Hampshire Cricket History

Jimmy Gray
October 31, 2016, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Jimmy Gray who has died aged 90 was one of the finest of all Hampshire’s native cricketers. He was born in Southampton in 1926 and was educated at the city’s King Edward VI Grammar School, although evacuated to Poole during the war. While there, he took up football and after some local success was taken onto the staff at Arsenal along with other cricketers including his friend Arthur Milton, the Compton brothers and the Hampshire wicket-keeper Ralph Prouton.

He spent four years at Highbury without a first-team appearance and eventually played with Bedford and Salisbury before concentrating on cricket. He played for the leading Southampton club side Deanery and in 1948 Hampshire played two first-class non-Championship matches at Aldershot, giving debuts to Derek Shackleton and Jimmy Gray – choices that would pay significant dividends, not least in 1961.

Derek Shackleton enjoyed immediate and sustained success but the early years were tougher for Jimmy Gray. From 1948-1950 he managed just two half-centuries and an average under 20, but in 1951 he broke into the side with 1,332 runs at 34.15 and the award of his county cap. He then reached four figures in every season up to and including 1963 when he moved into school-teaching and played only part-time for a few years. In three particularly fine seasons, the gloriously sunny 1959, the title-winning 1961 and again in 1962 he passed 2,000 runs and in the first and last of those averaged above 40.

In 1955 he formed an opening partnership with West Indian Roy Marshall which was one foundation of Hampshire’s successes in 1955 (3rd), 1958 (2nd) and 1961 (Champions). Gray’s correct English style was the perfect foil to Marshall’s brilliance and Jimmy was also a highly intelligent if sometimes cautious thinker about the game.

Jimmy scored 30 centuries for Hampshire during a period when bowlers frequently dominated the county game. His best was 213* v Derbyshire at Portsmouth in 1962 and two years earlier he and Marshall set the Hampshire opening partnership record v Middlesex on the same ground. Jimmy’s career aggregate of 22,450 runs is the fourth highest for Hampshire, behind three Test players and the highest by a Hampshire-born player.

If this was not enough, he was a useful close-to-the-wicket fielder with 350 catches but even more significantly an effective medium-pace bowler. His 451 first-class wickets (at 30 each) is almost certainly more than any player will achieve in the future. In 1952 he took 7-56 against Nottinghamshire at Bournemouth and three years later 7-52 v Glamorgan at Swansea. He played in just six limited-overs matches but had he been ten years younger, his all-round abilities might have made him very effective in the shorter format.

Jimmy’s benefit realised £4,350. He taught at Stroud School, Romsey and became Deputy Headteacher – there was perhaps always something of that about him as a cricketer who was always immaculately turned out. After retiring from teaching, he and Peter Sainsbury took over the ‘Hampshire’ sports business of Holt & Haskell. Having been one of the finest Hampshire cricketers he returned to ‘duty’ in the 1990s on the Committee and as Chairman of the Cricket Committee, working alongside his good friend Neville Rogers.

Gray JR driving 1.jpg

4 Comments so far
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Thank you for that mini-biography. He and ‘Marsh’ were such a good partnership, and he was always a handy man to throw the ball to.

Comment by Dave Pople

I’ve just received this by email:
“How terribly sad. Jimmy had the club sewn deep into his heart. Purely personally, he was a tremendous help to me when he was chairman of cricket…and a fine batting coach too. Tonight in Perth there is a little Hampshire boys gathering: Richards, two Smiths, Terry and Nicholas all having dinner together. We shall raise a glass. Good wishes to all”
From Mark Nicholas

Comment by pompeypop

Have such fond memories of watching Jimmy play. I only watched him bat for three seasons but when I did so, he always scored more runs than Roy. I was fortunate enough to see his highest score of 213 not out against Derbyshire at Portsmouth in 1962. It was a gloriously sunny day. It was a most cultured innings, what Cardus would have termed “grammatically correct”. I remember that afterwards he received some criticism for what was perceived as slow scoring during the innings. It occupied 111 overs, of which the redoubtable Les Jackson bowled 32. I’m sure spectators would have a different view these days. It was in that match that he was on the field for the whole duration of the game. He was 85 not out in the second innings. I also recall with great clarity his medium pace swing bowling and his reliable slip catching. Later on, when I was coaching, he came and talked to the youngsters at our local club. He held them spellbound in an address full of wisdom. One thing he mentioned was the reasons for his retirement from the game. 1962 was a stellar season for him but in 1963 he really struggled. He wondered if there was a flaw in his set up. He asked Peter Sainsbury to stand alongside the sightscreen at both ends to see if his head position and back lift were correct. Sains said that all was in order. Jimmy therefore came to the conclusion that his eyes “had gone” and decided to retire at the end of the season. An honest man, full of integrity. These are my own memories but in an historical context there is much more besides-Southampton born-scored more first-class runs and centuries for the county than any other Hampshire born batsman.i

Comment by Alan Edwards

As a youngster my Hampshire batting hero was Roy Marshall. It took awhile for me to realize the crucial role JG played as a foil to Roy. I can remember when it really hit me. It was at Dean Park, early 60s, Marshall was out early and I became mesmerized by the way JG’s strictly orthodox batting style blunted the bowling. Alan Edwards comment about his retirement rings true to my memory. He had just one bad season and was gone.

Many years later I recall a lovely hour in his shop. I was on leave from HK looking to buy a bat. He talked about his career, but mainly about the other Hampshire players of his time. When I told him that I had played for Basingstoke and North Hants, he discussed the respective merits of the brothers Clive and Bernard Harrison in a way that I have never forgotten.

As Dave says, a really sad day for those of us who love Hampshire cricket.

Comment by Ian Laidlaw

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