Yesterday, we spent some time with a promising member of the Lord’s ground staff and took the train with him to an ‘out’ match in Felixstowe to watch him play against Suffolk. By the outbreak of the Second World War, Denis Compton, had become an established player for both Middlesex and England with significant successes against New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies.
Today we meet another ground-boy, a few years junior to Compton. Nick-named by members of the ground-boys room as ‘Mr’ Paul Brooks*, was highly rated by those at Lord’s. Yet he was always listening to senior players and trying to improve his game. He desperately wanted to know whether he would make the grade and longed to be tested.
In 1938 when the Australians came to Lord’s for practice, the youthful, eager ‘Mr’ Brooks was ordered into the nets at the old Nursery to bowl for Don Bradman. In front of the viewing press, his left arm fast-medium, knocked out the Don’s middle pole making him for a short time a celebrity.
In Middlesex’s last Championship match of the 1939 season, Brooks was at last brought in to make his first class debut. He joined Compton at the wicket and together for an all-too brief period they made hay in the last of the sunshine before the war clouds darkened the skies.
“When he joined me at the wicket,” Compton wrote, “I knew, from the look on his face, that he was enjoying the happiest moment of his life … he ‘wallowed’ in his batting, and with me as his partner, cracked up a wonderful unbeaten 45.”**
What fun they must have had, chatting between overs, sharing nods of encouragement as the fielders returned the ball from the boundary, taking in the cheers and heckles from the crowd in front of the Tavern, catching a glimpse now and then of Coach Archie Fowler looking on with pride from a gap in the stands.
“You’ve a big find there,” commented a Warwickshire player to general agreement among the Middlesex dressing room.
Were there drinks in the evening, paid for out of the season’s fines? Or were spirits too low, worries too considerable? Within a few days all contracts at Lord’s had been cancelled.
In November Compton headed off to the Finsbury Park Labour exchange to sign up for the Royal Artillery – an apt outfit for an Arsenal left-wing.
If Martin Williamson at Cricinfo is right, Brooks first joined the London Fire Service, representing them at Lord’s. Cricket Archive has him playing for the Lord’s XI between 1940-42 and around this date he must have ‘joined up’ as they then have him playing for the British Empire XI in ‘43 and ’44 and the Combined Services in 1944. None of these matches were rated first class.
Compton takes up the story, “But Paul Brooks – God bless him! Never lived to enjoy the success he had earned, for after lying three months in a hospital bed in England, after receiving a spine wound while fighting in Italy, he passed away.”
Perhaps it is appropriate that for this one promising cricketer destroyed by war, with first class figures of matches 1, innings 1, not outs 1, Runs 44, Highest Score 44 not out; his average should be infinity.
*Compton spells his surname Brookes.
** Cricinfo and Cricket Archive say the score was 44 not out.