Len Hopwood

HOPWOOD, JOHN LEONARD, who died at Denton on June 15, 1985, aged 81, was a utilitarian cricketer. One cannot imagine any spectator, reading of his death, looking back across 50 years and exclaiming nostalgically, "What fun he was to watch!" Indeed Lancashire supporters of his day, though much of the county's batting since the Great War had been far from scintillating, found themselves going back to Barlow in the 1880s for a parallel, and then they did at least admit that they would sooner watch Hopwood: but with a backlit like Woodfull's he could never be graceful. Again, as a slow left-arm bowler (he was a right-hand bat) though his figures clearly show how dangerous he could be when the pitch helped him, he is perhaps best remembered bowling by the hour, over the wicket, with six men on the leg, thus helping to conceal from the opposition the relative poverty of the Lancashire bowling, which was nothing like as strong as ten years earlier.

These indeed were the tactics he employed at Old Trafford in 1934 against Australia in the first of his two Tests, and his figures show how skilfully he did so. In the first innings, against a side which included Bradman, Ponsford and McCabe, his figures read 38- 20-46-0. After this it is a bit harsh to say, as critics tend to, that he was a disappointment in his Tests. Granted that he failed as a bat, it was not an easy assignment for an opener to go in eight, and no sane judge could have expected him to get many wickets except in the most favourable conditions - and then Verity would, as at Lord's, have done all that was required. Verity's analysis for the same innings at Old Trafford was 53-24-78-4.

To his county Hopwood was invaluable, and it is safe to say that in this same season, 1934, they could never have won the Championship without him. In county matches he headed the bowling with 110 wickets at 17.89 and was third in the batting with 1,583 runs and an average of 41.65. Against Gloucestershire at Bristol he scored 220, adding 316 with Ernest Tyldesley for the second wicket, and against Glamorgan at Liverpool he took seven for 13. Moreover he was a thoroughly reliable field near the wicket.

He had been slow to reach the top. After some unsuccessful trials in 1923, he first showed his possibilities by scoring 105 not out against the South Africans in 1924: however, in 21 innings in county matches that year he could average only 15. There was little advance in 1925, and in 1926 and 1927 he did not appear. So far he had been regarded solely as a bat, but in 1928 he showed that he was a potential bowler as well, taking 43 wickets at 22.14. besides making a couple of hundreds and averaging 32 with the bat. In 1929 he gained a regular place. which he retained until the war. In 1930 he made 1,000 runs and took 81 wickets and in 1934 and 1935 he did the double, the first Lancashire player to do so since James Hallows in 1914 and still the only one to perform the feat twice. In the last three seasons before the war there was a marked decline in his batting and he moved down the order, though he continued to be useful: however, he almost entirely lost his bowling. Ill health prevented him from resuming his career after the war. In all first-class cricket he scored 15,548 runs with an average of 32.84 and made 24 centuries: he took 671 wickets at 22.47. President of the Lancashire County Cricket Club in 1982, he was the first professional ever to hold the office.

© John Wisden & Co