Sir Len Hutton is a Yorkshire cricketing legend, who over the course of a long career achieved just about everything in the game for both Yorkshire and England.
He was born on 23rd June 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. Watched and coached in his garden by neighbour and established cricketer, Herbert Sutcliffe, Hutton was noted for his very correct technique, ideal for opening the batting, where players must face the new ball which swings more through the air and bounces higher off the pitch. He continued to shine for Pudsey St Lawrence, scoring a memorable 108 not out in the Priestly cup, the principle knockout competition for the Bradford League.
In 1930, aged fourteen, 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 “there was nothing more to teach him.” Three years later he joined the Yorkshire Second XI and then broke into the first team, making his debut aged just seventeen.
Hutton continued to impress and maintained his place in the side, opening the batting alongside his mentor, Herbert Sutcliffe. He also became at the time, 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 when 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, always the benchmark for any aspiring young batsman. Much like a certain Mr 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 against New Zealand at Lord’s in the summer of ’37 ended up with him scoring only a single run in two innings, but 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 he scored exactly 100 runs and this innings laid the foundations for what would be a record-breaking international career.
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, the highest individual score at that time, out of a team total of 903-7. This record team score stood until Sri Lanka’s epic 952-6 declared in 1997.
Hutton’s own record innings, in which he hit 35 fours, stood for twenty years until West Indian all-rounder Garfield Sobers scored 365 in 1958. His partnership of 382 for the second wicket with veteran Maurice Leyland was the highest for the second wicket, a record which stood until Sri Lankan pair, Jayasuriya and Mahanama’s efforts during their mammoth innings against India in 1997. Hutton still holds one record from this famous innings in that he faced 847 deliveries the most faced by any batsman.
Inevitably, England went on to beat Australia by an innings and 579 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.
His record breaking innings brought a new maturity and confidence to Hutton’s batting. In partnerships with Herbert Sutcliffe he became the dominant partner, who had developed a more attacking range of shots than in previous years.
During the 1939 season he scored 280 not out in a county match against Hampshire, his highest score for Yorkshire and hit two centuries during a home test series win against the West Indies in the summer of ’39. Then the Second World War intervened, stealing the years which should have been the prime of Len Hutton’s career.
Instead of thrilling crowds on the cricket field he was, like many of his fellow professionals called up to serve for the British army in the Second World War. 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, briefly turning out 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.
In 1946 a now 30-year old Hutton had to resume his career, after missing six important years. The injury sustained to his arm meant that he had to adapt his technique, especially in playing the short ball, where he had to eliminate the hook shot from his repertoire. This led to opposing bowlers for a time testing him out with short pitched deliveries.
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.
The year 1949 became his most prolific season when he hit 3,429 runs at an average of 68.58 and at international level averaged 78 in the drawn series against New Zealand.
In 1951 Len Hutton broke yet more records. He scored his 100th century in first class cricket in a county match against Surrey and more bizarrely 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 by the umpire to be obstructing or distracting the field both physically or verbally 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, thus preventing the wicketkeeper from taking the catch.
Despite this blemish Hutton was appointed England Captain in 1952. The circumstances surrounding his appointment were indeed a break with tradition. Due to a lack of suitable candidates in the privileged amateur ranks, which was usually the source of an England cricket captain, the selectors turned to Hutton and made him their first professional skipper from the working classes. Having broken down these barriers the pressure was on Hutton to prove that he was a worthy captain.
Much like his earlier batting career he 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 slow left arm bowler, Trevor Bailey and asked him to pitch it outside leg stump, reducing the batsman’s ability to score runs quickly. A victory in the final Oval Test, always a lucky ground for Len 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 aging Hutton was beginning to feel the effects of ill health.
Along with his arm injury sustained during the war, which left one arm shorter than the other he also had to contend with fibrostis, a muscle condition that affected his movement in the field. He missed much of the 1954 season on medical advice, but returned to captain England on the tour to Australia. Although some of his physical ability was on the decline he had by now acquired a very good cricket brain, which would serve him well down under. He 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, not helped by the onset of lumbago, a pain in the muscles of the lower back. He still managed to play until the end of June of that year and made a painful five-hour century against Nottinghamshire. Unfortunately, his declining health and the pain he had to endure whilst playing meant that Len Hutton announced his retirement in January 1956. Soon after he became one of the few cricketers to be knighted.
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. He played 79 tests for his country and for most of his career held the record for the highest individual score in a Test Match.
During his retirement Len Hutton became a respected journalism and writer on the game. Until 1961 he also enjoyed a stint of broadcasting and in the mid-seventies became an England selector. Hutton retired from all work in 1984 and was made President of Yorkshire CC six years later. After ill-health during his later years he died in September 1990.
Len Hutton was commemorated by the construction of gates at the front of Headingley Cricket ground in 2001 and he is remembered fondly as a true Yorkshire and England cricketing hero.