|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
Full name Henry Horton
Born April 18, 1923, Colwall Green, Herefordshire
Died November 3, 1998, Birmingham, Warwickshire (aged 75 years 199 days)
Major teams Hampshire, Worcestershire
Batting style Right-hand bat
Bowling style Slow left-arm orthodox
|List A span||1963-1967|
Henry Horton, who died on November 2, 1998, aged 75, was a pillar of strength in Hampshire's batting line-up when he scored over 1,000 runs in 12 consecutive seasons from 1955 to 1966. He was at his peak as he amassed over 2,000 runs in 1959, 1960 and, so importantly, in the 1961 Championship year. In 1962 he missed the 2,000 mark by just 23 runs.
His career aggregate of 21,536 runs puts him sixth in the Hampshire all-time list, after Mead, Marshall, Brown, Gray and, narrowly, Arnold, at an average of 33.49.
And yet it was a football transfer which brought him to Southampton, and he took a great deal of persuading to play cricket for anything other than fun.
Henry Horton was born on April 18, 1923, at Colwall, Herefordshire. His brother Joseph, who was seven years older - and who died just four days after Henry - played the first of his 62 matches for Worcestershire in 1934 and thus set him an early sporting example.
However, Henry did not follow the example of Joe - who was an elegant batsman - in one respect, having adopted a peculiar crouching stance as a boy. In 1946 Henry went for a trial with Worcestershire and Joe realised that his younger brother's stance would prejudice people against him on sight. Joe insisted that Henry give it up in favour of an orthodox, upright position. "You must look correct," he told him.
Henry took the advice of his older brother, but he can never have felt comfortable with the imposed, orthodox stance. It seemed to inflict a mental as well as physical straitjacket. In his first Championship match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, Dick Howorth was the non-striker when Horton came to the wicket. Howorth said to the bowler, AG Marshall, the leg spinner: "It's the lad's first match - give him one off the mark." Marshall obliged with a slow half volley to which Horton played back defensively and was bowled.
Horton played seven matches in 1947, including games against both Oxford and Cambridge, and the Combined Services. His one score of note in 1947 was 71 not out which helped his county defeat the RAF by one wicket, but this was a two-day match and did not rank as first-class. In a total of 11 games for Worcestershire between 1946 and 1949 he scored just 129 runs, highest score 21, average 8.06.
There his undistinguished first-class career might have ended, for by now he had made a name for himself as a footballer, starting out with Worcester City and then becoming known as a dependable wing-half with Blackburn Rovers, for whom he played 92 games. Cricket was relegated to a few village games during the summer break back home at Colwall.
John Arlott had known Joe in the 1930s and first met Henry at a charity match in the Herefordshire cider country at Much Marcle in 1946. He recalled that Henry looked a useful slow left-arm bowler but, as a batsman, was limited in strokes. Later, they talked again when Blackburn visited Southampton at the Dell, and Arlott asked Horton whether he would like a trial for Hampshire.
Arlott relates: "Henry, never a man to over-estimate his own powers in any direction, shook his head. He was satisfied that he had had a fair chance at Worcester but had not made good as a cricketer. Anyway, Southampton was such a long way from Blackburn or Herefordshire."
That again might have been the end of the story of Horton the cricketer, but during the 1951 soccer close season he was signed by Southampton for the then club record fee of £10,000. Before the 1951-52 soccer season, the Southampton footballers played a few games of cricket on the county ground as a variation from their normal training. The former Saints player, Arthur Holt, was now the county coach and he thought Horton shaped up usefully. However, a knee injury meant that it was not until August 1952 that "Coach" was able to persuade Horton to turn out for the Club and Ground, for whom he made a couple of centuries.
Soccer, though, was to remain his first sport as he made 80 appearances for Southampton, scoring 13 goals. Brave and reliable, he proved immensely popular with the fans. He left the Dell in May 1954 when he joined former Saints player Norman Kirkman at Bradford Park Avenue, for whom he made 26 appearances. His League career ended when he went to Hereford United in September 1955.
So, when the soccer season finished in the spring of 1953, Horton still regarded his cricket as no more than fun. He was ready to return home to Colwall, but Arthur Holt persuaded him to stay and enjoy a relaxed summer's cricket - with the benefit of being paid.
