The only Kent cricketer to play both cricket and football for England, Harold ‘Wally’ Hardinge started his career in 1902 as a left-arm spinner after giving up his apprenticeship in cricket ball manufacturing, but progressed to become one of the most reliable opening batsmen of his time.
To this day, Hardinge’s 606 first-class appearances and 32,549 runs for Kent are second to only Frank Woolley. His 2,446 runs in the 1928 season are third on Kent’s all-time season list.
Possessed of an equable temperament and a sound technique – Pelham Warner wrote of him ‘his sound batting had at the back of it, a sound mind’, he added stiffening to a team of stroke players who could, now and again, get carried away with their own brilliance. With a low grip, which was anathema to the purists, he was strong off his pads and,
like most of his vintage, off-drove and cut well.
He could score quickly when required, and his captains were seldom inclined to change the order when pressing for runs. Three times he hit a hundred before lunch, two against Hampshire, both on the first day of the match and both at Dover, 113* (final score 117) in 1913, 104* (114) in 1928 and 123* (162*) v Worcestershire on the second
day at Tonbridge in 1921.
As well as his useful left-arm spin, like many professional footballers, Hardinge was fast in the outfield with a quick, low return and a safe pair of hands.
In 1910, while with Sheffield United, he played for England v Scotland at Hampden Park (lost 2—0). In 1921 he played for England v Australia at Headingley (lost by 219 runs). In both matches he played alongside other double internationals – Harry Makepeace (Everton & Lancashire) & Andy Ducat (Woolwich Arsenal & Surrey) at Hampden, Ducat again at Headingley (by then, his football team was just plain Arsenal). Wisden considered him ‘one of the best outfields in the world’.
Even though capped in 1907, not until the following year did he become a regular in the side with over 1,000 runs in 26 matches.
In all, he passed the landmark 1,000 runs 18 times and exceeded 2,000 in 1913, 1921, 1922, 1926 and 1928. Despite playing alongside prolific scorers such as Frank Woolley, Les Ames and James Seymour, he was Kent’s leading runscorer in 1913, 1919, 1921, 1922 and 1926 and headed the county batting averages in 1913 and 1919.
He shared in 149 three-figure partnerships, 54 for the first-wicket, four of them over 200, and 26 of them with Bill Ashdown, the most successful opening pair in Kent history.
He scored a century against 15 of the then 16 first-class counties, 11 against Essex and ten against Hampshire. The exception was Glamorgan, who did not play Kent until 1932.
He carried his bat through a completed innings ten times, a Kent record. His 75 centuries were spread over 33 grounds, nine at Dover, six each at Canterbury and Leyton, five at Tonbridge, four each at Blackheath and Southampton.
Opening in all but three of Kent’s fixtures, in 1908 Hardinge reached 1,000 runs for the first time,with three hundreds, one 90 and six other half-centuries. Against Essex at Leyton, he hit 153 & 126,the first of four occasions on which he scored two hundreds in a match.
Due to injury and loss of form, he failed to reach 500 runs in 1909 and in 1910 he made only five first-team appearances, but was back near his best in 1911 with over 1,100 runs and an average over 30. Against Hampshire at Southampton he scored 175 & 109 and against Essex at Tonbridge carried hisbat for 123* in a total of 203. Chosen for a Test Trial at Lord’s, he hit 113* for the Rest against an England attack, including Frank Foster, Claude Buckenham, Frank Tarrant and Wilfred Rhodes.
Although not picked for home Test matches and football commitments ruling him out for overseas tours, over the three remaining pre-war seasons, Hardinge consolidated himself in the upper echelon of English county batsmen. In 1913, only four batsman scored more than his 2,037 runs (avge. 41.57). His seven centuries included four in successive innings – 154* v Leicestershire, Canterbury, 117 & 105* v Hampshire and 107 v Northants, all at Dover. He took part in five century opening partnerships with Humphreys and seven for the second wicket, including 231 against Hampshire at Portsmouth and two in a match in the return at Dover.
1914 was another good season when, although falling short of 2,000 runs, he hit four centuries, nine half-centuries and took part in another nine century partnerships, four for the first wicket withHumphreys as well as one of 99 and one of 98.
In the 1915 Wisden Almanack, he was one of the Five Cricketers of the Year, a distinction marred somewhat by the comment ‘Hardinge has nearly every good quality as a batsman , but he is not seen at is best against very fast bowling.’, a criticism destined to follow him throughout his career. At this stage, the evidence is hardly conclusive.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Hardinge was one of the handful of Kent professionals who did not enlist immediately and, like the others, received a letter from the Kent committee asking why he had not volunteered and ‘what he was doing to help.’ His reply, to the effect that he was the sole support of his parents, his married brother was ill and that he had offered his services as a special constable, was recorded without comment but in April 1915 he enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service. A motorcycle enthusiast, Hardinge’s papers show him in May of that year as a Petty Officer Mechanic‘Cyclist. Armoured Car Division’. Later that year he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer Mechanic Third Class and in January 1918 to Chief Petty Officer Mechanic, Second Class.
Hardinge appeared for the Army and Navy v The Australian and South African Forces at Lord’s in 1917. There were two other Kent cricketers in the side, Corporal David Jennings and Sergeant Colin Blythe, both making what would their last appearance in a match of any importance.
