CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1985

Jack Simmons

Jack Simmons's best years for Lancashire have come since he turned 40, and 1984's ill-round performance of 748 runs and 63 wickets at the age of 43 arguably represented his best in sixteen years with the county. He had never before scored as many runs and only once, in the previous season, had be taken more Championship wickets. He believes he is getting better with the years, and those figures support that contention.

Lancashire can seldom have had a more popular player. His £128,000 benefit in 1980 was as much as reflection of the regard in which he is held as of the organising skills of the benefit committee. It was the reward for a man who rarely, if ever, turns down a request for an autograph, a favour, or simply a chat. Perhaps it was his late entry into county cricket that developed such an attitude. He was 27 before he first played for Lancashire and he has always been grateful for the opportunity to play the game for a living, to travel the world and make his future secure. He does not spend too long wondering how his career might have progressed if he had entered the first-class game when he originally had the chance, at nineteen. "I never regret those missed years. Naturally, I have wondered if I would have become good enough to have played for England if I had gone into the game earlier. But when I weigh everything up ... I haven't done too badly."

JACK SIMMONS was born at Clayton-le-Moors, near Accrington in East Lancashire, on March 28, 1941, and was made a member of the local cricket club, Enfield, in the Lancashire League, when he was three years old. He is still a member, continuing a family tradition that has existed through his grandfather and father for over 100 years. Jack was only fourteen when he made his first-team début, a bowler of unusual variety, with off-spin, leg-spin and seam, and a batsman of no mean ability. He was at Enfield when the West Indian Test players, Clyde Walcott, Conrad Hunte and Nyron Asgarali, and the Australian, Des Fothergill, were professionals, and also when Eddie Paynter, a good friend of his father, returned to the team as an amateur after his days as a professional were over. Simmons was coached by Walcott, a player who had a great influence on his development.

Simmons soon attracted Lancashire's attention. He had trials at the same time as Peter Level and went into the second team as an eighteen-year-old in 1959. He was later invited to join the staff but turned down the offer, deciding instead to continue his apprenticeship as a draughtsman. Lancashire's coach at the time, Stan Worthington, told him he would be asked again when he was 21 and had served his time. But that invitation never arrived. When trials with Northamptonshire also came to nothing, Simmons resigned himself to a life as a professional in the leagues.

He played with Baxenden and Barnoldswick in the Ribblesdale League and had joined Blackpool in the Northern League before Lancashire renewed their interest in him. He was now 27; it was 1968, the year before the John Player Sunday League started, and Lancashire's staff needed strengthening. Norman Oldfield, now their coach, had gone to watch two youngsters in an inter-league match, and when he saw Simmons get 80-odd runs, plus some wickets, he invited him to play in the Second XI again. Simmons's first game for the Seconds was also Clive Lloyd's, while the West Indian was in his qualifying year. His first-team début came the same season (1968), on his home ground of Blackpool: he scored 1 and 0 against Northamptonshire and took three wickets for 44 runs.

Lancashire wanted Simmons primarily as an off-spinner, to succeed John Savage, and his batting skills languished when he settled into a tail-end position, usually at No. 8 or No. 9, in a Lancashire team blessed with an abundance of good batsmen. A reminder that the ability was still there came when he batted at No. 3, as night-watchman, in a Championship game at Hove in 1970 and scored a fluent 112, the first of his four centuries for the county. He played an important part in Lancashire's revival in the 1970s, besides going to the other end of the world to lead Tasmania into the Sheffield Shield and also to an astounding Gillette Cup final win over Western Australia in 1989-79. Jack scored 55 not out and took four for 17 to become man of the final, a game he looks back on as perhaps the highlight of his career.

One-day cricket has suited him. His great value as a player, of it was emphasised only last year when Lancashire won the Benson and Hedges Cup for the first time by beating Warwickshire at Lord's. When Alvin Kallicharran threatened to take Warwickshire's total out of Lancashire's reach, Simmons stifled and frustrated him and in eleven immaculate overs conceded only 18 runs. This followed two for 23 in eleven overs against Nottinghamshire in the semi-final and one for 25 against Essex in the quarter-final. The true measure of a player, however, is in the first-class game, and here Simmons has scored 7,309 runs and taken 774 wickets. Of the fourteen bowlers who have taken more wickets for Lancashire than Simmons, only one, the immortal Johnny Briggs, has scored more runs. Simmons has every right to stand among Lancashire's top all-rounders.

Many people think he should have been appointed captain of his county. But when, last year, changes were made, the time was not quite right for him. Still there looks to be a year or two left in him yet. The invitation, perhaps, is just late arriving.

© John Wisden & Co