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Cricket: Watch Warwickshire -- say the members' car stickers. Excellent advice, although too rarely followed in the weekdays when Dennis Amiss and M. J. K. and Kanhai and Kallicharran are playing their scintillating cricket before a few hundred members, a score of spectators on the so-called popular side and the occupants of the press box.
Warwickshire has always been a side to watch since the days of H. W. Bainbridge and Ernest Hill -- who scored the first first-class century for the county. That attack is the best method of defence was always a Warwickshire maxim; aspiring county cricketers are taught at Edgbaston that cricket is a game, preferably to be won, above all, to be played entertainingly, and, if you lose, you go down with all flags flying.
To Warwickshire teams a chase of a hundred runs an hour has nearly always been on -- a reasonable target. There was the unforgettable victory against Sussex in 1925 when 392 for one was scored in three hours and a quarter. The Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe, J. H. Parsons (now the Rev. Canon J. H. Parsons), Tiger Smith, G. W. Stephens and F. R. Santall were mighty hitters of the ball between the wars: the 1972 side achieved astonishing run rates against more scientifically placed fields -- Amiss's and Kanhai's 318 in three hours against Lancashire was a case in point.
Warwickshire won their first County Championship in the blazing summer of 1911, under the leadership of the twenty-two-year-old F. R. Foster: cricket had seen nothing like it since the days of the young W. G. Grace. The achievement rated a full page feature cartoon in Punch -- the first and only time that county Champions have been thus honoured. After forty years Warwickshire won the Championship again: this time it was Tom Dollery's extraordinary team of ordinary cricketers. Dollery himself, the first and probably the greatest of the professional captains, had an amazing cricketing intuition; he had also the good fortune to lead a side that went through the season without injury.
During the years of M. J. K. Smith's captaincy (1957-1967) Warwickshire were often challenging for the championship; they won the Gillette Cup in 1966 (and won it again two years later). In 1971, with Alan Smith as captain, they were pipped on the post by Surrey: in 1972 they made no mistake. "A pity about the Gillette Cup," said Alan Smith (Warwickshire were defeated by Lancashire in the Final), "but we all know which is the big one."
What is it that makes Warwickshire tick? These are some of the answers:
What of those who work behind the scenes?
Leslie Deakins joined Warwickshire in October 1928 as assistant to R. V. Ryder, who was Warwickshire secretary from 1895 to 1944.
"I'll tell you the first rule," said R. V. Ryder to his nineteen-year-old assistant, "and that is to suffer fools gladly. I've never learnt it."
Leslie Deakins had his predecessor's dedication to cricket; above all to Warwickshire cricket. Throughout the war Deakins served in the Navy. On board ship his thoughts often turned to such matters as rebuilding the Edgbaston pavilion on modern lines.
When R. V. Ryder retired at the end of the war Leslie Deakins not surprisingly took over the reins. He is now the doyen of county secretaries. It is difficult to realise that he is in his sixties, especially when in his company at Edgbaston as, outside his office, he walks at a steady six knots and is liable to vault over such obstacles as stray benches or the boundary fence, while in the middle of recounting some story about Warwick Armstrong's 1921 Australians, or the legendary race round the boundary between Lord Hawke and H. W. Bainbridge. Apart from cricket, Deakins' interests are more cricket, architecture (his father was a stonemason), and the English countryside. He has a reputation for being the best administrator in the game.
How does he summarise his job?
"I think by its very nature cricket attracts all that is best, and, in consequence, one is regularly dealing with helpful people who are seen at their best in the atmosphere of the game." As to a literal interpretation of the appointment, it represents a continuous effort to keep in being the well-appointed, very great and traditional cricket ground -- to people it with a side that is attractive on and off the field, and that has a proper competitive edge to its cricket, but at the same time the ability to lose (when they must) graciously -- and through the ground and the team to give pleasure to a large membership, and such public side support as may attend. Success for the administrative side of the game is reflected in the odd comment, the special letter -- and the message perhaps from the other side of the world recalling pleasant days in the sun and happy memories of the Edgbaston ground.
Leslie Deakins is helped by men like Sydney Harkness (Assistant Secretary and Treasurer), Tony Haycock (Membership and Cricket Secretary) and R. L. Walker, responsible for general maintenance of the premises--and for 200 sets of keys, whilst, as Head Groundman, Bernard Flack is undoubtedly in the top flight.
Norah Deakins is as fond of cricket as her husband -- which is just as well. Her jobs at Edgbaston are legion, various and gaily self-imposed. As a motorist she knows Birmingham like the back of her hand. She has ferried at least one Prime Minister from Edgbaston to New Street station in less than no time; sometimes she will pick up Tiger Smith from Northfield because the boys want to see him; answering the telephone, producing cups of coffee at all hours, making visitors at home, visiting members in hospital -- it can all be summarised in the words "Norah will see to it."
Warwickshire enthusiasts ringing up for the score, sometimes to the tune of two thousand inquiries a day, will often be told the details by Mrs. Con Holden, who, as Con Edge, was a famous England woman leg break bowler in the 1930's. Later, as an administator, she was Manager of the England women's team to the West Indies, 1971, and has been a prominent figure at the Colwall Festival since its earliest days. Mrs. Peacock, members' dining-room manageress, is another popular figure. However many members turn up to lunch at the same time she is always equal to the situation, and if they are not back in their seats for the first ball of the afternoon's play, it won't be Mrs. Peacock's fault.
Less than twenty years ago Warwickshire was always struggling financially: it is now the wealthiest county in England, and possesses one of the finest cricket stadia in the world. All this has come about through the development of the Warwickshire County Cricket Supporters' Association -- a development without parallel in the history of cricket.
In 1953 Leslie Deakins and five club members studied a pools scheme operated by Worcestershire -- the latter county affording them every help. As a result the Supporters' Association was formed. Supporters paid a shilling weekly, tenpence of which was stake money, and twopence a voluntary contribution to the objects of the Association. [The figures are now 8½ new pence and 1½ new pence, respectively.] The results were phenomenal.
First things first: a bituturf cricket net was provided in 1954, and two years later the first major project was paid for -- the Edgbaston Indoor Cricket School. The organiser from 1953 to 1956 was Ray Hitchcock, the former Warwickshire player. He raised the membership to 50,000.
In 1956 Winnie Crook, a young Birmingham schoolmistress, became organiser, a position she has occupied ever since. In 1959 she married David Blakemore, the Association's secretary, and the Association's achievements are due in great part to the efforts of these two enthusiasts. "In any assessment of the Association's development," says a Warwickshire pamphlet, "the part played by Winnie Crook, especially in the years immediately following her appointment in 1956, cannot be over-emphasised. She alone created the impetus which enabled the pool to go forward and in regularly working for eighty or more hours each week led the initiative for all out growth in the members and agents."
The Supporters' Club now has well over 300,000 members and over 7,000 active agents. It has given help to local cricket clubs, to other county cricket clubs -- over £70,000 to Worcestershire, who helped Warwickshire so much over the formation of the Association -- to the M.C.C., the Cricket Council, the Test and County Cricket Board. It has spent £750,000 on the redevelopment of the Edgbaston ground as a Test match arena: it has raised two million pounds for the benefit of cricket. The Association also sponsors the National Under-25 competition.
David and Winnie Blakemore have done extraordinary service to the game of cricket.