The second day of the 3rd test match between England and Africa at the Kia Oval was cancelled as a sign of respect

Reign stops play

Cricketers stumped by Royal deaths and wet weather


This article is taken from the October 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

The decision to brand our new age the Carolean Era in preference to the Caroline will have disappointed football fans who sang in anticipation for a couple of years about how sweet it was going to be. Perhaps that is why the Football Association cancelled all matches after the Queen’s death, fearing crowds would use the wrong adjective.

It was rather different when her father died and football was about the only sport to continue. All rugby matches and horse races were cancelled between 6 February, 1952, when George VI died, and his funeral nine days later, including the England-Ireland international at Twickenham. Hockey, boxing, squash and snooker were similarly interrupted, and all games were banned in the Royal Parks. End of reign stopped play.

As with his daughter 70 years later, George VI died on the first day of a Test match

Yet the FA Cup fourth round and other league games went ahead on the evening of the King’s death, with players wearing black armbands and the crowds urged to sing “Abide with Me” and, for the first time in 51 years, “God Save the Queen”.

The FA ruled that continuing as normal would be a “simple and sincere tribute” to its late patron, which Bristol City marked by putting six goals past Southend. All football matches in Scotland, however, were cancelled, though that was down to frozen or flooded pitches.

As with his daughter 70 years later, George VI died on the first day of a Test match. News reached Madras, where England were playing the final match of a five-Test series against India, at teatime and it was decided to complete the day, but move the scheduled rest day forward to day two as a mark of respect.

The death of the last Emperor of India, a title he had surrendered in 1948, affected the tourists more than their hosts: England lost their last five wickets for 22 runs, with Vinoo Mankad, the slow left-arm bowler, taking eight for 55, and Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar made centuries to set up victory by an innings. It was India’s first Test win, 20 years and 24 matches after they joined the top table.

Brook then watched the rain pour down all day at the Oval, before Day 2 was abandoned as a mark of respect to the Queen

England’s first wicket of the Queen’s reign — the first success by an Elizabethan bowler since Francis Drake skittled the Spanish touring team in 1588 — was taken by the captain, who was playing in his second and final Test match. Donald Carr, the only England cricketer born in Germany, was asked to lead the side when Nigel Howard got pleurisy. This was when an England captain had to be of the right stock and it was felt that the amateur Carr, of Repton and Oxford, offered more to the side than the in-form Tom Graveney who (shudder) liked to be paid for his labour.

It was, perhaps, in consequence of that first defeat to India that the selectors swallowed their pride and asked Len Hutton a few months later to be the first professional England captain, a decision that was swiftly rewarded with a 3-0 revenge over India at home and victory in the next three Ashes series. The first England player selected in the Elizabethan era was the great Fred Trueman.

Harry Brook, the last Elizabethan England debutant, could have been forgiven for wondering if he would ever get a chance. The Yorkshire batsman had been named in Test squads all summer but had to content himself with carrying the drinks until the seventh Test, when Jonny Bairstow suffered a golfing injury. Finally in the XI, Brook then watched the rain pour down all day at the Oval, before Day 2 was abandoned as a mark of respect to the Queen.

Since the toss had been held, Brook had earned his England cap (No 707) even if the match had been abandoned without a ball bowled and he were never selected again. Being only 23, he will surely have more chances this winter to add to the 12 runs he made when the Test finally started.

Several cricketers have played Test matches without troubling the scorers, most tragically Fred Grace, younger brother of WG, who made his debut against Australia at the Oval in 1880, was out for a duck in both innings, didn’t bowl and was dead of pneumonia two weeks later. At least Grace Minor had a fleeting taste of action, as did Australia’s Roy Park who made his Test debut in 1920, six years after war stymied his first call-up, was bowled first ball and never picked again.

Poor Herbert sat in the Pavilion for two days watching it pour down before the match was abandoned

One of the oddest cricketing careers began and ended that same year when Percy Herbert was invited by his nephew, the future England player Percy Fender, to make up the numbers for Gentlemen of the South v Players at the Oval. Though it was a benefit match, in aid of the pavilion attendant, it had first-class status.

Herbert was unable to get to the ground on the first day but since the Players were batting it didn’t really matter. Alas, it then started to rain. And rain. And rain. Poor Herbert sat in the Pavilion for two days watching it pour down before the match was abandoned.

He was never given another game and thus has the rare distinction of being a first-class cricketer who not only failed to make a run or take a wicket, or take the field, but he didn’t even see a ball bowled in his only game. Still, he gets his footnote in Wisden and that’s what counts.

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