Mankad, autographs, and committee rooms: Queen Elizabeth II and cricket – The Almanack
Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022. In this piece, first published in the 2023 edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Patrick Kidd and Kit Harris chronicle her long association with cricket.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth II ended as it had begun – on the first day of a Test match. At Madras in February 1952, news of the death of George VI arrived at tea; England batted until stumps, before the scheduled rest day was brought forward as a mark of respect. On the resumption, they were skittled by Vinoo Mankad, before Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar made centuries to set up India’s first Test win.
Seventy years later, only the toss was possible at The Oval before grey skies began to weep, in possible anticipation of events at Balmoral. It allowed Harry Brook to become the 339th England player to receive his Test cap as a subject of the Queen – Fred Trueman was the first – though he would not take the field for two days, by which time the country had a king. England beat South Africa by nine wickets.
In Madras, England were led by Donald Carr, standing in for Nigel Howard, who had pleurisy. It was the second and last Test of Carr’s career, though he had the distinction of taking the first wicket of the new reign – the first success by an Elizabethan bowler since Francis Drake, against Spain in 1588. Yet cricket and society were beginning to change. That summer, Len Hutton became England’s first professional captain, and led them to a 3–0 win over India, before recapturing the Ashes the following year. The coronation was also marked by an overdue knighthood, for the son of a Cambridge slater who had worked as an apprentice gas fitter before finding a county willing to pay for his batting talents. Like Gordon Richards, the Shropshire coal miner’s son who became the greatest jockey in the land and was also knighted in 1953, Jack Hobbs overcame his background, and was honoured for his achievements.
Though racing was always the Queen’s greatest love, she had good reason to take more than a polite interest in cricket. Her husband, a decent player, was twice president of MCC, in 1949 and 1975, and her father was generously described by Wisden as the greatest royal cricketer since Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1751, largely because he took a hat-trick in a match at Windsor: Edward VII and the future George V and Edward VIII were all bowled, proving that a straight always beats three kings.
In 1947, a good 75 years before Lord’s was decked out in red, white and blue to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee, she had made her first official visit to the ground, in the company of her parents and her sister, Princess Margaret, to watch England play South Africa. It was the first of 36 visits to Lord’s, 32 to see Tests. In 1948, Don Bradman and his Australian Invincibles were invited to Balmoral, where they met George VI. The previous day, Bradman had made an unbeaten 123 against Scotland at Aberdeen, his final innings in the UK. Now, he raised eyebrows by being filmed walking with his hands in his pockets as he spoke to the King. Not remotely offended, George knighted him in 1949.
On June 23, 1952, the Queen visited Lord’s on the fourth day of the game against India, arriving shortly after Mankad had become the first Indian to make a century and take five wickets in the same Test. She congratulated him at tea. “One of the most charming pictures that ever appeared in Wisden,” wrote AA Thomson, “is that of Her Majesty shaking hands with Mankad on that glorious day.”
Until 1999, so for almost half a century of her reign, the Queen was the only woman permitted in the Pavilion. A doubtless apocryphal story is told about the MCC member waking from a doze, seeing but not recognising her, and spluttering: “Good heavens, there’s a woman in the committee room! And she’s talking to Swanton!” Michael Henderson later wrote that EW Swanton, grand old man of The Daily Telegraph, might have regarded this as a meeting of equals.
Despite all her visits to Lord’s, the 2009 Ashes Test was the first time in 50 years she had stayed for lunch. This caused problems when she asked for a Dubonnet, and staff found the drinks cabinet empty. Someone was sent to find a bottle in St John’s Wood, but was almost thwarted by a security guard on their return, who said spirits were prohibited. The protestation – “but it’s for the Queen” – was finally accepted.
There is also a royal connection to The Oval, whose freehold is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, marked in Surrey’s crest by the Prince of Wales’s three ostrich feathers. The Queen first went there as monarch in 1955, for Surrey’s match against the South Africans. Two years later, she visited the Guildford festival as part of the town’s 700th anniversary celebrations, though not before Surrey had completed an easy victory over Hampshire. An exhibition match was quickly arranged to give the royal couple something to watch before meeting the teams.
For the World Cups in 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1999, the Queen invited all the teams to a reception at Buckingham Palace; in 2019, it was just the captains. The 1999 invitation came halfway through the tournament, by which time England had been knocked out. David Morgan, then deputy chairman of the ECB, recalls being introduced to the royals as head of the steering committee, and hearing the Duke of Edinburgh mutter: “What on earth is left to steer?”
