Elias Henry “Patsy” Hendren, born 1889 in Middlesex, was a run-making machine. Short, but stocky with powerful forearms – powerful enough to turn a forward defensive push into a run-producing drive – Patsy’s batting talents were spotted early by none other than W G Grace.
In the history of English cricket only Hobbs (naturally) and Kent’s Frank Woolley can boast more than Hendren’s 57,611 runs and his First-Class average, at 50.80, is the highest of those three batsmen. In 21 summers he passed 1,000 runs, of those 15 passed the 2,000 mark and twice, in 1928 and 1933, two thousand became three. Add to that thousand-plus run winters on tour with the MCC on four occasions. Were that was not enough, Hendren’s 170 First-Class centuries stand second on the all-time list, bettered only by The Master, Hobbs. In Tests, Patsy’s record was also one to be proud of: 51 matches, 3525 runs, including seven centuries, at an average of 47.63. Fearless against the short pitched delivery – he could hook and pull with venom – yet quick on his feet against the slower bowler, Jack Hobbs called him “my ideal batsman”. A rock-solid fielder who took 759 career First-Class catches, he was also an immensely popular cricketer amongst his peers, full of humour both on and off the field of play. (He was also the first player to wear a batting helmet – featuring three peaks, lined with rubber and designed by his wife).
But the Cricket Stuff Hall of Fame is not about a career, rather it is for a moment that endears a cricketer to our hearts. That moment is the MCC tour of the West Indies in the early months of 1930.
The tour was an odd one in that, in addition to the absence of marquee names such as Sutcliffe, Hammond, Leyland, Tate, Larwood and Hobbs who opted to stay at home, the decision of the MCC to play two series simultaneously – the other in New Zealand – meant that the touring party was, in cricketing terms, diluted. Of the two MCC squads that took to the high-seas that Christmas, the one to the West Indies was the stronger, yet had a feel of a team of cricketing veterans supplemented by a couple of young whippets. Still, with names such as Hendren, Rhodes, Sandham, Gunn, Ames and Voce on board, it was still a decent side.
Their hosts, who were holding their first home matches since elevation to full Test status and were considered the underdogs of the series, were to prove tough competition. While inter-island politics and practicalities of travel meant the West Indies found it impossible to field a settled side (indeed in four Tests they used four captains – each on his home island), a team that could boast the names of Headley, Roach, Griffith and Constantine would be no push-over. Indeed, by the end of the tour, the West Indies had notched their first Test victory and drawn series.
While Headley starred with the bat for the home side, it was Hendren who shone for the visitors. Let’s take a look at the run of scores he posted in all matches on tour:
223 not out, 211 not out, 80, 36 not out, 40, 96, 30, 12, 77, 205 not out, 254 not out, 171, 56, 123, 10, 25, 61 & 55.
That is remarkable.
His efforts were even celebrated with a poem by “K. S. W.” published in the Barbados Advocate:
T’would please us greatly, my dear Pat,
For you to hit much less than that
And give a chance.
Too straight you wield a Hendren bat,
It’s bad enough with young Wyatt
To make us dance,
Then you appear right on the scene,
“Cockspur” our bowlers to the screen,
Cause them to prance
Balls going there and everywhere;
Scare Flannigan from off his beer;
Your fame enhance
. . . . . . . . . . . .
A thousand runs are in your sight
But half a season gone
A hundred hundreds by your might,
We think, to you are one
So here’s good health, long life to you
And all god wishes true
Choice of the girls for wife to you
You blazing good true-blue.
In the third Test he also showed some remarkable time-wasting abilities while attempting – in vain – to salvage a draw. With light and rain clouds closing in, Patsy found new and inventive ways to delay play: complaining about the pitch, stopping the bowler to wipe water from the bails, patting down the striker’s end while he was off-strike and, when eventually out, taking such a long route back to the pavilion that it almost resembled a lap of honour. The Guyanese crowd had a few choice words for him then.
However, despite racking up 1765 runs on the tour, featuring two centuries, four double centuries, and an average of 135, when, four years later, Patsy Hendren came to publish his memoirs (Big Cricket) the tour warranted not a single mention. Take a look at those scores again and think of another cricketer who would forget that run of form when time came to tell their story. For that, Patsy, we salute you.