CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1957

Malcolm Hilton

Before and immediately after the war the biggest prize in cricket, if you were a bowler, was the wicket of Don Bradman, and in 1948 a young Lancashire spin-bowler achieved world fame by dismissing the great Australian batsman twice in one match. That was how Malcolm Jameson Hilton first came to the notice of the cricket world in general. Only 19 at the time, this fair-haired youngster was on the Lancashire staff for two years before he got his big chance against the touring team.

Hilton was born at Chadderton, near Oldham, on August 2, 1928, the first son of a keen cricket enthusiast who preferred to play lawn tennis rather than cricket. As a boy, young Hilton watched and envied the many league players in an area where Saturday afternoon cricket attracted more attention than the first-class game and it was a natural step for him to play at school. Hilton fancied himself as a fast-bowler, but Norman Sutcliffe, a member of the Werneth Club second eleven, persuaded him that it was a waste of time to bowl fast with such rich rewards to be gained from spinning the ball in the way all left-handers do naturally. Sutcliffe set Hilton on the path to cricket fame and although the youngster's school-days were also the grim war-time period of the early forties, the boys played whenever they could.

Hilton took his place in the Hollins School side and also in the Oldham town team, where the wicket-keeper was a younger boy born within a street or two of Hilton and who eventually played for England in Australia. His name? Keith Andrew, of Northamptonshire, one of many recruits Werneth have provided for first-class cricket. In addition to Hilton and Andrew, this Central Lancashire League club have sent Jimmy Hilton, Malcolm's younger brother, to Old Trafford and on to Somerset, Geoff Pullar and Jack Dyson to Lancashire since the war. Before that they supplied Lancashire with Frank Sibbles and Malcolm Taylor.

There was, of course, great opportunity for young teenagers at Werneth in war-time and Hilton played for his school team on Saturday mornings and, under the captaincy of his teacher, the same Mr. Sutcliffe, in the League club's second team in the afternoon. He was a regular wicket-taker, for he bowled his spinners just a shade quicker than most left-handers, and soon came promotion to the senior side where the attention of Major Rupert Howard, the Lancashire secretary, was drawn to this bowler who matched his spin with uncanny brilliance in the field. Leaving school, Hilton became an apprentice painter and decorator in his father's business, and in 1945, Major Howard invited him to play in a one-day game at Fallowfield against a Combined side drawn from Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield Universities.

Hilton obliged with a hat-trick and a few weeks later played for a scratch Lancashire side in a one-day match against Derbyshire at Chesterfield. When Lancashire resumed first-class cricket in 1946, Hilton accepted an invitation to join the Old Trafford staff, although not then 18, and he made his county debut in Championship cricket in the last fixture of the season when Lancashire wired for him to travel overnight to Brighton because Eric Price had been called home to the bedside of a sick wife. Hilton found little opportunity in that match against Sussex, but the critics praised his fielding and his captain, J. A. Fallows, gave him a good report. The following year saw Hilton busy at the nets under the control of Harry Makepeace, a real friend and guide to all young players, and his first team appearances were again limited to one match.

Then came the 1948 season with the Australians, under Bradman, touring for the first time since the war, and on May 27 Hilton astounded the cricketing world by bowling the great Don in the first innings and getting him stumped in the second. Fame caught up with him overnight and he retained his place in the Lancashire side for a couple of months. In 1949, however, he could not command a regular position, but captured over 100 wickets in Minor County cricket, gaining such valuable experience that the following year he received his first eleven cap. The summer ended with him selected to play for England in the final Test against the West Indies and he was also in the side which met South Africa at Leeds the following year, although his county colleague, Bob Berry, another young left-hand spinner, gained preference over him for the M.C.C. tour of Australia under F. R. Brown.

With Berry, Tattersall and Statham, Hilton made up a powerful and youthful Lancashire attack and at the end of the 1951 season all, with the exception of Berry, were chosen to tour India with M.C.C. under the Lancashire captain, Nigel Howard. Hilton played in two Tests on that tour and, apart from injury and an odd match out through loss of form, became a Lancashire regular. At the start of the 1956 season he had played in 153 matches for his county, capturing 596 wickets at a cost of 19.66 each and hitting 1,940 runs, with his maiden century registered against Northamptonshire at Northampton in August 1955. Last summer was his best. For Lancashire he captured 150 wickets, average 14.46, and hit 459 runs, average 15.30 and highest score 52. In addition he played for The Rest against Surrey, the County Champions, at The Oval, taking six first innings wickets for 10 runs, but he regards his match-return of 14 for 88 against Somerset at Weston-super-Mare in August as the highlight of the summer.

Hilton is one of the best fieldsmen close to the wicket in the game and several times England have named him twelfth man in Test matches. In the deep, his fast running is a model and the power and accuracy of his throwing have often brought shocks to batsmen risking one for the throw. With the bat, Hilton is a right-hander who prefers to hit, with a forceful off-drive best described in his own words as a slash. -- J. K.

© John Wisden & Co