Bert Wensley was a player’s player, a hard-bitten Sussex professional who rendered yeoman service to the county for 14 seasons after making the first of his 400 first-class appearances in 1922.
He did the double – 100 wickets and 1,000 runs – in 1929 and on four other occasions he took 100 wickets in a season, including a hat-trick against Middlesex at Lord’s in 1935. Unerringly accurate and with a strong repeatable right-arm action he gave runs away grudgingly. His team-mates, in particular the great Maurice Tate, were fond of him. He is only one of four Sussex players to have scored more than 10,000 runs and 1,000 wickets.
In 1936 Bert was presented with an unusual offer. A team of amateurs who drank at Norton’s Inn in Wittersham, a hamlet on the Sussex-Kent border on the Isle of Oxney, had once challenged two Kent players to a game in 1834 and been thrashed by an innings. Now the idea of a re-match – 11 amateurs v 2 pros - surfaced more than a century later.
The rules were simple. Bert and Kent’s Bill Ashdown were allowed the services of a wicketkeeper but effectively the two gnarled old pros would take on the opposition on their own. No fielders, no chance of a rest. And when they batted if they lost a wicket the innings was over. They were up against a coal merchant, three gardeners, two carpenters, a hop-dryer, two farmers, a bricklayer and a motor mechanic.
Interest in the game was tremendous. Estimates of the crowd vary between 2,000-4,000. There was even live commentary on the radio.
Ashdown and Wensley had to keep bowling until they had taken 10 wickets. Good balls were lashed to the unattended boundaries but professional pride kicked in. In the end they only had to send down 24.4 overs to dismiss the locals for 153. Now all the Isle of Oxney bowlers had to do was take a solitary wicket and bat again.
Unfortunately, their bowling was no match for the two professionals. Wensley and Ashdown smashed 186 in 36.4 overs with Wensley hitting 13 fours and three sixes in his 96 while Ashdown was unbeaten on 83.
Just as the locals were about to start their second innings the rain came and the match was abandoned. The professionals had won on first innings lead and they donated their prize money went to charity. Two – a good two admittedly – had beaten 11. Professional pride remained intact.