When Warwickshire batted first against Glamorgan at Edgbaston in 1927, they were given a flying start by Len Bates.
Son of the former groundsman, and survivor of the First World War trenches, Bates struck an aggressive 79, but when he was out, the score was 135 for three and the game was even. Then Jack Parsons walked out to join veteran Billy Quaife at the crease.
When they were parted, shortly before the close of the first day, the game was a lot less even. Warwickshire were 450 for four after a record fourth-wicket partnership worth 315 – of which Parsons’ share was 225.
Quaife, as befits a chap aged 55, was content to play a gentle, minor role while the gifted Parsons unfurled glorious strokes galore – 35 fours and a six – in what was to remain the highest score of his unique career.
Warwickshire’s history contains many fascinating and impressive characters but few boast a CV as diverse as John Henry Parsons. Educated at Bablake School, Coventry, he made his Warwickshire debut as a professional in 1910 before serving as a Cavalry Officer during the First World War. After the conflict he returned to Edgbaston to play as an amateur, turned professional again in 1924 and then reclaimed amateur status in 1929, by which time his life and career had taken another big twist – and found its true vocation.
Parsons’ 225 against Glamorgan arrived during his best season. In 1927 he average 50.63 and knocked hard on the door of the England team. An England call never came but, the following year, another call did.
During a match at Edgbaston in 1928, Parsons was padded up, waiting to bat, when the vicar of St Anne’s Church, Moseley, came into the dressing room (access was evidently quite open in those days!) and told him the Archdeacon of Coventry wanted to see him. Parsons, who regularly attended St Anne’s, was viewed as good clergyman material – and it transpired he was receptive to the idea. The following year he became the first professional cricketer to be ordained as an Anglican minister. More than 50 years followed in the clergy, though for the first five of them he continued to play for Warwickshire.
Spectators at the Glamorgan game in 1927 were left to ponder why Parsons never got the nod from England’s selectors. Driving and cutting with the sweetest timing and placement, he scored 100 of the first 145 runs of his partnership with Quaife. Most of his 35 fours never lifted the crimson rambler an inch from the lush Edgbaston turf. It was beautiful batting.
Parsons’ stylish work laid the platform for a commanding win. Glamorgan, still quite new to the championship and acclimatising to first-class cricket, were bowled out for 181 and 283. And most of the damage was done by a man who sadly lacked Parsons’ serenity of soul or longevity, veteran fast-bowler Harry Howell who took four for 68 in the first innings and four for 56 in the second.
While a long and happy future lay ahead for Parsons, for Howell, that was not so. He was in the twilight of his fine career and also of his life.
A former Wolves midfielder, and as working-class Brummie as could be, Howell had enjoyed a long career, peaking in 1923 when he ripped through reigning champions Yorkshire for ten for 51 to become the first Warwickshire player to take an all-ten. Four years later his fourth wicket in Glamorgan’s first innings was his 950th in first-class cricket – sadly, only 25 more remained. While Parsons went on to spend a content half-a-century as a clergyman, latterly in the westcountry, his former team-mate Howell was to live just another five years before, having run an off-licence for several years, he died, aged 41, of liver and kidney problems.
Warwickshire v Worcestershire
What a game we have in store!
The Bears host their local rivals on Thursday 7th June (2pm start) vying for top spot in the North Group of the Royal London One Day Cup.
Get yourself down to Edgbaston with prices set at £15 for adults and U16s free.Buy tickets