Herbert Strudwick was not just one of England’s greatest wicketkeepers, he was also one of the most popular cricketers in the game. His Wisden obituary in 1971 captured a colourful character.
Herbert Strudwick held the world record for most dismissals in a career by a wicketkeeper. One of the greatest and assuredly one of the most popular players of his time, he helped to get rid of 1,493 batsmen, 71 of them in Test matches, and he established another world record which still stands by holding 1,235 catches. His stumpings numbered 258. He set up a third record in 1903 when taking 71 catches and bringing off 20 stumpings, but Fred Huish, of Kent, surpassed this eight years later.
Strudwick figured regularly behind the stumps for Surrey for 25 years and, becoming scorer afterwards, served the county altogether for 60 years. He played 28 times for England between 1911 and 1926 during the period when Australia and South Africa were their only Test match opponents and would doubtless have been chosen more often had he not been contemporary with AA Lilley, of Warwickshire, a better batsman.
Four times he toured Australia, in 1903/04, 1911/12, 1920/21 and 1924/25 and visited South Africa with MCC in 1909/10 and 1913/14. In addition, he was a frequent member of Players teams against Gentlemen. For England at Johannesburg in 1913/14, he dismissed seven South African batsmen in the match. His best performance in a single innings was six catches against Sussex at The Oval in 1904 and in a match eight victims (seven caught, one stumped) against Essex at Leyton in 1904.
No more genuine sportsman, in every sense of the word, than the teetotal, non-smoking Strudwick ever took the field for Surrey. An idol of the Surrey crowd, he was always ready to proffer helpful advice to young players. He never appealed unless sure in his own mind that a batsman was out, and such was his keenness to save runs that he was frequently known to chase a ball to the boundary. Sir HDG Leveson Gower, the former Oxford, Surrey and England captain, once wrote: “When you walk on to a certain cricket ground and you find Strudwick behind the wicket, you feel that you will not only get full value for your money, but you will participate in the cheerfulness that his presence always lends to the day.”
In an article, From Dr Grace to Peter May, in the 1959 Wisden, hailed by the critics as one of the best published by The Cricketers’ Bible for many years, Struddy, as he was affectionately known throughout the cricket world, described how hard was life as a professional cricketer in his young days. Then, one dare not stand down because of injury for fear of losing a place in the side and consequent loss of pay. Compared with that of today, the equipment of wicketkeepers was flimsy and the men behind the stumps took a lot of punishment, especially as, on the far from perfect pitches, it was difficult to gauge how the ball would come through.
The article mentioned that F. Stedman, Strudwick’s predecessor in the Surrey side, habitually protected his chest with a South Western Railway timetable stuffed into his shirt, and on one occasion, after receiving a more than usually heavy blow, he remarked to a nearby team-mate: “I shall have to catch a later train tonight. That one knocked off the 7-30.”
It is of interest to note that a lady set Struddy on the path to becoming the world’s most celebrated wicketkeeper. As a choirboy at Mitcham, his birthplace, he took part in matches under the supervision of the daughter of the vicar, a Miss Wilson. Then about 10 years old, Strudwick habitually ran in from cover to the wicket to take returns from the field. Observing how efficiently he did this, Miss Wilson once said: “You ought to be a wicketkeeper.” From that point, Strudwick became one.
Not in the ordinary way regarded as much of a batsman, he hit 93 in 90 minutes, easily his largest innings, against Essex at The Oval in 1913, when he and HS Harrison shared an eighth-wicket partnership of 134. In the second Test match at Melbourne during the Australian tour of JWHT Douglas’s 1920/21 team, he distinguished himself with innings of 21 not out and 24.
Honours bestowed upon Struddy included honorary membership of MCC in 1949 and life membership of Surrey, whose oil paintings of celebrities in the Long Room at The Oval include one of him.
Strudwick, Herbert, died on February 14, 1970, a few days after his 90th birthday.
Tributes to Herbert Strudwick
AER Gilligan, under whose captaincy he played in Australia: “Not only was he a magnificent wicketkeeper, but he set a fine example to the rest of the side, always being first to be ready to play. He was 100 per cent in every way.”
Wilfred Rhodes, Yorkshire and England: “Struddy was above all a wonderful man and a great player. I telephoned him just before his 90th birthday and we had a long chat over old days. I went with him on his first MCC tour to Australia in 1903/04 and then to South Africa. We were great friends.”
SC Griffith, MCC secretary and a former England wicketkeeper: “This wonderful man and great cricketer taught me, when 14, all I ever knew about wicketkeeping at the cricket school he helped to run in South London. He was the best coach I have ever known and from that time I always numbered him among my dearest friends. Apart from his ability, he was one of the outstanding figures and personalities of the game.”
Herbert Sutcliffe, Yorkshire and England: “He was first of all a gentleman and a sportsman and in his capabilities as fine a player as Bertie Oldfield, the great Australian wicketkeeper. I played both with and against Struddy and rated him absolutely first-class in every way.”