Teams: Yorkshire (1930-1939, 278 matches).
Tours: England to Australia and New Zealand 1932/33
Ceylon and India 1933/34
Australia and New Zealand 1936/37
South Africa 1938/39
Yorkshire to Jamaica 1935/36
Most runs in a season: 855 (av. 31.66) in 1936
Best batting average in a season: 31.66 in 1936
100 wickets in a season: 9
Most wickets in a season: 216 (av. 13.18) in 1936
Best bowling average in a season: 12.42 (64 wkts) in 1930; 13.13 (191 wkts) in 1939
Most catches in a season: 34 in 1935
Highest score: 101, Yorkshire v Jamaica, at Kingston, 1935/36
Best bowling: 10/10, Yorkshire v Nottinghamshire, at Leeds, 1931 10/36, Yorkshire v Warwickshire, at Leeds, 1931
In Test cricket:
Highest score: 66*, England v India, at Manchester, 1936
Best bowling: 8/43, England v Australia, at Lord’s, 1934
Acknowledgements mainly to Hedley Verity: A Portrait of a Cricketer, by Alan Hill.
Hedley Verity was not only one of the greatest spin bowlers of all time; he was also one of the most widely respected cricketers of his age, the 1930s. He was well known as a man of character and integrity, and a bowler of skill, accuracy and intelligence, most highly rated by such great judges as Don Bradman and Douglas Jardine.
Verity was born close to the Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, the son of resourceful and dedicated parents. While he was still very young the family moved to Rawdon, then in virtually a rural setting outside Leeds, where his father established a coal business.
He attended Guiseley secondary school, which had a strong team, and the local Rawdon club. In his first match for Rawdon, substituting for a senior player, he scored 47 and took seven cheap wickets. On leaving school he started work at his father’s coal depot, but soon persuaded his parents to support him as he set his sights on a cricket career with Yorkshire.
Although he was to spend ten years before being selected for Yorkshire, his dedication never faltered, as he spent all the time he could purposefully developing his game and concentrating on physical fitness even during the winter. At the age of 16, in 1921, his deeds for Rawdon began to attract attention from the local press.
At this stage he was a medium-pacer who was able to swing the ball. He experimented with the slower left-arm spin style of Wilfred Rhodes, still a pillar of the Yorkshire team, and as a fast bowler, but was best suited to neither. His forte was to be a left-arm spinner of more pace than most, approaching the pace of Derek Underwood of later years – although he also became a master of variation of pace.
From 1924 to 1926 he played for Horsforth Hall Park, establishing a reputation as a quality all-rounder. He was invited to trials with the county club at Headingley where he soon found George Hirst as his mentor. With Rhodes still in command in the Yorkshire team, though, he did not receive much encouragement from the club, and in 1927 took up a professional appointment with Accrington in the Lancashire League, recommended by Hirst.
He had a difficult season there, handicapped by an arm injury, and with little assistance from the senior players. The club wanted to keep him for 1928, but Verity could not be certain they would release him were he selected for Yorkshire, and so moved to Middleton, who gave him that assurance. This proved a very positive move, as he settled in well with the captain and a young team.
He also made the final change from medium-pace swing bowler to left-arm spinner, on the advice of Hirst and Rhodes, anticipating the latter’s coming retirement. It was not easy, but he had the support of the club. He was also invited to a trial by Warwickshire but, bowling in the nets on a plumb pitch, he was rejected, saving him from what might well have been a very difficult decision.
In 1929, Verity was fortunately at Headingley when a vacancy arose in the county colts team, and he took five wickets for seven runs. That season he took 100 wickets for Middleton and also scored a century for them.
1930 was Rhodes’s final season for Yorkshire, and finally the call came for Verity. He first played in a friendly match against Sussex, three days after his 25th birthday, taking three for 96 in 46 overs. Enjoying helpful damp pitches, he was to finish top of the national bowling averages that season. His main rival was Arthur Booth, who in the end had to wait until the age of 43, in 1946, to win a regular place in the Yorkshire side, and only through Verity’s death in the Second World War.
Comparisons with the great Rhodes were inevitable, but Verity was a different type of left-arm spinner, being taller and quicker through the air, which did not satisfy many harsh judges. He had an easy action and superb control of length and flight, and was particularly dangerous on bad or drying pitches. He took nine for 60 against Glamorgan on such a pitch – only to be told by Emmott Robinson it should have been nine for 20, and to be instructed why. Verity was always a keen and quick learner. At the end of the season Rhodes retired, with the words to the committee about Verity as his successor: “He’ll do.” There could be no higher praise from the old master.
