Len Braund’s appearance at Lord’s against Middlesex on 4th June 1900 would spark an appeal on the part of his former county, Surrey, still smarting from the fact that he had been stolen from under their noses. Surrey had watched as he had developed in non-first-class games from a good player into a match-winner. They realised they had made a mistake in letting him go. Len had informed Surrey that he was leaving them for Somerset in 1898. On 1 June 1898 he took a room in Taunton, but had failed to take up residence until the September, perhaps because he had been too busy playing cricket. It was a technicality, but the MCC upheld Surrey’s complaint. Braund would not be allowed to appear until September 1900 (which meant the 1901 season at the earliest).
Why would Len Braund wish to leave one of the top two counties for a bunch of also-rans? Perhaps he wished to be the leading light, taking on the mantle of Sam Woods. Something of a party animal, perhaps he enjoyed his visits to Taunton and liked the way some of the amateurs got on better with the pros and mixed with them socially.
Leonard Charles Braund was born on 18 October 1875 in Clewer, Windsor, Len had enjoyed a comfortable, though unconventional middle-class upbringing. His father, John Braund, was a portrait painter, who, combining application with free-spiritedness, set an example of adaptability that his famous son would display. Len made good use of his time over the summer of 1900, honing his skills by playing for London County under the watchful eye of W. G. Grace. He was also married that year to Ruth May (née Hancock), a bricklayer’s daughter. He would play 281 first-class matches for Somerset and would represent England on twenty-three occasions. He would register twenty-five first-class centuries over sixteen seasons, his top score of 257 not out coming against Worcestershire in 1913. Although his natural instinct as a batsman was to attack, he knew how to dig in and defend on a sticky wicket. The fact that he carried his bat on at least four occasions is testimony to his doggedness and sound technique (as well as to the paucity of talent around him).
His bowling was equally impressive, although the figures are marred by performances in later years. As a young man, he had bamboozled opponents with his medium-paced leg-spin which, although sometimes erratic in line and length, could be deadly. Across his entire first-class career he took 5 or more wickets in an innings on eighty occasions; sixteen times he took 10 or more in a match. He exceeded 1000 runs in seven seasons and 100 wickets in four summers. Between 1901 and 1903, at the height of his powers, he completed the first-class double each season. Possessed of a big match temperament, he often saved his finest performances for the strongest opponents. Added to this, he was regarded as one of the finest of slip fielders. No wonder, then, that he was regarded for a while as one of the leading all-rounders in the world.
C. B. Fry, the former England captain, said of Braund: “He was one of the greatest all-round cricketers – and to think that Surrey let him go! The thing about Len Braund was that he was a big-match player. I have never seen a better slip fieldsman. He had such a delicate hand. He would push it out and the ball would stick. Archie MacLaren would never take the field without him. He was a most valuable member of the England team and as cool as a cucumber.”
He was able to use his popularity to promote his Sports Depot shop, in Argyle Street, Bath. Len and Ruth Braund lived above their shop with their four children. After his playing career, Len became a coach at Cambridge (where he was deemed an enormous success) and a first-class umpire, officiating, between 1923 and 1938, in 374 first-class fixtures and three test matches.
Following the amputation of both legs in 1943, he lived for a further twelve years, dying in Putney on 23 December 1955, aged eighty. He had not stayed rooted in Taunton as some of the county’s greats had, in some cases fuelling the myths surrounding their own exploits. That was never Len’s style. Perhaps this is why his achievements are not celebrated as much as they might be. But there is no doubting that this superb all-rounder – effective, rather than flamboyant – gave his all for Somerset and England.
Stephen Edden was born and brought up in the Taunton area and began watching Somerset in 1963. After retiring from a career in business, he is now a writer. He has just completed a set of biographies of the 167 players who appeared for Somerset CCC in the County Championship up to 1914 and he hopes that the book will be published in 2016. He’s already started to repeat the exercise for the men who played first-class cricket for Somerset in the 1880s and is always on the look-out for early photographs or documents.