Frank Druce couldn’t quite deliver his best with the bat for Surrey in his early years, but had a great run for the Cambridge University in 1897. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year the following spring.
Mr Norman Frank Druce, the Cambridge University and Surrey batsman, was born on the 1st January 1875. Very rarely has any cricketer jumped more suddenly to the top of the tree. It is understood that when he left Marlborough after the season of 1893, the school coach predicted a brilliant future for him, but there was certainly nothing in his cricket at Cambridge in the following year, to suggest the position he has since obtained.
He began very well in the Freshmen’s match with scores of 64 and 36, but in first-class matches for the University, he only made 91 runs in seven innings, and it is no injustice to him to say he was rather fortunate to get his Blue. When the season of 1894 ended, it is unlikely that anyone except his most intimate friends knew what possibilities he had as a batsman. This being the case, the astonishing brilliancy of his play at Cambridge in 1895 came as a complete surprise. On the University ground he made scores of 60 not out against Somerset; 33 and 109 against Mr CI Thornton’s England Eleven; 60, on a wicket affected by rain, against Yorkshire; 199 not out against the MCC and Ground; and 116 against Dublin University. In the meantime, he played very finely for 50 against Surrey at the Oval, but unfortunately received such a severe knock on the thumb, that he had to retire from the match with his innings incomplete.
With such a series of scores to his credit, expectation ran high as to what he would do in the University match, but though he had the satisfaction of being on the winning side, he was got rid of for 0 and 22.
Selected for the Gentlemen both at Lord’s and the Oval, he played a capital second innings of 50 at Lord’s, and scored 5 and 33 at the Surrey ground. After this, he found a place in the Surrey eleven, but somehow or other, he could not come off in county matches, and a series of dismal failures considerably damaged his reputation. On the August Bank Holiday, he hit fearlessly for 33 against Notts on a bad wicket, but his record for Surrey was poor in the extreme, as in ten innings he only scored 111 runs.
In 1896 at Cambridge, he did not repeat his remarkable success of the previous year, but in the London matches he got on far better than before, scoring 146 against the MCC at Lord’s, and playing a splendid second innings of 72 against Oxford, when the game was going all against his side. Altogether he scored 518 runs for Cambridge in 15 innings, with an average of 34. For some reason, he did not play for Surrey at all in 1896, and the Gentlemen were so overpoweringly strong, that no place could be found for him against the Payers at Lord’s. As his first-class cricket for the season closed with the University match, he was estimated at something less than his real value.
During the past season, he came out in wonderful form. He was captain of the Cambridge eleven, and his average of 66 for the University was quite without precedent. Curiously enough, however, though he did great things in other matches, he was comparatively unsuccessful against Oxford, being dismissed for 41 and 0. He had the extreme satisfaction of making, among other fine innings, the highest score ever hit on the University ground-227 not out against Mr CI Thornton’s Eleven.
After the University match, Mr Druce played several times for Surrey, and though he did nothing extraordinary he redeemed by several vigorous innings his failure for the county in 1895. He was clearly one of the great batsmen of the season, and no surprise was felt when it transpired that he had been invited by Mr Stoddart to go to Australia.
Mr Druce would stand higher in general esteem as a batsman, if he had done bigger things in county cricket. So far, his reputation, great as it is, rests mainly on the scores he has made for Cambridge University. When playing one of his long innings he is a delightful bat to look at, his style being quite a model of freedom, and his cricket always most vigorous and attractive. He plays his own game without any over-rigid adherence to rule, scoring on the on-side from straight balls in a fashion only possible to a batsman with a genius for timing.
It has been rumoured that he will play for Kent in 1898, and also that during the year very little will be seen of him in first-class cricket. In the meantime, he will have put himself to a pretty severe test in Australia. Mr Druce rarely bowls, but he is a first-rate field in the slips.
Frank Druce scored 3,416 runs from 66 first-class games between 1894 and 1913. He played just five Tests for England and scored 252 runs at 28 with a highest of 64