Obituary: John Mortimore, 1933-2014

A long-standing West Country servant

David Hopps

February 14, 2014

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John Mortimore, who has died at the age of 80, was a lean and stately offspinner, who was a staple of the Gloucestershire side for a quarter of a century and also won nine England caps at the height of his prowess.

If he never entirely convinced at Test level, where he averaged 24 with the bat and 58 with the ball, his partnership with his fellow offspinner David Allen at Gloucestershire was acknowledged as one of the most respected double acts on the county circuit. Mortimore spun the ball less sharply than Allen but he possessed cunning and accuracy.

Mortimore's career highlight for Gloucestershire, his native county, was taking four wickets in five balls against Lancashire at the Cheltenham Festival in 1962. His first-class career spanned 26 seasons from 1950 to 1975 and he also captained Gloucester between 1965 and 1967. He took 100 or more wickets in a season three times, scored 1,000 runs or more in a season five times, and in 1959, 1963 and 1964 he did both in the one season: the coveted double.

But it was his part in one of county cricket's great folklore moments that will be remembered as fondly as anything. He was also bowling when Lancashire's David Hughes launched his famous twilight assault - 24 off an over - in the Gillette Cup semi-final of 1971 at Old Trafford. It was so dark that Hughes had wondered before his assault whether the light was adequate. "You can see the moon," responded the umpire Arthur Jepson. "How far do you want to see?"

The first of Mortimore's nine Test appearances came when he was sent out as a replacement for Peter May's struggling team in the 1958-59 Ashes series. He topped the batting averages, somewhat freakishly, by virtue of being dismissed only once in the series. It was a productive time for England offspinners and the presence of the likes of Raymond Illingworth, Fred Titmus and Allen, all of whom were stronger batsmen, meant that his call ups were irregular.

Mortimore toured India in 1963-64, playing three Tests in a notoriously slow-scoring series. In the fifth Test at Kanpur, on the deadest of surfaces, he endured a marathon stint of 72 overs and returned remarkable figures of 1 for 67.

He had the misfortune to be brought into the England side on another batsman-friendly surface when England met Australia in the Old Trafford Test in 1964. Only 18 wickets fell for 1271 runs and Mortimore, among those wicketless, never played Test cricket again.

His highest score came against Nottinghamshire at Nottingham in 1963, when he scored 149, "a brilliant maiden Championship century by Mortimore in two hours twenty minutes", according to Wisden.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by AlexfromPessac on (February 16, 2014, 0:07 GMT)

I actually faced him, albeit in very odd circumstances. When I was ten, at a campsite in the New Forest, he bowled a tennis ball at me and turned the ball both ways. I never laid my junior bat on him, but I think he was just making fun of my dad who recognised him and insisted that he bowl to me !!

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (February 14, 2014, 20:46 GMT)

He was one of my heroes as a kid. RIP.

Posted by Westcountryman on (February 14, 2014, 17:29 GMT)

Only saw him fairly late in his career, but even then he was a good bowler. Good flight, no shortage of variation, could land it on a sixpence: in short, a real craftsman. You can't help wondering how many Test caps and wickets someone like him might have got had he been born, say, fifty years later.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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