(Rover Homepage)


First episode of the Fifth Series taken from The Rover issue: 1351 May 19th 1951.


My problem was to get Dykeshire out, writes Rob Higson, the England player and Highshire’s professional captain. They could not win. They needed 300 runs in the last innings, and, with four wickets down for 80 at lunch, their only hope was to play for a draw. We were in a strong position, but when we came out to field after lunch I knew we were in for a hard fight. S.T. Benton, the Dykeshire skipper, and the dour Kedgwick were stickers, and would take some shifting. It was the third game of the season. We had won the first, but drawn the second. In fact, we had only been saved from defeat in that second game by rain. There had been a serious disappointment for us so far this season. We had been expecting great things of Len Hamlet, whom I had discovered last season. He had been written about as the most promising all-round cricketer for years. I thought so myself. In his first season he had been a brilliant bat and devastating medium-pace bowler. So far, in his second season, batting six times, he had scraped only 33 runs together. Furthermore, he had taken only one wicket at the cost of 167 runs. It will help now if I set out the Highshire team in the batting order I had adopted at the start of the season: - Albert Parker. – Veteran professional, sound opening batsman, still a smart slip fielder. Leonard Hamlet. – All-rounder, brilliant outfield. Horace Briers. – Never ruffled, fine batsman, no bowler. Rob Higson. – Captain. Punishing bat, fast bowler. Bill Hardy. – Veteran, sound bat, pessimist. Don Oakman. – Young amateur, left-hand bat. Wally Hitchens. – Medium-pace bowler, lusty hitter, first-class fieldsman. Ernie Pratt. – Wicket-keeper. Humorist, stumpers have to be. Jim Hardy. – Slow left-hand bowler. Bill’s nephew, showing promise as batsman. Mick Kerry. – Fast bowler. Bill Inge. – The veteran wily spin bowler. On going out to resume the game after lunch, I had a look at the wicket. Thanks to the work of my grandfather, Old John Higson, Highshire pitches were of the best. But it had some hard wear and tear, and had been softened by a heavy shower on the second day. It was not a batsman’s wicket. It was not bad, but it was in favour of the bowlers. My immediate problem was this – who to put on to bowl? There were fifteen overs to be bowled before I could ask for the new ball. Therefore I should reserve my fast bowlers. The argument against this was that it often paid to shoot some fast stuff down after an interval, before the batsmen had settled down. I pulled off my sweater, and handed it to Umpire Bassett. My decision was to start with three fast overs at either end. I really thumped ‘em down at Kedgwick. But it was soon evident that he was seeing the ball well. I attacked the off-stump for three deliveries and then sent down a ball that swung away. The slip fielders looked eager, but Kedgwick left it strictly alone. I smacked him on the pads with the last ball of the over, but there wasn’t an lbw appeal in it, as the ball would have lifted over the stumps. Mick Kerry’s third ball was short, and S.T. Benton gave it a bit of stick. The ball sped towards the off boundary. Len Hamlet picked it up at speed, threw it in, and it reached the wicket-keeper with the first bounce. Thus a possible boundary was kept down to 2. Mick Kerry then hit a length, but Benton played him safely. During these overs, Mick and I bowled well. We made no impression on those two good batsmen, and I made a double change. I brought on Wally Hitchens to bowl his “cutters,” the ball that whips in from the off, and Bill Inge with his leg breaks. It was a dour duel now. If the batsmen had made any forcing strokes we would have had them, as both bowlers bowled really well. Runs did not matter to Benton and Kedgwick. They were playing for a draw, and they played with cool concentration and skill. It was between overs that Ernie Pratt looked heavenwards. I followed his gaze. A flight of geese, in V-formation, was passing high over the ground. I was in my position and waiting for Wally to start bowling when I heard a harsh, honking sound. My first idea was that it was the honking of a goose, but Kedgwick stood back from the stumps and stared towards the spectators. The cry came again, and I now realised that it did come from around the spectators. So far as I could see, the cry was coming from a burly fellow in a shapeless sort of hat, a jersey, and a coat of the reefer type. Then he lifted a pair of binoculars and stared at the geese. Spectators shouted at him, and peace seemingly restored, Wally bowled, and Kedgwick pushed the ball towards me. I was stooping to pick it up when there was a swish of powerful wings, and a goose flapped past my head. I missed the ball, but the batsmen did not try to run. The entire formation of geese had swooped down, and was flying very low across the field. “I’ve heard of ducks on a cricket field, but I’ve never seen an invasion of geese before!” exclaimed Benton. The geese swooped over the ropes and whirled round the man who had made the cry. Play had to be held up for a couple of minutes before they flew away.


