OBITUARY: Hopper Levett

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In the days when all first-class cricketers were either Gentlemen or Players a natural path to rapid advancement was to become an amateur wicket- keeper. If the major prize, an England cap, was rarely allowed to leave the professionals' grasp, there were one or two amateurs good enough to slip through when the stars were injured and the selectors blinked. One such was Howard "Hopper" Levett of Kent who spent most of his career in the shadow of Leslie Ames, with Kent, and in competition with George Duckworth of Lancashire.

He would have been six when the Great War began, snatching just a glimpse of cricket's Golden Age, and was fortunate to attend Brighton College, a school with a reputation for producing cricketers and footballers, even double internationals; Sammy Woods had preceded him and even in such formative years Levett was described as "a genuine character in the true sense of that much abused word".

He made his debut for Kent when 22 and continued playing until 1947 as very much the specialist wicket-keeper, averaging only 12 with the bat but recording 467 dismissals, of which 195 were stumped. He made the first of his four appearances for the Gentlemen at Lord's in 1931 and toured India with MCC in 1933-4 at a time when trips to the subcontinent were much more amateur than professional. In his one Test, in Calcutta, he took three catches but scored only 5 and 2 not out.

However, in 1937 he was "considered to be well in the running for a trip to Australia" but, once again, Ames recovered from injury. Sir Pelham Warner still ranked him among England's top four wicket- keepers as late as 1945.

It was said of Levett, a man of great nervous energy, a non-stop chatterer behind the stumps or in the pavilion, that on one of his brilliant days he was the best in the country.

A farmer's son, he remained an honoured and admired character in Kent, that most convivial of county clubs, and was the club's president in 1974.

He will be best remembered, with affection, for one of the game's classic stories. After a night of heavy entertaining, Hopper Levett took his place behind the stumps and never even flickered as the first ball whistled by outside the off-stump for four byes.

The batsman tickled the second down the legside, Hopper took off to dive and take a spectacular catch, rising to say, beaming: "Not bad, eh, for the first ball of the morning?"

Derek Hodgson

William Howard Vincent Levett, cricketer: born Goudhurst, Kent 25 January 1908; married 1943 Pamela Goodhew (deceased; one child deceased); died 30 November 1995.