1939 English cricket season

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1939 English cricket season

1939 was the 46th season of County Championship cricket in England. It was the one and only season in which English cricket adopted the eight-ball over. It was the last season before the Second World War and it was not until 1946 that first-class cricket could resume in England on a normal basis. The West Indies were on tour and England won the Test series 1–0. The West Indian team departed early, with several matches cancelled, because of the growing international crisis. In the 1940 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, author R. C. Robertson-Glasgow reviewed the 1939 season and remarked that it was "like peeping through the wrong end of a telescope at a very small but happy world".[1]


Test series

England played three Tests against West Indies, whose team included George Headley and Learie Constantine. England won the First Test by 8 wickets and the other two were drawn.

Constantine was recognised by Wisden as one of its "Five Cricketers of the Year".

Having completed the Third Test on Tuesday, 22 August, the West Indian tourists cancelled their next match against Sussex which was scheduled to start at the County Ground, Hove on Saturday, 26 August. Three later matches versus Kent, an England XI and H. D. G. Leveson-Gower's XI were also cancelled.

County Championship

The 1939 County Championship was determined on an average points basis because the county teams did not all play the same number of matches, the range varying from 24 to 32. Yorkshire won the title for the third successive season, playing 30 matches with 20 wins and 2 defeats to produce a points average of 9.286. Middlesex was the runner-up with 8.182 from 26 matches with 13 wins and 3 defeats.

Yorkshire were captained by Brian Sellers, whose efforts earned him a place in Wisden's "Five Cricketers of the Year". The team had five batsmen who all scored more than 1000 championship runs: Len Hutton (2167), Wilf Barber (1388), Herbert Sutcliffe (1230), Maurice Leyland (1191) and Arthur Mitchell (1087). The bowling depended on Hedley Verity (165 wickets), Ellis Robinson (102), Bill Bowes (96) and Frank Smailes (49). The wicket-keeper was Arthur Wood who completed 39 catches and 27 stumpings. Other players included Cyril Turner and future England captain Norman Yardley.

Runners-up Middlesex were well served by Test batsmen Bill Edrich (1948 runs), Denis Compton (1853) and Jack Robertson (1562). Wicket-keeper Fred Price had an outstanding season with 53 catches and 20 stumpings. Middlesex relied heavily on its two main bowlers Jim Sims (142 wickets) and Jim Smith (84). Edrich and Price were recognised by Wisden as two of its "Five Cricketers of the Year".

Gloucestershire finished third under England captain Wally Hammond who scored 2121 championship runs. Other good performers for Gloucestershire were batsmen Charlie Barnett, Jack Crapp and George Emmett; seam bowler Colin Scott and the outstanding spin bowler Tom Goddard who took 181 championship wickets.

Noted batsmen at other counties were John Langridge (Sussex) with 2106 championship runs; Les Ames (Kent), Joe Hardstaff junior (Nottinghamshire), Arthur Fagg (Kent), Eddie Paynter (Lancashire), Harold Gimblett (Somerset) and Laurie Fishlock (Surrey) who all made more than 1700 runs. Walter Keeton of Nottinghamshire was recognised by Wisden as one of its "Five Cricketers of the Year" after he scored 312* against Middlesex, which was the highest individual score of the 1939 season and remains the highest ever made for Nottinghamshire.

Noted bowlers elsewhere were Reg Perks (Worcestershire) and Doug Wright (Kent), the only others to take more than 130 championship wickets.

Leading batsmen – all first-class matches

George Headley had the highest average of batsmen who played in more than a couple of matches. He scored 1745 runs @ 72.60 (HS 234*). The highest runscorer was Len Hutton with 2883 @ 62.67 (HS 280*).

Other leading batsmen were Wally Hammond, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich, Joe Hardstaff junior and John Langridge who all scored more than 2000 runs.[2]

Leading bowlers – all first-class matches

Hedley Verity had the best average of regular bowlers with 191 wickets @ 13.13 (BB 9–62). It turned out to be Verity's final season as he was killed in action during the war. In his last appearance on 1 September, he took 7 for 9 as Yorkshire "skittled" Sussex for only 33.[1]

The most wickets were taken by Tom Goddard with 200 @ 14.86 (BB 9–38). Other leading bowlers were Reg Perks, Jim Sims, Bill Copson and Doug Wright who all took more than 140 wickets.[3]


Among the first-class debutants in 1939 were future England players Alec Bedser, Godfrey Evans, Cliff Gladwin and Willie Watson.

Those whose first-class careers ended in 1939 include Ken Farnes and Hedley Verity who were both killed in action during the war.

Immediate impact of the war

The season was almost over when war was declared on Sunday, 3 September and only ten first-class matches were cancelled. Four were due to begin on Saturday, 2 September but all were delayed due to the emergency and then cancelled after the declaration of war. Two earlier games involving the West Indian tourists had already been cancelled. Four remaining games, including Gentlemen v Players, were due to begin on different days during the following week and all were cancelled.

The final matches played before the war were six County Championship games that began on Wednesday, 30 August and were completed on or before Friday, 1 September, the day the Wehrmacht invaded Poland. Three of these games were completed with a result on the second day. Two more were ended as draws by agreement on the Friday morning after news of the invasion was reported.

The last match to be completed was Sussex v Yorkshire at Hove. From an overnight position of 330–3 in the first innings, chasing a Sussex score of 387, Yorkshire continued on the Friday morning and totalled 392 all out. Sussex collapsed in their second innings and were all out for only 33, whereupon Yorkshire made 30–1 to win by nine wickets.[4] That ended the 1939 season and also marked the end of first-class cricket in England until the first of the Victory Tests began on 19 May 1945.

The few remaining county matches were cancelled immediately and Birley comments that there was "none of the unfortunate disposition to linger over it as in 1914".[5] Cricket in 1939 accepted the inevitable, summarised in the September 1939 issue of The Cricketer by Sir Home Gordon who found a suitable metaphor: "England has now begun the grim Test match against Germany".[5]

The Third Test was the last match played at The Oval in 1939. Soon after war was declared, the ground was requisitioned and modified for use as a prisoner-of-war camp, but no prisoners were ever held there. Lord's was prepared for a similar fate but the authorities decided against it and Lord's was able to stage many games throughout the war to raise money for charity.[6]

H. S. Altham wrote in 1940 about a visit to Lord's in December 1939 as "a sobering experience; there were sandbags everywhere and the Long Room was stripped bare with its treasures safely stored below ground". Having painted a bleak picture thus far, Altham ended on a note of defiance: "but the turf was a wondrous green, Old Father Time on the Grand Stand roof was gazing serenely at the nearest (barrage) balloon and one felt that somehow it would take more than totalitarian war to put an end to cricket".[7]


  1. ^ a b "Wisden Online". Wisden. 1940. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
  2. ^ CricketArchive – batting averages. Retrieved on 3 October 2009.
  3. ^ CricketArchive – bowling averages. Retrieved on 3 October 2009.
  4. ^ CricketArchive – match scorecard. Retrieved on 4 October 2009.
  5. ^ a b Birley, p.261.
  6. ^ Birley, p.263.
  7. ^ Wright, p.152.

External links

  • CricketArchive – season summary
  • Wisden online – 1940 edition


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