Wally Hammond was a giant among England cricketers. Their premier batsman in the period between Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton while offering them so much more besides. He was a superb slip catcher and a highly able fast-medium bowler who fared best in Tests on the harder overseas pitches.
Tall and strong, he could take great workloads in his stride and be rarely out of the action for long. Walter Reginald Wally Hammond was born on 19 June 1903 and his first-class career lasted from 1920 to 1951.
There were similarities in style with Jacques Kallis as a Test all-rounder. Because both were bowlers who could have accomplished more if their batting had not taken priority. Both were natural fielders, but wonderful technicians though Kallis was. Wally Hammond was certainly the more imperious, attacking, and influential batsman.
England never lost when Hammond scored a hundred, as he did on 22 occasions – a national record until Alastair Cook overhauled him in 2012. He also lost only one of six series as England captain after giving up his professional status to take on the job. Hammond was not lucky though.
The only son of a Royal Artillery major who was killed in the First World War, his career stalled for two years over a battle for his services between Kent, the county of his birth, and Gloucestershire, the county he ended up serving for 20 seasons. The serious illness cost him a season at a crucial stage in his development and then when he did establish himself as the world’s best batsman. He was along coming a diminutive Australian called Don Bradman to steal the position from him.
When he led England on a tour of Australia after the Second World War, the team was not ready to resume serious Test cricket and he himself was 43 years old and not fully fit. But unsurprisingly his team took a hammering and he bowed out from international cricket a loser.
In his retirement in South Africa, he lost most of his money in bad investments and spent his final years struggling with ill-health following a car accident before dying in Natal in 1965, aged 62. He had a reputation, too, as a somewhat moody and uncommunicative person. Which was sadly at odds with the cricket he played because teammates, opponents, and those watching from the stands all testified to the glory of Hammond in full flow.
He was a batsman of the classical, majestic school,’ Bradman said. ‘Of lovely athletic build, light as a ballet dancer on his feet, always beautifully balanced Bert Oldfield, who stood behind the stumps for many of Hammond’s great innings against Australia, described him as ‘the perfect batting artist’. Tom Goddard, a Gloucestershire and England teammate, reckoned he was even better than Bradman.
Once Don Bradman said he never saw anyone so strong on the off-side as Hammond and it was for his cover-driving that Wally Hammond was best remembered. There is a celebrated photograph of him cover-driving, his trademark handkerchief hanging out of his right pocket.
In his early years, he was a particularly aggressive and adventurous batsman. Therefore, England’s demands meant that he had to rein himself in and grind out the big scores then needed to win Test matches in Australia, where games were played to a finish.
On the 1928–29 tour, in which England won 4–1, Hammond contributed a then-record 905 runs. He batted seven and a half hours for 251 at Sydney, another six and three-quarter hours for 200 at Melbourne, and then spent a total of almost 12 hours at the crease in Adelaide while scoring 119 in the first innings and 177 in the second.
Wally Hammond’s appetite for runs was immense – what you might call Bradman que if it were not a phrase that would have annoyed him. He scored seven double-centuries in Tests (only Bradman with 12, Kumar Sangakkara with 11, and Brian Lara with nine have made more) and no one has scored more doubles against Australia (Hammond made four to Lara’s three, while Graeme Pollock, VVS Laxman, and Sachin Tendulkar scored two apiece).
In all first-class cricket, Hammond’s 36 scores of 200 or more have only been beaten by Bradman (37). His 336 not out against New Zealand at Auckland in 1933 was briefly the world Test record score before being beaten by Len Hutton’s 364 in 1938 and while the bowling may not have been the strongest. He made his runs at a tremendous rate, his whole innings occupying less than five and a half hours.
In all Tests, spanning 85 matches from 1927 to 1947, he scored 7,249 at an average of 58.45. He held the Test run-scoring record from 1937 until 1970 and of the 39 batsmen who, as of 1 January 2015, have scored more Test runs, only Sangakkara has done so at a higher average. These are seriously impressive figures, but he did experience some difficult times against Australia.
Moreover, notably in England in 1930 and 1934 when he ended up dropping down the order from his favored number 3 position in the hope of rediscovering form. Australia during his time possessed two great leg-spin and googly bowlers in Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly (who dismissed Hammond ten times in Tests) and they found a way to expose his relative weakness on the leg side. Even if he scored runs, they made sure he scored them more slowly than before.
It is hard to tell what extent he also suffered from the presence in the opposition of Bradman – whose 974 runs in just seven innings in the 1930 series obliterated Hammond’s 1928–29 record – but it was undeniably the case that if England were to compete with Australia, on a regular basis, they needed runs from their star performer. From 1930 onwards, Hammond outscored Bradman in only five of the 27 Tests in which they opposed each other – and in one of those Bradman was injured and did not bat.
But it would be easy to overstate these problems. Hammond added three more centuries in Australia to the four he scored there on his first tour, the last of them a match-winning 231 not out at Sydney in 1936–37, while his 240 at Lord’s in 1938 saw him at his majestic best. Nor did he reserve his best for international cricket.
Wally Hammond maintained a remarkably high standard in county cricket as well. He was dominating the national batting averages throughout the 1930s and regularly finishing among the leading catchers. That said, he perhaps touched a peak in 1928 during his first home summer as an England cricketer when in all first-class cricket he scored 2,825 runs, took 84 wickets, and held 78 catches.
During Cheltenham Week in August, he scored 139 and 143 and took ten catches against Surrey before following up with 80 runs and 15 wickets (nine for 23 in the first innings) against Worcestershire. Neither his catches for the season nor his catches in the match against Surrey have ever been beaten by an outfielder. Of the seven batsmen who have topped 50,000 first-class runs.
Wally Hammond’s average of 56.10 is clearly the highest, Herbert Sutcliffe standing next on 52.02, while only Hobbs and Patsy Hendren have managed more first-class hundreds than Hammond’s 167. His 819 catches put him fourth on the all-time list among non-keepers.
He took 732 first-class wickets at an average of 30.58. As an allrounder, he stands second only to Garry Sobers. He captained the England side in 20 test matches, and winning four, losing three, and drawing 13.
He represented England side in 85 test matches, scoring 7,249 runs at an average of 58.45 including 22 centuries, 24 fifties, with the best score of 336*. Overall in all first-class matches, Wally Hammond played 634 matches, scoring 50,551runs at 56.10 including 167 hundred, 185 fifties, 732 wickets, with the best of 9 for 23. These records clearly describe his caliber in the cricket world. He was a true English legend.