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Dennis Brookes, the professional captain of Northamptonshire, who last season led his county to the highest place they had occupied in the Championship since the years immediately preceding the First World War, was born at Kippax, a village ten miles from Leeds, on October 29, 1915.
Had Brookes played for Yorkshire, the county of his birth, he would probably have figured frequently in Test cricket. As it is, he has only one Test Match appearance to his credit--in the West Indies in 1947 when a chipped finger-bone suffered in the opening Test ended his participation in the tour after he had scored a century in the second game. It would not be fair to say that association with Northamptonshire, for a long time rated one of the unfashionable counties, held him back, but his development with a stronger side would have kept him more in the official eye.
Brookes, a modest man held in high esteem by all who know him, does not subscribe to this theory explaining his lack of Test honours, but followers of the county have often been puzzled to know why this fine batsman was passed over for representative games. It may surprise many of his admirers to learn that Brookes has never played in the Gentlemen v. Players match at Lord's.
Yorkshire's loss was Northamptonshire's gain, but it is only right to point out that, so far as Brookes knows, Yorkshire were not then aware that he existed. In his young days he played a few games for a Leeds League club, but the opportunity did not occur for him to go to the nets at Headingley and thus be brought to the notice of the Yorkshire county authorities.
Like many prominent players who have reached the top after advancing through all grades of cricket, Brookes first played the game with his father, a local club cricketer of standing, in their small garden at home. In accord with the boyish custom of the time, young Brookes also practised in the street with a bucket or lamp-post as a wicket. His experiences as captain date back to those early days, for his first venture into organised cricket, at Kippax Council School, brought him the captaincy of the cricket and soccer teams, and when he went to the City School of Commerce in Leeds he led the cricket eleven.
He was still a schoolboy when the Ledston Luck, near Kippax, men's team asked him to play, and he felt his ambitions well on the way to realisation when, at 16, he hit a record 145 not out in the local league. Brookes, who has always insisted on giving credit where it is due, says that the better the pitches on which he played the easier it was to score. When he kept his strokes down he found that boundaries came quite freely, and from that time he decided that the art of keeping the ball on the turf was worth mastering.
His promise in league cricket attracted the attention of Wilfred Ball, who was always on the watch for talent for Northamptonshire, for whom he had occasionally played. When asked by Ball, at 16, whether he would like a trial for Northamptonshire, Brookes jumped at the chance. After one game at Northampton at the end of the 1932 season, he was invited to undergo a month's trial the following summer and has been with the county ever since. He began as a professional in club and ground matches, and he took another step on the road to fame when he made his first Championship appearance in 1934 at Bradford against a Yorkshire side including Verity and Bowes.
The details of his achievements from that point are in Wisden. Summarised, they show that he has scored 1,000 runs in a season 14 times--six times exceeding 2,000. He has hit 63 centuries and among the Northamptonshire records he holds are the biggest number of hundreds (59), the highest total aggregate (24,612), the highest aggregate in a season (2,198) and the most double centuries (six).
During the war, Brookes was a Sgt./Instructor of P. T. in the R. A. F., and after demobilisation he soon fell into the pattern of county cricket again. His steady batting played a valuable part in the turn of fortune for Northamptonshire when F. R. Brown took over the captaincy in 1949. In the next few years when Brown was absent through calls on him as Test player and later as a Selector, Brookes, as senior professional, acted as deputy captain. His efforts at leadership usually yielded the county reward, and two of his proudest memories concern his role as acting captain. In June 1953 he led Northamptonshire to their first victory over Yorkshire for 40 years, and two months later Northamptonshire, under him, gained their first victory ever at Old Trafford.
Official appointment as captain came in March 1954, on the retirement of Brown. The county finished seventh in 1954 and 1955, and fourth last season, a tribute to the qualities of their professional leader.
Brookes, a graceful, yet firm, stroke player, believes he has a fair share of natural ability, but he owns to much help and valuable guidance from Claude Woolley, Ben Bellamy, Ball and Bullimer, the county's scorer for many years. Woolley eradicated his early fault of playing back with his chest open to the bowler and assisted in creating the stance and style which has made Brookes such an admirable example for young players.
Brookes these days likes to think of himself as an anchor in a side of quick scorers. The responsibility of captaincy has not affected his batting and he is still a joy to watch with his immaculate on-drive and elegant deflected strokes off his legs. Before the l. b. w. law alteration brought the added danger from the ball pitching outside the off-stumps, Brookes pulled and hooked a good deal, but he cut out these strokes as risky and now scores nearly ninety per cent of his runs in front of the wicket, largely with variations of the drive.
The new ball never perturbed Brookes, who has been used to opening the innings since his school days. The first time he played against Larwood, at Trent Bridge in 1935, he scored 40. Martindale and Constantine, that fearsome fast-bowling pair, were together when Brookes took 93 off the West Indies at Northampton in 1939. This was only one of his fine displays against touring sides, for he made hundreds against the New Zealanders, the Indians and the Australians--the last a grand innings of 144 not out in 1956.
At 41, Brookes feels he still has a few more years of cricket ahead of him, time in which to make Northamptonshire serious contenders for the Championship and, perhaps, to score the hundred against Surrey which will complete his tally of a century against every county. He may also be able to please the enthusiast who is anxious to see him out for 89, 94, 96 and 99--the only totals between nought and one hundred for which Brookes, he states, has so far not been dismissed.
Before his days of captaincy, Brookes gained a name as a smart outfield, but now he fields nearer the wicket. He retains his fitness by training in the winter with Northampton Town FC. -- H. G.