There has already been talk of “campaigns” and “battles” during the ongoing Ashes series, and even the often sober Sydney Morning Herald referred to Australia’s 347-run defeat by England in the second Test at Lord’s in London just over a week ago as a “slaughter.”
Well, to borrow the words of German tennis great Boris Becker, after the then two-time defending champion’s shock defeat by Australian journeyman Peter Doohan at Wimbledon in 1987, “nobody died” as a result of the tourists falling 2-0 behind with three to play against Ashes-holders England.
Yet, after the final day’s play at Lord’s, Graeme Swann proved it was possible to have a sense of perspective without having seen active service when he paid tribute to a fellow England spinner of an earlier generation.
“Yesterday [July 19] was the 70th anniversary of Hedley Verity’s mortal wounding in WWII [World War II]. We forget how easy life is for us due to men like him #heroes,” Swann, only the second England spinner since Verity to take five wickets in an Ashes Test at Lord’s, tweeted.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of Yorkshire left-arm spinner Verity’s death aged 38 after being hit by enemy fire and shrapnel while serving as a British Army captain during a World War II battle in Sicily, Italy, in 1943, where, despite his injuries, he implored the troops under his command to “keep going.”
Verity, born in the Headingley district of Leeds that gives Yorkshire’s headquarters its name, enjoyed a remarkable career.
He took 1,956 first-class wickets at an average of 14.90 as Yorkshire won seven County Championship titles in the 1930s. His haul saw him take 10 Nottinghamshire wickets for just 10 runs, to this day a record, in a match in 1932.
His Test match record was scarcely less impressive, with Verity taking 144 wickets in 40 matches at 24.37.
Verity was a member of the England side that triumphed in the controversial 1932-1933 “Bodyline” tour of Australia and in 1934 the second Test at Lord’s became known as “Verity’s Match” after he took 15 for 104, including 14 wickets in a day, twice dismissing Australia’s Don Bradman, widely regarded as the greatest batsman international cricket has known.
Verity had more success against Bradman than any other Test bowler, taking his wicket eight times in 17 Tests.
It was not until he passed his 25th birthday that Verity made his debut for White Rose county Yorkshire, having honed his craft playing league cricket “across the border” in Lancashire, where he appeared for several clubs, including Accrington, just 40km from the Red Rose county’s Old Trafford base, which will stage the third Ashes Test starting tomorrow.
Whereas current England left-arm spinner Monty Panesar reacts with all the disjointed fury of a hyperactive puppet whose strings have just been cut when he takes a wicket, Verity, in common with many players of his generation, was far more restrained.
Bradman wrote forewords to two biographies of Verity, the second Alan Hill’s Portrait of a Cricketer published in 1986, and it was clear the passing of the years had not dimmed the Australian’s high regard for his opponent.
“We were great rivals, and I grew to respect him both as a gentleman and a player,” Bradman wrote. “His ideal physique and lovely economical lazy run-up were coordinated to put him in a perfect delivery position, with a superb command of length and direction, but more than his cricketing skill was his sportsmanship and manly bearing under all circumstances. I never once heard him complain or offer a criticism. His whole career exemplified all that was best about cricket and I deem it an honour and privilege to have been on stage with him in those golden days of the 1930s.”