Full name Leonard Litton Wilkinson
Born November 5, 1916, Northwich, Cheshire
Died September 3, 2002, Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire (aged 85 years 302 days)
Major teams England, Lancashire
Batting style Right-hand bat
Bowling style Legbreak
|Test debut||South Africa v England at Johannesburg, Dec 24-28, 1938 scorecard|
|Last Test||South Africa v England at Johannesburg, Feb 18-22, 1939 scorecard|
|First-class span||1937 - 1947|
Wilkinson, Leonard Litton, died in Barrow-in-Furness on September 3, 2002, aged 85. For one August he sparkled brilliantly, then just as suddenly his star waned. "The only thing I can think of," Len Wilkinson told the cricket writer Brian Bearshaw, "is that I tried to be too perfect, particularly with the googly. I had an England cap and as an England player I had to be good." He hadn't taken up leg-spin bowling until he was 15, yet a month after turning 22 he was playing Test cricket in South Africa. The selectors could hardly ignore him. In 1938, his first full season with Lancashire, he had taken 151 wickets at 23.28 in 36 games, bowling thoughtfully, delivering the ball from a full height, often getting sharp turn and rarely dropping short. He was a good slip fielder besides, with a seemingly elastic reach, and had held 26 catches. Wilkinson had joined the Old Trafford staff in 1936, being offered professional terms on the same day as Winston Place, and made his first-class debut next season against the New Zealanders, bowling the tourists' captain, "Curly" Page, in his first over. He went on to take 22 wickets in seven games, including nine on a good batting pitch at Trent Bridge, and returned 12 for 91 for the Second Eleven against Surrey Seconds in the Minor Counties Challenge Match at The Oval, another good batting strip. Though he took time to get going in 1938, a 12-over spell of five for 27 at Worcester and a hat-trick in an eight-wicket match return at Hove showed why Lancashire had been playing him in every game. Then in August he caught fire, beginning with 12 for 125 at Canterbury and reaping 58 wickets in the last nine Championship fixtures. This included eight for 86 at Swansea, and altogether that season he took 11 five-fors with two ten-wicket matches. Only Wilfred Rhodes, with 154 wickets when he was 20 in 1898, had taken more wickets in a season at a younger age than the 21-year-old Wilkinson. Form and fortune stayed with him when he went to South Africa that autumn with MCC and, despite being the fourth spinner in seniority, he was selected ahead of Doug Wright for the First Test and also played in the Third and Fourth. But nigh-perfect pitches ensured that batsmen held the upper hand, and his seven wickets came at a price of 38.71 each. The cost in confidence was even higher. Although he headed the tour averages with 44 wickets at 18.86 - only Wright and Hedley Verity took more - Wilkinson was virtually unrecognisable as the same bowler when he resumed in 1939 after an early-season hand injury. He did achieve career-best figures of eight for 53, and 12 in the match, against Hampshire at Old Trafford at the end of May, but 63 wickets that summer at 30.85 was a definite turn for the worse, and the outbreak of war allowed no recovery. He injured his knee at Fenner's in Lancashire's first postwar match, so missing the rest of the season, and in 1947 he played only twice. His county cricket was over; he retired to the leagues and a newsagent's. In 77 games he had taken 282 wickets at 25.25 and 53 catches. No batsman to speak of, he scored 321 runs at 7.64 with a highest of 48 against Worcestershire at Old Trafford to launch that once-in-a-lifetime season.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
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