Frank Edward Woolley (27 May 1887 – 18 October 1978) was an English first-class cricketer active 1906 to 1938 who played for Kent and England. He was born in Tonbridge and died in Chester, Nova Scotia. His elder brother was Claud Woolley of Northamptonshire.
A genuine all-rounder, Woolley was a left-handed batsman and a left arm bowler who varied his style between left-arm orthodox spin and left arm medium pace. He was an outstanding fielder close to the wicket, generally at first slip, and is the only player other than wicketkeepers to hold over 1,000 catches in a first-class career. He represented England in 64 Test matches from 1909 to 1934. Woolley is generally regarded as one of cricket’s greatest-ever all-rounders. His first-class career runs total is the second highest of all time, after Jack Hobbs, and he scored the seventh highest number of career centuries. His career total of wickets taken is the 27th highest. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in the 1911 edition.
In May 1906, Woolley made his first appearance at Lord’s, playing for Kent Second XI alongside his brother Claud against Middlesex Second XI. The Middlesex team included Patsy Hendren and Ernie Vogler. Kent lost but Woolley made a good impression by taking five for 82 and four for 68. He made his first-class dbut for Kent in 1906.
Style and technique
Writing for Barclay’s World of Cricket, Harry Altham described Woolley as a “tall and graceful” figure who, with “a quiet air” was “unhurried in his movements”. As a batsman, he had a gift for timing his shots and made full use of his long reach. He was especially strong in driving off his back foot against balls that other batsmen might consider good length deliveries. He was equally graceful as a bowler, making full use of his height to extract additional bounce from his deliveries. Altham pointed out that, although Woolley lacked the subtlety of Wilfred Rhodes, he was nevertheless a formidable bowler on any pitch whose conditions helped him. Woolley’s long reach and his “large, prehensile hands” enabled him to take 1,018 catches, a total that remains a world record for non-wicketkeepers.Neville Cardus wrote that no other cricketer served “the meadow game” as happily and faithfully as Woolley.
Later life and family
After his retirement from cricket, Woolley was elected a life member of both Kent and Marylebone Cricket Clubs. He sat on the Kent club committee and remained active in his late life. In January 1971, he flew to Australia to watch the last two Tests of the 1970-71 series and saw England, under Ray Illingworth, regain the Ashes.
In 1914 Woolley married Sybil Fordham, a daughter of an Ashford veterinary surgeon. The marriage lasted almost 50 years and produced a son and two daughters. After Sybil died in 1962, Woolley moved to Canada, where he married Martha Wilson Morse, an American widow.