Tales from the Boundary
An All-Action Man
One of the most interesting Essex players of the pre-war period was J.W.A. Stephenson. As an Army officer, he could not play regularly, but from 1934 to 1939 he appeared intermittently, with success. He first made his mark in 1935, taking 10 wickets in the game when Essex beat the South Africans. Playing for the Gentlemen v Players at Lord's in 1936, he took 9 for 46 in the Players first innings; in one over he dismissed Hardstaff, Sinfield and McCorkell. At one point there was even talk of him going to Australia with MCC in 1936-37.
But it was his mere presence on the field which compelled attention. Here is R.C. Robertson–Glasgow in his marvellous “Cricket Prints: Some Batsmen and Bowlers (1920-1940)”: “Here was a cricketer to whom the game was the best thing in life: who could bowl all day with a sort of ferocious accuracy, who danced with delight when he flattened a stump, slapped umpires on the back, ran three when the book said two.”
Wisden said this of him in its obituary: “If there were more cricketers like him, there would always have been fewer empty grounds. There could never, when he was in action, be a dull moment... bowling brisk fast-medium, he seemed almost to hurl himself down the pitch after the ball.”
In 1939, Stephenson shared the Essex captaincy with Wilcox and George Unwin; this scarcely seemed to matter, since Essex had arguably the best all-round attack in the country. (Essex finished 4th).
Stephenson had a distinguished war record, winning the DSO and ending with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Let the final word be with 'Crusoe'*: “He is a good, old-fashioned, forward-playing batsman, but dangerous for a partner with short legs or a weak heart. As a fielder anywhere he is first-rate, but never better than when trying to cut off a leg glide from his own bowling.”
We need more of his type!
*Nickname of Raymond Charles 'Crusoe' Robertson-Glasgow; Scottish cricketer and cricket writer (1901-1965).