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I first saw Lancashire playing cricket one dull day in July 1899. I am at a loss to say why I went to Old Trafford at the age of nine, just as I am at a loss to explain where my gate-money came from. I wasn't interested in cricket then; my passion was football, which we played on the rough fields of Moss Side, with coats for goalposts. My heroes were Billy Meredith and Bloomer--I firmly believed that Bloomer had once split a goalpost in halves with a kick from just beyond the half-way line. I lived five miles at least from Old Trafford and, as I say, it remains a mystery that I should have entered Old Trafford in July 1899, in time to see G. L. Jessop come to the wicket to join C. L. Townsend, who scored 91, and very tall he looked, and graceful.
Jessop left no indelible impression on me this time but I remember a beautiful innings by F. H. B. Champain, and with the naive love of a boy to play upon words, I thought he was perfectly named. The only thing I remember about Lancashire from my introduction to the county is that one of the bowlers was named Lancaster, which also seemed appropriate to my dawning sense of the wonder of words and English.
Next year, 1900, I fell entirely under the spell of the game and of Lancashire cricket, once and for all and for ever. I saw--my second match!--Johnny Briggs take all the ten wickets against Worcestershire. After the ninth had fallen to him, Mold bowled wide; but for many overs Johnny couldn't pitch a ball in the danger zone. He was so excited; he bounced about as though uncontrolled and uncontrollable.
My next match at Old Trafford took place on Whit-Monday 1900, and it was not Yorkshire. Believe it or not, Kent were playing Lancashire at Whitsun in 1900, when matches began on Mondays and Thursdays--so that often the great grounds of England--Old Trafford, Trent Bridge, Headingley, The Oval and Lord's--might any one of them be standing vacant on a sunny Saturday, the game having come to the end, or lost all interest, on the second day, the Friday. There's richness for you!...Well, on Bank Holiday at Whitsun 1900, I arrived at Old Trafford at nine in the morning, paid my sixpence, and got a front bench directly facing the pavilion. At twelve o'clock Lancashire took the field, and C. J. Burnup and Alec Hearne began Kent's innings. Mold bowled from the Stretford end, Briggs from the Old Trafford end--a very fast bowler and a very slow bowler, each using the new ball (and there wouldn't be another new ball available or permissible until the Kent innings was finished, or until the old ball had been--as John Gunn once put it to me--"knock'd in two").
In quick time Mold and Briggs began to ruin the Kent innings. Briggs bowled Hearne for 2; Mold shattered all the stumps of W. H. Patterson for 1; Mold uprooted a stump defended by B. D. Bannon for 0--11 for 3 and I gloated. I always liked to watch cricket alone these early years; I could wallow better in my passions with nobody to intrude. Mold's speed was so terrific that the Kent batsmen apparently couldn't see the ball. With all of a boy's patriotic heartlessness, I derided the helplessness of Hearne, Bannon and Patterson; and my ridicule and lust were intensified when J. R. Mason came in and played forward and missed Mold three or four times, absolutely beaten, obviously out any minute.
At the other end of the wicket, a little man was putting his bat both to Briggs and Mold in a way I didn't like at all; his name, as I say, was C. J. Burnup. But there was no need to worry about him--surely!--because Mold was about to send one or two or all three of J. R. Mason's wickets flying this coming over. The truth is that Mason and Burnup stayed in for nearly three hours and added 110 or thereabouts, and that after Mason had been caught at the wicket off Mold for 68, another Kent amateur named T. T. N. Perkins, cut and drove with an ease and elegance which utterly spoiled my holiday; he scored 88. At half-past six a disconsolate Lancashire boy rising eleven walked all the way home, down Shrewsbury Street, past Brooks' Bar, all the way on foot to Rusholme, wondering why Mold had allowed such disappointments to occur... Kent had batted all day--408 or so for 7 or 8, and C. J. Burnup was out in the last over, or almost the last, of the afternoon: c Smith b Cuttell 200, an enormous total for one batsman--and such a small and modest one--in those days when the currency of batsmanship was not yet inflated but remained on the gold standard. I looked up this match in the newspapers the other day and found that memory had not played me false in a single important fact. One account of this day's play said, describing Burnup's innings, "it was a valuable effort, and though slow at periods, an occasional lack of enterprise on Mr. Burnup's part was excusable in view of Kent's bad start. Slow at periods--200 compiled in a little more than five and a half hours by a batsman not regarded one of the country's dashers, and, moreover, after a furious and successful onslaught by Mold!" It would be regarded a quickish innings to-day, if played uphill.
I received compensation next day for this bitter taste of adversity on Bank Holiday. I saw Johnny Briggs make a half-century in each of Lancashire's innings; he slashed skimming drives over cover-point's head, and frequently he blocked a ball and pretended to risk a run, chancing it, to use the period's expression. Such cricket would be regarded reprehensible from any famous contemporary England cricketer.
