Obituary

Cyril Washbrook

WASHBROOK, CYRIL, CBE, who died on April 27, 1999, aged 84, was an always staunch and sometimes brilliant opening batsman for Lancashire and England. He flourished either side of the Second World War, and his name will forever be paired in history with that of Len Hutton, with whom he opened for England 51 times. Their average partnership was 60, which from this distance seems like unparalleled riches, although they played in often perilous times for England. In the popular imagination, he is remembered for two other things. One was his comeback in 1956 when, as a selector, he made a dramatic return to the Test team, aged 41. The other was the jaunty angle of his cap which hinted at a carefree nature. In fact, he was a diffident man, and he masked this by acquiring a rather forbidding exterior as he gained authority.

His cricket, however, gave pleasure right from the start. In his second match for Lancashire, as an 18-year-old in 1933, Washbrook made 152, and Neville Cardus wrote in the Manchester Guardian: "He looks like a cricketer, has a cricketer's face and wears his flannels like a cricketer." He went on to become the very embodiment of a Lancashire cricketer, and remained deeply associated with the county until his sad and lingering final illness.

Washbrook was born in Barrow, near Clitheroe, but his family moved to Shropshire. From Bridgnorth Grammar School, he might have gone to either Warwickshire or Worcestershire or, since he had many gifts, Wolves or West Bromwich Albion. But when he arrived at Old Trafford, the old opener Harry Makepeace, now coach, took him under his wing as his protégé and successor. After his brilliant start, however, Washbrook fell back somewhat and it was 1935 before he finally established himself in the side, hitting 1,724 runs and coming fifth in the national averages. He was still dropped once from the side in 1936, to Cardus's disgust. A year later he made his England debut, alongside Denis Compton, at The Oval against New Zealand in 1937. But he made only nine and eight not out, and missed the opportunity for the then infinitely greater honour of a Test against Australia the following year.

In the war, Washbrook was a PT instructor in the RAF, and he was 30 before he was at last able to fulfil his destiny. In Australia in 1946-47, he and Hutton had three successive century stands, and Washbrook emerged as one of the recognisable cricketers of a heroic cricketing age: "The chin, always square and thrust out a little," wrote Cardus, "the square shoulders, the pouting chest, the cock of cricket cap, his easy loose movement, his wonderful swoop at cover and the deadly velocity of his throw in. The tensing of his shoulders as he prepared to face the bowling, the preliminary champing of his feet - every sign of determined awareness, every sign of combined attack and defence, his mind ready to signal swiftly either to infantry, cavalry, or for cover behind the sand bags."

He was, from the start, strongest on the leg side and was one of the great hookers and pullers; he also had a ferocious square cut. No fast bowler ever changed his demeanour. "He was like concrete," said Wilfred Wooller. Washbrook was in his pomp in the late 1940s. He scored six Test centuries of varying moods, but roughly equal quality. The first came against Australia at Melbourne in 1946-47, where a huge crowd saw him battle six hours for 112. He got another at Headingley in 1948, where he hit what Wisden called an "almost faultless" 143 in the Ashes match where England reached 423 for two but still lost. Five months later, in South Africa. Hutton and Washbrook put on 359, still an England first-wicket record, in 290 minutes on the first day of Test cricket at Ellis Park. Washbrook made a chanceless 195, his highest Test score. He hit an unbeaten 103, mostly with a runner, against New Zealand at Leeds in 1949 and scored two more centuries, both in defeat, in the 1950 series against West Indies. He was apparently reluctant to tour Australia in 1950-51, and it showed: he was also troubled by the "mystery spinner", Jack Iverson. From then on, he faded out of the Test team (apparently against Hutton's wishes when he was captain). In 1954 he became Lancashire's first professional captain and in 1956 a Test selector.

The historic moment came that July, after England had lost to Australia at Lord's. More than five years after his last Test appearance, his colleagues on the selection panel requested him to leave the room. On his return, they asked if he would play at Headingley. He was 41, and the decision was greeted first with astonishment and then with delight. Washbrook made 98, sharing a stand of 187 with May after England had been reduced to 17 for three. England won the game, and Washbrook stayed in the team to play less heroic roles as Jim Laker worked his magic at Manchester and gave England the best of a draw at The Oval.

He remained Lancashire captain until retiring in 1959; a strong team never managed to challenge Surrey's domination, but they usually played cricket that reflected Washbrook's iron discipline - and self-discipline. Geoff Puller was horrified when he heard an opponent called the skipper "Washy". In 1964, Washbrook became the club's cricket manager and he was an England selector again in 1971 and 1972. This time he was not asked to make a comeback - though even when he was near 50, he scored 85 for MCC in a centenary match against Lancashire. Washbrook remained close to Old Trafford until illness overtook him; the feeling was mutual - his benefit, of £14,000 in 1948, remained a record for more than two decades before inflation rendered comparisons meaningless. John Major, in his first year as prime minister, awarded him a very belated CBE in 1991. Washbrook was the last survivor of the Lancashire team that won the Championship outright in 1934 but, though he lived another 65 years, did not see a repetition.

