) honoured him in 2009 by inducting him in the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame. One of New Zealand’s finest cricketers Bert Sutcliffe’s (Herbert’s junior by almost 29 years) parents named their son, Bert after Herbert Sutcliffe.

15.  Shares his birthday with Ian Botham: England all-rounder Ian Botham shares birthday with Sutcliffe on November 24. Others who were also born on the same day include the likes of Ken Barrington, Fred Titmus and the current Indian leg-spinner Amit Mishra.

(Bhaskar Narayan is a reporter at CricketCountry and Criclife. He passionately follows the game and is a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar. His Twitter handle is @Cricopathy)