Fred Titmus, who died on March 23, was rightly acclaimed as one of the finest off-spinners in English cricket in the 20th century, and as the man who, in 1982, made a remarkable final appearance in first-class cricket.
Even Roald Dahl – the author of “Tales of the Unexpected” – would have been hard pressed to dream up a scenario in which a man within a few months of his 50th birthday would casually call into the dressing room at cricket’s most famous ground an hour or so before the start of a match only to find himself sixty minutes later actually taking part in the game. But that it precisely what happened on August 25, 1982, when Titmus dropped into the Middlesex changing room at Lord’s, ostensibly to have a chat with left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds, yet within the hour he had been included by Mike Brearley in the county’s line-up for the contest against Surrey.
This was the 792nd and last first-class match in which Titmus played during his career as a county cricketer. His career spanned, in all, five decades with the Middlesex man, who made his county debut aged sixteen in June 1949, being one of only two county cricketers in the post-1945 era to have achieved this feat – the other being Brian Close of England, Yorkshire and Somerset whose own first-class career ran from 1949 until 1986. In Australia, Ben Barnett also had a lengthy first-class career which spanned five decades between 1929-30 and 1961, while several other notable names in cricket history such as Sydney Barnes, `Shrimp` Leveson-Gower and Wilfred Rhodes have also achieved the feat of playing in five decades, as has Dave Nourse of South Africa who appeared in first-class matches between 1896-97 and 1935-36.
In all, Titmus had a first-class career which spanned 33 years, but while this was an impressive achievement it is some way from the overall record, held by CK Nayudu whose first-class career spanned 47 years. The Indian made his debut at Bombay for the Hindu’s on September 7, 1916, and made his last appearance on November 4, 1963, appearing for the Maharashtra Governor’s XI at Nagpur.
Nayadu therefore appeared in six decades – an achievement which some believe was also achieved by Lord Harris who made his first-class debut for Kent on August 11, 1870, and who played his final match on July 4, 1911, when appearing for the county against the Indian tourists at Catford Bridge. The area of doubt though relates to the start of his career and to precisely which decade 1870 belongs – either the last of the 1860s or the first of the 1870s?
Without getting embroiled into the semantics of when a decade starts and when a decade ends, there is no doubting that Lord Harris had a first-class career spanning over 40 years – an achievement emulated by WG Grace whose own glittering career ran from June 1865 until April 1908. At 42 years and 305 days long, it stands as the record for the longest career for an English cricketer of the modern era and is likely to remain forever in the game’s record books.