In the next hour the batsmen added only 17 runs. The bowling was very accurate. The pitch helped us more and more, but we couldn’t separate Benton and Kedgwick. It was aggravating stuff, but I had to admire the batsmen. Their tactics were dead right. They were playing grand, defensive cricket. Mick and I went on again, and failed to shift them with the new ball. I gave Jim Hardy a bowl. He made the ball “lift” a lot but he could not persuade either batsman to make a mistake. I called on Len Hamlet. I’ll say no more than it was pathetic. He had utterly lost his deadliness of the previous season. He seemed now to have no ability to vary his length, and had lost all of his amazing control of the ball. Benton hit a dozen off him without taking any risk at all. “I’ll have to take you off, Len,” I said. He looked miserable. “I know,” he mumbled. “Sorry, skipper.” “You’ll get your form back,” I said by way of encouragement. “I wish it would hurry up in coming back,” he replied. After that little bit of liveliness by the Dykeshire captain, the batsmen returned to their dour, stubborn cricket. I moved out to extra cover at Bill Inge’s request. He bowled two balls that only Kedgwick’s experience enabled him to kill. The third ball was gently played back to him. From the bank came an exasperated roar – “Hit the blooming thing!” Kedgwick did not allow the interruption to perturb him. The next ball he pushed along the ground to leg slip. “Yah! Windy!” bellowed the same voice. “Hit it!” I looked over my shoulder. It was the man who had honked to the geese who was shouting. A great big bulking fellow he looked. When he saw me looking he grinned. No runs came from that over, and at the end of it the fellow shouted – “My Aunt Fanny could hit this stuff.” Jim Hardy bowled from the other end, made Benton cover up very quickly with a ball that stabbed through viciously. With the fieldsmen creeping in, Benton played the next ball with a dead bat, and dropped it at his feet. “Have a go!” roared the barracker. “Lummy, you could smack this stuff into the next parish.” Benton looked annoyed, as well he might. He played the over without interruption, but at the end, the stentorian voice of the barracker called out bowling tripe, and said that a half-blind beggar could swipe it all over the ground. We changed over; Bill Inge had another bowl at Kedgwick. The batsman played two balls cautiously. A derisive roar of laughter burst from the man on the bank. “Have a bash!” he bellowed. “You could hammer that stuff.” I walked to the boundary. I was angry. “Can’t you keep your mouth shut?” I snapped. “You’re interrupting the game.” “It needs interrupting,” he said. “Those batsmen make me tired. They could have won the game against your bowling.” That rankled me. Our bowling had been first-class all the afternoon. “Keep quite about what you couldn’t do yourself,” I exclaimed. He grinned. “Who couldn’t?” he asked. “I blooming well could.” That stung me. “You come and try,” I rapped out. “You come and try at the end of the game.” His grin widened. “I’m accepting that invitation, pal,” he chuckled. “Right! And please keep quite till you’ve shown us what you can do yourself,” I snapped. “Okay!” he said. “That’s a bargain.”


