1933 - A poor defence of the title

After the success of 1932, the onus was on Greenock to defend their title. Norman Walker was again the captain, Hollingdale was still the professional and all those who played in in 1932 were available again. In addition, there were hopes that Robert Ferguson would be able to play some part in the campaign as he continued his recovery from serious illness while William Smith (WABS) was home on leave from the Far East and it was hoped that he might be keen to play again. It seemed everything was in place for a successful season but time would tell.

Smith returns but disappointing loss to Ayr

The season started promisingly when Cartha were soundly beaten in the annual pre-season friendly. William Smith did play and he made an immediate impact, top-scoring with 31, punctuated by some powerful strokes, in a less than impressive batting performance that saw Greenock bowled out for 117, and then taking 4 for 12 as Cartha could only make 49. George Tough also looked in good form, taking 4 for 7 as Greenock won by 68 runs. The Greenock Telegraph felt that Smith's bowling was slower than when he had last played for the Club in 1927 but he still bowled at a fast pace off his familiar long run and certainly the Cartha batsmen could not handle him. His all-round presence seemed sure to add to the team's potency.

The first league game of the season was played out at Langloan against Drumpellier in miserable weather and the play rather matched the conditions. Drumpellier took three hours to amass just 97, Hollingdale taking 4 wickets and Tough 3 but Greenock found it equally difficult to score runs in the two hours left to them and when play was abandoned with 15 minutes to go due to bad light, they had stumbled to 73 for 7. Glenpark's first league game of the season was a real disappointment as firstly Greenock allowed Ayr to escape from a perilous position of just over 100 for 8 to post 174, Girdwood's 82 the feature of the innings, and then collapsing to 0 for 3 and then 57 for 9. A last wicket stand of 66 by Tough and Douglas Adam gave a degree of respectability to the score but when Tough was caught in the outfield for 32, Greenock had lost by 51 runs. Had Tough restrained himself, then defeat would have been averted as heavy rain fell within a minute of his dismissal which would have brought the game to a final conclusion.

Signs of improvement

This was not the start to the league campaign that had been sought but at least progress was made in the Rowan Cup when Kelburne were defeated at Whitehaugh in a first-round tie. Again the batting was not convincing as Greenock struggled to 112 for 6 in the 90 minutes allotted to them in what were less than optimum conditions but the bowlers, led by Walker and Tough who each took 3 wickets, kept Kelburne behind the target and Greenock ran out winners in the end by 7 runs.

There was a significant improvement in all aspects of their play when they met Poloc at Shawholm. Batting first, they declared on 177 for 4 with Hollingdale unbeaten on 85 and John Kerr showing glimpses of his form in making 41. In reply, Poloc made little or no headway against the Greenock bowling, being dismissed for 89, George Tough wrapping up the innings with 5 for 15 and Greenock were easy winners by 88 runs. No play was possible next week when Uddingston visited Glenpark due to persistent rain falling. Such was the interest in this game that some 200 spectators waited two hours in the rain in Fox Street in the vain hope that play would be possible. The weather improved for the annual holiday fixture with Watsonians. Greenock were again in good form and ran out easy winners. John  Kerr with 61 and Hollingdale with 50 were again in the runs, which was just as well as nobody else reached double figures, as Greenock made 159 in their innings. Hollingdale was in irresistible form with the ball as he took 7 for 13 in 15.2 overs and Watsonians collapsed to 84 all out as Greenock won by 75 runs.

Collapse at Hamilton Crescent

It seemed that Greenock had turned the corner and might well defend their title but hopes of that were dealt a major blow when the next league fixture, against West of Scotland at Hamilton Crescent resulted in another defeat. This was especially galling as West had been bowled out for just 80, Norman Walker taking 5 for 20 and at one point Greenock were 65 for 3 and victory seemed assured. At this point the batsmen seemed to lose their heads and West's professional, Harry Preston, took full advantage of this, finishing with 5 for 28 as Greenock subsided to 74 all out to lose by 6 runs. Nine of the batsmen were bowled, the one exception being Williamson who was run out after a poor call from Smith. The Telegraph noted that "a section of the 2,000 crowd went wild with delight. Vaulting the railings, they ran out, cheering enthusiastically, and surrounded the professional,. Preston was carried shoulder high to the pavilion steps, where more cheers were raised for him by the mass of people gathered there."

Some improvement was shown in the next round of the Rowan Cup when Glasgow Accies were defeated by 10 wickets. Accies could only make 87 and John Kerr and Arthur Neill knocked off the runs with ease. Greenock kept on batting, presumably for some practice which Accies seemed happy to give them, eventually scoring 170 for 2, Kerr making 72 and Neill 56. It just seems amazing that Accies were willing to acquiesce with this. In their preview of the next league match against Kelburne at Glenpark, the Telegraph felt that Greenock were always at their best when batting first. Whether or not there was any truth in this, in this match at least they did manage to chase down Kelburne's 115, a total which owed much to Greenock's poor catching. The successful chase only materialised after a poor start, the sixth wicket partnership between Williamson and Smith being decisive. Williamson finished unbeaten on 79 as Greenock won by 3 wickets.