Frank Keating tribute
Cyril Washbrook, who died on April 27 aged 84, was an adventurous opening batsman for Lancashire and England before and after the Second World War. He and Winston Place formed a formidable opening pair for Lancashire, while Washbrook's Test career is remembered principally for his partnerships with Len Hutton, where he ideally complemented the more phlegmatic approach of his Yorkshire ally. They opened the England innings in 31 Test matches, and at Johannesburg in 1948-49 scored 359 together (in 310 minutes), which remains an England record.

Washbrook was born in Barrow, a village near Clitheroe, Lancashire, and, when he was 12, the family moved to Bridgnorth in Shropshire. At 18, while attending Bridgnorth Grammar School, he had the chance to play with Warwickshire and Worcestershire. He failed to get into Birmingham University, where he would have taken a degree in brewing, only because he had not submitted a written paper in art. Had he gone to university, he would have joined, Warwickshire as an amateur. Instead he persuaded his father to give him a year to make good with Lancashire.

Washbrook used to enjoy telling the story of his arrival at the station for Old Trafford in April 1933, only his second visit. A tall man carrying a bag had also left the train, and the 18-year-old asked if he could direct him to the ground's main entrance. The man said he was going there and would show him. `What are you, a batsman or a bowler?' he asked Lancashire's latest groundstaff recruit. `A batsman,' said Washbrook. `There's not much chance for batsmen here,' grunted the man - who turned out to be the great England player S. F. Barnes, then 60 and a bowling coach at Old Trafford.

Nevertheless, Washbrook made an immediate impression. He played in the opening second-team match of the season, scored 202 not out, and was thrust into the first team for his next game, against Sussex. In his second match, against Surrey, he scored 152. He was sitting in the junior players' dressing-room later when Barnes came in, patted him on the shoulder, pointed to the wicket and said simply: `Well played.' Neville Cardus wrote in The Guardian: `For a lad of 18, this was cricket radiant with promise. Unless somebody spoils Washbrook, he will go a long way.'

Washbrook, who was the only surviving member of the last Lancashire team to win the County Championship outright, in 1934, went on to become the county's finest postwar batsman, and an opener to stand alongside A. C. MacLaren. His career spanned 26 years, and his total of runs for Lancashire- and in all first-class matches, at the impressively high average of 42 - stands behind only Ernest and Johnny Tyldesley.

But for the war Washbrook would undoubtedly have been Lancashire's most prolific runscorer. He scored 76 centuries and believed he would have reached 100 had he not become captain for the last six years of his career, when he began to go in lower down the order to strengthen the middle of the batting. He maintained that he got out a number of times after getting to 50, when normally, as an opener, he would have gone on to 100.

`I was very proud to be captain of Lancashire, but it was a position I never coveted,' he once said. `I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I wouldn't have been happier just to have continued opening and scoring more runs.'

By the time he finished playing, in 1959, the true amateur had gone from the game. With him, Washbrook would declare, went the spirit of adventure. Amateurs, he felt, had a great influence on the spirit in which the game was played and the game was better for it.

When he retired, he had completed exactly 500 games for the county and scored 34,101 runs. `When you have been a good player, the time comes when you want to get out still a good player,' he said. He regarded the high spot of an illustrious career, which included 37 Test matches with six centuries and 2569 runs for an average of 42.81, as being asked to tour Australia, which he did twice.

One of his greatest moments was the 98 he scored against the Aussies at Headingley in 1956, when he was recalled to the team at the age of 41 after a five-year absence. He was a Test selector himself at the time, and was asked by the chairman, Gubby Allen, to go and order the beer while they discussed him. Washbrook returned to the meeting to be told he had been chosen. `Surely the situation isn't as desperate as all that,' he said. He came in at 17 for 3, and put on 187 with Peter May (101) before Richie Benaud trapped him in front for 98. `Another two wouldn't have done any harm,' he observed. `But I was pleased not to have let my co-selectors down.'

Washbrook went into business in sports outfitting soon after a then-record benefit (£14,000) in 1948 and, apart from a two-year-break, served on the county committee from 1961 until 1988, after which he was president for two years. He received the CBE in 1991.

He was a magnificently aggressive batsman, and also one of the finest cover fieldsmen in England. He set high standards on and off the field, and was regarded with awe, bordering on fear, by many players. During a short spell as manager in the 1960s, he could often be spotted standing at the front of the pub where the team was staying, making sure none of the players went out on the town.

He could seem aloof and forbidding at times, a front that Mac Taylor, Lancashire's long-serving scorer, put down to shyness. Washbrook, who is survived by his wife Marjorie and their son Roger, said that he would like to be remembered as a player who provided entertainment. He certainly did that.

© John Wisden & Co