In 1931 Verity took over the mantle of Rhodes, beginning with 35 wickets in his first five matches. This included all ten against Warwickshire at Headingley, a feat none of his great left-arm predecessors had achieved for Yorkshire. He was selected for two Test matches against New Zealand in only his second season. There was even talk of his playing for England before being capped by Yorkshire, but on 13 June the coveted county award came, the month before his Test debut. He took four for 75 in his maiden Test.
In 1932 he set what is still the world record, taking all ten wickets for just 10 runs against Nottinghamshire at Headingley, on a rain-affected pitch, including a hat-trick and 113 consecutive balls without conceding a run. At one stage he took seven wickets for three runs in 15 deliveries, including the hat-trick. George Macaulay at the other end refused to bowl wide of the stumps to assist Verity in gaining the record, as has sometimes happened to cheapen certain ‘all-ten’ performances.
At the start of the season Verity’s great ambition was to tour Australia. He did so, on the ‘Bodyline’ tour under Douglas Jardine, and a decade of rivalry with the great Don Bradman began. Of all the bowlers Bradman faced, Verity was the most capable of keeping him within bounds. Bradman once wrote, “I could never claim to have completely fathomed Hedley’s strategy, for it was never static or mechanical.”
Throughout the tour Verity showed outstanding stamina and control, playing the ideal role for England as they needed a bowler able to tie up one end in between the new balls and bouts of bodyline. He soon adjusted to the conditions, no easy task for a finger-spinner in those days and, after starting the tour as a bowler many thought would not be required for the Tests, became a key player. He headed the team averages for the entire tour with 44 wickets at an average of less than 16.
He also played a useful role with the bat. He was fearless, patient and resolute, the ideal supporting partner for any major batsman left with the tail. He developed a friendship with his captain, Jardine, and always maintained that Jardine was the finest captain he had played under. He named his second son after him; his first had been named after Rhodes.
Jardine for his part said that Verity had the oldest head on young shoulders in England and he doubted whether any other bowler of his type had proved such a master on all types of pitches. “No captain could have a greater asset on his side than Verity. He would make a great captain himself.” Verity did not like the ‘bodyline’ tactics on that tour, but he backed his captain to the hilt and was deeply shocked by the events that followed, leading to the effective retirement of Jardine from first-class cricket.
Verity was in fact the only player from the bodyline series who also toured India under Jardine the following winter. On this tour he struck up a close friendship with the Gloucestershire batsman Charlie Barnett, who said of him, “I know of no other cricketer upon whom one could rely whatever the state of the match. He really was a ‘rock’ when the chips were down. Nothing seemed to flurry him.”
On that tour Verity took 72 wickets at 15 each, and in the three Tests 23 wickets at 16 each. His 11 wickets in the Third Test was the main factor in England’s decisive victory.
This was followed by perhaps Verity’s greatest series. He took 24 wickets in the five high-scoring Tests against Australia at an average of 24, and his superb bowling on a wet pitch at Lord’s won the match for England, at the time of writing the last time they have beaten Australia there. The key wicket was naturally that of Bradman, and Verity baited a trap for him. Leaving the long field empty, he teased Bradman into trying to hit the ball there, against the spin, and skying a catch. In fact, he took Bradman’s wicket twice in that match, his overall figures being 15 wickets for 104 runs, 14 of them taken on one day. In 1933, against Essex at Leyton, he had actually taken 17 wickets in a day, for 91 runs.
Between 1931 and 1939 Yorkshire won seven championships, and the main factor was the bowling of Verity and Bill Bowes, who formed a magnificent match-winning partnership. Len Hutton said, “They knew how they wanted their field and how to bowl to it when they got it. Bill would get ‘one-two-three’ out with the new ball and give us a start and Hedley would then take over if the conditions were right for him.”
