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Herbert Sutcliffe (born 24 November 1894 at Summerbridge, Harrogatemarker, Yorkshiremarker; died 22 January 1978 at Cross Hillsmarker, Yorkshire) was an English cricketer who is universally regarded as one of the greatest-ever opening batsmen. His Test batting average of 60.73 is the fourth highest of any player with a completed career, behind only Don Bradman, Graeme Pollock and George Headley. Uniquely, Sutcliffe's average never dropped below 60 throughout his entire Test career — Javed Miandad is the only other man whose average never dropped below 50 in a career of at least 20 innings. Sutcliffe's first-class career batting average of 51.95 (according to Wisden, though Cricinfo claim 52.02) is bettered among batsmen who finished their careers with over 50,000 runs only by Hammond.

In his prime from 1928 to 1932 Sutcliffe's feats compared with Bradman's in numerical terms. He reached 1,000 Test runs in just 12 innings, one fewer than Bradman, his strokes focused on professional leg-side play with glances, hooks and pulls, but Sutcliffe was able, owing to effective footwork, to nullify the best bowling on a treacherous wicket. He was not a classical stylist, utilising open stance in which he picked up his bat to third slip. He used his pads in defence, but like Bradman his focus was on figures rather than style. When he thought fit however he could hit almost violently, as when he met spin on an exceedingly treacherous pitch at Ketteringmarker with an innings of 113 (and ten sixes, then a record in county cricket).

On 30 September 2009, Herbert Sutcliffe was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.

Rapid emergence

World War I, in which he was commissioned into the Green Howards, prevented Sutcliffe from beginning his career for Yorkshire County Cricket Club until the resumption of county cricket in 1919 when he caused a sensation in posting 1839 runs — still a record for a batsman in his debut season — for an average of 44.85. Though bowling was at a low ebb in England in the aftermath of the Great War this was an exceptional start and Sutcliffe was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 1920. Two quieter years followed, though good judges thought he played better than his figures suggested. In 1922, Sutcliffe lived up to the promise of his first year, scoring 2020 runs including a superb 232 against Surrey in a critical county match at The Ovalmarker. Sutcliffe was now in contention for a place in the Test team.

Partnership with Jack Hobbs

Herbert Sutcliffe batting in Sydney, 1924


His batting with Jack Hobbs on a treacherous pitch in the 1923 Test Trial saw him become a certainty for the following year's Tests against South Africa. He scored 64 in his first innings and 122 in his second, averaging 75.75 for five innings. That winter, on the Ashes tour of 1924/25, Sutcliffe established himself as England's leading batsman. He twice added a hundred for the first wicket at Sydneymarker with Jack Hobbs and put on 283 with him in Melbourne, in that Test he was on the field for all but an hour of a seven-day 'timeless' match. He scored 176 and 127 for a match aggregate of 303 becoming the first player to score hundreds in both innings against Australia but he was unable to prevent Australia winning by 81 runs. He batted all day on four occasions during the series and was out in the last over of another. Sutcliffe finished the series with an aggregate of 734 runs in five Tests against Australia.

During 1925 and 1926, Sutcliffe's skill was a primary factor in Yorkshire having the longest unbeaten run in county cricket: seventy matches without loss until early 1927 — and, after three defeats in 1927, a further fifty-eight games without loss until 1929. The first four Tests of the 1926 Ashes series were all curtailed by poor weather, but at The Oval Hobbs' and Sutcliffe's superb defence placed England in strong position on a wicket that was far from easy. The following year, Sutcliffe was offered the captaincy of Yorkshire, but he refused it and said "he would play under any captain".

