Obituary, 2003

Winston Place



Winston Place opening the batting with Cyril Washbrook © Getty Images
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Place, Winston, died in Burnley on January 25, 2002, seven weeks after his 87th birthday. He had been the second-oldest surviving England cricketer, having played three Tests on MCC's ill-planned tour of the West Indies in 1947-48. But it was his opening partnerships for Lancashire with Cyril Washbrook, in the seasons immediately after World War II, for which he was most fondly remembered. In their contrasting ways - Washbrook the flamboyant, consummate strokemaker; Place, taller and unassuming, reminiscent of Harry Makepeace in his studied defensive play - they provided a foundation that was the envy of other counties. Not that Place was dilatory or dull. He often outscored his partner on poor wickets and, by the time he left Old Trafford in 1955, he was Lancashire's 13th-highest runmaker with 14,605 runs at 36.69 for the county. Decisive footwork determined his game: he drove effectively through the off-side arc and at times back over the bowler's head, played the late-cut with a delicate touch, and pulled with real aplomb.

His roots were in the small mill town of Rawtenstall where, orphaned at five, he was raised by an aunt within a stone's throw of the cricket ground. At 15 he was opening for the first team in the Lancashire League. S. F. Barnes, Rawtenstall's professional from 1930 to 1932, recommended him to Lancashire and at 21, after serving one apprenticeship as an engineer, he went down to Old Trafford in 1936 to begin another. Lancashire's batting was strong, opportunities were limited, but he marked his first season, 1937, by making 137 in four and a quarter hours at Trent Bridge after Washbrook and Paynter had launched the innings with 108 in an hour. Two years on and he was opening with Washbrook when Paynter was injured, impressing everyone with a flawless 164 against the West Indians and averaging 36.11 from 614 runs. He combined war-time work for an engineering firm in Accrington with charity matches and Bolton League cricket for Horwich: in 1944 he and Washbrook gave a sample of treats to come as they put on 140 for the North of England against the RAAF at Old Trafford.

Their first two summers together were the best, and Lancashire finished third in both years. Place hit 1,868 runs at 41.51 in 1946, then 2,501 at 62.52 in 1947 with ten hundreds, including two in the Old Trafford match against Nottinghamshire. His 266 not out against Oxford University, in less than six hours, remained the highest of his 36 first-class centuries. Early in that run-sated summer, the Manchester rain frustrated Washbrook and Place as they homed in on MacLaren and Spooner's county-record first-wicket stand of 368, set in 1903. Even so, their unbroken 350 against Sussex outlived them both as Lancashire's second-highest opening partnership - and at the Saffrons in late August they bludgeoned the Sussex bowling once more, each again hitting hundreds as they raced the clock to reach 233 inside two hours (41.4 overs) for a ten-wicket victory.

Selection as 12th man for the Leeds Test against South Africa brought Place a taste of international cricket and, with leading England players absenting themselves, he was an obvious candidate for Gubby Allen's side to the Caribbean that winter. It was not the happiest of experiences. Beset by injuries - the 45-year-old Allen got the ball rolling by pulling a calf muscle while skipping on board ship - and underestimating the strength of West Indian cricket, MCC went winless through a tour for the first time ever. Place bruised a knuckle in Barbados in the opening Test and was ruled out of the Second after rupturing his groin muscle while scoring 120 not out against Trinidad: MCC subsequently had four substitutes on the field. The assistant-manager and reserve wicket-keeper, Billy Griffith, was pressed into opening in the impending Test and, on his England debut, hit his maiden first-class hundred (140). By Georgetown, Len Hutton had flown out as a reinforcement and he opened with Jack Robertson while Place batted at No. 3. Innings of one and 15 were no more propitious than his 12 and one not out in Barbados had been, but after making eight in the first innings at Kingston he came good in the second with 107, his only Test century. Not that it helped: England's last six wickets tumbled for 20 runs. "I got a hundred but we lost," Place would recall in later years.

He took time to get going in 1948, and his four hundreds, including 200 at Taunton, comprised more than half his runs. A broken hand kept him out for seven games in 1949, though not before he had hit a Championship-best 226 not out at Trent Bridge, and his average was well under par in 1950, Lancashire's Championship-sharing season, when their policy of restricting watering and rolling meant batsmen had to graft for runs at Old Trafford. None of this stopped him passing 1,000 runs, as he did every year from 1946 to 1953. But by 1952, his benefit season, he was lending solidity in the middle order rather than opening the innings. His benefit of £6,297 was then the third-highest for the county after Washbrook's and Pollard's.

In 1955 he was 40. And while Washbrook, his senior by a day, was compiling 1,000 runs for the 15th time, Place was managing only 179 in a summer with weeks of continuous sunshine. The Lancashire secretary Geoffrey Howard (qv) remembered him being "in tears" when told his contract was not being renewed. Almost 20 years earlier, asked after his first season how he would spend his holidays, he had replied, "This was the last day of my holiday." In 324 first-class matches, all but 26 for Lancashire, he scored 15,609 runs at 35.63, and held 190 catches. He tried to follow the sun by umpiring, but "One season was enough. I liked the job but I didn't like the evenings on your own." He preferred Rawtenstall, where he had a newsagent's, and the warmth of family life with his wife and two daughters in their home by the cricket ground.

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