Truly grand nature of Yorkshire’s Wilfred Rhodes ‘colossus’ career clear for all to see in new biography

Wilfred RhodesWilfred Rhodes
Wilfred Rhodes
EVERYTHING that Wilfred Rhodes did was on a ginormous scale.

He played more first-class matches than anyone else (1,110), took more wickets (4,204), bowled the most balls (185,742) and played the most innings (1,534).

The Yorkshiremen scored 39,969 runs (the 17th-highest aggregate of all time) and held 765 catches (the seventh-highest number by a fielder).

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Rhodes played 58 Tests spanning 31 years the last when he was 52 years old, making him the oldest to appear in the five-day format – and he batted in every position from No 1 to No 11.

Wilfred Rhodes, Yorkshire and EnglandWilfred Rhodes, Yorkshire and England
Wilfred Rhodes, Yorkshire and England

He also lived to the ripe old age of 95 – blind by the end – but still with formidable powers of recall from the unique perspective of having played against W.G. Grace in his first match and Don Bradman in his last.

Rhodes was The Triumphal Arch between those two giants – the sub-title of a new biography of Rhodes by Patrick Ferriday. The book itself is pretty ginormous at over 400 pages; there was, you suspect, quite a lot to get in.

It is, surprisingly, the first full-length biography of the most prolific player in first-class history, a man whose behemoth statistics will never be broken.

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The other one-and-a-half biographies (Rhodes shared the billing with his fellow Yorkshire all-rounder George Hirst, with whom his life and career is inextricably linked, in A.A. Thomson’s Hirst and Rhodes, published in 1959, a year before Sidney Rogerson’s Wilfred Rhodes: Professional and Gentlemen) are yellowing at the margins. Rhodes, born in Kirkheaton in 1877, lived until the summer of 1973.

For those interested in finding out more about Rhodes, his life and career, Ferriday’s book is available from Von Krumm Publishing, priced £25. A limited edition signed by Rhodes’s granddaughter, Margaret Garton, and by the author David Frith, who supplies the foreword, is available for £75 and includes an 80-minute CD of Frith talking with Rhodes, a priceless accompaniment.

That Rhodes deserves such biographical treatment, so meticulously and lovingly marshalled by Ferriday, is undeniable, even if the famously dour all-rounder did once say, according to the book’s closing words, “Ah’ve always had a good opinion of myself, but Ah were never a star. Ah always considered myself a good utility cricketer.” Aye, you could say that, Wilfred. You could say that...

A.W. Pullin, cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Evening Post, put it rather more fittingly on Rhodes’s retirement in 1930.

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“Is there any cricketing record left which Rhodes has not broken?” he reflected. “He bestrides the world of bat and ball like a Colossus. Historians a hundred years hence will be trying to prove the man never existed – that he is a glorious myth, invented by a county that was mad on cricket and its supremacy therein.”

Almost a hundred years on, Ferriday has ventured to prove to the contrary, that the king of Kirkheaton, like fellow monarch Hirst, was actual flesh and blood.

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