We got Kedgwick’s wicket after tea when he edged a ball from Wally Hitchens and was caught by Horace Briers in the slips. He had batted three hours for 37. Jowson came in. His bat looked as broad as a door, and we could not shift him. He and Benton batted out the rest of the time, Benton having scored 40. We had drawn a match we should have won. We were straggling towards the pavilion when the barracker came striding out on to the field. He was wearing a pair of grimy canvas shoes. “I’m ready,” he said. “Let me get a shot at your bowling as you promised.” I hesitated. I had been in a temper when I made the challenge. Now I had cooled down. But I decided that this cocky fellow needed to be silenced, or he might make himself a nuisance at future games. “This is the chap who’s been barracking,” I said to the players. “Now he wants to show us what he thinks of our bowling.” Wally licked his fingers.  “Okay!” he muttered. “Fetch him a bat and pads,” I said to Jim Hardy. “You needn’t worry about the pads, son,” remarked the stranger. I asked his name. “Bunting,” he replied. “Bert Bunting.” The spectators, who had been on their way out, wondered what was happening, and many of them stopped. On the balcony of the committee-room I could see the tall figure of our chairman, Lord Grimston, joined almost at once by committee members Mr Gore-Browning and Ragg-Wilding. Jim Hardy ran out with a bat. Without bothering to take off his jacket, Bert Bunting took it and moved to the crease. “It’s no use putting any fielders on the boundary,” he said to me. “I’ll hit the ball over their heads.” “Wipe that grin off his face, Wally,” I growled. “Trust me,” muttered Wally. He ran and swung over his arm. The ball was a sizzler. It pitched and streaked in. Bunting hit late. His bat did not seem to move far. There was a crack like a rifle shot, and when I next saw the ball it was a dot in the blue, a dot that travelled on and on till it dropped behind the sightscreen. Len Hamlet ran and threw it back. There was a gleam in Wally’s eyes. Maybe he was a bit vindictive. He bowled to pitch the ball on Bunting’s toes. With what I might describe as a kind of right-hook made with the bat, Bunting took the ball full toss and hit it on to the banking on the leg-side. There was applause from the spectators who had stayed behind. They had had no excitement during the afternoon, but were getting it now. The next ball he hit with such power that, on hitting the top of the sight-screen it knocked a board clean out. We all felt thoroughly annoyed at this fellow. I was especially angry. I threw the ball to Bill Inge. “Have a go, Bill,” I snapped. Inge picked up the ball in his horny hand. I heard the snap of his fingers as he bowled. I could see the ball spinning as it left his hand. Inge had once taken six Australian wickets for 32, and this seemed to me to be one of his best balls. Bunting hit that ball smack on to the roof of the pavilion, narrowly missing the clock. Then he looked at me. “I told you it was easy stuff, didn’t I?” he chuckled. It was up to me to bowl myself, I was reputed to be one of the fastest bowlers in first-class cricket, and the ball I hurtled down at Bunting, unprotected by pads or gloves, mind you, was an express. The ball pitched on the middle stump, and swung for the off-peg.  Bunting slashed down on it, and then a swift thwack announced that it had hit the boundary palings. I gave him one on the legs, and he swept it over the bank. I bowled a bumper, and we did not see the ball again as it soared out of the ground into the allotments at the far side. Mick Kerry had a go, and Bunting broke a window in the pavilion with the first ball. My annoyance was fast vanishing. There was more in Bunting’s batting than blind swiping. Bunting’s eyes were swift. I watched his feet. He was getting them into position for each colossal smite. At the moment of impact he was beautifully balanced. I walked up to him. “You’ve proved your point,” I said. “I meant no offence,” he replied. “I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut at seeing these so-called batsmen pecking about like frightened hens at your feeble bowling.” I let it pass. “What d’you do for a living?” I asked. “I know what I’d like to do,” he said. “What’s that?” I inquired. “Watch birds,” he answered. “I tried to get a job at the Geese Sanctuary at Wildstone, but there are about three hundred ahead of me on the waiting list.” “So you’re an ornithologist?” I exclaimed. “That’s my hobby,” he said. “I’ve been working on the oil barges that bring petrol up the river, but I got laid off because of a change of route, and I’ve been helping my brother clean windows.” “D’you belong to this county?” I demanded. “I was born about half a mile from the ground,” he said. “Wait a bit,” I exclaimed. “I hope I’ll be able to make you an offer.” “Okay!” he said. He looked at the bat. “Lummy!” he exclaimed. “I’ve bust it!”


