Percy Fender: One of a kind


Percy Fender, born Aug 22, 1892, was a man who served cricket splendidly in multiple dimensions. Abhishek Mukherjee pays homage to this one of a kind personality.

If you are a cricket fan, it is important that you know about Percy Fender of Surrey and England, who was born this day, 1892.

Let us ignore the cricketing reasons, though Fender was a competent all-rounder to begin with. His First-Class numbers – 19,034 runs at 26.65 and 1,894 wickets at 25.05 – are impressive but not outstanding, though his 1,586 wickets for Surrey are the third-most in their history. He is also the only cricketer to have done the 10,000 run-100 wicket double for them.

In 1920 Fender scored the fastest First-Class hundred, in 35 minutes – a record that was merely *equalled* in 1983, that too under contrived circumstances. Estimates put his 113 at between 40 to 46 balls.

But there is more to Fender than all this.

Fender was a man, a captain way, way ahead of his times. He recruited a baseball coach at Surrey to work on the fitness of cricketers back in the 1920s. He got special caps made for the team, with longer peaks, to avoid the players looking into the sun. He even introduced sweat-absorbent underwear.

Back in 1920, Championship total points were calculated as points/completed matches (including matches without any side securing a first-innings lead). Fender realised Surrey would benefit more from a non-match than a first-innings lead, so he asked his batsmen to not score. However, edges and 17 byes (how many were deliberate?) pushed Surrey beyond Somerset off the last ball.

Fender often placed two slips for his spinners on perfectly flat pitches: “It might make them *think* it was turning.”

Fender was also a master of bad balls. On one occasion, he placed Gover at forward short-leg when Carr was batting. Fender bowled rank long-hops, but there was an agreement: if Fender tugged his collar before delivering, Gover would fall flat on his chest. Gover did exaclty that, and Carr was caught at deep mid-wicket.

It is difficult to think of a cricketer as stubborn as Fender. He wanted to resign as Surrey captain in 1931, insisting the committee to appoint Jardine as captain. 
The committee did not agree. But Fender was Fender.

In one match, Lancashire batted immediately after rain. Every ball caused a dent on the pitch, which spelled doom for Surrey, who would have to bat last. Fender asked his players to walk on the pitch after every ball strategically to smoothen out the dents. Ther was nothing in the laws that prevented him from this (the cricketers were not running).

Hampshire were batting very slowly in the next match. Fender did not approve of this. So he pushed every fielder to the fence and started bowling underarm lobs. After every run he made sure deep square-leg and deep point walk very slowly to swap places (there was a right-hand-left-hand combination).

In the next match, Kent set Surrey 204. Fender called for a suicidal single, was run out first ball, and asked his teammates – Hobbs and Sandham included – to play for a draw for no reason whatsoever.

A month later, Fender walked out while fielding after 3 overs. He requested Greenwood, the Yorkshire captain, to call the match off because the bowlers' footmarks were not okay. He failed to convince Greenwood but the umpires gave in. This provoked to a 5,000-strong crowd to pull off a near-riot. The authorities finally got the match underway (Fender did not like this). Thankfully, Hobbs and Sutcliffe both scored hundreds, and the spectators were happy.

But he had done enough. They sacked him after the season.

Fender, an amateur, also went out of his way to end the amateur-professional bar in Surrey cricket. He tried to abolish separate meals and dressing-rooms. He might have sacked had Hobbs not intervened (“with respect, Mr Fender, we like to talk about you and laugh at what you’re going to do next”).

Fender strode out to bat at Lord’s through the gate reserved for professionals. Lord Harris was not amused: “We do not want that sort of thing at Lord’s, Fender.”

Fender managed to annoy Harris, probably the most influential man in England cricket at that point, multiple times.

When South Africa toured England in the wet summer of 1924, two county authorities covered their pitches before matches against the tourists, and were duly criticised by Harris, who claimed that this was not a common practice in England. Fender wrote a letter to the press that Harris was aware of the fact that pitches were kept covered before Scarborough Festival matches. During Fender’s next match at Lord’s he was cautioned by Lord Harris.

Fender toured Australia as a journalist in the 1928-29 Ashes. Steven Lynch credited him for “revolutionising the tour book”. Till Fender cricket books were little more than catalogues.

Fender brought in-depth analysis. He maintained a ball-by-ball record, including batsman vs bowler records, and then summarised everything. There was analysis virtually unheard of in that era, including a study of the stages at which light was offered to batsmen in different grounds across the world.

He was also, in all probability, the first to use a typewriter in the pressbox.

On that tour he also carried a home movie camera. He was probably the first to figure out the power of videos, both for archival and strategising. The 30-minute movie also consists of the earliest footage of Bradman's batting.

Fender predicted that Bradman would fail in England. On his next tour of England – his first ever – Bradman scored 974 in the Test series, still a world record.

But there was hope. Bradman scored 232 at The Oval, but there was a phase of cricket when he was particularly bothered by the hostile pace and bounce of Larwood.

Fender was present that day. He wrote shortly afterwards: “I feel convinced that something new will have to be introduced to curb Bradman, and the best way of selecting that something new is to seek it along the lines of theory.”

Fender passed on his theory to his Surrey heir Jardine, his Surrey heir. He corresponded with contemporary Australian journalists on Bradman’s progress in the Sheffield Shield, and conveyed that to Jardine as well.

The next Ashes series, in Australia, was when Jardine implemented Bodyline. Sadly, Fender was not sent to cover the tour. He did not watch any of it live.