September 1, 1943 was a black day for cricket, the day that brought the news of the passing of Hedley Verity in a World War 2 prisoner-of-war camp in Italy.
Hedley Verity’s Obituary in Wisden by Robertson-Glasgow described the circumstances in which he had been wounded: “He received his wounds in the Eighth Army’s first attack on the German positions at Catania, in Sicily. Eye-witnesses, who were a few yards from Verity when he was hit, have told the story. The objective was a ridge with strong points and pillboxes. Behind a creeping barrage, Verity led his company forward 700 yards. When the barrage ceased, they went for another 300 yards and neared the ridge, in darkness.
As the men advanced, through corn two feet high, tracer-bullets swept into them. Then they wriggled through the corn, Verity encouraging them with “Keep going, keep going.” The moon was at their back, and the enemy used mortar-fire, Very lights and fire-bombs, setting the corn alight. The strongest point appeared to be a farm-house, to the left of the ridge; so Verity sent one platoon round to take the farm-house, while the other gave covering fire. The enemy fire increased, and, as they crept forward, Verity was hit in the chest. “Keep going,” he said, “and get them out of that farm-house.” When it was decided to withdraw, they last saw Verity lying on the ground, in front of the burning corn, his head supported by his batman. So, in the last grim game, Verity showed, as he was so sure to do, that rare courage which both calculates and inspires.”
But who was Hedley Verity?
Bowling his slow left arm medium pace mixed with leg spin and exhibiting excellent variety with his fluid high action, Verity took an incredible 1,956 wickets at 14.87 runs each in ten years of first-class cricket.
Verity’s 10 for 10, for Yorkshire versus Nottinghamshire at Leeds in 1932, was such an incredible feat that it has inspired an excellent book by Chris Waters titled ’10 for 10′. His full figures, including seven wickets in 15 balls, not forgetting the hat-trick, is the greatest recorded in first-class cricket. His full figures were 19.4 overs, 16 maidens, 10 runs, 10 wickets.
Verity was a big match bowler and the man his captain would turn to in order to get the big names out. Don Bradman was a favorite. Bradman said about him: “I think I know all about Clarrie (Grimmett), but with Hedley, I am never sure. You see, there’s no breaking point with him.”
Commentators of the time believed that he singlehandedly kept Bradman’s average against England before WW2 below 100.
In the fifth Test match at Sydney in 1933, Australia, 19 runs behind on the first innings, lost Victor Richardson for 0. Woodfull and Bradman added 115. Larwood had left the field injured and never came back. Verity took over the strike bowler duties, deceived Bradman in flight, bowled him for 71 and went on to take five for 33 in 19 overs and win the match for England.
Verity played 40 Test matches, taking 144 wickets at 24.37 runs each. He was the fastest to 100 wickets in Test cricket among English bowlers. He is the only cricketer to take 14 wickets in a day in a Test match, this feat being performed against Australia at Lord’s in the second Test, 1934.
The Last Match
Coincidentally, four years to the day before the news of his untimely passing hit the cricketing world, Verity played in what would turn out to be the last first-class match before the war, and poignantly, the last match of his short life.
When England declared war against Germany on Sep 1, 1939, Yorkshire was playing Sussex at Hove. While all other county matches were cancelled, the team’s agreed to complete this match. Cricketing history will always be grateful for that decision. After all, it gave the world one last chance to watch Verity’s genius in action.
As Emma Clayton writing in Telegraph & Argua was to say: “As German troops marched into Poland, a very English scene was unfolding at the Sussex County Cricket Ground. This was a benefit match (for Robert Parks), so worth continuing, but it is perhaps also likely that those young men in cricket whites, uncertain of their future fate, were ready for one last shot.”
And what a parting shot it was that Hedley Verity left for us!
From an overnight position of 330/3 in the first innings, chasing a Sussex score of 387 (thanks to a magnificent 198 from George Cox), Yorkshire continued on a Friday morning, the first day of War, and totalled 392 all out. Len Hutton and Norman Yardley both hit centuries in that innings. Sussex collapsed in their second innings and were all out for only 33.
The wrecker-in-chief? A certain Hedley Verity.
On a helpfully rain-affected pitch, that great slow left-armer Verity finished with the amazing figures of 7 for 9 in 6 overs to give Yorkshire the County Championship. He would not spare the man whose benefit match this was – John Parks, Sussex’s opener, trapping him lbw for a first ball duck!
Hedley Verity would finish what would turn out to be his last summer with 199 wickets at 13.13.
Having done yeoman service for his county, Verity signed up the next day to fulfil his duty to his country. He would never again set foot on an English ground, but his performance that September day of 1939 would ensure that history would not forget ‘The Last Match’.