In 1977, the Queen had visited Trent Bridge, where she witnessed the Test debut of a cricketer she would later knight, then make a peer. “It was a moment I will never forget,” said Ian Botham. “I was walking on air.” Inspired, he took five wickets in his first innings. His captain was Mike Brearley, who felt like “a tongue-tied courtier” in her presence, worried he would get someone’s name wrong, or find his zip undone. He made a good impression, though: three years later, Brearley was invited to lunch at Buckingham Palace with five others, including the poet Ted Hughes. Dickie Bird was also invited to private lunches, as a thank you for umpiring charity matches in aid of injured jockeys.
A royal visit often left England captains flummoxed. Alastair Cook found he could not remember his players’ real names when meeting the Queen in 2013. While he rescued himself with “this is Jimm… er, James Anderson”, he struggled to recall anything more formal for Graeme Swann than “Swanny”. A few years later, Joe Root was told to address her either as Your Majesty or Ma’am, but blurted out “Your Ma’am”.
Australians have been less affected. At the Centenary Test at Melbourne, Dennis Lillee asked the Queen for her autograph; she sent him a signed photo. Four years later, invited to the Palace to receive his MBE, Lillee greeted her with “G’day, Queen.” During the line-ups at Lord’s, with the Queen not quite out of earshot, Rodney Hogg remarked that she had “nice legs for an old Sheila”.
Deep down, the affection was mutual: visiting the Test Match Special box in 2001, she bore a fruit cake laced with brandy. “When we cut it open, you only had to have two sniffs and you were pissed,” said Henry Blofeld. “It was the best cake we’ve had.” He and Jonathan Agnew were enjoying her presence when she noticed play had begun, and asked how they could be with her and on air at the same time. “We have an Australian,” Blofeld explained. “Oh yes,” she said. “They can be useful.”
Queen Elizabeth’s Cricketing Engagements
Lord’s, June 24, 1947. England v South Africa (day three). Princess Elizabeth sees South Africa’s Alan Melville score his third century in successive innings.
Lord’s, June 22, 1951. England v South Africa (day two). Now Duchess of Edinburgh, the Princess watches England’s spinners, Roy Tattersall and Johnny Wardle, share 13 wickets.
Lord’s, June 23, 1952. England v India (day four). Her first match as sovereign. Vinoo Mankad leads an Indian fightback with 184.
Lord’s, June 25, 1956. England v Australia (day four). Richie Benaud puts England to the sword with 97, and Keith Miller edges towards a match haul of ten.
Lord’s, June 27, 1960. England v South Africa (day four). England win before the Queen arrives, so there is an exhibition match; South Africa’s Geoff Griffin is no-balled for throwing.
Lord’s, June 22, 1961. England v Australia (day one). Alan Davidson’s 5-42 bowls out an England line-up including Ken Barrington, Colin Cowdrey, Ted Dexter and Peter May.
Lord’s, June 24, 1963. England v West Indies (day four). England begin a chase of 234, but Wes Hall breaks Cowdrey’s wrist, before his thrilling return next day.
Lord’s, June 22, 1964. England v Australia (day four). John Edrich spends five hours accumulating his first Test century.
Lord’s, June 21, 1965. England v New Zealand (day four). Geoff Boycott and Bob Barber start England’s pursuit of 216 with a stand of 64.
Lord’s, June 20, 1966. England v West Indies (day four). West Indies are saved by Garry Sobers’s 163*, in a stand of 274* with his cousin David Holford (105*).
Lord’s, June 26, 1967. England v India (day four). Ray Illingworth and Brian Close, both bowling off-spin, skittle India to complete an innings win.
Lord’s, July 31, 1967. England v Pakistan (day four). Hanif Mohammad saves Pakistan with a rearguard of 187*, helped by Asif Iqbal’s 76.
Lord’s, June 24, 1968. England v Australia (day four). England declare their first innings at 351, and dismiss Australia for 78, David Brown taking 5-42; they follow on.
Lord’s, June 30, 1969. England v West Indies (day four). Illingworth completes his maiden Test hundred, before Roy Fredericks counters with 60, and Clive Lloyd 70.
Lord’s, July 25, 1969. England v New Zealand (day two). Derek Underwood and Illingworth take four wickets apiece to dismiss New Zealand for 169, ensuring a crucial lead.
