Gentlemen & Players by Charles Williams

First published in Books

The incongruity of the distinction between the ‘gentlemen’ cricketers (amateurs) of old and the ‘players’ (professionals) continued up to 1962.

iIn 1948, for example, Warwickshire county cricket club appointed Tom Dollery as captain — a professional — but he had to make way when Ron Maudsley, an amateur and Cambridge undergraduate, became available.

Under Maudsley, Warwickshire stuttered, under Dollery, they flourished. Only on the facts of success was Dollery’s position cemented.

Subsequently, a captain was required to win his privilege by merit, as much as by birthright. But as Charles Williams makes clear, this was a tortuously slow process.

Gentlemen & Players is a revealing and entertaining read about a subject with wider connotations. The book reads as a social document, with its observance of class prejudice, its effects and development. Amateurs rose seamlessly through the ranks; through prep school, public school, Oxbridge, into the upper echelons of gentlemanly society. Professionals did not.

The onset of the Second World War brought a temporary surface change in such prejudice, but with the War done, there returned a desire for the familiar, and old distinctions were reasserted.

However, as the 1950s progressed the status of the amateur, with its automatic privileges, came under increasing scrutiny. In the 1950s, new ‘redbrick’ universities were built, and students came from a broader population. TV turned its eye to cricket, and while armchair audiences grew, the numbers attending county matches fell. Audiences themselves became more diverse, and reflected, by race, the immigration then experienced by the UK. Those from a more ‘egalitarian society’, from the wider commonwealth, saw the old distinctions as less than credible.

Williams, a former first-class cricketer and biographer of Donald Bradman, unpicks the problems exposed by ‘shamateurism’ and ‘broken-time’ payments, and, in often amusing detail, shows the prevarications of the MCC and its committees in closing the cricketing divide.

He provides a droll account of the various luminaries of the time, their foibles and fortés. But the book's social commentary is its core strength, showing how, in this brave new world, anyone had the right to strike for six, irrespective of class or accent.

Stefan Edwards

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