It is every cricketer’s nightmare. You are on a train travelling to an away match. Your team are all about you their excited voices and banter filling the air. Everyone is relaxed and enjoying the adventure … except you.
There is a nagging undefined fear growing in your mind and preventing you joining in. Something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on the cause.
It had begun the day before. A chance to show people what you could really do. You’d made the team you’d longed to be selected for and hurried home impatient to share the news.
“Very good dear,” your Mother had said. “Just make sure your kit is clean and you are looking neat and tidy.”
“I’ll clean his pads and boots for him. Do you need new studs, boy? Ma, darn that hole for him.”
“Don’t fuss both of you.”
“Make sure you pack everything. You know what you’re like.”
“We’ll pack his bag with him. He’ll be fine.”
In the morning you’d picked up your bag from the hall and taken the bus to the meeting point.
Now, on the train nearing the terminus, everyone is getting up, stretching and reaching for their cricket bags.
That’s it! Where’s your bag? A searing realisation burns the brain.
“I’ve left it behind!”
That is exactly what happened to the 17 year old Denis Compton in his third year on the MCC ground staff. Coach, Archie Fowler, had told him he had been selected as one of three professionals for the MCC against Suffolk at Felixstowe.
Now, as he was about to play in a match that meant more to him than anything else, his bag was where he’d left it – in the grounds-boys’ room.
He wired Lord’s asking them to forward his bag. Back came a reply, “Bag on way. You’ll leave your head behind one day.” They already knew him well.
“Ma le disgrazie non giungono mai sole”, as the Italians say. MCC wickets were falling quickly with no sign of the missing bag.
Compton paced the dressing room, a boy among men; a boy without a bat, shirt, trousers, or boots.
One of the other professionals was George Brown. Nearing his fiftieth birthday but still an imposing 6ft 3ins giant of a man who, because of his deep tan, high cheek bones and imperious nose, resembled a red Indian chief, George was one of the great characters of the game.
Utterly fearless, he had once got into a ‘set too’ with the Kent fast bowler Arthur Fielder. Facing a fierce short delivery he dropped his bat to his side, stood up, took the ball full in the chest, and roared, “He’s not fast ” and then went on to score 71.
You will believe, then, that George seemed as broad as he was tall and supported his great frame in size 11 boots.
“Wear my kit, Denis,” suggested the veteran to the diminutive 5ft 8ins Compton.
“But George, it’d be like Oliver Hardy offering his suit to Stan Laurel.”
“Put them on Denis. Make a go of it until your own kit comes.”
Denis clambered into the shirt as if it were a circus tent. Then he climbed into the trousers which he turned up by about a foot. He and George packed the boots with newspaper and strapped on the pads that, according to Compton, ‘appeared a little tight under the arms’.
Next he endeavoured to pick up the Chief’s bat. Denis even in his prime used a 2lb 3 oz blade. He could barely lift George’s plank of a bat.
And out he struggled, a comic figure, in this the most important match of his life.
And back he marched, bowled first ball, the immovable bat unmoved. “Better luck next time, lad,” said George. “You’ll do better when your kit arrives.”
Brown was right. In the second innings Compton redeemed himself with a score of 110. There are six million Compton stories. This has been one of them.