The Cricketer August 1975

War of the Roses

EW Swanton
EW Swanton on an epic post-war Roses match



Willie Watson: quick, easy footed, strokes of rhythm © The Cricketer
No mere southerner is likely to forget his first visit to a Roses Match, and my own recollections of Old Trafford at the August bank holiday of 1946 are certainly vivid enough.

Yorkshire and Lancashire were running for the Championship, and on the Monday the crowd was such that according to Wisden "vast crowds were left outside when the gates were closed". The Daily Telegraph correspondent thought that 40,000 were crammed inside, the day's play `barely glimpsed' by many of them. The mood, as was general in those first post-war years, was more of uncritical pleasure in being able to watch cricket once again after so long than of the old biting rivalry, though certainly neither side gave owt away. Or, rather, let us say that no rash chances were taken, since if the spirit was willing the flesh was often weak in terms of bowling accuracy.

Yorkshire, represented with one notable exception by pre-war players, failed on the first day, being bowled out for 180, after which it was a matter of whether Lancashire could force a win. They led in fact by 216. but Lancashire had taken too long about their innings, confined by the guile and skill of Arthur Booth. He was the exception just referred to, the successor as slow left-arm bowler to Hedley Verity, killed in action in Italy. There will be young Cricketer readers to whom the story of Booth is unfamiliar, and it is unusual enough to bear retelling.

Older than Verity and with his way blocked in the 'thirties, Booth plied his craft with Northumberland. With no successor to Verity on view Booth returned to Yorkshire in 1946 at the age of 43, took 111 wickets at 11.61 each, finished at the head of the English averages and then, much bothered by arthritis, gracefully slipped away, making room for young Johnny Wardle.

This day he bowled 35 overs for 54 runs, and though Winston Place and Phil King (who subsequently made a bigger name in the Press box than on the field) scored hundreds they took rather a long time about it. The scorebook shows 35 runs too against the name of J. A. Fallows, who at the age of 39 stepped into the breach as captain of Lancashire just for this first post-war season. Jack Fallows was no great bat, but at least he had his brief hour of glory making his top score against the old enemy. Hutton and Barber were out before nightfall, but on the third day:

Yorkshire were true to themselves, their batsmanship showing the resolution that has never failed to characterize it since the days of Lord Hawke. Lancashire missed no chances that could be detected, but the excellence of the wicket and the lack of variety in their bowling were factors that could not be gainsaid. They had a credit of 174 runs when play started ... by lunch three good men had been removed, but Sellers and Leyland then stood between Lancashire and the tail, and, incidentally, scored as quickly between lunch and the close as Lancashire had yesterday when pressing, theoretically speaking, for victory.

Watson played an innings especially welcome as coming from one of Yorkshire's young brigade. The basis of his play is quick, easy footwork, the smooth rhythm of his strokes springing naturally from that. He seems well-equipped at all points, and should make .many runs for Yorkshire once the probation period is over.

Neither Leyland nor his captain was in particular difficulty. Leyland the strokemaker has perhaps gone into retirement, but the solid battler remains, playing maybe from memory, as was once said of Philip Mead. But memory's bat is no less broad. In the circumstances Lancashire could not have had a worse man to bowl to.

The last crisis came with the new ball at twenty minutes to four. By that time Yorkshire, with five wickets left, were 33 runs behind and there was an hour and five minutes to play. Yorkshire's tail is a frail one, but Lancashire never reached it. Pollard and Phillipson were, in cricket parlance, 'burst'. Leyland and Sellers persisted, and 18,000 Lancashiremen made for home.

The 1946 Championship was probably settled by this game, though with 12 points given for a win Yorkshire finished with 216 points as against the 204 of Middlesex and Lancashire's 200. But if the Red Rose had won against the White that day it is hard to think that it would then have drooped twice within the next ten days--and at Old Trafford at that--against Essex and Hampshire.

Yorkshire finished top, but it was to be their last outright Championship (they shared it with Middlesex in 1949) until J. R. Burnet's side won it again 13 years later in 1959. At the end of this first post-war summer Leyland, Barber and Turner retired, while Booth also dropped out. The following year saw the last of both Bowes and Sellers--after which, with Smailes and Robinson declining, only Hutton and Yardley of the all-conquering Yorkshire of the 'thirties remained.

This was probably my first sight of Willie Watson, just as it was my last on the field of Maurice Leyland, and I am gratified to see that I spotted the promise of the younger as well as paying due tribute to the older. Maurice was 46 when, a month later at Scarborough, he took the last two wickets of the concluding match of the Festival, and so bowed out of the first-class game which he had graced first at the age of 20.

There are not too many great cricketers, for all the fine qualities of most of them, for whom endearing seems the most fitting adjective. But it is pre-eminently right for Maurice, who combined abundant good nature and the toughest possible fighting spirit in equally generous measure. `Ah've got 'im skinned,' he once announced in the England dressing-room when he adjudged that morale needed a lift against the menace of Bill O'Reilly. Seen at the climax of a Test match to address a remark to a close fielder appealing ferociously--and successfully for lbw to a ball that he had allowed to hit him on the hip, if not higher, and pressed to repeat what he had said, he did so quietly: `Ah only told him, "An' tha' were at Cambridge".'

Ah, well, other days, other manners. This most lovable of cricketers had a sad end, victim of Parkinson's disease, unable finally to recognize his cricket contemporaries when they went to visit him in hospital. My own last memory is less distressing, for he used to come across the North Riding to Hovingham to stand umpire for one of his early captains and old friend, Sir William Worsley. These were vintage days on as perfect a country-house ground as any in England, and Maurice could easily be persuaded into inimitable reminiscence, the only sign of his malady being that he kept the worse-affected hand firmly in his coat-pocket. By just appearing and being himself he gave an added distinction to an unforgettable scene.