June 15, 1933. Fratricide took place on the cricket field. Batting for Middlesex against Somerset, Harry Lee was caught by his brother Frank Lee bowled by his other brother Jack Lee. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the landmark event.
The Tale of the Three Brothers
Henry William Lee, the eldest of them by far, and the only one to have played for England, had stayed faithful to Middlesex.
He had reason to do so. In 1920 the county had won the Championship after a thrilling 55-run win over Surrey. They had trailed by 73 in the first innings and then Lee the eldest had scored a hundred in the second, added 208 with CKL Skeet. Next, he had caught the nonpareil Jack Hobbs when Surrey batted again.
His brothers, the much younger Jack Lee and Frank Lee, migrated to Somerset. Middlesex had become too overloaded with quality to guarantee them slots in the side.
Harry Lee, however, was zealous about his county. He was one of the few players who had literally asked for his county cap. That was way back in 1913. Skipper Plum Warner was surprised that it had not been awarded and asked for a cap to be sent down immediately. Harry went on to establish himself as an opener and scored more than 1,000 in 13 seasons, and captured plenty of wickets with his medium pace.
He even died in Middlesex, as a ripe old man of 90 — the oldest England cricketer at that time. However, it is not that he did not venture far from home.
During the First World War he was shot in the leg at Neuve Chapelle and was captured by the Germans. In 1917, with a shortened and withered limb, he was recommended by none other than Frank Tarrant to take up the post of cricket and football coach to the Maharajah of Cooch Behar.
As a result he played quite a bit of cricket in India. However, before that, a last minute change of travel plans saved his life. Nyanza — the ship he was supposed to sail in — was torpedoed off the Plymouth coast.
Harry Lee was finally rewarded with Test selection in February 1931, at the age of 40. But, it was not for the gamut of runs scored in the1920s.It took place in far off Johannesburg as a reinforcement for the injury plagued side. Skipper Percy Chapman sent an SOS to Lee who was then coaching in South Africa.
He made his debut as an opener and his scores were Bradmanesque only as far as debuts go — 18 and one. However, it did not have a very happy aftermath. Some disgruntled colleague at his school reported that he had not honoured his coaching contract, and hence MCC refused to present him with a cap and blazer. It was the great Jack Hobbs who offered him some solace, gifting him an England touring tie.
Jack Lee was born in 1902, 12 years after Harry. Unlike his older brother, he did not survive the gunshots and was killed in the Second World War.
Frank was the youngest, born a stone’s throw from Lord’sin 1905.
Both Jack and Frank, excellent players in their own rights, moved to Somerset in 1925 and had become regular members of the side by the early 1930s. Jack, a reliable batsman and off-spinner, and Frank, a batsman of distinction and a superb fielder, often opened the innings together. In 1934 they put on 213 against Surrey and then 119 and 146 against Sussex.
The greatest feat of Frank Lee was perhaps registered against the Australians in 1934. He opened the innings and carried his bat for 59 out of a total of 116 against a vicious Bill O’Reilly on a damp wicket. Later, he became an umpire and gained immortality by calling Geoff Griffin for throwingat Lord’s in 1960.
In 1933, the three Lee brothers created history by amassing more than 1000 runs apiece.
That same year, the cricketing paths of the three brothers crossed to create an unique landmark in the history of cricket.
At Lord’s, Middlesex squared off against Somerset on June 14. As usual, Frank and Jack started the innings for the visitors. Neither were quite successful. Jack Lee was dismissed for a duck. Frank Lee retired hurt when the score was 23 for one and came back at 117 for three, but could manage only 18. Walter Robins picked up five wickets and Somerset were all out at the stroke of stumps for 253.
The following day saw history being made. RC Robertson-Glasgow, who went on to become one of the most entertaining writers on the game, combined his medium pace with Jack Lee’s off-breaks to make the home batsmen less than comfortable. Wickets kept tumbling, but old Harry Lee stood firm, negotiating the bowling with class and poise.
And then it happened. When the veteran batsman had reached 82, cricketing fratricide took place on the hallowed turf. Harry was caught by Frank off the bowling of Jack.
The scoreboard showed Lee c Lee b Lee 82.
Jack Lee claimed five wickets, but Middlesex, with some late order resistance, managed a 13 run lead. In the second knock, Frank Lee scored 17 and Jack Lee just one as Somerset folded for 94.
Chasing just 82 to win, Harry Lee was run out for 14, but big Jim Sims, promoted to No 3, sealed the issue with some lusty blows. Middlesex won by eight wickets.
Harry Lee later wrote about his first innings dismissal: “I do not believe that brothers had ever before behaved so unbrotherly in a First-Class game.”
Somerset 253 (CCC Case 55, Arthur Wellard 41; Walter Robins 5 for 102) and 94 lost to Middlesex266 (Harry Lee 82, GE Hart 49*; not out; Jack Lee 5 for 69) and 82 for 2 by 8 wickets.