6 Iconic England cricket players

Jon Batham 10 March 2022

For the cricket buffs out there, here are six legendary cricketers who have batted for England

As a cricket buff with an eye for a stat, Sam Billings’s appearance for England in the last Test of this winter’s disastrous Ashes tour peaked my interest.

Billings became the 700th player to be capped by England, which got me thinking—who were the other cricketers who rounded off 100 players for the Test team?

From number 100 to number 600, my investigations uncovered a war hero, a boyhood idol, a broadcaster who helped spark my cricketing obsession and a couple of Ashes winners.

Sammy Woods Cap No 100 1896

Credit: George Beldam, Wikimedia Commons

England versus Australia is cricket’s oldest rivalry, so imagine having had a foot in both camps. Sammy Woods was one of only five such men.

Australian-born, he was studying at Cambridge University when summoned by the country of his birth to the 1888 Ashes series, the tourists having lost bowler Sammy Jones to a bout of smallpox. He claimed only five wickets in the series and didn’t play for Australia again, despite being named in Wisden’s “Six Great Bowlers of the Year” in 1889.

As distinguished a player as CB Fry described Woods as “one of the best fast bowlers of all time,” yet it wasn’t until 1896 he became the 100th player to be capped by England as part of the tour party to South Africa. Sadly, by this time his electric pace was on the wane and he took just five wickets.

In the intervening years Woods began a record 12-year stint as Somerset captain as well as representing England 13 times at rugby union.

Andy Ducat Cap 200—1921

Londoner Andy Ducat made 52 first-class centuries for Surrey yet earned just one cap for England in the third Test against Australia at Headingly in 1921. He made a meagre five runs in two innings but left his mark on the game by the fact he could have been given out in two different ways in the first innings. He was officially caught at slip, but his bat disintegrated while playing the shot, part of it dislodging a bail.

A multi-talented sportsman, Ducat was capped six times for England at football, scoring the winner against Wales in 1910. He captained Aston Villa to victory in the 1924 FA Cup final.

Ducat collapsed and died aged 56 during a wartime match at Lord’s in 1942 between his Surrey home guard and their counterparts from Sussex. He remains the only man ever to die during a game at the Home of Cricket.

Bill Edrich Cap No 300 1938

Edrich in 1937, Wikimedia Commons

As flamboyant off the field as he was on it, the devil-may-care approach to life adopted by five-times married Edrich is perhaps explained by his RAF service during the Second World War, where he was awarded the “Distinguished Flying Cross” for his part in the Blenheim Bomber raids on Cologne in 1941. Twelve of the 54 planes sent on the raids were lost, along with some of Edrich’s squadron, leaving him determined to squeeze every drop out of life.

There were signs mind of the right-hander’s happy-go-lucky approach even before the outbreak of war. He became the 300th player capped for England during the 1938 summer Ashes series against Australia but averaged just eight across his first nine innings.

He would take being in the last-chance saloon literally, partying hard the night before England chased 696 to win the timeless Test on the South African tour of 1938-9. The following day, still worse for wear he began a Test-best 219 in England’s 654-5 before the match had to be abandoned so Edrich and co wouldn’t miss the boat home.

"There were signs mind of the right-hander’s happy-go-lucky approach even before the outbreak of war"

Such antics caught up with him post-war when he spent three years in the international wilderness after being caught three sheets to the wind during the first Test of 1950 against the West Indies.

He was recalled for the 1953 Ashes where his 64 helped save the third Test and he was at the non-striker’s end when Middlesex “twin” Denis Compton hit the winning runs in the final Test at The Oval allowing England to regain the urn for the first time since 1934.

When Edrich died suddenly in 1985 his Ashes were scattered at Lord’s and his two worlds came together again at a memorial service some months later where Compton gave the eulogy and Anne Shelton, a renowned singer of the war years, sang a rendition of one of Edrich’s favorite songs, “A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.”

Peter Walker MBE Cap 400 1960

Peter Walker fostered my burgeoning love of cricket, and maybe sowed an early seed on my journey to sports journalism, in his role as a broadcaster of the John Player League, his Bristolian lilt pivotal to a quintessential Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s, early 80s.

He became England’s 400th player to be capped in the summer of 1960 where he played three Tests against South Africa, making a top score of 52 as the hosts won the series 3-0. His left-arm spin though was underemployed and with others like future captain Ray Illingworth ahead of him in the pecking order Walker was never recalled.

His response was to do the coveted double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets for Glamorgan in 1961. He also took 73 of a staggering 697 career catches that year, making it the best “treble” of runs, wickets and catches ever in the first-class game.

Walker was awarded an MBE in 2011.

Norman Cowans Cap 500 1982

Nicknamed “Flash” because of the searing pace he possessed as a youngster, West Indian-born Cowans was just 21 when he became the 500th player capped by England at the Perth Test on the 1982-3 Ashes tour.

The punt on his raw speed paid dividends in the fourth Test where his 6-77 gave England victory by three runs. Sadly, it would prove something of a “flash” in the pan as he only had one other five-wicket haul in a 19-Test career which ended three years later.

Despite this disappointment, he enjoyed a stellar county career, taking 662 first-class wickets, 60 of them in Middlesex’s County Championship winning season of 1985, where he formed one-third of a fearsome fast-bowling triumvirate with West Indies legend Wayne Daniel and Neil Williams.

Cowans won three County Championship medals and four one-day cups in all with Middlesex, his three late wickets helping secure the unlikeliest of victories in the Benson & Hedges Cup final against Essex at Lord’s in 1983, precious memories for this Middlesex fan.

Michael Vaughan OBE Cap 600 1999

Credit: Gareth Williams, Wikimedia Commons

Michael Vaughan is rightly considered one of England’s greatest Test captains. Under his charge, England regained the Ashes from Australia for the first time in 18 years following the epic 2005 series, regarded by many as among the greatest ever and after which the Eccles-born batsman was awarded an OBE. He won 26 of 51 games at the helm, a percentage only bettered by Mike Brearley among those to have captained 25 Tests or more.

All this after making only 33 and five on becoming the 600th player capped by England in the first Test of the 1999 home series with South Africa—a game England lost by an innings.

By 2002-3 however, he’d risen to the top of the ICC international batting rankings, becoming the first tourist since Geoff Boycott and John Edrich (back in 1970-71) to score 600 runs in a series in Australia. His tally included three centuries, the first man to achieve the feat since Chris Broad on the victorious Ashes tour of 1986-7. Despite his Herculean efforts, England were thrashed 4-1.

 

Vaughan replaced Nasser Hussain as captain in 2003 and though his batting average declined under the responsibility, England went unbeaten through 2004 as a prelude to their famous Ashes triumph the following year.

Since retiring as a player, Vaughan has become an opinionated broadcaster whose views divide fans. He has recently been implicated in the racism scandal to engulf Yorkshire CCC but denies the allegations.

Who will win the 800th cap? History suggests despite an increase in the Test match schedule, any would-be individual is likely to still be in short trousers, albeit with big dreams. His chapter awaits to be scribed.

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