By Roderick Easdale author of Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player
When Alastair Cook made his record 23rd test century in England's recent test series in India, Wally Hammond's name briefly reappeared in the cricketing press. Hammond had set the record at 22, later matched by Colin Cowdrey, Geoff Boycott and, also in that recent Indian series, Kevin Pietersen. It was one of the rare occasions that Hammond's name was mentioned nowadays, yet many consider him England's best-ever test player.
Walter Hammond had almost all the attributes of a Boy's Own hero. Handsome and broad shouldered, he was immaculately turned out in his whites as he was off the field. He moved with a languid, easy grace, taking slip catches that few could match and sometimes even comprehend. His batting was all elegant orthodoxy, his cover drive of exquisite beauty and power, his fast-medium bowling delivered from the most classical of actions. He won matches for Gloucestershire almost on his own and came through the professional ranks to captain England to their biggest win in an Ashes test.
Sir Len Hutton, who played against Bradman, declared him "the finest cricketer I played with or against. Walter was the complete cricketer and I never tired of watching him." RC Robertson-Glasgow wrote "there is not one, not Bradman, not Constantine, who could stand a full and unbiased comparison with Hammond as he showed himself in the decade from 1925 to 1935; when he could make a hundred or two against Australia, then bowl down their first three wickets, then make with ease at slip a catch which others would not merely miss but would not have even rated as a miss."
Several commentators rated Hammond above Bradman. Bradman was considered suspect on poor wickets, Hammond could master all types of wicket and was a better fielder and bowler and Hammond was a stylist whereas Bradman's batting was more utilitarian.
So how why has Hammond's reputation not retained high? This is something I sought to examine in Wally Hammond: Gentleman and Player. He played his cricket in the shadow of Bradman, whose dominance has eclipsed others. Hammond, unpopular with team-mates and journalists, was moody, and uncommunicative. When captaining England in Australia he shared a 900-mile car journey with Hutton and the only thing he said in the whole journey was "Look out for a garage, we need some petrol." As a captain he rarely encouraged or praised others. He retired to a foreign land and died relatively young.
But ultimately history's neglect has less to do with anything that he did or was, and more to do with the game's historians and commentators too lightly forgetting the cricketing genius that was Walter Hammond, one of the best test cricketers the world has ever seen or is likely to.
Roderick Easdale is author of Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player published by Endeavour Press.