Walter Mitty and Baron Munchausen by Edward Liddle

by coverpoint

The Cricketing Fantasies of Henry Sayen and Donald Weekes

Cricket has always attracted tall stories. From writers such as Neville Cardus through players such as CB Fry and Freddie Trueman, many have not let the truth stand in the way of a good story. Fry and Trueman were also among those who excelled in advancing their own reputations through exaggeration or  invention, yet neither of these two famous cricketers surpassed the Philadelphian millionaire Henry Sayen or the Bajan batsman Donald Weekes in the art of self propaganda.

WILLIAM HENRY SAYEN was born into a wealthy American family at St David's Pennsylvania on 22  January 1883. A slightly built man, who was never in the best of health, he could, nevertheless, generate some pace off a 22 yard run. JA Lester in his monumental  A History of Philadelphian Cricket wrote that Henry had no guile or swing but, downwind was faster than their contemporary the great JB King. Ill health and the claims of adding evem more millions to the family coffers meant that Henry could never play regularly but he could be a destructive force in the Halifax Cup, the premier club competition in the heady days of Philadelphian cricket, once taking 6/16 for Merirn v Germantown and having two other "5 fers" in 38 matches.

He played once for the USA v Canada  in 1907 and toured Bermuda, the Carribean and Britain and Ireland with the  1908 Philadelphia side  which, though then in decline, was still of first class standard.

Later during the 1950s, he attached himself to the England Test team as what Len  Hutton, the captain, called their "lucky mascot." His practice of distributing financial rewards to those who scored 30 and above and who took at least one wicket or held a catch made him a popular figure in the dressing room in those pre Packer days.

He also made the acquaintaince of Gerald  Brodribb, a cricket historian of some note, and together they collaborated on Henry's cricket autobiography  A Yankee Looks  At Cricket. Brodribb, author in later years of an outstanding biography of Gilbert Jessop, was to produce several very good books on cricket. This was not one of them. How a normally meticilous and  thorough writer allowed himself to be associated with this work must remain  a mystery.

Much of it is unremarkable, relying heavily on Lester's work in its historical passages. it is the personal memoirs that concern us. His references to the England players and officials of the 1950s suggest that he was not as close to them as he may have imagined. Thus we have Jack - rather than Jim - Laker, Freddy -  rather than Freddie or Fred  - Trueman  while Tony Lock, then the best short leg in world cricket, is described as an outstanding slip fieldsman. However it is his account of his own playing days which causes problems to arise. Let us consider his one apearance for the USA in, as already mentioned, the match with Canada in 1907.

In sober fact, USA batted first and scored 207 before bowling the Canadians out for 120. Henry was not called upon to bowl. He tells us that this was because the pitch was too dangerous. In fact not being used because of  his inaccuracy was a common experience for him. The other pace bowlers did little, the damage being done by the spinner Philip le Roy.

Batting again the USA made 140 with Henry, who could hit powerfully, making 33. Thus Canada needed 228 to win. Without Henry's help, the US reduced their opponents to 119/9 before an obdurate last wicket stand took the score to the 140s. With time running out  the captain Eddie Cregar, father of actor Lloyd Cregar, turned to Henry. With the last ball of his third over Henry took the final wicket. by bowling the No 11. He, however, tells us a different story.

With eight rather than nine wickets down, Cregar, despite the danger his bowling posed to life and limb, brought him on.  He began with a bouncer which cleared the batsman's head by yards. This caused the facing batsman to rush off the field and put on extra protection including a boxer's head protector. Henry charged in off his full run, saw the batsman back away and bowled him middle stump with a slow yorker. No 11, similarly attired, came in and promptly hit his own wicket rather than remain at Henry's mercy. Walking off he said, "Damned if I wish to take chances against a madman." Thus Henry had the figures of 0.3 - 0 - 0 - 2. The official scorecard shows his figures as 3 - 2 - 1 - 1. In his history of the matches  The International Series John Marder repeats Henry's story with a wry comment that, between the lines, suggests that he has little time for it.

Henry then describes the Philadelphian tour of these islands in 1908. As I have written elsewhere on this site, the tourists bowlers struggled to come to terms with the conditions and opposition batsmen with only King and the Australian "Ranji" Hordern being of first class quality.

The terrifingly fast Henry, who was too dangerous to unleash on the Canadians, took 9 first class wickets on the tour, 4 of them in one innings. Nor did he do anything noteworthy in the non first class matches he played in. He tells a slightly differnt story of at least one game

"In Ireland the first wicket batsman was a dear old fellow in his late 40s. He knocked his wicket down after being hit on the leg but was most friendly about it and did not blame me at all."

So much for Henry's account. What really happened? Henry only played in one of the three matches in Ireland, the extra one arranged  v Ireland in College Park after King and Hordern had finished their hosts off inside a day and a half of a three day game.

The tourists relaxed somewhat, neither King nior Hordern bowled and Bob Lambertt had little trouble in scoring a century. After the Philadelphians had been bowled out for a moderate total, the Irish opening batsmen were George Meldon and Wilfred Bourchier, whose combined age was 47. Thus neither fits Henry's description. Nor did he dismiss either of them.