Lord’s, June 21, 1971. England v Pakistan (day four). Boycott makes a century, and England declare their first innings at 241-2, but rain has long since made a draw inevitable.
Lord’s, July 22, 1971. England v India (day one). India’s spinners, Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, bowl nearly all day; Alan Knott hits a fifty.
Lord’s, July 31, 1975. England v Australia (day one). England select David Steele, who scores a plucky 50 against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson; Tony Greig makes 96.
Lord’s, June 21, 1976. England v West Indies (day four). The visitors field a four-pronged pace attack: Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder.
Melbourne, March 17, 1977. Australia v England (day five). Derek Randall scores 174 in the Centenary Test (and stumbles into the royal box), but Lillee wins the game with five wickets.
Nottingham, July 28, 1977. England v Australia (day one). Boycott’s international recall; Ian Botham takes 5-74 on debut.
Lord’s, June 15, 1978. England v Pakistan (day one). The first occasion on which the Queen sees no play: the whole day is washed out, but she meets the teams.
Lord’s, June 23, 1980. England v West Indies (day four). Rain ruins the day: half an hour’s cricket is possible in the morning; the Queen comes later in the vain hope of play.
Lord’s, July 2, 1981. England v Australia (day one). Geoff Lawson claims three wickets on his way to 7-81, as England reach 191-4.
Lord’s, June 11, 1982. England v India (day two). England are well on their way to 433, thanks to Randall, the first player to score two centuries in front of the Queen.
Lord’s, June 28, 1985. England v Australia (day two). More rain, but the visiting seamers flourish: Craig McDermott completes figures of 6-70.
Lord’s, July 25, 1986. England v New Zealand (day two). An injury to Bruce French means England call on the retired Bob Taylor, who is in a hospitality box.
Lord’s, June 26, 1989. England v Australia (day four). England are well behind, with Terry Alderman taking 6-128, but David Gower hits 106.
Lord’s, June 21, 1993. England v Australia (day five). Needing to bat out the day to save the game, England collapse to Tim May and Shane Warne.
Rawalpindi, October 8, 1997. Pakistan v South Africa (day three). Azhar Mahmood reaches a century on Pakistan debut, during a last-wicket stand of 151 with Mushtaq Ahmed.
Lord’s, July 19, 2001. England v Australia (day one). It rains for much of the day, but England, put in, slip to 121-4 against Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie.
Lord’s, July 22, 2004. England v West Indies (day one). England punish a weak West Indian attack: Andrew Strauss and Rob Key hit centuries in a partnership of 291.
Lord’s, May 17, 2007. England v West Indies (day one). On a fine batting pitch, England pile up runs, with Alastair Cook scoring his fifth Test hundred, aged 22.
Lord’s, July 17, 2009. England v Australia (day two). After England post 425, Australia crawl, then collapse; the hosts’ pace quartet reduce them to 156-8.
Lord’s, July 18, 2013. England v Australia (day one). Ryan Harris has England 28-3, but Ian Bell’s classy 109 ensures they recover.
The Queen would have visited Lord’s to see Pakistan in 1954, West Indies in 1957, New Zealand in 1958, Pakistan in 1962, Australia in 1972, West Indies in 1991 and Australia in 1997, but there was no play owing to rain or an early finish, so she received the visiting team (and England, in 1954 and 1991) at Buckingham Palace.
The Queen watched the World Cup final at Lord’s on June 20, 1999. There were also visits to watch Middlesex (1953) and MCC (1954 and 1959) at Lord’s; local cricket at Adelaide (1954), Cape Town (1995) and Durban (1999); Surrey at The Oval (1955 and 1991) and Guildford (1957); and South Africa at Highclere (1994).
The Queen opened the Riverside at Chester-le-Street (1995) and inspected the new ECB Academy at Loughborough (2003).
Honours and patronages
There were 26 cricketing knighthoods during the Queen’s reign. She conferred the following 12 in person: Henry Leveson Gower (1953), Jack Hobbs (1953), Len Hutton (1956), Learie Constantine (1962), Frank Worrell (1964), Neville Cardus (1967), Garry Sobers (1975), Gubby Allen (1986), Colin Cowdrey (1992), Alec Bedser (1997), Ian Botham (2007) and Alastair Cook (2019). She was a patron of six clubs: MCC, Lancashire, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, Sandringham and the Royal Household.
Patrick Kidd writes the Diary and Tailender columns in The Times.
Kit Harris is the Assistant Editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. His book, The Queen at the Cricket, is available from the Wisden shop.