A high-quality all-rounder is a huge asset to any cricket club and Warwickshire have had plenty of them over the years. From the great Frank Foster and Percy Jeeves, through Bob Wyatt and Tom Cartwright to Neil Smith and Dougie Brown, right up to the present day and Chris Woakes and Jeetan Patel. And then there was Syd Santall.
A few on the above list were more accomplished at certain aspects of the game than Santall – but none were quite so ‘all-round.’
After appearing for his native Northamptonshire as an amateur, Peterborough-born Santall (Peterborough was in Northamptonshire back then) attended Warwickshire for a trial at the start of the 1890s. He was taken on – and it proved to be the start of a mighty association with the club.
Santall played 371 first-class matches for the Bears between 1892 and 1914, scoring 6,490 runs and taking 1,207 wickets. His clever, medium-pace bowling, which brought 65 hauls of five wickets or more, was his main stock-in-trade but this man was versatile. He also served the Bears as coach for 17 years, and as record-keeper and historian, compiling two books of statistics relating to the club.
An educated man, he was also adept at scoring. In 1913, although still on the playing staff, he scored the county championship fixture against Worcestershire at Edgbaston. It transpired to be a famous match as Foster and Jeeves shared 19 wickets, the latter taking a career-best seven for 34.
Santall’s wily contribution was often as a support bowler but he was a vital element of the attack for two decades.
His playing career began and ended in fine style, in victories against then-mighty Surrey. On his debut at The Oval in 1894, he made an immediate impression with a second innings five-for in Warwickshire’s seven-wicket win.
Santall peaked in the years leading up to the county’s first county championship title in 1911. He took 101 wickets in 1907, and added another 242 in the following three seasons before contributing 55 to the championship triumph.
He also played for London County, WG Grace’s plaything which was somehow briefly granted first-class status. Santall played for them against Worcestershire at New Road in 1900, opened the bowling with WG and shared 18 wickets in the match with the Doctor.
Grace knew all about Santall’s bowling skills, the Warwickshire player had twice hit his stumps (statisticians of the day kept record of which bowlers hit the stumps of WG, a notable achievement in itself and also the best way of dismissing him – even WG, a man not renowned for walking, struggled to justify remaining at the crease when his stumps were spreadeagled!).
Santall’s farewell as a player arrived in one of the most poignant matches in the Bears’ history – the last of the 1914, season with the First World War already underway. Warwickshire beat Surrey by 80 runs at Edgbaston thanks to 16 wickets from Foster and Jeeves. Neither ever played another first-class match. Foster suffered career-ending injuries in a wartime motor-cycle accident. Jeeves disappeared without trace in the Battle of the Somme.
It was also Santall’s last first-class game though, in his case, it was due to simply the passing of years. Aged 45 when the war ended, he took up a coaching role at Edgbaston and held it until 1937. He also umpired four first-class matches, all at Edgbaston, against Surrey, the Australian Imperial Forces and Worcestershire in 1919 and the West Indies in 1923. In the latter match, Santall’s son Reg was adjudged lbw in both innings!
Santall senior was still umpiring Warwickshire 2nd XI matches, at venues including Weddington Road (Nuneaton), Grange Road (Banbury) and Egerton Park (Melton Mowbray) until 1938.
Reg, born in Acocks Green, also enjoyed a long Bears career, scoring 17,730 runs in 500 matches for the club between the wars. Syd, who died aged 83 in 1957, outlived his son who has passed away, aged just 47, seven years earlier. Together they scored 24,018 runs and 1,487 wickets for Warwickshire a heavy family contribution, though not quite as heavy as that lodged by another father and son, MJK and Neil Smith – 42,436 runs and 682 wickets – a few decades later.