Sir Len Hutton – Life, Career & Death

Sir Len Hutton is a Yorkshire cricketing legend. Over the course of a long career, he’s achieved just about everything in the game for both Yorkshire and England.

Page Contents:

Growing Up

Leonard Hutton was born on the 23rd of July 1916 in the village of Fulneck near Pudsey. As a child, he became obsessed with cricket and his undoubted talent for the sport was visible to observers from a young age.

He made his first steps onto the cricket field for Pudsey St Lawrence CC and quickly shone as an exciting prospect. As he was growing up, Len was watched and coached in his garden by his neighbour Herbert Sutcliffe who was an established cricketer.

Hutton was noted for his technique being correct making him ideal for opening the batting. This is where players must face the new ball which swings more through the air and bounces higher off of the pitch.

Len continued to shine for the Pudsey St Lawrence Cricket Club. He scored a memorable 108 in the Priestly cup which proved to be the principal knockout competition for the Bradford League.

The Beginning of His Career

In 1930 at the age of 14, Hutton was invited to the nets at Headingley for practice with the Yorkshire team. On observation, veteran cricketer George Hirst remarked that he already had the complete game and that there was nothing more to teach him.

Three years later, Len joined the Yorkshire Seconds XI. It was here that he broke into the first team and made his debut at the young age of just seventeen.

Hutton continued to impress and maintained his place in the side, opening the batting alongside his mentor Herbert Sutcliffe. At the time, he also became the youngest player to make a century for the white rose county when he scored 196 in a domestic game against Worcestershire.

A broken nose and illness temporarily halted young Len’s progress during the 1935 season. During this time, his appearances were limited and he averaged just 28.

Unperturbed, Hutton carried on and made 1,000 runs during a season for the first time in 1936 which is always the benchmark for any aspiring young batsman.

Much like Geoffrey Boycott in the latter half of the century, Hutton was criticised for being too defensive and negative. In his defence, the wet summer of 1936 meant that the pitches were hardly conducive to expansive stroke play, especially for an opening batsman.

Len Hutton’s International Debut

Len Hutton’s international debut against New Zealand at Lord’s in the summer of 1937 ended up with him only scoring a single run in two innings. However, his form for Yorkshire in the intervening county matches meant that he kept his place for the second match at Old Trafford.

In this game, Len scored exactly 100 runs. These innings laid the foundations for what would be a record-breaking international career.

Cricket Legend Len Hutton Batting for the Yorkshire team.
Cricket Legend Len Hutton Batting for the Yorkshire team. (Image source: Wikipedia)

Creating Records

One year later during the Ashes summer of 1938, Len Hutton and his England teammates would make it into the record books. In the first innings of the 5th Test Match at the Oval, Len Hutton scored 364 runs out of a team total of 903-7 which was the highest individual score at that time. This record team score stood until Sri Lanka’s epic 952-5 declared in 1997.

Len Hutton had his own record of innings in which he hit 35 fours. He kept this record for twenty years until a West Indian all-rounder called Garfield Sobers scored 365 in 1958.

His partnership with veteran Maurice Layand of 382 for the second wicket was the highest. This stood until Sri Lankan pair Jayasuriya and Mahnanma’s efforts during their mammoth innings against India in 1997. Hutton still holds one record from the famous innings in which he faced 847 deliveries which is the most faced by any batsman.

Inevitably, England went on to beat Australia by 597 runs as the tourists capitulated to 201 and 123 all out respectively. This margin of victory is still a record to this day however the drawn series of one test match each meant that Australia still retained the Ashes.

Len Hutton’s record breaking innings brought a new maturity and confidence to the way he batted. He formed a partnership with Herbert Sutcliffe in which he became the dominant partner who had developed a more attacking range of shots than in previous years.

Second World War

During the 1939 season, Len scored 280 in a county match against Hampshire which was his highest score for Yorkshire. He went on to hit two centuries during a home test series and won against the West Indies in the summer of 1939.

Soon after, the Second World War intervened. The years in which Len Hutton should have been in the prime of his career were taken away.

Instead of continuing to thrill crowds on the cricket field, he was called up to serve for the British Army like many of his fellow professionals. However, Hutton never saw action on the battlefield after breaking his arm during a commando training course in York.

The injured batsman returned home to his native Leeds. He briefly played for Pudsey St Lawrence in 1943 and in a series of charity matches organised during the wartime years due to the suspension of normal professional competitions.