I was lucky to begin my long years of devoted attention at Old Trafford with three such grand games. Of course it was but seldom I could repair to the great ground where not so long ago the run stealers had flickered to and fro. My pocket-money didn't run to sixpence a week. But I devoured the cricket scores and rejoiced in the cricket edition, and was afraid to turn to the close of play scores. One evening I read in the stop-press: R. H. Spooner b Wilson 0. R. H. Spooner was my favourite cricketer, and whenever he failed much of the savour went out of my life, not to say the purpose. But next evening, or the evening after, a worse blow befell me. Again I turned to the close of play score and there, in cold print, was this announcement: R. H. Spooner b Wilson 0,--a pair of spectacles for him. I hadn't the heart, that summer evening, to play cricket with my schoolmates. I wandered the streets blighted.
It is commonly thought that Lancashire cricket has always expressed North-country dourness and parsimony. This is an error. In 1904 Lancashire won the County Championship without losing a match; and until an August staleness afflicted the team, the rate of scoring by Lancashire averaged 70 to 80--some days 100--an hour. No county has boasted three batsmen going in Nos. 1, 2, and 3 possessing more majesty than A. C. MacLaren's, more style and ripple of strokes than R. H. Spooner's, more broadsword attack and brilliance than Johnny Tyldesley's. In 1904 and 1905 the Lancashire XI was usually chosen from A. C. MacLaren, R. H. Spooner, J. T. Tyldselsey, L. O. S. Poidevin, James Hallows, Sharp, Cuttell, W. Findlay, A. H. Hornby, Kermode, W. Brearley; and there were in these early 1900's Harold Garnett, and Heap, Huddleston and Worsley. The team was undefeated, not only in 1904 but until half-way through the summer of 1905, and then Surrey overwhelmed them at Aigburth. The unbeaten certificate--to quote the metaphorical language of the Press of those years--was twice threatened in 1904, by Yorkshire at Leeds: a century by Tyldesley saved the day, and he batted more than four hours for it, one of the few slow innings of his life.
Again--I seem to remember--Surrey were winning easily at The Oval on a Saturday in 1904--the third day, before lunch--but during the interval sun baked a wet turf and Huddleston's off breaks were unplayable. Given a sticky pitch, Huddleston was a very dangerous spinner, but not the equal of Razor Smith of Surrey, who could make the ball go the other way as well. Brearley was equal to the physical feat of bowling all day; he was nearly as dangerous to limb off the field as on it when he prodded you in the chest punctuating his story of what he had done to Victor Trumper. He was known to push people the whole length of the bar in the Long Room at Lord's, leaving their drinks far away, completely isolated.
Poidevin, from Sydney, would have played for Australia had he not settled as a doctor of medicine in Manchester. James Hallows, left-handed batsman and bowler, had rare gifts but poor health. He might easily have become one of the greatest of all-round England players; he was nearly that as it was. Cuttell at his best would to-day be one of the first choices for an England XI. MacLaren, Spooner, Tyldesley, and Brearley all played for England in 1905; and Jack Sharp joined them in the English rubber of 1909. In 1901, the wicket at Old Trafford was so dangerous that Sharp took 100 wickets in a season and C. B. Fry extracted from the turf some pebbles or foreign bodies which subsequently were exhibited to the public in the window of Johnny Tyldesley's sports shop in Deansgate; we looked at them in silent wonder like people who gape in the geological museum. Incredible that during this same season Tyldesley scored 3,000 runs, playing half his innings on this rude, rough turf at an average of 55 and more. I doubt if any batsman alive or dead has so strongly as this established his genius.
So far, I have been recalling the MacLaren epoch in Lancashire cricket. There was not one recognised and accredited stonewaller in the XI, for Albert Ward--beautiful in forward movement, whether scoring or not--belonged to a vintage preceding the Championship summer of 1904--and Makepeace came later. There was a subsequent A. H. Hornby period of some ebullience and insecurity, with A. Hartley sound as a rock and the skipper himself chafing on the leash for a drive over the rails. But hereabouts the bowling lost the axe-edge. Harry Dean persevered, and Frank Harry, off-spinner, was a willing horse. During the MacLaren supremacy the Lancashire attack had enjoyed rare resources, from the sticky wicket terrors of Webb, who but for a sceptical view of himself might have scaled the heights, to Brearley, Dean and Kermode, not forgetting William Cook, who round about 1905 would have glorified the England attack with his fast bowling, but preferred the leagues.
Now comes a gap in my memory's frieze. In 1912, 1913 and 1914 I was playing as a professional at Shrewsbury School, and temporarily lost sight of doings at Old Trafford. I am vague about these three seasons; others and earlier ones I can live again in my mind's eye to a detail, as though they all happened only last year. In 1919 I picked up the broken thread, and this time I found myself actually paid to watch and delight in Lancashire cricket, as correspondent of the Manchester Guardian.