Verity especially owed a great deal to the brilliance of close fielders like Arthur Mitchell, captain Brian Sellers, Ellis Robinson and Cyril Turner when he made the ball lift and turn towards slips and gully, with wicketkeeper Arthur Wood also getting his share. Occasionally he found a batsman who was determined to attack him and got away with it – the likes of Frank Woolley, Eddie Paynter, Hugh Bartlett and Herbie Cameron. But he took them philosophically as part of the game and never retaliated by bowling defensively. Far more often than not, he would lure a batsman into an attacking shot and defeat him in the stroke. He was not a sharp spinner of the ball and did not rely on flight as much as Rhodes had, but his bounce, accuracy and above all consummate knowledge of the game brought him his outstanding success.
Verity was also a man with a keen sense of humour, slow to anger, who kept the game in proportion and always knew how to lighten a tense situation. Len Hutton testified how he would never get angry if a catch was dropped off his bowling, and how helpful and patient he was to the young players. His appeals were always quiet and totally honest. Hutton also paid tribute as to how Verity’s quiet help and consideration kept him going during his record score of 364 against Australia in 1938.
It was also known that, to get the very best out of Verity, he should be told that everything depended on him or that he was facing a task that even he could not do. He had a superb temperament and responded best to a challenge.
In 1935/36 Yorkshire undertook a tour of Jamaica, who had George Headley in their ranks and had not been beaten at home for 10 years. Yorkshire ended that proud record, and even Verity’s own team-mates were amazed by his outstanding bowling on the pluperfect West Indian pitches. He tied up Headley and dismissed him twice in Yorkshire’s victory, and in the drawn match that finished the tour recorded what was to be his only first-class century.
Many thought Verity had the ability, had he wished, to become a genuine all-rounder. He averaged 18 for Yorkshire and 20 for England, and was even used as a stop-gap opener for England in Australia in 1936/37. Bob Wyatt felt that his style at the crease showed he had modelled himself on Herbert Sutcliffe, and R C Robertson-Glasgow that he might be mistaken for Sutcliffe a little out of form. He was liable to make runs when they mattered most.
He appeared to have a poor second tour of Australia, taking only 10 wickets in the series at 45 each. But he was ‘hidden’ from Australia on the sticky pitch at Brisbane as England were winning already, and he spent most of the series blocking up an end and keeping the batsmen quiet in difficult situations on fine batting pitches.
In 1938, when Australia were in England again, Wally Hammond was the English captain and many thought he did not use Verity to best advantage. Verity sorely tested Bradman and there were more rare battles between the two in another very close series – Verity’s last against Australia. He always relished the test of wits and skills in bowling to Bradman as few, if any, other bowler did. He dismissed Bradman eight times, conceding 401 runs to him, in the 16 Tests where they opposed each other – half Bradman’s overall career average. Bradman said of him, “With Hedley I am never sure. You see, there’s no breaking point with him.”
His final full Test series was a tedious one in South Africa in 1938/39, which finished with the ultimate Timeless Test. Again he was England’s most economical bowler, although his 19 Test wickets cost 29 each on plumb batting pitches.
His first-class career ended, cut short in its prime at the age of 34, by the Second World War in 1939. His final match was another personal triumph. There was a strange atmosphere as Yorkshire played Sussex at Hove in a benefit match for Jim Parks (senior); George Cox later said that the tension was awful as everyone knew that war was about to be declared, but that there was also a festive air as the players were determined to enjoy what they were sure would be their last taste of freedom for years.
Yorkshire had already sealed the championship title, as Sussex totalled 387 on a fine batting pitch. Other county matches were abandoned as Hitler invaded Poland, but Yorkshire secured an agreement to continue playing for Parks’s sake. On a drying pitch, the sort that suited him so well, Verity took seven wickets for nine runs in the Sussex second innings as Yorkshire raced to victory. He was never to bowl another ball in first-class cricket. He finished his career as he had begun it, top of the first-class averages.
Verity, in the words of his Green Howards batman, was to become as fine a soldier as he was a cricketer. He believed in the justice of this war and reached the rank of captain. He became very popular with his men because of his care and concern for their welfare. Leading a gallant attack on the German forces in Sicily, he was hit in the chest and seriously wounded. He was captured and died of his injuries 11 days after the attack at the age of 38. He lies buried in the military cemetery at Caserta, inland from Naples.
Yorkshire missed him badly once the war was over; as Norman Yardley said, not juts as a bowler, but as a tutor for the young players, and most of all as a friend. He would probably have played on with 1950 or beyond, and done much to rebuild Yorkshire and English cricket after the war.
(Article: Copyright © 2003 John Ward)