IT WAS the beginning of June, 1946, and India, the first official cricket touring team to visit England after the end of WWII, was starting the first official Test match against England at Lords. In 1945, England played Australia in an unofficial series called Victory Tests.
In one of the warm-up matches prior to the start of the test series, against Surrey at The Oval, India raised more than a few eyebrows when their numbers 10 and 11 batsmen, Sarwate and Banerjee, each scored a century in a fantastic last-wicket partnership after their first nine wickets had fallen cheaply.
One very excited 13-year-old boy, who had witnessed the last-wicket stand, was very keen to see the first day’s play at Lords, particularly as his hero, the incomparable Denis Compton, would be batting at number three for England. Our 13-year-old’s parents saw no reason why their son should not travel to Lords on his own from Kingston-upon-Thames to see the play and mother duly prepared a tasty picnic meal for him.
The ground was packed and our 13-year-old couldn’t find a seat so had to sit himself down on the outfield with a large number of other spectators, just outside the boundary rope of course.
India batted first and they were dismissed for 200 with Alex Bedser of Surrey, on his England debut, taking seven wickets for 49 runs. So it was England’s turn to bat during the early evening. One of England’s opening batsmen, Len Hutton of Yorkshire (holder of the then world record
individual score of 364) was dismissed quickly and Compton came in to partner Cyril Washbrook of Lancashire.
As Compton strode to the wicket, needless to say our 13-year-old was a little apprehensive but at the same time reasonably confident that his hero would perform well. His world fell apart when Indian bowler, Armanath, dismissed Denis first ball for a ‘duck’. So, a great day in many respects was had by our lad, but one which ended on a sad note.
England eventually won the match by 10 wickets with the elegant Joe Hardstaff of Nottinghamshire scoring 205 after the dismissal of Compton. Alec Bedser helped himself to another four wickets in India’s second innings. However, our intrepid lad had cause for rejoicing during the next few years when Compton scored 18 first-class centuries and 3,814 runs in the 1947 cricket season (records which still stand) and the following year made several appearances at outside-left in the Arsenal team, which won the Football League’s first division championship in 1948. Furthermore he was in the Arsenal team that beat Liverpool 2-0 in the 1950 FA Cup final. What a player.
He was also a pin-up, as his face was plastered on hoardings all over the country, advertising Brylcreem.
David French, Epsom, Surrey.