“Higson,” snarled Captain Ragg-Wilding in the committee room, “we don’t approve of pantomimes.” “After a county match, too, with many of the spectators still present,” exclaimed Mr Gore-Browning. They were members of the Highshire County Cricket Club committee. Lord Grimston’s big nose twitched. He was the president. “It was not very dignified, Higson,” he said. “I did it to shut a barracker’s mouth,” I replied. “Now I think we should take him on as a professional.” “What?” howled Ragg-Wilding. “That swiper?” gasped Gore-Browning. I turned to the president. “I wish you’d been nearer to him, my lord,” I said. “Then you would have seen it wasn’t blind swiping. It was deliberate, cold-blooded hitting.” “Nonsense!” scoffed Ragg-Wilding. “Tush!” jeered Gore-Browning. “Can you laugh at him?” I flared, “He’s just plastered good bowling on a bowler’s wicket all over the landscape. He hit every ball bang in the middle of the bat. I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s a natural! What do we lose if we take him on for the season and he does turn out to be good? A hundred and fifty pounds perhaps.” “Higson is right,” said Lord Grimston in his autocratic manner. “Let’s have the man in.” The others did not like it, but when Lord Grimston had made up his mind about anything, he never paid any attention to objections. As Bert Bunting came in, his shoulders blocked the doorway and his head wasn’t far from the top. I noticed the enormous thickness of his wrists. “We have decided to invite you to join the playing staff, Bunting,” said Lord Grimston. “I don’t know about that,” Bunting muttered. “I don’t want to be tied down too much.” “You might have to be away for days at a time,” Ragg-Wilding chipped in, apparently hoping to put Bunting off. “Next week, for instance, the team will be at Eastbury for the game with Eastshire. “Did you say Eastshire, where the lakes are!” he asked hoarsely. “Yes.” I saw an excited look on Bunting’s face. “What a chance to see the crested grebe,” I heard him mutter. “After that game the team goes to play Fenshire,” stated Ragg-Wilding. “What a bit of luck!” Bunting gasped. “I’ve never seen a bittern. There are bitterns in Fenshire. A bittern?” exclaimed Ragg-Wilding. “It’s very rare in this country but the numbers are increasing,” Bunting said. “Nests in reed beds,” Bunting rapped out, and then turned to Lord Grimston. “Mister,” he said, “you can sign me on. If this cricket business gives me a chance to see a crested grebe at Eastshire and a bittern in Fenshire, I’m all in favour of cricket.


We now had three days breathing space before going off to play Eastshire. On the Thursday, the club and ground had a one-day match with the strong Highshire Nomads team, and it was decided to include Len Hamlet and Bert Bunting in the team. Afterwards the team to play Eastshire was to be selected. I could not see the club and ground game as I had a meeting of the county captains to attend. It was getting on for seven o’clock that evening when I drove back into the ground. The selectors were due to meet at half-past. The selection committee consisted of Lord Grimston, Ragg-Wilding, and Gore-Browning, my old friend Arthur Sedge-Smith, and myself. When I had parked the car and looked about, I had a feeling that something was not quite right, that something was missing. It took me a few moments to realise what had gone. Our weathercock, a replica of Father Time as seen at Lord’s, was missing from the top of the clock tower. Only the spindle remained. Round the pavilion, my grandfather, Old John Higson, the groundsman, came walking briskly. “What’s happened to our weathercock?” I asked. “That’s only one thing,” growled Old John. “He broke three windows, knocked out a dozen palings, bashed a hole in the score-board, and would have killed Mr Gore-Browning if he hadn’t had the presence of mind to drop flat in a bed of geraniums.” “D’you mean to say Bunting smashed the weathercock?” I gasped. “He clouted it with the first ball bowled to him,” Old John growled. “How many did he make?” I demanded. “Three hundred and ten,” said my grandfather. “But I don’t call it cricket. Bashing isn’t cricket. Not that it’s worth talking about.” I naturally felt a big thrill. The Nomads were a good bowling side. Two or three of them had played for the county. Bunting hadn’t scored his runs against feeble stuff. “How many did Len get?” I asked. “Two or three,” grunted Old John. “Maybe that lad will come to his senses and realise that cricket’s no life, no life at all.” In due course we met round the table in the committee room. I found that Gore-Browning, in spite of his dive into the geraniums, and Ragg-Wilding had changed their minds about Bunting. “He had the bowlers terrorised,” the latter said. “Several times after letting the ball go they threw themselves flat.” Lord Grimston chuckled. “There wasn’t a fielder within fifty yards of him,” he remarked. “Anywhere closer would have been suicidal.” “Then I take it you’re all agreed he should be in the team?” I exclaimed. “He may not come off in first-class cricket, but I agree he must have a chance,” said Gore-Browning. “We may have a great match-winner in him or he may turn out to be a damp squib,” remarked Sedge-Smith. “Very often big hitters seem to fade right out.” “Very true, Arthur,” said Lord Grimston. “Still we’re all agreed that we play Bunting against Eastshire. Now the question is – who shall we drop?” “We shall have to make Jim Hardy twelfth man,” I replied, and I thought it was the obvious answer. “No,” said Ragg-Wilding. “We should drop Len Hamlet.” “Drop Len?” I gasped. “Drop the lad who was top of the batting averages last season, the lad who hit centuries against the tourists – and whose bowling was compared with that of the famous Barnes? Drop him? Never!” “He was out to an atrocious shot to-day, Higson,” said Lord Grimston. “Atrocious! I think he must have had his eyes closed. It made me shudder.” That started the argument. It raged for the best part of an hour. In the end I won. While I did not convince Lord Grimston and Sedge-Smith, they were both willing to support me as I was captain.


