St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Personalities St George's Park - Tom Dean
Tom Dean
Brian Bassano

Eastern Province Cricket Union secretary Tom Dean has faced many challenges in his time, most of them connected with cricket. Last week he took on one more - one he says “will be my last.”

After a professional career in cricket stretching back almost 50 years, Tom has decided to retire to his house at Port Alfred at the end of this season. He was content to spend his final year working quietly at his desk in the EPCU office under the grandstand at St George’s Park, with regular excursions to see that the pitches in the middle and the nets were being tended properly.

Click image to enlarge
Tom Dean
However, he has been persuaded to take over as manager of the Eastern Province “A” side and has answered the call with characteristic determination and thoroughness.

EP face a difficult season and Tom has no illusions about the magnitude of their task - and his.

Having finished last in the Currie Cup competition for the past two seasons and with their closest rivals, Northern Transvaal, off to a great start this season, there is more pressure than ever on EP.

A master of understatement Tom is making no predictions about his team’s performances. He has spelled out to them what he expects and given them the assurance of his support and guidance whenever required.

Tom, who was born in Gosport, Hampshire, in 1916, spent most of his youth in Johannesburg and took an early interest in cricket. Tall and strong and blessed with hands resembling bunches of bananas, he was able to bowl legspinners at a lively pace, which not only turned sharply, but bounced as well.

He returned to the country of his birth in 1936 and was engaged on the ground staff, where he
served an apprenticeship before making his first class debut in 1939.

Just as he was reaching his peak the Second World War broke out and he swapped his flannels for a navy blue uniform and sailed away to serve as a naval gunner in many parts of the world.

The most famous of all cricket broadcasters, John Arlott said of him: “T A Dean, a young South African, was brought into the team late in the season, at the Bournmouth festival. Against Worcestershire he took four wickets in five balls, including the hattrick, and, in the next match against Yorkshire, he had a spell of five wickets for eight runs, in which he twice took two wickets with consecutive balls.

He was tall, fair-haired and strong, and bowled his legbreaks and googlies very fast. He never recovered such form after the war, but for those few days at the end of the period of peace, he bowled magnificently.

Tom’s career with Hampshire, spanning the war years, ended in 1949. He played 28 matches, making 283 runs with a highest score of 26 and an average of 9,12.

As a bowler Tom took 51 wickets at 31,11, on one occasion taking ten wickets in a match, and on four occasions five wickets in an innings.

He was one of the finest forward shot-leg fielders in the history of the game. His catching and stopping was at times unbelievable and he was absolutely fearless.

In a recent edition of the Cricket Journal he is rated among the greatest close fielders and the late Desmond Eagar, a former Hampshire captain said of him:
“Dean, our leg-spinner, fielded during the season in a way that could only be described as the highest class; indeed, he was the best forward short-leg fielder I had ever seen.

“At Colchester, against Essex, Dean caught seven catches in a row, four of them brilliant ones, he was so quick in the field compared to our old campaigners.”

Eagar also remembered, that at the end of the 1949 season, three players “Lofty” Herman, George Heath and Tom, informed the committee that they did not seek re-engagement for 1950 as all of them had taken over the tenancies of licensed houses.

After leaving Hampshire Tom accepted a professional coaching and playing appointment in Newton Abbott, Devon, and became the landlord of the White Hart Hotel in nearby Torquay.

In his five years with Newton Abbott, Tom turned in many brilliant performances. His best season was in 1951, when he took 235 wickets and scored 1700 runs and nearly broke the club financially as he was paid “talent money” for every batch of five wickets or fifty runs.

Tom left Devon in October, 1955, to take up a coaching position at St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown, where future Springbok captain Peter van der Merwe was the first eleven skipper.

The following year Tom took over as coach at Grey High School in Port Elizabeth.

After 23 years of coaching at Grey, Tom became secretary of the Eastern Province Cricket Union, a position he has held for four years.

While Tom is prepared to talk at length about the players of his day, he makes no attempt to compare them with the current crop.

“The game has changed to such an extent that comparisons are impossible,” he said.

Tom rates Sir Leonard Hutton as the finest batsman to whom he bowled with Denis Compton and South African Dudley Nourse the best players of spin bowling.

He did not play against Sir Donald Bradman, but saw him in action in 1938 and 1948 and places him top of the list.

Thousands of schoolboys, many of whom achieved fame, have passed under his eagle eye and he remembers most of them - just as nearly all of them will recall him with affection.

He is reluctant to single out the best of his pupils, and when asked if the great Graeme Pollock had been undoubtedly the most outstanding, he replied: “I must take the credit for not coaching him. He was a ‘freak’ and was best left to develop on his own”.

Naturally, he is sad that leg-spin bowling has become an almost forgotten art - and, sadly, is not optimistic about its revival.

“There is little scope for leg-spinners nowadays when the object of the fielding side is to restrict rather than dismiss their opponents.

“Whereas an analysis of six for 100 in 30 overs was regarded as an outstanding performance in my time, bowlers are now satisfied if they can give away fewer than two runs an over, and two for 64 in 30 overs is considered a good return’’, Tom said.

He remembers the great leg-spinners of the past - like Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly, Doug Wright and Tich Freeman - with nostalgia, but feels they would be frustrated by limited overs cricket.

He saw them all in action and once played in the same side as the almost legendary “Tiger” O’Reilly.

Tom recalls: “In 1948, we were playing Middlesex at Lord’s and several of the Hampshire players were invited to play for the Mayor of Gravesend’s team against Kent in a benefit match on the Sunday.

“We travelled to the game by train and in the compartment, also as members of the team, were Bill O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton, who were covering the Australian tour of that year. We won handsomely with the Kent wickets taken by O’Reilly and myself.

“Bill took six of them, including that of Les Ames who tried to cover drive the wrong ’un and was bowled. I vividly remember Bill, who was in the slips, dropping Brian Valentine off me. When I glared at him, all he said was, ‘Sorry son, that was like a bunch of confetti coming at me.’ I still have a photograph of both teams from that memorable day.”

This story was related to O’Reilly during a quiet moment during a recent Test in Australia. The instant reply was: “I remember the lad, good bowler - and, yes, cheeky bastard - he did glare at me. ME!”

Tom will have memories to take into retirement with him. Let’s hope the freshest will be a successful season for Eastern Province.

Weekend Post,
October 22, 1983.

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