Several England cricket captains have been born abroad. That redoubtable giant of the MCC Lord Harris was born in Trinidad. The cunning architect of Bodyline Douglas Jardine was born to Scottish parents in Mumbai.
Perhaps his birthplace of Milan is the reason why Ted Dexter's batting seemed touched with la dolce vita. Finally, it is perhaps apt that Johannesburg born Andrew Strauss leads a team containing several members born in the country of his birth.
But none of the baker’s dozen of foreign born skippers can boast as exotic a birthplace as Freddie Brown, born on the 16th day of December in 1910... in Peru - where his father, no mean cricketer himself, ran a business in Lima.
Brown sounds like he was quite a character - a quintessentially eccentric Englishman described as being “a big-hearted, self-confident, red-headed all-rounder usually seen wearing a white silk handkerchief, with a big grin and avuncular pipe”.
He was a cavalier lower middle-order batsman who loved to attack the bowling as well as a canny leg-spinner who switched to medium-pace later in a career that reached its zenith when he captained England in Australia in 1950-51 at the age of 40.
It was the tour that nobody wanted to lead with England expected to be dispatched with ease by a fearsome Australian side. Norman Yardley and George Mann both turned the selectors down, so with the MCC restricting itself to gentlemen amateurs when choosing their skipper, as the old adage goes Brown proved to be in the right place at the right time.
He had caught the eye when taking over the captaincy of Northamptonshire in 1949. Hitherto the whipping boys of county cricket – they had finished last in 1947 and 1948 and hadn’t even won a single match between 1934 and 1939, Brown called his charges in for three weeks training before the season lasted and led them to an unprecedented sixth place in the Championship.
The season after Brown solved the selectors conundrum over the captaincy for Australia by playing a starring role when captaining the Gentlemen against the Players at Lord’s. He blitzed 122 out of 131 runs made whilst he was at the crease in just 110 minutes with sixteen fours and a six into the Lord’s Pavilion.
Having been a member the 1932-33 party, Brown had seen at first-hand the revulsion and opprobrium heaped on Jardine’s shoulders and perhaps this and his natural jovial bonhomie taught him that a different approach was required.
The contrast with Jardine couldn’t have been more different. Brown was received with acclaim by the Australian public not only for his courageous and determined leadership, but also for his lion-hearted performances with bat and ball, which saw him finish third in the batting and bowling averages for his side.
England lost 4-1 but by most accounts actually played much the better cricket with the weather condemning them to defeat in Brisbane in the 1st Test, before a narrow 28 run defeat in the next Test in Melbourne and then injuries to Bailey and Wright in Sydney putting them 3-0 in arrears.
The next Test in Adelaide was lost too but Brown prevented a series whitewash and inflicted Australia’s first defeat in 26 Tests at Melbourne in the final Test by seizing an initiative that his side would not relinquish with five wickets on the first morning.
After this Brown led England to victory in a single Test in Wellington before he oversaw a 3-1 home win over South Africa in the summer of 1951. He played his final Test at Lord’s in 1953 at the age of 42 and took four wickets and hit 50 runs to help England to a crucial draw in a series that finally saw the Ashes reclaimed for the first time since Jardine’s side over 20 years before.
Brown’s heroics didn’t just extend to cricket. He fought in World War II, but spent most of the war in captivity having been captured at Tobruk in 1942 along with fellow Bodyline tourist Bill Bowes. Despite life hardly being easy - Brown lost 30kg before he was liberated by the Americans – he helped keep spirits up in the camps through organising a series of games of cricket, football and baseball.
Brown continued to devote himself to cricket after his retirement having a stint as Chairman of the Selectors, managing two MCC tours and worked as a member of the revered Test Match Special team.
Whilst 16 December is perhaps better remembered by cricket aficionados as the birthdate of The Master Jack Hobbs in 1882, Freddie Brown also deserves a place in the hearts of Englishmen everywhere and not just because he was born in the same land as Paddington Bear.
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