George Aubrey Faulkner (17 December 1881 in Port Elizabeth – 10 September 1930 in Walham Green, London) was a leading cricketer for South Africa for two decades.
Faulkner endured the violence of an alcoholic father before enlisting in the Imperial Light Horse in 1900 to fight in the Anglo-Boer War. After the cessation of hostilities, Faulkner moved to Johannesburg and made his first-class cricketing debut for Transvaal in the 1902/03 Currie Cup Tournament.
After playing in the Currie Cup without distinction, Faulkner came to the notice of the South African selectors when he scored a half century and took six wickets with his googlies to lead Transvaal to a surprise win over the touring 1905/06 MCC side. He was promptly selected for his Test debut in the first Test of the series against England at Johannesburg and his match figures of 6/61 helped South Africa record their maiden Test victory. Faulkner retained his place throughout the whole series and was a significant contributor to South Africa's 4-1 series victory.
Faulkner was selected for the South African tour of the United Kingdom in 1907 and his mastery of googly bowling, along with that of his team mates Reginald Schwarz, Bert Vogler and Gordon White, had a significant effect on the acceptance of wrist spin as an effective bowling weapon. The highlight of the tour for Faulkner being his spell at the Leeds Test match where he took 6/17 in eleven overs.
The return of the English side to South Africa in 1909/10 for a five Test series saw Faulkner at the height of his skills and had many, including Wisden, calling him the best all-rounder in the world, as he was the leading run scorer from either team, scoring 545 runs at 60.55 and the second highest wicket taker with 29 at 21.89. Faulkner then carried this form into his next series, against Australia in Australia in 1910/11. In the five Test series, Faulkner scored 732 runs at 73.20, including a highest score of 204 in the second Test at Melbourne and took 10 wickets at 51.40.
Following the Australian tour, Faulkner married and moved to England, settling in Nottingham, with the intention of playing county cricket. However this did not come to be and Faulkner instead limited his appearances to South African matches in England and the occasional festival match. He never played in South Africa again.
South Africa toured England again in 1912 for the triangular series with England and Australia and Faulkner made himself available for South Africa, playing in six Test matches and scoring 194 runs at 19.40 and taking 17 wickets at 26.70.
Following the outbreak of World War I, Faulkner enlisted in the British Army, joining the Royal Field Artillery and served on the Western Front, Macedonia and Palestine, helping to capture Jerusalem. Promoted to Major, Faulkner received the DSO and the Order of the Nile for his bravery and contracted a case of malaria for his troubles.
Faulkner's marriage had disintegrated during his war enforced absence and he divorced in 1920. Tall, muscular and handsome, Faulkner was considered a cricketing sex symbol and was never short of female admirers, one of whom he married in 1928.
Faulkner had retired from cricket in 1921 to go into coaching but was coerced into returning to Test cricket in 1924 by the touring South Africans, who were suffering from a long injury list. His return to Test cricket was less than spectacular however and after one poor performance at Lord's, Faulkner retired for good after 25 Test matches that reaped 1,754 runs at 40.79 and 82 wickets at 26.58 with 7/58 his best figures.
Faulkner started a cricket school in London, the first of its type in the world and was credited with shaping some future Test players, including Doug Wright, Ian Peebles and Denis Tomlinson. The school however was not a financial success and Faulkner began to suffer from extended periods of depression, possibly exacerbated from the malaria he contracted during the war. On 10 September 1930, in a small store room at his cricket school, Faulkner gassed himself. He was 48. His suicide note read "Dear Mackenzie, I am off to another sphere via the small bat-drying room. Better call in a policeman to do investigating."
In 1926 his book Cricket: Can it be Taught? was published.
Obituaries for Faulkner tiptoed around the manner of his death but all were fervent in their praise of the elegant batsman, the bowler who could trouble all of the leading batsman and the great fielder, either in the deep or in the slips.