CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1971

Roy Virgin

Two days after his thirty-first birthday, the only Taunton-born cricketer to make 2,000 runs in a season for Somerset did so on the County Ground, Taunton, just a couple of hundred yards from where he was born, King Street, long since demolished. It was indeed, a memorable day for Roy Virgin, born August 26, 1939.

Cricket was in the family. Roy, one of three brothers had a father who captained the Taunton British Railways team and, at a tender age, he sometimes made up the number. He never quite got into his Central Primary School side (they played once a year) but, moving to Huish's Grammar School, was much encouraged by the late Mr. J. R. Eele, whose son Peter was on the Somerset staff. In those days Virgin kept wicket (he kept competently all through the 1969 Player League) and made quiet progress through the Under and Over-13 sides. "I was more of a blocker than shot-player then," he recalls, but he broke out once in a seventy-five minute each house match, scoring 115 not out for Blackdown against Brednon, his very first century.

Selection for the Somerset Under-15 followed in 1953 when during a golden week-end he began to display his promise in earnest. On Friday he made 69 against the Hampshire Under-15 and the next day, 67 against the Old Boys. When he arrived next for the Somerset Easter coaching, a professional of the time, David Kitson, was horrified on picking up Roy's bat. "Heavy as hell, saturated with oil, and borrowed from the Railways," Roy remembers. Quickly, father bought his first bat, of right size, and in 1955 he joined the county ground staff.

Several coaches, Bill Andrews included, had been puzzled by Virgin's batting mistakes, and also by the fact that he was rarely beaten. They worried and hoped, and eventually let him go his own way. It was sound decision. He had little formal coaching as such, but pays great tribute to two fellow professionals of the time, the Australians McCool and McMahon, who helped him unravel the googly and chinaman; and to George Lambert, who taught him not to fall into the on-drive.

In due course came Virgin's first Second XI match. At Bath against Kent, he made 18 and 60; then, in the same year 1956, a first team debut of shattering awakening. He made 0 (c. Millman b Platt) and 0 (run out) against the R. A. F. at Taunton, a side which also included Stuart Leary, Alan Shirreff, and Raman Subba Row. His dreaded pair does not appear in the records because it was not a first class match. His variable and lightly regarded leg-spinners, introduced in desparation, dismissed Shirreff for 113.

His first Championship game was in 1957, 5 and 14 not out against Worcestershire at Taunton. His first important hundred came in 1958, against Cornwall, at Falmouth, and although that year contained his first game against Yorkshire, he fell for 1 and 2, Wardle and Trueman doing the damage; 1959 bought redress. Opening a Championship innings for only the second time, he scored 68 and 37 at Bath in Somerset's first victory ever Yorkshire for 56 years.

This, and injury to Geoff Lomax gave Virgin his real chance in 1960, which he took splendidly, with 1453 runs at 25.96, including a century against Cambridge University.

He was called for National Service that September, serving with the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry in Bodmin, Germany and Gibraltar. In 1961 he managed 18 innings, at 30 apiece and nothing in 1962. Settling back in to civilian life, he scored 956 runs, mostly down the order; then came steady improvement until his peak in 1968 when his runs numbered 1,641, averaged 34.18. His Testimonial year may have caused a decline to 1,170 runs, but the eventual reward left him free form anxiety.

Now to the triumphs of 1970. In general terms, Virgin made fifty percent more runs than usual about fifty percent faster, with a most attractive method. The new lbw experiment and the one day cricket encouraged him to go for far more shots earlier in his innings than ever before. His off-side strokes found the way, and the increasing confidence their success bred enabled the pull, hook and ondrive, not previously important, to be given full rein. He admits to a bigger bat and pad gap than before but adds "I lose my off stump more often, but I get a lot more runs from the shots."

A psychological feature of this great achievement is the help he received from Tom Cartwright. "He keeps me going somehow, and gets at me in just the right way not to get out for 60 but to make 150", says Virgin.

He had very little luck this wonderful season, and indeed, he fell to some remarkable catches, but his little superstition has been reinforced by these events. Taking something new to the wicket used, vaguely, to bring results but in 1970 two new bats, one new handle, two new pairs of inners, and a new pair of boots coincided exactly with centuries. He forgot to put on the perennial cap against Gloucestershire at Weston-Super-Mare, hastily called for it after one over, and made 137. Altogether in the three competitions Virgin made 2,819 runs: County Championship 2,223; John Player League 376; Gillette Cup 220.

His favourite ground is Edgbaston, where he always makes runs, including two centuries in a match , and indeed he usually shines against Warwickshire, although he never managed anything dramatic against Cartwright.

Virgin has never had it easy, but he has never lacked courage either batting, or fielding - where he used to be short-leg. Geoffrey Keith, a former colleague, hooked straight to his nose in 1964 on a bad Bath pitch, breaking it and presenting a nasty mess. Yet Virgin was back at short-leg after one match away.

Father of three young cricketers, Vrigin has lately passed his first Municipal Administration examination, having worked in County Hall for eight consecutive winters and moved into his first new house last autumn.

His marriage in 1960, is a happy and successful one and all around, here is a picture of courageous, skilful young man who has emerged from worthy competence into a realisation of potential with a great deal more achievement yet awaiting him.

© John Wisden & Co