We went to Eastbury on the Friday afternoon. Most of the players travelled by train. I had Len Hamlet as my passenger in the car. We were at the hotel ahead of the other players. I went into the hall to meet them when they arrived from the station and missed Bert Bunting. “Where’s Bert?” I asked. “Have you ever heard of the great crested grebe?” Bill Hardy asked. “Yes” I said. “Well Bert’s gone to look for it,” he replied. There was an empty chair at the supper table. When we went to bed, Bunting had still not come back. I had strict ideas about the hours to be kept, and I meant to say something to him in the morning. But he wasn’t at breakfast, and nobody had seen him. We did not see him until twenty minutes before the game. I was standing in front of the pavilion when he plodded into sight. His trousers were plastered with mud. He had not shaved. His eyes were bleary. He yawned as he came along. “I saw one!” he announced in an excited voice. “Lummy, it came within a few feet of me as I was lying in the reeds at the edge of the mere.” “Have you had any sleep?” I snapped. “Sleep? I don’t waste my time sleeping when I’m bird watching,” he said. “You’ll need your sleep if you’re going to play cricket,” I replied grimly. “Don’t start worrying yourself, skipper,” Bunting said airily. “I’ll get some runs.” I won the toss and decided to bat. In the first over, Len Hamlet hit at the ball from Thorne with a cross bat and had his stumps shattered. He came into the pavilion with his head hanging in shame. Albert parker and Horace Briers then put on 40. Edge the Eastshire skipper, made a double change and brought on Turnham and Barr. Turnham was fairly speedy, and could move the ball from off to leg. He had four fieldsmen close in on the leg side. His second ball was snicked by Albert into the leg trap and snapped up by edge. I went in and had a highly uncomfortable over, taking a rap on the thigh and another on my knuckles. Barr, with the last ball of his over, beat Horace with a smart googly. I bit my lip at the sight of Bert Bunting coming in to bat. True, he was correctly dressed, but the straps of his pads were hanging loose and he looked decidedly scruffy. Off Turnham’s first ball I snicked a single, and Bunting trotted to the batting end. He took centre, and then turned to the leg fielders. With his bat he gestured to them to get back. “You’d better stand away,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt you.” Edge looked at Bunting’s awful hat and his bristly chin and frowned. “I don’t want advice on how to set the field,” he said indignantly. “Well I’ve warned you,” replied Bunting. “Okay, mate, I’m waiting.” Turnham strode to the crease. I watched the flight of the ball cutting across to the leg. I saw the leg-fielders poised and eager. Bunting shifted his feet. He lashed at the ball and, with a terrific crack, he hit it. The fieldsmen did not move. There wasn’t time. A red blur streaked a few inches past Edge’s head, and in the distance the spectators ducked. The ball struck the edge of a seat halfway up the bank, zoomed, and dropped on the other side of the fence. Bunting leaned on his bat and stared at the Eastshire skipper. “You had a narrow escape there, mister,” he said. “Get back while you can walk. I’ll be putting another there in half a minute.”

IT’S RUNS THAT COUNT – (First series) 12 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1166 – 1177 (1947)

IT’S WICKETS THAT COUNT – (Second series) 14 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1204 - 1217 (1948)

IT’S FIELDING THAT COUNT – (Third series) 10 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1250 - 1259 (1949)

THE NAMELESS ONE – (Fourth series) 16 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1296 - 1311 (1950)

IT’S RUNS THAT COUNT – And the quicker you get ‘em the better – (Fifth series) 14 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1351 - 1364 (1951)

IT’S RUNS THAT COUNT – (Repeat of the First series) 12 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1452 – 1463 (1953)

IT’S WICKETS THAT COUNT – (Repeat of the Second series) 14 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1505 - 1518 (1954)

IT’S FIELDING THAT COUNT – (Repeat of the Third series) 10 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1557 - 1566 (1955)

GET THE RUNS – GET ‘EM QUICK! – (Repeat of the Fifth series) 14 Episodes appeared in The Rover 1766 - 1779 (1959)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003