Encountering Titans of game in opening treasure-trove of memories

Herbert Sutcliffe.
Herbert Sutcliffe.
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“WE’LL get ’em in singles.” That is what George Hirst is supposed to have said to Wilfred Rhodes when the two Yorkshiremen came together during the 1902 Oval Ashes Test, with 15 runs needed for victory and just one wicket standing.

But, as a new book confirms, the hoary old legend was hogwash.

Why, Wilfred himself said so.

“It were some press man’s invention,” he remembered shortly before his death in 1973.

“It wouldn’t have made sense, would it?”

According to some sources, there were 13 singles and a two as England secured one of their most famous wins against the old enemy.

According to Cricinfo, however, Rhodes’s unbeaten six included a four, Hirst finishing unbeaten on 58.

Whatever the details of the last-wicket stand, Rhodes’s rebuttal of rumour is just one of the many nuggets contained in Frith’s Encounters by David Frith.

One of cricket’s greatest and most prolific authors (this is his 36th book), Frith has spent more than 60 years meeting and befriending everyone and anyone connected with the sport.

As such, he has built up a treasure-trove of memories as precious as his own cricket library and collection (believed to be the largest in private hands), including his meetings with such as the legendary Rhodes, whose world record of 4,187 wickets will never be broken.

It seemed only natural and necessary, therefore, to preserve some of those meetings between hardcovers.

Frith’s Encounters, tremendously produced by Von Krumm Publishing, contains 65 such meetings with famous cricketing figures, each of roughly 1,000 words in length.

Many of the articles appeared in The Wisden Cricketer and The Cricketer between 2007 and 2012, with a few penned subsequently.

Frith, a former editor of The Cricketer and Wisden Cricket Monthly, founded the latter publication in 1979.

His qualifications for inclusion in ‘Encounters’ were that his friendship or acquaintance with the subjects was significant, and that the subjects are dead.

Rhodes, who was in his 93rd year when Frith sat down with tape recorder, is one of seven Yorkshire players featured along with Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Fred Trueman, Bill Bowes, Paul Gibb and David Bairstow.

Rhodes, in fact, was completely blind at the time of the interview and lived with his daughter, Muriel, in Canford Cliffs, Dorset.

“Father enjoys an occasional drink, and a bottle of sherry, Duronnet or whisky will please him,” Muriel told Frith when he enquired about her father’s preferences.

The author remembered Rhodes’s rasping voice – “the product of considerable effort” – and “soft and slack left arm” as he supported him while the old man shuffled down the hallway.

There were some rare treasures in the house: the ball with which Rhodes bowled out Australia for 36 at Edgbaston in 1902, another he used in his 15-124 in the 1903-04 Melbourne Test, a silver salver and a mounted emu egg.

It broke Rhodes’s heart when the property was later burgled.

Rhodes recalled dismissing WG Grace and described his bowling method in these terms: “I had flight, I’d spin and length and direction.”

“He made it all seem so simple,” writes Frith.

Sutcliffe, meanwhile, one of Yorkshire and England’s greatest opening batsmen, is described as charming, “his suavity and grace were instantly apparent upon first sight of him in person”.

Trueman, whom the author asked for a smile when he pointed his camera at him at Sydney on the 1958-59 Ashes tour, was told: “It woan’t coom out, son!”, only for it to come out wonderfully – one of many excellent illustrations in the book.

Hutton, whom Frith got to know in the 1970s and 1980s, is described as a man who seldom initiated conversation but was “always polite in response, occasionally eager, sometimes a little sardonic”.

And Bowes, later cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Evening Post, was someone “we always looked forward to seeing in the press box, an arrival marked by cordial greetings all round in a deep, gentle and resonant voice”.

Aside from the Yorkshire cricket encounters, Frith met the famously ferocious SF Barnes, the legendary England bowler, and remembered his “faintly evil grimace”.

He was good friends with Sir Donald Bradman, the greatest batsman cricket has known, and also encountered George Headley (aka the Black Bradman).

So many Titans are present in this terrific book, penned by one of the great Titans and gents of cricket writing.

As Bradman himself put it: “Thank goodness the cricket world has always thrown up men like David Frith, who seems to regard a contribution to cricket history as a duty to mankind.”

Frith’s Encounters by David Frith is published by Von Krumm Publishing, priced £15 hardback. A signed limited edition is available priced £60. See vonkrummpublishing.co.uk for details.