Arlott again takes up the story: "In May he was included in the Hampshire side that met the Army in a friendly match at Southampton. Going in to bat five minutes before lunch he scratched about, edged a two to third man off 'Bomber' Wells, and went in to lunch miserable, cursing himself for being talked back into a game at which he had already failed five years before. After lunch, the Army began their bowling with Terry Spencer, of Leicestershire, and Colin Smith, of Cambridge University and Lancashire. They were yards faster than anyone Henry had played against for years - if at any time: he stood up very straight, and played back, and missed, again and again. Soon he was wishing himself out, back in the pavilion, done with the whole business of first-class cricket for ever.
"Then suddenly, at some inward bidding, he reverted to the old, ugly crouch of his schooldays and was pushing out, with a straight, forward-defensive stroke. Now he was hitting the ball in the middle: gradually he began to hit it harder; and by the time Spencer, with the second new ball, bowled him, he had made 99. For good or ill, with some doubts - but considerable, and characteristic, determination to fight - Henry Horton was back in first-class cricket."
In that same game, another newcomer to the Hampshire side scored 122: Roy Marshall was beginning his residential qualification for the county.
A week later, Horton made his first-class debut for Hampshire when Leicestershire visited Portsmouth, with Spencer again in the attack. Horton responded with 49 after joining Neville Rogers at the wicket with the score on 25-3, and together they put on 83.
In August, Horton made a typically defiant 76 out of 148 at the Oval off a rampant Surrey attack of the Bedsers, Loader and Laker. However, a final tally of 310 Championship runs at 17.22 was not enough to earn him a regular place.
His second season in 1954 saw consolidation, with 525 Championship runs at 22.82, the highlight being an undefeated 73 to help ensure victory against Derbyshire. The stage was still being set for 1955, which was to prove Hampshire's most successful season up to that time, when the county attained third place.
Even so, for Horton it was a slow start in 1955. Not chosen for the first two matches, he failed to get into double figures in five innings in the next three games, and was dropped for a month. Double figures - just - came in the games against Oxford University and Gloucestershire, and he must have realised his last chance had come with the trip to Swansea on June 25. The Hampshire Handbook describes his 89 as "an innings of intense concentration" - but a duck in the second innings followed by 20 and 11 in the next match against Yorkshire must again have put his place in jeopardy.
Then scores in the forties and fifties began to come, but it was not until July 27 when Leicestershire - and Terry Spencer again - were the visitors at Bournemouth that Horton was seen at his best. The Handbook reports: "Some glorious Hampshire batting on the first day enabled the County to build up a very strong position. Scoring at a run a minute throughout the first day, the innings was mainly remarkable for Horton's maiden hundred  and Barnard's second 100 (his first in Championship matches). These two put on 162 together in 142 minutes and batted most attractively." It brought Horton his county cap.
Two matches later, against Sussex at Portsmouth, he played another forceful hundred as Hampshire hit 265-3 in 216 minutes to set up another victory. A third aggressive hundred followed at Bournemouth against the powerful Surrey side which had already secured their fourth successive title. The Bedsers, Surridge, Clark, Laker and Lock were hit "to all parts of the field" as the runs again came quickly, enabling a declaration at 368-7 which set Hampshire on course to an eventual win by 129 runs.
So Hampshire ended in third place, and the 32-year-old Horton began his 12-year sequence of 1,000 runs in a season. He came second in the averages at 34.00 to Marshall's 34.79. He would now become a permanent fixture in the team and also seemingly at the crease.
Imogen Grosberg celebrated the 1955 performance with four lines of verse devoted to each of the 14 players. In fact, only 13 players represented the county in 29 out of 30 first-class matches, Ingleby-Mackenzie deputising only when Leo Harrison was chosen for the Players at Lord's. Of the number three batsman she wrote:
"Now, Henry Horton has a stance Which rather lacks in elegance: But when he starts to hit the ball I do not mind his stance at all."
It was a stance that was to provoke much comment as it became familiar on the county circuit. Brian Johnston managed a memorable Spoonerism as he attempted to describe it as being "like someone sitting on a shooting stick".
Arlott went into detail: "The man they call 'H' has the ugliest stance, and the straightest bat, in English cricket. When he takes guard, his stern jutting out, knees bent, pressing down so hard on his bat that the handle points, threateningly, between the bowler's eyes at an angle of 45 degrees, he seems all angular, graceless tension. The whole attitude is one of jutting determination, jaw firmly set, grey eyes unwinkingly trained on the bowler. Then, as the ball is bowled, he straightens, and his forward defensive stroke seems to be played with a bat twice as wide as other men's, vertical as by plumb-line, with not a chink of light between its edge and his massive left pad."
