A Story With Spin

Late England Star’s Molineux Connection

Johnny Wardle in more familiar attire.

Test cricket returns to these shores next week and Charles Bamforth delves into the summer sport’s past to make a surprise disclosure….

Plenty of us, including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, are addicted to Wordle, the on-line game in which you have the challenge of guessing a five-letter word within six attempts.

It is part of the New York Times suite of challenges but was invented by a Welshman by the name of Josh Wardle. He is not the first prominent J. Wardle.

In fact, a more familiar name for many, especially cricket aficionados, is Johnny Wardle. In these days when there is many a fan of the willow and leather who pines nostalgically for the days of great English spin bowling, there are plenty who would list Wardle alongside the likes of Underwood, Swann, Laker and Lock as being the best of the ilk.

Wardle was a blunt Barnsley man, born 1923, who ruffled not only many of the great batters of the world with his left-arm finger spinning, but also the feathers of the Yorkshire hierarchy, about whom he had some fairly robust opinions.

Seldom aired, however, is the fact that here we have another Wath Wanderer.

Despite being a fullback in the Wath Grammar School rugby team, he was also a footballer and was described by his biographer Alan Hill as being “a skillful left winger and feared penalty marksman”. (An earlier version of Alan Hinton, perhaps?).

Hill continues: “His adroit footwork as a footballer was to be exploited later on the cricket field. His juggling tricks with feet and hands were performed with the high glee of a circus clown. Wardle flirted briefly with professional football, attracting the attention of the Wolverhampton Wanderers scout in South Yorkshire, Mark Crook.

“But his lack of pace as a winger meant that he was never likely to offer a serious challenge to other touchline masters who thrilled the post-war crowds at Molineux.”

And so Johnny Wardle joined his schoolmate Henry Walters in the Wath Wanderers side. It is said that he had a kick like a donkey.

Wardle though was a passionate man and his ready temper was displayed in a 4-4 draw against the Royal Army Service Corps. Reacting to a heavy tackle, he thumped his opponent and took an early departure.

Nonetheless Major Buckley invited him to Molineux for a chance. It was, of course, the war years and countless men were involved in first team action for clubs the length and breadth of the country, mostly as guests in scratch teams.

Sure enough, though, Wardle did get his chance, but it seems just the once in the 1941-1942 season. By contrast another left winger by the name of Jimmy Mullen featured that season 28 times (11 goals).

So that was it. Wardle stuck to his cricket and his bowling average of 20.39 is the lowest in Test matches by any spin bowler in over a century. It seems like he made the right move.​Charlie Bamforth

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