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In the middle of the 1986 season David Hughes was considering retiring from first-class county cricket. He was 39, in the second team, and for two years he had felt he was no longer in Lancashire's first-team plans. He held back his letter of resignation as he led the second team to their championship, and within weeks he had been appointed captain of the county, one of the more surprising appointments in the club's 123-year history. It so shocked one former captain that he threatened to return his cap, blazer and sweaters. He described the decision as the worst he had ever known the club make.
It was a bold appointment. There had been no significant change in the team in 1986 under Clive Lloyd, the most successful Test captain of modern times, and Lancashire looked doomed to another season of desperation, another summer among the bottom teams in the County Championship. "I know I can't be around a long time," said Hughes at the time. "I can't go down in history as a great Lancashire captain. All I want is to see Lancashire moving up again, to restore the pride in the county. Too may people consider us a laughing stock."
As well as making Hughes captain, the committee appointed the second-team coach, Alan Ormrod, as coach/manager. Hughes and Ormrod's approach was positive and clear. Hughes made a point of speaking to each player before the season started and told them what was required. In essence, everybody was to give 100 per cent for Lancashire, and ill discipline would not be tolerated. Before the season started he promised, as many captains do, to play positive, attacking, entertaining cricket, always to be prepared to lose in order to force a win. Unlike most pre-season promises, his he managed to stick to from start to finish, and he led Lancashire in their attempt to become outright champions for the first time in 53 years, a challenge which failed by only four points.
Hughes's contribution as a batsman was disappointing, as a bowler nonexistent, but as a captain inspirational and commanding. When he learnt he had been chosen as one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year, he was staggered. "Perhaps I have underestimated my own contributions," he said.
DAVID PAUL HUGHES was born in Newton-le-Willows in South Lancashire on May 13, 1947, son of Lloyd Hughes, who had been a professional cricketer in the Bolton League. He was educated at Newton-le-Willows Grammar School, played for the town team in the Manchester Association and later joined Farnworth in the Bolton League. His introduction to the county was through the Club and Ground team in 1965 when he was eighteen, and two years later, when he was leading wicket-taker in the second team, he made his first-class début, against Oxford University at Old Trafford. Jack Bond started his successful five-year run as captain in 1968 - he was only 35 - and gave Hughes the opportunity to establish himself in the side. He took the chance and played in 23 of the 30 first-class matches, a promising left-arm spinner who took 31 wickets at 22.80 each but whose batting average of 14.48 hardly justified a position often as high as No. 7 in the order. The veteran off-spinner, John Savage, was his spinning partner that year. In 1969, the start of Lancashire's really successful period, it was Jack Simmons. The two of them quickly struck up a partnership which was to help take Lancashire to two John Player League championships and three Gillette Cup wins, all between 1969 and 1972.
Hughes's best years as a bowler were under Bond's care, his peak coming in 1970 and 1971 when he bowled more than 800 overs and took 82 first-class wickets each season. He took 296 wickets in the five years Bond was captain. Since then, under four other captains, he has only once exceeded 50 wickets in a season in first-class matches. He had taken 585 wickets for Lancashire by the end of the 1982 season, but in the next five claimed only seven. As his bowling declined, so his batting blossomed, enabling him to reach 1,000 runs in a season for the first time in 1981. He followed this the next year with his best all-round season, averaging 48.25 with the bat and topping Lancashire's bowling averages with 31 wickets at 25.45 each. But he was unable to maintain that performance and gradually slipped into a more regular place in the second team than the first ... until his leadership qualities came through to persuade the committee to give him the daunting task of rejuvenating Lancashire.
Hughes once said he hoped he would not be for ever remembered only for his innings against Gloucestershire in the semi-final of the Gillette Cup in 1971, when he turned the match by hitting John Mortimore for 24 runs in one over. "I am mainly a bowler and that is how I would like to be remembered," he said. Perhaps, too, he will be recalled in years to come for his captaincy.