Rowan Cup exit

Williamson then scored an unbeaten 59 as Glasgow HSFP were beaten by 9 wickets in a midweek friendly, a match that was also notable for Smith taking a hat-trick in the FPs' innings. The Telegraph's theory regarding Greenock's difficulty when batting second was also seemingly disproved when Grange visited Glenpark for their annual friendly. Grange batted first and thanks in part to 85 from their internationalist, JF Jones, posted 178 for 6 but this total proved not to be a problem. John Kerr and Hollingdale opened and both scored half-centuries, Kerr making 73 and Hollingdale 67, as they put on 143 before being separated. The rest of the order built on this fine start and the result was a 6 wicket victory, achieved with 10 minutes to spare.

Greenock's interest in the Rowan Cup ended at Bothwell Policies when they were out-batted by Uddingston. Greenock compiled a decent total of 180 for 9 when they batted with skipper Walker contributing 64 and Williamson 37 but their attack, after a reasonable start, were unable to contain the Uddingston middle order and the winning run was struck with five minutes of the allotted two hours left to give Uddingston victory by 6 wickets.

Lucky win over Kilmarnock

Lacking John Kerr and the Adam cousins and with Hollingdale keeping wicket, Greenock travelled to Clydesdale with limited hopes of victory. However, their weakened team fought hard and came away with a creditable draw. Clydesdale declared on 169 for 6 which owed much to Greenock's continuing propensity to drop catches and when Greenock had slipped to 69 for 6 there seemed to be only one result. Clydesdale's catching was as poor as Greenock's though, the bitterly cold weather perhaps being a reason for this, and good innings from Hodge (41) and Hope (26*) saw Greenock to 150 for 8 at the close for the draw which had seemed unlikely at times during the game.

John Kerr was still missing when Kilmarnock came to Glenpark the following week. Heavy overnight rain forced a new pitch to be prepared to allow the game to proceed and batting was never easy with several batsmen being struck by rising deliveries. Kilmarnock batted first but were only able to make 125 in just short of three hours. This left Greenock just over two hours to get the runs and when they were struggling at 54 for 7, there seemed to be no way that they could win. Norman Walker had other ideas and given stout support by the lower order, his 54 saw Greenock through to victory by 2 wickets. The Kilmarnock Herald felt that Kilmarnock had been robbed of victory as Walker should have been given out caught behind early in his innings when the sound of the snick could be heard in the pavilion. The umpire who gave him not out had made in Kilmarnock eyes a number of decisions that favoured the home side and was thus according to the Herald "a serious menace to the game".

Smith's hurricane century

The final game before the mid-season break was played at Meikleriggs against Ferguslie and it featured an innings of fierce hitting from William Smith. Greenock had opened slowly but when Smith came to the crease with the score on 28 for 2, the complexion of the game changed entirely. Smith hit all round the wicket with great power and when eventually dismissed he had made 101 with sixteen 4s and two 6s in an innings that lasted just 50 minutes. Seasoned Ferguslie spectators apparently ventured that they had not seen such hitting in their experience. Smith and John Kerr put on 143 for the third wicket but the internationalist was almost a spectator. He went on to carry his bat for 68 as Greenock declared on 236 for 6. Ferguslie were never going to reach that total and when their score stood at 71 for 7 victory seemed assured for Greenock. But the Paisley lower order proved to be extremely stubborn and when stumps were pulled, their score of 146 for 9 ensured that the game ended as a draw, albeit strongly in favour of Greenock.

Struggles on the Belfast tour

A fourteen-strong team then embarked on the third successive tour of Belfast, not as strong a selection as might have been wished but although results were disappointing, they acquitted themselves well at times. The first game against old foes North Down ended in a resounding defeat by 45 runs, Greenock being bowled out for just 58 but against Cliftonville, they came agonisingly close to victory, losing by just one run as they chased the home team's total of 100. They appeared to be heading for another resounding defeat in their next game against North of Ireland when the Irish side stood at 120 for 2 chasing Greenock's 150, a score which owed much to Hollingdale's 68. But a clatter of wickets fell and when the last ball came to be bowled, North of Ireland were 149 for 8. The umpire however signalled a wide off the last ball to bring the scores level and a lucky edge through the slips for 2 off the follow-up delivery saw the Irish side through to a 2 wicket win.