1928 to 1932

Herbert Sutcliffe's career performance graph
During the five years 1928 to 1932, Sutcliffe's played 181 matches (254 innings) in which he was not out 36 times, scoring 15,529 runs for a total average of 70.35. He toured Australia again in 1928/29. After England won the first two Tests Australia seemed poised to pull one back in Melbourne when heavy overnight rain left England faced with a difficult pitch on the sixth day of the game. After Australia's last two wickets fell cheaply England needed 332 to win, and Australian bowler Hugh Trumble told Jack Hobbs that 70 would be a good score. The pitch was not rolled for the full seven minutes during the interval because it was lifting the top off the pitch. Sutcliffe and Hobbs survived for an hour after lunch, adding a hundred, and then Douglas Jardine batted in partnership with Sutcliffe, who saw out the day. The pitch had dried out by start of play on the final day and England knocked off the 160 still required. Sutcliffe completed his century, an innings of 135 he considered his finest effort. Jardine wrote that "without Hobbs and Sutcliffe, the remaining nine Englishmen could have been bowled out twice on such a wicket for half the runs." The match was won by three wickets and with it the Ashes. Sutcliffe finished the series with an aggregate of 355 at an average of 50.71 runs in four tests.

In 1929 Sutcliffe hit four hundreds against South Africa and the following year headed the first-class batting averages for the first time. In a summer of hot, thundery weather that produced some exceptionally bad pitches, Sutcliffe averaged 64.22 in all matches and 87.61 for four Tests. He missed the second due to injury.

In 1931 Sutcliffe scored four centuries in consecutive innings and averaged 97, whilst in 1932 he became the third batsman after "Ranji" and C.B. Fry to score 1000 runs in a month twice in the same season. That year he and Maurice Leyland hit Kenneth Farnes, one of the fastest bowlers of the 1930s, for 75 runs from four overs. His batting, and the bowling of Bowes and Verity, allowed Yorkshire to win fifteen of their last sixteen games.

Though Sutcliffe hit his highest Test score of 194 at the SCGmarker that winter and averaged 73 for the tour, he suffered a drop in form in the following year. Having scored 3336 at 74.13 the year before he posted a still highly respectable 2211 at 47.04, his lowest in a dry summer since 1921, with a 205 against Warwickshire and 113 with ten sixes on a bad pitch in Kettering the highlight of his county year.

He scored 304 runs at 50.66 in his four Tests in 1934 and yet, after he top scored with 38 on a leatherjacket-ruined pitch at Lord'smarker against South Africa in 1935, he was never picked for Test cricket again. Despite the new leg before wicket rule which restricted pad play, Sutcliffe finished second in the first-class averages.

Last years

Despite strong performances at Scarboroughmarker against Middlesex his average fell to 33.30 in 1936 and, with the emergence of Len Hutton, England found a new opening batsman. Sutcliffe's county form recovered strongly and in 1939 he averaged 54.46 with six centuries, despite missing nine matches through illness and injury.

He returned in August 1945 at the age of 50 for one final match after the war, as captain of a Yorkshire team in a match at Scarborough. He was plagued by ill-health for the rest of his life up to his death in 1978. During the 1950s he wrote several articles in Wisden - mostly decrying the changes to the lbw rule in 1935 - and for a time in the early 1960s he was a Test selector.

His son Billy Sutcliffe played for Cambridge University and Yorkshire between 1948 and 1957, captaining Yorkshire for the last three seasons of his career.

Notes

• a) Note that there are different versions of Sutcliffe's first-class career totals. See Variations in First-Class Cricket Statistics for more information

Footnotes

  1. Players Batting 30 Innings with Average Never Less Than 40.00 from Howzat, retrieved June 7 2008
  2. Frindall, Bill (1986) The Wisden Book of Cricket Records, p. 180, London: Queen Anne Press, ISBN 0-356-10736-1
  3. Pardon, Sydney (editor); John Wisden Cricketer's Almanac; edition 62 (1925); part 2; p. 92; edition 64 (1927), part 2, pp. 126-127; edition 65 (1928), Part 2, p. 92-93
  4. Pardon, Sydney (editor); John Wisden Cricketer's Almanac; edition 63 (1927), part 2, pp. 44-47
  5. Pardon, Sydney (editor); John Wisden Cricketer's Almanac; edition 65 (1928), part 2, p. 91
  6. Frindall, p. 182


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