Understanding what and who is a knight in cricket
No fewer than 16 test cricketers have achieved the honour of being knighted for their services to the game. Seven represented England, six played for the West Indies, while of the remaining three, one captained India, another, an Australian, was the greatest batsman of them all, and the third was surely the finest bowler to play for New Zealand.
If Don Bradman was the greatest batsman, there is also no doubt about who was the most prolific. Jack Hobbs, of Surrey and England, ended his career with a monumental 61,237 first-class runs and 197 centuries. Knighted in 1953, he was known as “The Master”, playing first-class cricket for more than 30 years and, astonishing to imagine today, scoring 98 of his hundreds after reaching the age of 40. Also knighted in 1953 was the amateur HDG “Shrimp” Leveson-Gower, who led England in South Africa in 1909/10.
Another amateur, the Rajkumar of Vizianagram, better known as “Vizzy”, led India in three Tests in England in 1936. Although his achievements on the field could respectfully be described as modest, he nonetheless received his knighthood during the tour. A year later, another knighthood was bestowed on a cricketer who gave an unsurpassed variety of service to the game in England. Pelham Warner played in 15 Tests, captained England in Australia, later served as a selector, was founder editor of The Cricketer magazine, and wrote or edited some 20 cricket books.
A Test average of 99. 94 speaks for itself, although it is impossible to resist the much-told story of Don Bradman’s last innings at The Oval in 1948 when, needing just four to take his Test career average past the hundred mark, he was bowled second ball for a duck. He was knighted the following year. Of his 29 Test hundreds in 80 innings, the 309 he made in a day at Headingley was perhaps the most memorable. Suffice to say that in the 1930s and 40s his domination of the game was total. As a later great Australian, Steve Waugh, put it after Bradman died in 2001: “If he dominated his era, I think it’s fair to say he’d dominate any era, including ours, to a similar degree. A genius is a genius.”
Three years after Hobbs was knighted, the same honour was bestowed on a batsman who perhaps bears comparison with him more than any other produced by England. Scorer of what was then a world record 364 at The Oval against Australia in 1938, Len Hutton was also the first professional to captain England, and scored 129 first class centuries. All that, without six war years in which he sustained an injury that left his left arm two inches shorter than his right. Apart from everything else he achieved, his two Ashes victories in 1953 and 1954/55 no doubt contributed as much as anything to him receiving a knighthood.
The emergence of the West Indies in the mid-20th century owes incalculably to the “Three Ws” from Barbados. The youngest, Clyde Walcott, was also physically the most imposing. His great series were against England in 1953/54, in which he scored 698 runs, and above all against Australia in 1955, when he scored 827 runs against the likes of Lindwall, Miller and Benaud. He was eventually knighted in 1994, a year before Everton Weekes, whose pursuit of big hundreds was at times reminiscent of Bradman and whose eventual Test average – 58 from 48 – was the best of the three.
But it was Frank Worrell who was generally regarded as the most elegant. Stylish and orthodox with a deft late cut, he was never seen to hit across the line. He became one of the West Indies’ great captains, once and for all exploding the myth in the Caribbean that a coloured player was not fit to lead a team. Transcending the regional rivalries between the dispersed islands, he turned the West Indies into a team to take on the world, laying the foundations for their 1980s invincibility. Knighted in 1964, he tragically died of leukaemia three years later aged just 42.
Worrell’s successor as West Indies captain, Garry Sobers, was the greatest all-rounder of them all. In versatility he was unique. Good enough for a Test place as a dashing left-handed batsman alone, he was a penetrative new ball bowler who could also turn to spin, orthodox or not, and a supreme fielder close to the wicket. He it was who broke Hutton’s world batting record, with 365 against Pakistan, and in that legendary over at Swansea, deposited the hapless Malcolm Nash for six sixes in an over. The Queen dubbed Sobers a knight in his native Barbados in 1975. His contemporary in the West Indies side of the 1960s, the opening batsman Conrad Hunte, was also knighted in 1998, as much for the charity work he undertook after retirement as for his exploits in the game.
In 1986 Gubby Allen, fast bowler, dependable batsman, England captain and chairman of selectors, became the next English knight. Colin Cowdrey, like Worrell a study in elegance when batting, followed in 1992. Of many memorable Test innings, Cowdrey’s 154 at Headingley in 1957, when he added 411 with Peter May to deprive West Indies of an apparently certain victory, perhaps stands out. And as an exercise in bravery, his decision to fly to Australia at short notice in 197 4/75 to bolster England’s buckling batting against Lillee and Thompson, would be hard to better Cowdrey was later elevated to the peerage as Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge.
In 1990, Richard Hadlee achieved the rarity of a knighthood while still playing appropriately enough on his last tour of England. Such was his consistency that it seemed almost inevitable that he would celebrate the achievement with the 36th five-wicket haul of his career in his final game, at Edgbaston that same summer. His mastery of pace, swing and seam was born out of utter dedication to hard work and season-by-season targets, and aggressive batting added to his inestimable value to New Zealand.
The man described by Bradman as the most difficult bowler he batted against in certain conditions is also England’s most recent knight. Alec Bedser, bastion of Surrey and England, joined Hadlee on the list in 1997 in a recent and possibly belated tilt towards bowling skills. A peerless bowler of swing and late cut, he was also chairman of the England selectors for 12 years.
The most recent knighthood rests with the one Antiguan to be so honoured batsman, surely the most awesome batsman of his generation. Vivan Richards whose swaggering gait alone as he approached the crease was enough to strike fear into the heart of the bowler. The better the bowler, the more determined Richards was to dominate, unflinchingly sporting the maroon West Indies cap in the age of the helmet. Try though bowlers might to contain him by adjusting their line, it usually ended in heartbreak as Richards, hawk-eyed and muscular, improvised to send the ball skimming where it simply had no right to go.
Others who have adorned the game in different capacities include the great Trinidadian all-rounder Learie Constantine. He was later knighted primarily for his services as a barrister, politician and diplomat. The noted actor Aubrey Smith, who led England in his one Test in South Africa in 1889, was knighted for services to Anglo American amity 55 years later. The earliest knighted Englishmen closely connected with the game, Francis Lacey and Frederick Toone, received the honour primarily for their service as administrators, and of course Neville Card us, admired by all lovers of cricket literature, was knighted for services to cricket and music journalism.