CHARLIE BARNETT made life difficult for bowlers, especially those opening against Gloucestershire in the 1930s. If he stayed there was the likelihood that he would score 100 runs before lunch; if by chance he was dismissed, the bowler then faced the task of bowling at the greatest English batsman of that time, Walter Hammond. 'Bloody hard work, bloody frustration and bloody sore feet' was one fast bowler's memory.
Barnett was unusual for his time in that he entered the game as an amateur, at 16, after an education at Wycliffe, the son and nephew of Gloucestershire players. He later turned professional without losing much of the distinctions between gentleman and player all too obvious before the Second World War. His background and attitudes made him a singular figure in the professionals' dressing- room and carried this detachment throughout his career, playing in the manner and style he preferred, never one to pander to the whims of selectors or county committees.
As a right-hand batsman he could be brilliant, and, if the catch stuck, brief. He first appeared for Gloucestershire, in the middle order, in 1927 and was moved to open in 1932, scoring 2,280 runs the following year and establishing his reputation. In that year he hit 11 sixes in an innings of 194 against Somerset at Bath. He was a magnificent driver, a skill based on exceptionally strong wrists and forearms and an exact sense of timing. He was also a prodigious cutter and his delight in employing both shots in the first over of a Test match tended to raise selectorial eyebrows.
RC Robertson-Glasgow, who loved his West-Countrymen, described him thus: 'There are successful batsmen who remind you of hothouses and adding machines. Barnett suggests the leaves running before the early autumn winds. He is no ledger- bat. He is the master, not the servant, of decimal points and averages and ruled red lines.
'As a number one batsman, for his county and England, he is a rebel against stale custom. He is like the office boy who kicks the wastepaper- basket against the Head Clerk's shins, gives notice a second before he receives it, and runs out to slide on the pavement.'
Barnett passed 1,000 runs in a season 12 times, passed 2,000 four times, scored four double centuries and played in 20 Tests. He averaged 35 in Tests and 32 in his 424 matches for Gloucestershire. He was also a very useful fast-medium bowler (394 wickets at 30) and he reached his century against Australia, at Trent Bridge in 1938, off the first ball after lunch.
After a then county record benefit of pounds 4,164 in 1947 Barnett cut his ties and went north to play in the Central Lancashire League. In Rochdale his name is bracketed with that of Frank Worrell and no cricketer can ask for a better epitaph.
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