The fourth game against Donacloney did not bring better fortune to Greenock as they fell to defeat by 37 runs after the home side amassed 181 but the final game of the tour finally brought some success as Waringstown were beaten by 5 wickets, Hollingdale making 62 and Norman Walker 45 as they chased down the Irishmen's total of 162. Actually this was not quite the last game of the tour as Holywood were played the following day but apparently it was agreed that the match would not count in the tour averages and thus the defeat in this game can be glossed over. There was no doubt that the Irish sides took these matches quite seriously after Greenock's good performances on the previous two tours and a stronger side would be needed if subsequent tours were to be made.

Weather spoils the visit of MCC

The first match after the tour against Drumpellier was a disappointment as rain interfered and as a result the game did not count in the championship. Drumpellier, who had not won a league match for two years, were well placed after their innings of 183 and they made early inroads into the Greenock batting but the lengthy weather break meant that there was no chance of a positive result and the game petered out, Greenock finishing on 75 for 5. Another unsatisfactory match followed against West of Scotland at Glenpark when the latter decided to shut up shop and play for the draw. Greenock had compiled a fine total of 193, John Kerr making 60 and Robert Ferguson 51 in his first league appearance for a couple of years. West started confidently and reached 100 for 4 with an hour left to play but two quick wickets forced their hand and the match ended with West on 152 for 6.

Glenpark was then graced by the presence of an MCC touring side in the following week for a two-day match. The tourists had four professionals in their side, the others being amateurs of a decent standard and they were led by Jock McBryan, the Somerset player who had been picked once by England but had neither batted, bowled nor taken a catch. Greenock batted first and made 180 against an attack that contained a couple of pacy opening bowlers in Nevinson, who played occasionally for Middlesex, and Pickthall, one of the professionals, with John Kerr hitting an attacking 43 and Norman Walker making 32. MCC made a disastrous start being 36 for 5 at one stage but the professionals, Brown and Muncer, regrouped and closed the first day's play on 141 for 5.

When play resumed on the second day, MCC were quickly dismissed for 190 and Greenock were heading for a strong position when rain intervened and brought play to a premature end. Williamson had scored a speedy 54 and Hollingdale 37 while John Kerr, going in down the order, was unbeaten on 34. During the MCC innings, young Jim Agnew, who was fielding as substitute for Tom Riddell after he had been hit on the eye while fielding on the first day, collided with Robert Hodge, when the two converged on a catch in the outfield, and was laid out unconscious. A nearby spectator on seeing this collision, fainted and fell off his seat. As two of the MCC players also suffered injuries during the course of play it can be seen that this was quite an eventful match despite the game ending in a draw. It was a pity that rain intervened when it did as there was the prospect of an exciting conclusion to the game had it followed its entire course.

John Kerr at his best against North Down

Rain made its presence felt again in the league, this time when Poloc came to Glenpark. A heavy shower just before play started made batting conditions difficult but nevertheless Poloc's efforts in making just 93 in three hours of batting tried the patience of the spectators. Batting was not easy and two interruptions during the Poloc innings did not help but there was a distinct lack of enterprise shown by the visiting batsmen. The Telegraph noted that the pitch 'was in a deplorable state' when Greenock commenced their reply and they made a poor start, losing early wickets, and at one point had slumped to 64 for 5. But John Kerr stood firm and when William Smith joined him, they made the game safe for Greenock. Kerr fell for 43 just before the end but this did not stop Greenock from winning by 4 wickets a match which would not stay long in the memories of those who had watched it.

With no league fixture the following Saturday, another two-day match had been organised, starting on the Friday, this time against long-time opponents, North Down who were touring Scotland. Greenock batted first but they struggled to make headway against a strong attack, spearheaded by the Irish internationalist James Macdonald. He took 6 for 34 as Greenock were dismissed for 140, only John Kerr who made 53 and Norman Walker with 29 able to make any impression on the bowling. When North Down batted they fared much better and when play ended for the day they were well placed at 102 for 3. They did not make the most of this advantage on the second morning, as Hollingdale with 5 for 51 and George Tough 3 for 29 bowled them out for 171, a lead of 31. Greenock's batting struggled again in their second knock and had John Kerr not been at his best when scoring 64, North Down would have won comfortably. As it was, they were set 120 to win in two hours after Greenock's last wicket fell at 150 but they made a poor fist of the chase and when their sixth wicket fell at 61, they elected to play out time and the match finished in a disappointing draw, North Down ending on 75 for 8.

Greenock ire Uddingston spectators

Any lingering hopes that Greenock might have had of defending their title were snuffed out when they suffered a disappointing loss at Ayr. The home side could only muster 116, having been 82 for 3 at one stage, Hodge, Tough and Hollingdale doing the damage but Greenock's reply was woeful as they succumbed to Harrison's wiles to be dismissed for just 71 to lose the match by 45 runs, the professional taking 7 for 36. This result meant that Ayr had done the double over Greenock, on each occasion Harrison taking 7 wickets, and they were mounting a decent challenge to Uddingston for the title.