Resuming His Career

In 1946, a now 30 year old Hutton had to resume his career after missing six important years. The injury that was sustained to his arm meant that Len had to adapt his technique, especially when he was playing the short ball, to eliminate the hook shot from his repertoire. This led to opposing bowlers for a time testing him out with short pitched deliveries.

Yorkshire cricket legend Len Hutton.

A New Generation of Cricketers

Post-war, a new generation of cricketers were coming through the ranks at both county and national level. During this state of transition, Hutton stood head and shoulders above the rest.

1949 became Len’s most prolific season. He hit 3,429 runs at an average of 68.58 and at the international level averaged 78 in the drawn series against New Zealand.

Breaking More Records

In 1951, Len Hutton broke more records. He scored his 100th century in first class cricket in a county match against Surry, more bizarrely, Len became the first and only player to be dismissed by “obstructing the field” in Test Matches. This strange dismissal is one of the lesser known methods of getting out in cricket.

Any batsman deemed to be obstructing or distracting the field both physically or verbally by the umpire can be sent back to the pavilion. In this case, Hutton top-edged the ball and then attempted to hit the ball away from the stumps therefore preventing the wicketkeeper from taking the catch.

Captain of the England Team

Despite this new record, Len Hutton was appointed as the Captain of the English Cricket Club in 1952. However, the circumstances surrounding his appointment went against the usual tradition.

The usual source of an English cricket captain came from a candidate in the privileged amateur ranks. At the time a new captain was to be appointed, there was a lack of suitable candidates which led the selectors to turn to Hutton.

The selectors made Len their first professional skipper who came from the working classes. Having broken down these class barriers, the pressure was on for Hutton to prove to everyone that he was worthy as the England Captain.

Much like his earlier batting career, Len took a cautious approach to captaincy which was to prove both successful and controversial during the home Ashes series of 1953. In the fourth test at Headingley, the tourists needed 177 runs to win with just under two hours of play remaining.

Hutton decided to bowl their slow left arm bowler Trevor Bailey. Len asked Bailey to pitch the cricket ball outside the leg stump in order to reduce the batsman’s ability to score runs quickly. A victory in the final Oval Test, which was always a lucky ground for Hutton, meant that England had won the Ashes for the first time since 1934.

A controversial drawn series in the West Indies followed where England came from 2-0 down to draw the series two each. However, a now ageing Len Hutton was beginning to feel the effects of ill health.

Decline in Health

Len Hutton c1955 at the point of retirement.
Len Hutton c1955 at the point of retirement. (image source: www.geograph.co.uk)

Len Hutton’s health was beginning to deteriorate. Along with his arm injury that he sustained during the war which left one arm shorter than the other, he also had to contend with fibrosis which is a muscle condition that affected his movement in the field.

Hutton had to miss most of the 1954 season due to medical advice. However, he returned to captain England on the tour to Australia.

Although some of his physical ability was on the decline, by now Len had acquired a very good cricket brain which would serve him well. Hutton still managed nearly 1,000 runs in the series at an average of 50.47 as the English retained the Ashes 3-1.

In 1955, he started the season poorly which was not helped by the onset of lumbago, a pain in the muscles of the lower back. Despite this, Len still managed to play until the end of June that year and made a painful five hour century against Nottinghamshire.

Unfortunately, due to his declining health as well as the pain he had to endure whilst playing cricket, Len Hutton announced his retirement in January 1956. Soon after, he became one of the few cricketers to be knighted.

Len Hutton’s Achievements

In total, Len Hutton scored 40, 140 runs in all first class cricket (Yorkshire and England) at an average of 55.21 with 129 hundreds. Len played 79 tests for his country and for most of his career held the record for the highest individual score in a Test Match.

Retirement

During his retirement, Len Hutton became a respected journalist and writer of the cricket game. Up until 1961, he also enjoyed a stint of broadcasting.

In the mid 70’s, Len became an England selector. Finally, in 1984, Hutton retired from all work and was made the President of the Yorkshire Cricket Club six years later.

Len Hutton’s Death

The Sir Len Hutton gates outside Headingley cricket ground- Rich Tea – Geograph – CC

Len Hutton’s health started to decline which led him to become frail. In September 1990, shortly after watching a cricket match at the Oval, Len suffered a ruptured aorta. Sadly Len Hutton died after an unsuccessful operation on the 6th of September 1990.

The famous cricketer Len Hutton was commemorated by the construction of gates at the front of Headingley Cricket ground in 2001. He is remembered fondly as a true Yorkshire and England cricketing hero.