Bill Frindall

1939 - 2009

When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost but how you played the Game.
[Grantland Rice 1880-1954]

The beginning of a Test series in the Caribbean inevitably brings back memories of fifteen years ago when I was scorer to the Test Match Special team and was privileged to witness and record Brian Lara’s then record 375 in Antigua, England’s spectacular 46 all out in Trinidad and Alec Stewart’s back-to-back centuries in a rare England win in Barbados. This year, however, those memories are tinged with sadness as the world of cricket mourns the passing of a man described by BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew as ‘probably the most consummate professional I’ve ever worked with ‘ and by Christopher Martin-Jenkins as a ‘byword for efficiency and reliability’.

Bill Frindall, whose unexpected death on 30 January from Legionnaire’s disease, contracted in Dubai where he was touring with the Lord’s Taverners, transformed cricket scoring and statistics from being the province of the geek and the anorak to a profession which at its best can make an invaluable contribution to the media and the game at large. 

The wearing of black armbands by the England team during the Jamaica Test is a fitting and appropriate tribute, as were the obituaries which appeared in all major national newspapers and the International Herald Tribune.

Bill’s roots were firmly in the soil of Surrey. Born in Epsom District Hospital on 3 March 1939 (as he never tired of pointing out, the first day of the infamous ten-day timeless Test in Durban), his early homes were in Kingswood, Epsom Downs, Sutton and Cheam, his education at Tadworth County Primary School, Reigate Grammar School and Kingston School of Art, where he studied architecture, and his early cricket at Banstead alongside Derek and Ron Pratt and Roy Swetman. He was taught to score by an enthusiastic master one wet sports afternoon, when outdoor activity was impossible, and soon recruited by his local club 2nd XI.

After service in the RAF and having abandoned the idea of a career in architecture or accounting in favour of something in cricket broadcasting or administration, his opportunity came in 1965 when on the premature death of Test Match Special scorer Arthur Wrigley, he approached the BBC and landed the job, making his Test debut in 1966 at Old Trafford, the first of 377 matches , including all of the 246 played in England to the end of the 2008 season. He was the longest serving member of the Test Match Special team.

He set about designing a scoring system which has resulted in ‘The Frindall system’ and ‘linear scoring’ being regarded, like ‘Hoover’ and ‘vacuum cleaner’ or ‘Biro’ and ‘ball point’ as synonomous. In fact, they are not. Linear scoring, a method which, unlike conventional scoring, uses a column for each batsman and a line for each over, making it possible to follow the progress of a match ball-by-ball, can be traced to the nineteenth century. It was developed by Australian Bill Ferguson (Fergie), who scored international cricket for half a century, and further modified by Wrigley and Roy Webber for television and radio scoring.

In Frindall’s hands, however, it became further refined and annotated with marginal notes and comments, adorned with superscript symbols such as ‘S’ for sprinted run, ‘X’ for played and missed, ‘T’ for hit on thigh pad etc etc. In addition, each scoring stroke is given an index number indicating the area of the field to which the ball is played . information from which scoring charts and wagon wheels can subsequently be constructed. The system is easier to follow than to describe, the more so when in Bill Frindall’s immaculate calligraphy which began in his school-days and continued throughout his career. Although superseded to an extent by computerised scoring, video analysis and television graphics, the method has served TMS well over the years and linear scoring, in one form or another, is the preferred method of virtually all professional scorers, Surrey’s Jack Hill being the first county scorer to adopt it in 1971.

At the same time as entering his BBC career, Frindall set himself up as a freelance cricket statistician and has been instrumental in improving the accuracy of averages and earlier records. 

Although never a county scorer himself, he worked closely with all of us, meticulously collecting information on new players, hat-tricks, caps, centuries before lunch etc. England Cricket Managing Director, Hugh Morris, referred to ‘the fraternity of cricketing scorers whose work he did so much to champion’. Bill remained bemused that for home series, England had neither scorer nor scorebook, internationals being scored by appointees of the home venue often (though not at The Oval) at the back of the book used for the county 2nd XI.

But those whose lives are constrained by cricket scoring and statistics (and there are a few of them) can be pretty boring people and Bill could never be accused of that. He had a range of interests and was a competent club cricketer, playing once for Hampshire 2nd XI. As his long-time friend and colleague, John Arlott, said in his famous Hampshire burr, ‘They were desperate and they never asked him again’. It was in fact Arlott who welcomed Frindall to the TMS commentary box with the words ‘I hear you like driving. Well, I like drinking. We’re going to get on well’. Bill was a bon viveur and accomplished raconteur and after-dinner speaker, his impressions of Arlott, Brian Johnston and Fred Trueman being particulary accurate and memorable. 

It was Johnston who first called him the ‘Bearded Wonder’, a nickname to which he clearly did not object as he used it as his email address. He was for twenty years President of British Blind Sport and had his own charity touring side, the Maltamaniacs.

He was the Editor of a number of cricket publications including the Wisden Book of Cricket Records, the Wisden Book of Test Cricket and Playfair Cricket Annual, the latter since 1986 where his careful attention to detail and accuracy is all too apparent. His autobiography Bearders: 

My Life in Cricket is eminently readable and he was kind enough to contribute the Foreword to my book, Knowing the Score: the Past, Present and Future of Cricket Scoring .

His obituary in the Daily Telegraph said that ‘he was not the easiest man to get along with in the cricketing world’. He has been described as ‘curmudgeonly’ and he certainly did not suffer fools gladly whether they appeared in the guise of the club bore preceding him as a speaker at a cricket dinner or of a national or international governing body. When computerised scoring was introduced prematurely and insufficiently trialled, he threw in his lot with county scorers against the Press Association and ECB, referring to ‘the hapless victims of incredibly inept scoring software which has been outrageously foisted upon them at short notice and after inadequate testing’.

The ICC’s greed-driven ‘witless decision’ to award ‘ludicrous multi-national matches’ Test and ODI status and disregard of the Laws of the game by seeing the toss rather than the call of ‘play’ as the start of a match received his undisguised contempt. On a more local note, no prizes for guessing the subject and objects of this piece of invective from what turned out to be his last Playfair Preface in 2008 .’How they overlook a fit, quick-footed, run-hungry batsman who has uniquely averaged over 100 in successive seasons beggars belief’.

Frindall was awarded the MBE for services to cricket and broadcasting in 2004, having been previously honoured with a DTech from Staffordshire University in 1998 for his contribution to statistics.

He was married three times and is survived by his wife Deborah, daughter Alice, and two sons and a daughter from his first marriage. The sincere and heartfelt sympathy of all at Surrey cricket is extended to them.

The funeral will be a private family one.

Keith Booth
5 February 2009