It was the league leaders that Greenock next faced, at Bothwell Policies. The home team scored an imposing 191 for 6, JC Stark scoring 72, but Greenock made a dreadful start in reply and slumped to 26 for 4 and then 57 for 7. John Kerr, who had come in down the order at  number five, then combined with Tom McCrea to defy the Uddingston attack. A couple of interruptions for rain, although brief, meant that under competition rules a draw would not count in the league table as the scheduled time would not have been played, and Greenock made it clear that such a result was their intention. At one point, only 4 runs were scored off 15 overs, and two of those were leg-byes. Just before time was called, McCrea fell to a full toss, his partnership with Kerr adding 15 runs in 70 minutes, but no more wickets fell and Greenock finished on 78 for 8. Not unsurprisingly, the local spectators were not impressed by Greenock's tactics.

Batting woes end season

Greenock made a dreadful start against Clydesdale in the last home game of the season, losing their first 3 wickets for just 8 runs but a splendid innings of 70 from Hollingdale with good support from Walker and Smith enabled a reasonable score of 182 for 8 to be posted before the declaration was made. Clydesdale made an equally poor start to their innings and at one point were struggling at 71 for 7 but their lower order staged a recovery and when time was called they had reached 167 for 8 and Greenock had to be satisfied with the draw.

Greenock's batting malaise returned when they faced Kelburne at Whitehaugh. The Paisley side had struggled throughout their innings and it took them just under 3 hours and nearly 60 overs to make 135. Conditions for batting were not easy but nonetheless nobody anticipated Greenock being bowled out for just 54 in their reply. Only two batsmen, Kerr and Smith, reached double figures and the figures of the Kelburne professional, Horridge, 6 for 16 in 19.4 overs, emphasised the struggles of the batsmen.

There was a similarly disappointing display in the final game of the season at Kirkstyle. Greenock were without John Kerr and Smith and as a result their batting struggled to get on top of the Kilmarnock attack. They scored at a reasonable rate but lost wickets at regular intervals and were finally bowled out for 143, scored in just two hours. Kilmarnock were left with three hours to get the runs but at 61 for 6 it appeared unlikely that they would do so. But number eight, Climie, then played the innings of the match,  scoring 56, which took his team to the verge of victory. The last pair were at the wicket when the winning run was struck, to the excitement of the local spectators and as result Greenock had concluded a disappointing season with a one-wicket defeat.

After promising so much, 1933 was ultimately a most disappointing season with a sixth place finish in the league not what had been expected. Indeed one wonders what would have happened if Smith had not been able to play the season as he certainly bolstered the batting and took some useful wickets. Even at the end of July when they were in fourth place in the league they were still well off the pace set by the top three clubs, Ayr, West and Uddingston. It would be the latter who would prevail although Ayr pushed them hard and would have won the title had they won their last game of the season, against the champions.

Averages tell the tale

The averages seemed to show that the batting was as strong as the previous year with John Kerr again leading the way with 853 runs, an increase of over 100 runs, although at a lesser average of 40.62. Hollingdale's tally was more or less the same, 707, while Smith (503), Williamson (454) and Walker (450) all scored heavily. But it was a different matter with the Union averages. John Kerr headed them but his tally of 353 runs at 35.30 was significantly down on 1932. Hollingdale with 321, Smith 231 and Williamson 206 were the other main run-getters but Norman Walker's total of 130 was another that was well down on the previous year. Another telling statistic was the average runs per wicket, 15.38 compared to 21.47 the previous year, underlining how the batting had dropped off in the league games.

George Tough was the leading wicket-taker this season, capturing 70, which was twelve more than Hollingdale, although the latter's average was better at 11.22. Smith took 64 wickets and Bob Hodge 34 which went some way to offsetting the smaller number taken by Walker (35) and Douglas Adam (27). The Union figures followed the same pattern, Tough taking 34 and Hollingdale 31 but while the latter topped the averages at 12.00, his number of victims were down on last year and it was the same with Douglas Adam. Smith and Hodge did provide backup but both averaged over 19 runs per wicket.

Inability to defend title happens again

Once again, Greenock had failed to defend their Union title and to be honest, they never looked like doing so. The batting only really clicked spasmodically, as against Ferguslie, and was prone to collapsing if a good start was not achieved. Even John Kerr had a disappointing season, despite his heavy overall total of runs while the bowling lacked the control that they were given by Hollingdale and Douglas Adam in 1932. Prospects for 1934 did not look that great especially as William Smith would not be available. Other than Smith, it was likely that the same squad of players would turn out again next year. Could they make up for this year's disappointments?