After the disappointments of the previous season the Club President Sir Julien Cahn took action by replacing Jimmy Iremonger as coach. At his own expense, Sir Julien engaged Donald Knight – the Surrey and Oxford University batsman, a Wisden ‘Cricketer of the Year’ in 1915 and now a schoolmaster with a strong reputation for developing younger players – and Alan Fairfax, an Australian Test player who was running a cricket school in England.
It was probably too optimistic to hope that this move would lead to a rapid improvement in form, and Notts remained in mid-table throughout the summer. Their highest position was ninth, and at the premature end of the season they were in 12th place (the same as in 1938) with six wins and eight defeats from 27 County Championship matches.
The Committee’s report described the season as “unsatisfactory”, largely due to weaknesses in the bowling. “Butler bowled consistently, taking 105 wickets at an average of 22 but did not display the brilliant form shown before his illness in 1938. He and Voce had again to bear the brunt of the bowling, and received but little support from the change bowlers.
“Mr Heane was the most effective change bowler, but as he scored nearly 1,600 runs during the season he could not be expected to bowl for long stretches, but he might with advantage have been less modest, and bowled more frequently ….. Mr Heane batted better than he had ever done scoring 1,578 runs in 44 innings with an average of 39.
“Hardstaff’s batting was brilliant. [In Notts matches] He scored 1,929 runs in 45 innings with an average of 55. Keeton showed that he had made a complete recovery from his serious accident of a few years ago, and scored 1,745 runs in 37 innings with an average of 54. He had the distinction of making the highest score ever made by a Nottinghamshire cricketer in first-class cricket when he made 312 against Middlesex at the Oval”.
In a fixture switched to The Oval because Lord’s was hosting the Eton v Harrow match, Walter Keeton became the first Notts batsman to score a triple hundred; he was at the crease for seven and a quarter hours, striking 28 fours and also hitting ‘a five’. As a result of this and other good innings, Keeton was selected for the third and final Test against the West Indies alongside Joe Hardstaff, who had also played in the first two Tests.
The Committee’s annual report did find some cause for optimism, commenting that “In fielding and smartness in the field there was a very great improvement and, in this direction, there were few teams in the County Championship who were better. In batting and fielding Notts have a good team, but matches cannot be won without bowlers.”
The report also highlighted the home match against Essex, when “the county put up one of the brightest batting performances of the season in a remarkable second innings … Set to get 238 in 130 minutes (including the extra half hour) the runs were obtained with 30 minutes and eight wickets to spare. Keeton scored 93 not out in 100 minutes, and Hardstaff 50 out of 67 not out in 19 minutes.”
The Committee admitted that “the year following a Test match year is generally a poor one financially” and a loss of £1,366 was reported, although this was £200 less than the anticipated deficit. Subscriptions from 3,147 members totalled £5,175 (£1,500 less than in 1938), and donations fell from £453 to £108. The Club’s overdraft stood at £1,077, while Bill Voce’s benefit fund had realised £980.
Twenty-one players had appeared in First-Class matches, with debuts made by 23-year old wicketkeeper Eric Meads and left-hand batsman Guy Willatt. Notts were due to play Gloucestershire starting on 2 September, and on 31 August the Gloucester Citizen was keenly anticipating the match: “Provided international complications allow, the game with Notts should attract a large attendance and the feat of registering 16 victories for the first time in a season would prove a fitting climax to a wonderful campaign by Gloucestershire.” However war on Germany was declared on 1 September and the match was cancelled, leaving the would-be hosts on 15 wins and occupying third place in the table.
They may not have known it at the time, but five Notts players – James Bradley, David Jones, Cecil Maxwell, Dennis Watkin and Arthur Wheat – would never play another First-Class match for the county. And as for the other players, would they have expected that Notts’ next First-Class match would not be until May 1946?
For all the statistics about the 1939 season and the men who played for Notts, go to: https://www.cricketarchive.com/Nottinghamshire/Seasons/Season_Summary_1939_f.html