Born on April 27th 1880
Died on September 14th 1937
George Dennett, the first of Gloucestershire’s famous trio of slow left-arm bowlers, was born on April 27th 1880. Though he and Charles Parker were almost exact contemporaries – each made his first appearance for the County in 1903 – in a sense they belong to two distinct generations; for while Dennett enjoyed his heyday during the decade immediately preceding the First World War, Parker, whose genius was slow to develop, did all his best work after that conflict and, moreover, continued playing for nine years after Dennett’s retirement.
It may surprise many to learn that Dennett first caught the eye of the County authorities after making a hundred for Westbury C.C. He was, incidentally, always a useful tail-end batsman, capable of keeping up his end while others made runs. He first played for Gloucestershire against Middlesex at Lord’s in May 1903. For him it must have been a heart-breaking experience, Middlesex running up a total of 502 and the visitors losing by an innings and 118 runs. Warner and Moon shared in a huge first-wicket partnership and later on Trott became the third Middlesex batsman to score a century. Near the end of the innings Dennett had the consolation of taking two wickets, but they cost him 126 runs and he conceded an average of five runs an over. Still, he had a most promising first season. He bowled unchanged with Fred Roberts through Worcestershire’s first innings at Cheltenham, taking five for six in 13 overs and the same pair unaided, twice dismissed Surrey at Bristol, Dennett on this occasion taking nine for 99 and helping his side to a victory by 18 runs.
As he was to do in each succeeding year until the war, Dennett in 1904 – his first full season – had the satisfaction of taking over a hundred wickets. Among his many notable feats probably none gave him greater pleasure than the capture of 15 wickets (seven for 28 and eight for 68) against Middlesex at Bristol – a handsome revenge for his experience at Lord’s the previous year. He was almost equally as successful against Yorkshire at Cheltenham, taking 13 wickets for 139 runs and twice sending back the redoubtable John Tunnicliffe for a duck. In the first innings of the Somerset match at Bristol in which Gilbert Jessop hit Braund for 28 in an over his figures were eight for 93, and at Cheltenham he altogether dismissed 10 Surrey batsmen for 169. He took five wickets in an innings against Lancashire at Gloucester and six in an innings against the same opponents at Liverpool, while in Kent’s first innings at Tonbridge he took seven for 95. From this it will be gathered that he was at his best against formidable opposition.
A catalogue of all Dennett’s great achievements during the next ten years would require more space than is available here. There are, however, two which demand special mention. First and foremost was that against Northamptonshire at Gloucester in June 1907 when he bowled unchanged throughout the match and actually took 15 wickets for 21 runs in the course of 21 overs. In the first innings his eight victims cost him nine runs and he was instrumental in routing the visitors for 12 – to this day the lowest total for which a side has ever been dismissed in County cricket. In the second innings he took all the wickets that fell before rain led to the abandonment of an extraordinary match in which 37 wickets went down for an aggregate of 200 runs.
Second only to this in merit was his feat a year earlier , when he dismissed the whole Essex team in their first innings at a personal cost of 40 runs. He bowled unchanged throughout the match with F.B. Roberts and altogether took 15 wickets for 88 runs. Like Parker and Goddard, he took as many as 15 wickets in a match seven times in his career, and against Hampshire at Bristol in 1912 he sent back eight batsmen in each innings.
Dennett’s consistency during these years was truly remarkable. Usually he opened the bowling – it was before the days of the new ball fetish – and, enjoying at times nest to no support, he was frequently bowled to a standstill. He was singularly unlucky never to be selected to play for England, but it was his misfortune to be contemporary with two such outstanding exponents of his particular type of bowling as Wilfred Rhodes and Colin Blythe. Had he not been in competition with these two geniuses he would surely have been a regular member of the national Eleven as was, say, Verity in the ‘thirties.
It was natural that Dennett’s form should show some decline after the war, but, if never again quite rising to the heights he attained during his early years he went on playing for a number of seasons with considerable success and his bowling never became expensive. Eventually he was able to retire happy in the knowledge that an even greater left-hander remained in the Gloucestershire team to carry on traditions which he had established.
Mr. E.J. Spry, who was for many seasons a contemporary of Dennett’s in the County side, has kindly furnished the following interesting note:
“He was a really slow bowler, who flighted and spun the ball exceedingly well. (When he passed on one of the London papers stated that he was the slowest first-class bowler of his time.) His method was to bowl outside the off-stump with an occasional one at the wicket and I should estimate that he got more batsmen caught at extra-cover than any other bowler. (This was to be expected with the great G.L. Jessop fielding in that position.) We have to realise that in those good old days there was nothing like so much ‘padding up’ as at present, the drive through the covers being exploited by all the class batsmen. Dennett did, however, bowl an occasional one that went with his arm a bit faster than usual, and with this got the batsman ‘thinking.’ He was a really fine bowler who always maintained a length, was never perturbed when hit and could spin the ball on almost any wicket.
“It was said that George obtained his discharge from the Army – I believe he enlisted as a regular – owing to defective eyesight. In spite of this handicap he fielded at first slip to the fast bowlers and caught many great catches there. I never remember him fielding anywhere else; as he generally kept one end going with his ‘slows.’
“He was an exceedingly fine type of man. He was always helpful to others and most unassuming. G.L. Jessop often asked his advice when a player was needed to complete the team and many who played for the County during the period did so on his recommendation.
“He was a fine golfer and at one time it was thought he would turn to the game as a livelihood.”
In view of what Mr. Spry says about Dennett’s methods as a bowler it is intriguing to speculate as to how he would have fared against present-day batsmen. One suspects that fewer of his wickets would have been secured by catches in the covers. The reluctance of most modern players to make strokes on the off-side would probably have led him to bowl straighter and most of his victims would no doubt have been either bowled or leg-before or caught at the wicket or in the slips. With his powers of flight and spin he would surely have reaped a rich harvest among the fast-footed batsmen of today.