Arlott went on to describe the method: "His main scoring arc lies between extra cover and midwicket and he scores there - as the instruction books tell us to do, but so few can - by playing the forward defensive stroke with extra power. In fact, he plays it deceptively hard. Often a mid-on or mid-off who does not know Horton's batting will move casually to cut off one of his 'pushes' only to find that it has passed him and gone to the boundary, for with his big hands, muscular arms and raw-boned physique, he is probably as hard a safe driver as any in the game.
"There was a Saturday in 1959 at Portsmouth when he struck Tony Lock for two savagely long sixes but, as a rule, he prefers to hit the ball along the ground. He dabs, rather than hits, his cut; steers, rather than whips, his stroke to fine leg; hooks carefully rather than viciously; but there are few bad balls from which he does not take his toll of runs, and he places his square off-side strokes powerfully and precisely.
"After the fashion of another run-churning Hampshire batsman, Philip Mead, he likes to hit the ball hard enough to send it for four, but sees no logical need to hit it any harder than that. Above all, no situation, however desperate, can quench his will to fight: no pace can produce in him the slightest hint of flinching. His patience and concentration are inexhaustible, for he is a very run-hungry batsman; never, so far as can be ascertained, tired of batting."
Horton's bowling was rarely seen. He took just three wickets at a cost of 162 runs - two of them Essex tail-enders in a dead match at Bournemouth in 1960, and the other the Nawab of Pataudi, stumped at Portsmouth in 1959.
He held a creditable 254 catches in his 405 matches. Arlott said: "In the field he chases the ball determinedly, with a peculiar knees-up run, rather like a man running uphill on scree."
In the 15 years that he played for Hampshire in 405 matches, he only took part in one other first-class match for another side. This was for the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord's in 1960, selection for which was in effect the pinnacle of his career. The match had an exciting finish as the ninth Players' wicket fell to a run out with the scores level, but Horton's contribution was negligible: 4 not out and a duck. His appearance at Lord's should have meant that he missed the match at Southampton against Worcestershire, of all counties, but that match was abandoned without a ball being bowled. It was as though the heavens had deemed it impossible that the county could play without Horton.
If the Lord's match represented the peak, his greatest pleasure came the following year when Hampshire won the Championship for the first time. Time and again he played the crucial innings in tight matches. Typically, in five of the seven defeats, he made the highest score. He celebrated the title by hitting his career best 160 not out for the Champion County against the Runners-up, Yorkshire, at Scarborough.
After a benefit year in 1964 which raised £5,960, he continued until early July 1967 when, suffering from a muscle strain, he scored 65 in four hours against Warwickshire at Southampton. Richard Gilliat took his place at number three, and he did not return from injury, missing Derek Shackleton's benefit match later that month. Instead, he saw out the final five games of the season for the second eleven, the side winning the last four matches to carry off the Championship.
Desmond Eagar wrote then: "No county could have ever had a more loyal character on their books. No side could count on dismissing Hampshire for a small total until they had seen the back of him. He was a man who sold his wicket dearly."
Arlott summed up the man: "Because sport is both his job and his enthusiasm, it has always been a serious matter for Henry - so long as he is playing it. Yet it would not be fair to call him solemn: he can be humorous about cricket - after it is over. His humour is deep, quiet and earthy, and often, ruefully, directed at himself, for he is that rare type of man who never overlooks his own failings. Shrewd without being acid, charitable without being weak, he is what country folk call 'a straight man'."
After his playing days ended, he returned to Worcestershire where he was the county coach for nine years. He was also a first-class umpire for four years from 1973-1976, standing in 73 matches. He was then groundsman at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester.
For Hampshire (1953-1967): Batting: M 405, I 723, NO 80, R 21536, HS 160*, AV 33.49, 100x32, 50x122, CT 254; Bowling: R 162, W 3, AV 54.00, BEST 2-0.
Career (1946-1967): Batting: M 417, I 744, NO 84, R 21669, HS 160*, AV 32.83, CT 264; Bowling: R 194, W 3, AV 64.66, BEST 2-0
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?