|First-class span||1952 - 1954|
Ben Brocklehurst played life much as he did cricket: with drive, energy, optimism and courage. There were no half measures. When the ball came his way his first instinct was to hit it hard. When a good idea occurred to him or someone else, his reaction was invariably: "OK. Let's give it a go."
A handsome and commanding figure of strapping physique whose pink face, ready smile and jovial mien masked a shrewd business brain, he was farming a herd of pedigree cattle in Berkshire when he was asked to captain Somerset in 1953. Well known in amateur circles as a powerful and entertaining batsman who hit the ball prodigious distances even in the days of lighter bats, he was unable to lift the county off the bottom of the table in his two seasons as captain but still made an indelible mark on the game when he bought The Cricketer magazine in 1972.
Not only did his acumen save the then fortnightly periodical from probable extinction but under his command its circulation more than doubled and he made it the base of a successful business enterprise run from his home near Tunbridge Wells.
As a schoolboy at Bradfield he was an outstanding athlete, winner of the discus and the high jump and victor ludorum in the public schools sports at White City. He played football, squash and tennis for the school and captained the cricket XI by inspired example in the field in 1940. He had made 480 runs at 40.11 the previous season, hitting 24 in an over against Lancing.
In minor cricket his most famous feat was a rampaging double-hundred, including 17 sixes, against Hampshire in a benefit match at Hartley Wintney. Always a rapid scorer, he was a potential matchwinner in any game he played for his various wandering clubs, the Bradfield Waifs, I Zingari, Free Foresters and Arabs. My first memory of him was when he batted against Marlborough for RJO Meyer's XI, hitting a barnstorming 70-odd in which he repeatedly drove the ball over the sightscreen.
In his two seasons for Somerset he made 1,671 runs at 15.61, including 89 against the Pakistan touring team in 1954, an innings in which he was comfortably on course for the fastest hundred of the season and the Walter Lawrence trophy. One can imagine him putting heart and soul into the challenge of lifting a weak team and not holding back in the evenings. Defeats were commonplace but they managed two wins in both his seasons and, when they needed only nine in the second innings to beat Middlesex at Lord's in 1953, Ben savoured the unusual experience by insisting that the pitch should be rolled for the statutory seven minutes.
A similarly indomitable spirit marked everything he did. He joined the army after leaving school, serving with the 10th Devons and then switching to the Indian Army. On leave in Kashmir he had a nasty hunting encounter with a bear, when he was badly mauled, but he recovered to serve in Burma with the 14th/12th Frontier Force. He commanded a division of Pathans and was mentioned in dispatches following action in Lower Burma before, as an acting lieutenantcolonel at the age of only 24, being put in charge of 2,000 Japanese prisoners on Magwe Island off the Arakan Coast. Unable to make any profit from farming, he joined the magazine group Mercury House, who acquired The Cricketer, founded by Pelham Warner in 1921, from the book publishers Hutchinson. When his managing director, an American, decided in 1972 that the magazine should be closed down for lack of profit he bought the title himself, for the good of the game as much as for himself. The takeover of the rival Playfair Cricket Monthly enhanced a circulation of 15,000. The Cricketer's circulation reached 40,000 in the 1980s despite hardnosed decisions by the proprietor to keep editorial costs down and the cover price in line with inflation. After the successful launch of The Cricketer Cup for school oldboy teams in 1967, Ben started several more competitions for amateur cricketers, all at one stage administered by local ladies working from outbuildings at their Kent home. The most notable was the National Village Championship which attracted around 1,000 villages at its peak in the 1980s and which still has a final at Lord's as its abiding dream. Ambridge, home of The Archers, got through a mythical round this year.
With the English Schools Cricket Association and the Lord's Taverners - he was the link between the two - he started the Lord's Taverners Schools Trophy for boys aged 14 and 15. At its peak it had an entry of between 1,300 and 1,500 schools, bringing independent and state schools together, and it still goes strongly. Although he could not persuade the administrators of English cricket to let The Cricketer become involved, it was Ben's idea, proposed to the MCC secretary Billy Griffith shortly before its inception in 1975, to start a World Cup. The tournament's immediate success both pleased and irritated the man who had sown the first seed.
He and his devoted second wife, Belinda, were wonderful hosts to countless cricketing visitors as well as local friends. Editorial and board meetings were quickly held before the main business of the day, a magnificent lunch, often held in an elegant summer house in their fine garden.
He is survived by Belinda and
his four children. His daughter
Charmaine married the England
cricketer, Richard Hutton, who
became editor of The Cricketer.
Their elder son, Ben, opened the
batting for Radley with Andrew
Strauss and has captained
Middlesex. Brocklehurst's main
life's work, The Cricketer, lives still
in spirit as the joint parent of The
Wisden Cricketer, following the
merger with Wisden Cricket Monthly
Christopher Martin-Jenkins, The Wisden Cricketer