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In the climb of Yorkshire to the top of the County Championship nothing was more pleasing than the performances of their all-rounder, Ray Illingworth. He played a major part in almost every big victory, either as a mainstay of the middle order batting or in the quick scoring of runs when the occasion demanded. Moreover, he did the double and his achievements earned him a place in the England XI. He held it with distinction and he was chosen by M.C.C. to tour West Indies.
Like so many famous Yorkshire cricketers, Raymond Illingworth was born in Pudsey, June 8, 1932. The only son of a local joiner and undertaker for whom he went to work after leaving school, his father gave him all the time off he wanted for playing cricket, and in that the boy turned young man was extremely lucky.
In the late 1930's and during the war year there were few elementary schools in Yorkshire, or in England for that matter, with facilities for organised cricket. Only in the last two years at school were boys catered for and the school at Farsley which Illingworth attended was no exception. There was an organised competition between local schools, but only the seniors played.
Nevertheless boys, especially in Pudsey where every youngster is a budding Sutcliffe or Hutton, were never deterred by such obstacles. The school playground or any odd piece of land sufficed for them. A lamp post, a pile of bricks, or a coat would do for the wickets. It would have been surprising if the son of a joiner could not produce some form of bat.
Young Illingworth showed early signs of ability. In his fourteenth year he played for the school team. The following year he took some 30 wickets at a cost of only 2.4 each and he averaged over 100 an innings with the bat. In a challenge match with Wyther Park School (who led their respective section of the Schools League) Illingworth took five wickets for 11 runs and scored 52 of 64 needed for victory that came by ten wickets.
The Farsley club, playing in the Bradford League, picked him for their second team. They also recommended him to Yorkshire for coaching at the nets by Arthur Mitchell. First team honours for Farsley soon followed. Their confidence was justified when at 17 Illingworth scored 148 not out in a Priestley Cup game against Pudsey, but unfortunately, needing 20 runs in the final of the competition to break a Bradford League record held by Walter Keeton, Nottinghamshire, for runs scored in cup games, he scored only 1.
Yorkshire were impressed by this young all-rounder. Illingworth was chosen to play for the Colts just after his seventeenth birthday. He made three appearances for Yorkshire Colts in this season of 1949 but scored only 39 runs and bowled only three overs.
In 1950 he played 18 innings for the Second XI, averaging 26.14, and bowled 52 overs for four wickets at 34 runs each. Yorkshire invited him to special coaching classes and to practise with first team players. Illingworth, now 18, had joined the R.A.F. for his period of National Service and he could not get to the nets as often as he would have liked, but he says: "The most important incident of of my career occurred. Bill Bowes changed me from a medium-pace bowler to an off-spinner."
Playing for the Colts in a game against Nottinghamshire Second XI in 1951 he scored a century and captured four wickets for 39 runs with off-spinners. Three weeks later, on August 18, 1951, he played his first game for the senior side and began with 56 against Hampshire at Leeds. Meantime he had played for the R.A.F., and in the following season was chosen regularly for the Combined Services.
Leaving the Forces before the start of the 1953 Season Illingworth, only 20, became a regular member of the Yorkshire team. In all matches he scored 769 runs and took 75 wickets. He began the season with 146 not out against Essex at Hull and finished it with seven wickets for 22 runs against Hampshire at Bournemouth.
The reappearance of Bob Appleyard, Yorkshire's regular off-spin bowler, whose splendid feat of 200 wickets in the season of 1951 had been followed with two years of treatment for chest trouble, and the return of all-rounder Brian Close from National Service, meant that Illingworth was often relegated to the duties of twelfth man. In 33 innings he only scored 426 runs and 309 overs brought only 25 wickets at 27.32 apiece.
No player practised harder or with more determination to succeed. Some critics believed he stressed the importance of bowling too much and would have done better to have concentrated on batting. Perhaps the events of 1959 and the tremendous strides Illingworth made as a run-getter prove they were right. Nevertheless, he launched a successful challenge to both Appleyard and Close as an off-spinner, too, and each succeeding season produced better and better performances.
In 1955 he was third in the Yorkshire batting averages, scoring 1,000 runs and averaging 35 per innings. He went to Kimberley in the winter as a coach. He was awarded his Yorkshire cap.
The 1956 season saw him second in the all-England bowling averages with 102 wickets at 13 apiece. In 1957 he accomplished his first double -- a performance which stamps any cricketer as an all-rounder -- and in 1958 he gained his first cap for England -- against New Zealand -- even though his over-all performances were disappointing. His highest score was 81 and his total of 643 runs averaged out at only 17 per innings. In a very wet season his 92 wickets cost 17.6 each.
As with so many cricketers, the wonderful summer of 1959, with firm, true pitches, gave Illingworth the opportunity to blossom. He showed an ability to fashion an innings for the occasion. He could defend hard or hit hard. He lofted the ball with certainty high and wide of mid-on. He punched powerfully from the back foot to the covers.
It was the same with his bowling. On helpful wickets he spun the ball. On good wickets he was miserly or prepared to buy at any price as the situation demanded. Again he did the double, scoring 1,726 runs and taking 110 wickets.
He played twice for England against India, averaging 59 with the bat, and took four wickets at 31 apiece. Reliable in the field, a safe catcher and a good thrower, pleasant in looks, manners and dress, Illingworth thoroughly deserved the honour of representing England in West Indies.