In the following year while stationed at Blandford, Hardinge made the first of three appearances for England v the Dominions in front of large crowds, two at Lord’s, thethird at The Oval.
Hardinge was demobilised in January 1919 but remained on the RAF Reserve until 1920.
In September 1922, he played for a rather strange eleven entitled ‘RAF (Ex Service)’ against the Rest of England at the Saffrons. In a side containing other distinguished ex-RAF / RNAS men including Jack Hobbs, Woolley, Percy Fender and George Geary, his first innings 97 was top score in the match.
Kent did not start their first post-war season until June and Hardinge slipped back easily into the routine of county cricket, possibly helped to fitness by over 70 wartime football matches for Woolwich Arsenal. With 891 runs (avge. 46.89) he finished top of the Kent averages and leading run scorer. He hit 142 v Middlesex at Mote Park and 172* v Essex in Canterbury Week but possibly his best innings were at Blackheath, 97 as Kent were dismissed by Surrey for 164 and at Leeds where he carried his bat for 79* as Kent were bowled out for 169.
Selected for Players v Gentlemen at both The Oval and Lord’s in 1920, he scored 127 at the former, batting number five, and was picked for the Third Test match against Australia at Headingley starting next day.
One of 16 batsmen called on by England that year, he opened and, after a nervous start, remained relatively untroubled as three partners succumbed to the pace of Gregory and MacDonald – Woolley 0, Jack Hearne seven, Ducat three. Having survived the fast bowlers’ opening spells, he had the mortification of being given out LBW to first change Warwick Armstrong for 25. In the second innings, he was caught at slip by Gregory off MacDonald for five and was never picked again.
Although continually passed over for international cricket, for the next decade and more Wally Hardinge remained one of the most consistent batsmen on the county circuit, averaging over 50 in three seasons and between 40 and 47 in a further two.
Not until 1932, by which time he had dropped to the middle order, did he average below 30.
After 1921, his best season was 1928 – 2,446 runs (avge.59.65) with five centuries including 263* v Gloucestershire at Gloucester and 205 v Warwickshire at Tunbridge Wells
In 1923, Hardinge was awarded the potentially most lucrative of Kent’s fixtures, Hampshire in Canterbury Week, for his benefit. It was an odd season in which his usual consistency seemed to desert him. He hit five centuries (two against Essex) and seven half-centuries but six ducks and 19 other single figure scores brought his average down to the low thirties. With collections, his benefit raised £1,649 15s 3d.
As a bowler, Hardinge might well have achieved more with a county less well stocked with spinners. Little used by Kent pre-war, by the late 1920s/early 1930s with Woolley bowling less, he was given more to do and in the twilight of his career evolved into something more than a useful change. Giving the ball air, he could achieve considerable turn in the right conditions. Against Warwickshire at Tunbridge Wells in 1929 he took six for 9 from 11.5 overs and twice he claimed over 50 wickets, in a season.
In 1932, five for 19 v Derbyshire at Ilkeston was followed by his only ten in a match, seven for 64 & four for 64 at Lord’s against a strong MCC team including the Nawab of Pataudi and South Africa’s Herby Taylor.
His football career and later his employment with John Wisden & Co. perhaps gave Wally Hardinge a measure of independence denied many pros.
For Hardinge, 1928 would be his best season ever. There seems little doubt that football commitments contributed to his achieving ‘One Test wonder’ status, at least before the War. Post-war, with Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Sandham, Percy Holmes, CAG ‘Jack’Russell and several others, England were rather spoilt for choice when it came to opening batsmen, but with his reputation as an outfielder, he might have merited consideration further down the order.
However, for generations English selectors have suffered from a deeply-rooted reluctance to pick batsmen who are openers by trade to bat any lower than No. 3. There are unconfirmed stories that his employers, John Wisden & Co, refused him permission to tour Australia with MCC in 1924/25 and again in 1928/29 when he proposed accompanying the team, even though he was prepared to do so at his own expense.
Described at the time as a ‘ball playing’ inside-forward, Wally Hardinge’s football career began with Eltham, Tonbridge and Maidstone.
In 1905 he turned full-time professional with Newcastle United, for whom he made a handful of first team appearances.
In 1907 he was transferred to Sheffield United for whom he scored 40 goals in 152 Cup & League matches.
In 1910 he moved on to Woolwich Arsenal, subsequently Arsenal, for whom he scored another 14 goals in 55 appearances and played in the inaugural game at Highbury.
After finishing with Arsenal he had a short period as second team manager with Tottenham Hotspur and acted as caretaker first team manager for part of the 1935 season.
Hardinge worked for John Wisden & Co for much of his career. In their advertisements in Wisden he is shown as being ‘Joint Manager’. His employment with them however seems to have ended when he retired from cricket in 1933.
He coached at Leicester for a short period and subsequently worked for the Cement Marketing Board.
In 1908 he married Daisy Cornford (1885-1964) from Tonbridge at St John’s Church, Deptford. There was one daughter.
During the Second World War he lost all his sporting trophies when their house was destroyed by bombing. On his death, he left £1,693.