Tom Pritchard’s Century – Part 2

Tom Pritchard has become the first Warwickshire player to reach 100 years of age. Last week we reflected on Tom's great cricket career and life in general in England and New Zealand. Here, in part two of our tribute, club journalist Brian Halford focuses on Tom's major contribution as a Warwickshire player.

 

On May 11, 1952, Warwickshire were fighting a desperate rearguard action on the final afternoon of their championship match against Glamorgan at Swansea.

Tom Pritchard was at the crease, under strict instruction from captain Tom Dollery to play for the draw. The captain's message to the fast-bowler was to eschew risk, especially against England left-arm seamer Allan Watkins. Just block it out and try to see the minutes out.

Three times during the next hour, Pritchard smote deliveries from Watkins into Swansea Bay. "It was the best way I could think of to take up time," he explained.

Now that's what you call style!

Last week, Tom Pritchard, at home in his native New Zealand and still in good shape and with a passionate interest in sport, celebrated his 100th birthday. The many warm wishes he received included those of the current Warwickshire players who sent a shirt and card signed by Ian Bell's team.

"Pritchard, Warwickshire possessed the most successful fast-bowler in county cricket. On the lively Edgbaston pitch, in particular, his pace worried even the best of batsmen."

Wisden

These days, Bell has a decent pace-attack at his disposal, of course - one of the best in county cricket. But, make no mistake, Tom Pritchard, in his pomp, would have enhanced it.

Never mind the occasional flamboyance with the bat, Tom was a master with the ball. He bowled with sustained pace, accuracy and menace in an era when workloads were astonishingly high.

Tom played for Warwickshire from 1946 to 1955, all his 170 appearances for them coming in first-class cricket. There was no limited-overs cricket back then, though Pritchard would certainly have been a great asset across the formats - as a dangerous batsman in a traditional, late-order, beefy-fast-bowler sort of way and, more pertinently, a devastating bowler in a 90mph, toe-crunching, stump-demolishing sort of way.

An extraordinarily high percentage of his 695 wickets for Warwickshire involved rearranging the furniture. A great asset to any side in any format, for sure.

Tom arrived at Edgbaston having met Dollery while serving with the New Zealand Army in northern Italy during the Second World War. He made his championship debut against Northamptonshire at Northampton in 1947 and started in style with five for 30.

The war having robbed him of seven peak years, his county debut arrived at the age of 30 - but in the subsequent years, his fitness preserved by army service, he led the Bears' bowling attack brilliantly. Most spectacularly in his second season, 1948, when he took 166 first-class wickets, the second most in a season for Warwickshire, behind Eric Hollies' 180 in 1946.

Hollies, it must be remembered, was a spinner. A great spinner, but still the physical exertion and strain involved in that art is significantly less than what goes into fast-bowling. Pritchard's feat in 1948 stands as arguably the greatest season's achievement ever by a Warwickshire bowler.

In the championship he bowled 1,139.3 overs (15 more than Hollies) and took 163 wickets at 17.47 apiece. He was ever-present throughout 26 championship games. He started off with 34.5 overs against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in early May and ended with 40 overs against Middlesex at Lord's in late August. And he never flagged in between.

"In Pritchard," commented Wisden, "Warwickshire possessed the most successful fast-bowler in county cricket. On the lively Edgbaston pitch, in particular, his pace worried even the best of batsmen."

Most counties fell before the 'Kaupokonui Terror.' He had match-figures of 13 for 158 against Northamptonshire at Northampton and 11 for 80 (including a hat-trick to finish the match) against Leicestershire at Edgbaston. Six victims in his seven for 71 against Essex at Edgbaston were clean bowled. His five for 41, on the third day against Yorkshire at Edgbaston, powered his team to their first home win over the White Rose since 1893. His eight wickets against Hampshire on a Southampton flat-track set up a victory which was completed by his old pal Dollery whose unbeaten 76 in an hour saw Warwickshire to a target of 147 in 95 minutes.

Not surprisingly, Tom's sensational form attracted the attention of New Zealand's selectors when they considered their squad to tour England in 1949. They had bizarrely overlooked Pritchard before the war, when he was the quickest bowler in the country - and now found their approach rebuffed.

It was a very tough decision for the patriotic Kiwi, but pragmatism held sway. Warwickshire had halved the time for Tom to wait for a benefit from ten to five years and missing a season could jeopardise that deal.

"I turned it down," he later reflected, "and it is a great regret, one of the biggest regrets of my career. I had my benefit year coming up and that was a lot of money back then. I was badly advised. I had no-one I could really talk to about it."

Test cricket was to elude this very fine bowler. He did represent New Zealand once, against Sir Julien Cahn's XI in March 1939, of which he remains very proud, but within months of that match cricket was consumed by the war. Tom was to end his career with the fourth-most first-class wickets by a New Zealander (his 818 coming behind only Richard Hadlee 1,490, Clarrie Grimmett 1,424 and Syd Smith 955) but it was Warwickshire who were to see the best of him.

When Warwickshire won the championship for only the second time, in 1951, he took 93 wickets at 21.65 apiece, including a mid-season burst of 36 in four games at 10.88 apiece which triggered the march of Dollery's team to the title.

The following year, however, injuries began to occur, as to be expected, perhaps, after successive years of a big fast-bowler delivering 1,000-plus overs per season. Tom's county career ended in 1955, though he continued to plunder wickets for some years in the Birmingham League for clubs including Smethwick, West Bromwich Dartmouth and Moseley.

Tom's career for Warwickshire was not among the longest - but, in terms of what he contributed while he was at the club, as both player and person, it was definitely among the greatest.

Tom Pritchard, Warwickshire's first centenarian - and a great Bear!

 

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Brian Halford

Brian is Warwickshire's Club Journalist and has reported on the Bears since 2000.