He did bowl the No3 bat, George McCormick a 22 year old who was bowled rather than hit wicket. As a hockey international,used to hard knocks on unprotected legs, he hardly fits the description either. The Irish batting line up did include one 40 year old, Frank Browning who was caught off Henry for 50 after adding 150 for the 5th wicket with Lambert. He was hitting out before a declaration. As with the Canadian match Henry's romances do not stand up to scrutiny.

If Henry Sayen was one of cricket's Walter Mittys, the prize for being the game's Munchausen must belong to DONALD RUDOLPH WEEKES who was born in Barbados around 1940, his own accounts of his age differ. He was undoubtedly a talented batsman, powerfully built - not unlike Viv Richards in stature -  but, being well short of first class standard, set out to create a reputation for himself to rectify this deficiency.

He presented himself as batsman of supreme skill with too many other commitments to have the time for Test or first class cricket. He was also, it appears, an actor, artist and champion of several other sports.

The West Indian commentator and cricket writer, Tony Cozier, said that he was so convincing that "If he had told an interviewer that he had swum the English Channel, each way, under water with his hands and feet tied, he would have got an appreciative nod."

Matterscame to a head when an article appeared in  The Cricketer in June 1975. Written by Norman Mortimore,a name unknown in cricket writing circles, and entitled The Best Batsman Never To Play Test Cricket,  it made a number of wildly implausible claims about Weekes' career.

This was followed by an article in the March 1977 edition of the Australian magazine  World Of Cricket which was even more extravagent. All ths was too much for  Robert Brooke, founder of the Association of Cricket Statisticians and probably the nearest cricket statistics has come to papal infalability. In the 4 June 1977 number of  Cricket News Brooke went some way towards setting the record straight.

Let us take just a few examples. Mortimore, who has never been identified and whom some believe to have been Weekes himself, claimed that his hero had hit a century for Barbados against Trinidad in 1963 at Bridgetown which was still considered to be one of the most brilliant ever seen on the famous ground.

In fact Weekes never played a first class match for Barbados or any other side. He did play for a Barbados B  - youth - side in 1963. The match was against British Guiana (Guyana) and he made 25.

Mortimore claimed that Weekes played as a professional for Blackpool in the Lancashire League in1967, scored 1000 runs by the end of May and finished with 2879 runs and 12 hundreds, besides taking 63 wickets with his furiously fast bowling.

In fact as the club's records reveal he made 437 runs with one century in competitive matches and took only a handful of wickets. Additionally Blackpool played in the Northern League, by no means the same standard as the Lancashire League.

His alleged score of 309, a small one for him, came against a club which does not exist anywhere in the North of England! He did make some runs against weak sides in friendly matches but not nearly as many as claimed. He also was said at this time to have turned down a county contract with Northamptonshire, who have no record of such a transaction. Their overseas player in 1968 was Mushtaq Mohammed! Weekes claimed to ave been unavailable because of script writing commitments in Hollywood!

Touring England with the University of California in 1974 he did indeed make 141* in one match but no trace has been found of his claimed scores of 289, 309, 108 and 206*. In  reality he made just over 500 runs on the tour, failing to head the averages.

He also claimed to have passed 500 on several occasions in, for example London, Scotland, the Netherlands. and Africa. This website would welcome authentic scorecards of such innings but is not holding its breath!

The same applies to his scores of 693 in a university match uin California and 781 in India, thiough the latter appears to have been his total runs on tour which he converted into a single innings.

He did score a century for USA v Canada in 1972, the first for the Americans since 1898- though the match was not played for 50 years after 1912 -  and also led the USA v Ireland in 1973 on our American tour. He was bowled for a duck by Roy Torrens in the first innings but had reached 66 in the second before Roy caught him off Mike Halliday.

Weekes also claimed to have captained Barbados at basketball, and to have excelled at rugby, hockey, volleyball, wrestling, weight lifting and athletics - both track and field of course. He also received numerous other awards which have proved either impossible to verify or are very easy to obtain.

In 1977 a BBC World Serevice interview, besides informing his listeners that he was a former sparing partner of Muhammed Ali,  he claimed to have scored 10000 ( yes ten thousand) runs in an - unnamed -  season.

He was asked if he would be available now for the West Indies Test side. Unfortunately not, was the reply. He was in training  to swim the Channel and had an exhibition of his paintings to see to. Before any of that though, he had to go to Moscow to play Othello!

Shortly before his death in 2003 he met Tony Cozier in Barbados. He explained that he had been coaching the USA fencing team for the 2002 Olympics!

Those who wish to learn more about the fantasic feats or fantasies of Henry and Don may wish to consult the following

John L Marder   The International Series

JA Lester  A History of Philadelphia Cricket

Henry Sayen   A Yankee Looks At Cricket

Norman Mortimore  The Best batsman never to Play Test Cricket in  The Cricketer  May 1975

World Of Cricket   March 1977

Robert Brooke   Donald Weekes in  Cricket News  June 1977

Rob Steen  All That Glitters  in   Wisden Cricket Monthly  November 2004

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

                                                 Edward Liddle 





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