Chris Waters: Harking back to a glorious summer with the game’s ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’

Norman Yardley,

Yorkshire's Gentleman Cricketer,
 and Bill Edrich walk out to bat in their pith helmets
Norman Yardley, Yorkshire's Gentleman Cricketer, and Bill Edrich walk out to bat in their pith helmets
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IN a little over a week’s time, Yorkshire travel to Lord’s to take on Middlesex in the County Championship.

It is a re-match of the final game of last season, when Middlesex won to pip Yorkshire to the title.

Perhaps Middlesex’s most famous title triumph came in 1947, when Yorkshire were squeezed into seventh position.

For that summer 70 years ago was made famous by Denis Compton and Bill Edrich, the Middlesex batsmen who scored 7,355 runs between them and dominated in a manner not seen before or since.

In a summer of seemingly endless sunshine just after the war, with Britain in the grip of austerity and rationing, cricket – and, in particular, Compton and Edrich – provided welcome relief to the war-weary public.

Around three million people are estimated to have watched first-class cricket that year, with as many as 30,000 attending on some days at Lord’s to see the Middlesex duo.

Denis Compton, left, and Peter May

Denis Compton, left, and Peter May

To put that figure into some sort of context, there was considerable delight at Headingley the other day that around 3,000 people attended the Saturday play of the Roses match.

In 1947, interest in the County Championship had never been higher; it was, some say, the zenith of English cricket’s greatest competition.

Edrich, a cheerful, diminutive and courageous batsman, good enough to play 39 Tests, started his season with a century against Somerset at Lord’s.

Usually slotting in at No 3, with Compton at No 4, he followed up with two more hundreds before the end of May, finishing the campaign with 12 in total from 30 first-class games – exactly twice the number that a cricketer might play today, given a much-reduced 14-match Championship programme and perhaps a match against a university team.

Around three million people are estimated to have watched first-class cricket that year, with as many as 30,000 attending on some days at Lord’s to see the Middlesex duo.

Chris Waters

Edrich ended the season with 3,539 runs to his name at an average of 80.43, eclipsing the previous record aggregate for a season of 3,518 by Surrey’s Tom Hayward in 1906.

Under any other circumstances, it would have been a record to stand for all time, with 1,000 runs now the accepted benchmark in the pruned first-class schedule, but Compton was even more punishing, scoring 3,816 runs – also from 30 appearances – at an average of 90.85, with 18 centuries.

The original ‘Brylcreem Boy’, as he is often recalled, Compton was one of the few cricketers who transcended the sport to become a national icon, not unlike Ian Botham or Andrew Flintoff of more recent vintage.

The exuberance of his batting and his personality saw him hero-worshipped all over the land.

Compton could play all the shots and took risks in a manner ahead of his time; he would have had little trouble adapting to the fast-paced world of T20, where risks and improvisation are all the rage.

In 1947, Compton’s batting summed up perfectly the prevailing spirit of a Britain that needed all the entertainers it could get – and celebrated them for all they were worth.

The writer Neville Cardus observed that he had never been “so deeply touched on a cricket ground as I was in this heavenly summer when I went to Lord’s to see a pale-faced crowd, existing on rations, the rocket bomb still in the ears of most folk - to see this worn, dowdy crowd watching Compton.”

The great John Arlott wrote that “this glorious phase of Compton was only possible in one summer, the sun’s summer of a century and the summer of a man’s life”.

Arlott added that Compton’s feats “will become a dream that passed across English cricket in a summer of amazing sun and lit the furthest corners of every field in the land”.

The cricketer-turned-writer RC Robertson-Glasgow declared, once the 1947 season was over, that Compton and Edrich “go together in English cricket as Gilbert and Sullivan go together in English opera”, an enduring tribute.