SURREY GREATS - BOBBY ABEL
Bobby Abel, popularly known as “The Guv’nor”, overcame the physical disadvantage of being one of the smallest cricketers of all time to become the pre-eminent opening batsman in Surrey and England at the beginning of the last century. Reputedly afraid of fast bowling, he mastered all types of attack to accumulate 32,669 career runs – including 27,605 for his county – at an average of 35.47.
With his faded and shrunken chocolate-coloured Surrey cap, slow half-waddling walk to the wicket and a mastery of technique that could reduce all but the very greatest bowlers to frustration, Abel was in every way a favourite with the crowds. This was especially so at The Oval where he recorded all nine of his innings over two hundred and the majority of his remaining 65 centuries.
Found playing Club cricket in Southwark Park “on wickets calculated to frighten
rather than inspire confidence in the batsman”, Bobby took some time to accustom
himself to his surroundings and his early efforts gave no idea of the skill that
he was to steadily attain. In his third season with Surrey, in 1883, he advanced
rapidly as a batsman. Three years later he made a remarkable 144 against the
touring Australians and in 1888 – one of the wettest summers on record – he came
out first among professional batsmen with 1,323 runs at an average of
thirty-one. From then onwards his successful career was interrupted only in 1893
when a serious eye infection interfered with his play.
South Africa (120 at Cape Town in 1888-89) and 132 not out – when, once again, he carried his bat – against Australia in Sydney in 1891-92. On his Test debut at Lord’s in 1888, Abel played under W.G.Grace who wrote of him: “As a batsman he is in the first flight, having exceptionally strong defence and patience, and for his size he hits very freely all round. His pluck and cheerfulness are really first-rate, whether they are required in fighting an uphill game with the bat or in the field.”
In 1903 Abel’s eyesight began to trouble him again, but, despite wearing
glasses, his form suffered as a result of regularly declaring himself unfit to
play. The following summer he enjoyed some success in the early matches, but it
did not last and in the Somerset game – in August – he took guard for the last
time. With nine in the first innings and a duck in the second the career of the
Guv’nor met an unhappy end. In the years that followed, however, those who saw
him play used Bobby Abel as the yardstick by which to judge the batsmen of the