In 1919, a season of two-day games, Old Trafford discovered Charles Hallows, nephew of James, another superb left-handed batsman--one who might easily have served as England's reply to Warren Bardsley. Cecil Parkin as far back as 1914 had flickered a will o' the wisp light on one or two fields now rose to more than fame as a magnificent bowler; he won the love of that public that revels in a character; he was a combination of Springheel Jack, merry-andrew and, on a damaged pitch, a master of a breakback quick as the execution blade. His googly was his mocking cap-and-bells. Lol Cook maintained the classical tradition of length; James Tyldesley exploited fast in-swingers to a leg-trap, and Richard Tyldesley persuaded many batsmen to feel for leg-spin real and imaginary.
Myles Kenyon prepared the way to a Lancashire renaissance. Then, under the firm, shrewd and humour-loving leadership of Leonard Green, Lancashire surpassed even the Yorkshire of the Rhodes-Robinson dynasty or rump. For three consecutive years Lancashire led the County Championship--1926, 1927 and 1928--and again in 1930 thanks a good deal to E. A. McDonald, most beautiful of fast bowlers of our time with his silent curving sinuous run to the crease, most deadly in pace and abrupt rise to the batsman's wrists and--now and then--higher still.
The batting policy was set by Makepeace; if the toss were won, the plan was to stay there all day for 300 at least and to wear enough sheen from the pitch for McDonald. On sticky turf nobody has excelled Makepeace in the art of passive resistance with the dead bat, left-hand lightly gripping top of the handle. But, at a pinch, Makepeace would reveal resource and strokes. At Trent Bridge in 1920, Lancashire lost two wickets for next to nothing against Barratt, bowling formidably on a green pitch; the accredited stroke-players were out, so Makepeace was obliged to attend to the necessary job of making the runs. He was not defeated until after tea, for 152, scored in three hours fifty minutes, with eighteen fours. His left side and chest were black and blue from bruises.
The Lancashire ca canny batting tactics told of the change in the economy and social life of Lancashire county at large. Gone the old Manchester cosmopolitan opulence and the piles of brass in the hinterland, symbolised by the great amateurs, MacLaren, Spooner and the Brearleys, the Hollinses, and by Tyldesley, Sharp, and the rest. The county in the 1920's lived near the bone, and Lancashire cricket more than hinted of this transformation. The team became notorious as a spoiler of cricket festivals: at Eastbourne and Cheltenham, retired colonels turned pale when they heard that Lancashire were batting. At Old Trafford or in Yorkshire at Bank Holiday time, a Yorkshire innings was quite skittish compared to one by Lancashire. But there was organised technique during the Makepeace regime; the scoring was slow on principle, not because these fine players couldn't have scored quicker had they chosen.
There was vast humour in it all; to travel round the country with Lancashire in these years was an education in shrewd cricket sense as well as a revelation of North-country nature. Peter Eckersley, and later Lister, controlled a great if mixed company because they understood character as much as cricket. Under Eckersley, the County Championship was won once more in 1934. Ernest Tyldesley added aggression to Makepeace's Fabianism though he could, given the cue, be obstinate enough. At his best he was amongst not only the prolific run-getters of the period; he was one of the artists as well.
Today Lancashire cricket is again--or was last year--in the ascendancy, sharing the honours with Surrey. There is surely an even more lustrous future ahead, for youth is there in plenty, commanded by a captain who every day gains strength as batsman and strategist. Few counties have so persistently honoured a proud tradition. A noble array of names can readily be chosen from Lancashire men fit to stand against Australia for England, chosen from teams of the last fifty years, teams of my time, in a match imagined, and because not ever to be played in Time and Space, is seen in immortal sunshine--and cloud--at Old Trafford:--A. C. MacLaren, R. H. Spooner, Tyldesley (J. T.), Tyldesley (E.), Washbrook, Oldfield, H. G. Garnett (or W. Findlay) wicket-keeper, Jack Sharp, Parkin, Dean and Brearley. And I have been compelled to leave out--Heaven forgive me!--Makepeace, Cuttell, the two Hallows, Dick Tyldesley, A. H. Hornby, Heap. I don't include McDonald because he was an Australian. And I am not forgetting Barnes, unearthed by MacLaren. Though he played at least one whole season for Lancashire--I saw him lay low the might of Surrey at Old Trafford in 1902 on a perfect wicket, until Vivian Crawford took charge of him, backed-up by Captain H. S. Bush--Barnes can hardly be said ever to have belonged to Lancashire. Barnes was a man born to possess, not to be possessed. And if I omit Tattersall from my Lancashire team representative of the best in the country over the span of half a century, it is not from want of enthusiasm about his talent, and not because I am unaware that in 1950 he was the most successful and omnivorous bowler since Arthur Mold (a Northamptonshire man, by the way), but because, being young, Tattersall has not yet had the chance to fix immovably his claims on the attention of history. That he will do so, we can be pretty sure, is only a matter of time.