December 2005

Gloucestershire cult heroes

Stephen Chalke
Stephen Chalke on the cult heroes produced by Gloucestershire

Charlie Parker: one of the greatest - and most underrecognised - slow bowlers of all time © The Cricketer International
Charlie Parker (Gloucestershire career 1903-35)
All Gloucestershire knew that Charlie Parker was the greatest slow left-armer in England. A labourer's son from Prestbury, outside Cheltenham, he took 3,278 first-class wickets and played just one Test. He could be an awkward character, exacting with his fielders and outspoken towards his social superiors, most notably in the lift at the Grand Hotel, Bristol, when he grabbed Plum Warner, the chairman of selectors, by the lapels and told him what he thought of him. For Gloucestershire he was happy to bowl all day and talk cricket all night; and in 1930, when he was called to The Oval for the final Test and again not picked, he responded in his next match by bowling his county to a famous tie with the Australians. He dismissed Bradman in both innings and the Don never again played at Bristol. On such days, Robertson-Glasgow reckoned, he could make any opponent look like a child batting with a pencil. To hell with the selectors at Lord's! Gloucestershire folk knew he was the best.

Arthur Milton (1948-74)
Arthur Milton is one of Bristol's very own, a factory worker's son who attended Cotham Grammar School. He was a natural at any ball game: a fleet-footed winger who went off to Arsenal and played once for England, and a stylish batsman, whose back-foot technique brought him 56 centuries and six England caps. He played golf, tennis, even bet on the dogs better than his team-mates. He scored a hundred on Test debut and toured Australia but the England scene never really suited his West Country ways. "I was pleased to get back to my own tump," he says. Perhaps he lacked ambition. Perhaps in later life he could have traded on his status as a double international. But he became a postman, then in retirement he kept his bicycle and took on a paper round. The early-morning mists across the Bristol Downs seem to bring him more happiness than the memories of his sporting triumphs. He has never lost touch with his home-city roots and Bristolians love him for it.

Bomber Wells (1951-59)
`Bomber' Wells played his cricket for fun. A man of wide girth and rolling gait, he had - in the words of Michael Parkinson - "a summer's day in his face and laughter in his soul". The son of a blacklisted trade unionist in Gloucester, he never changed from the happy-go-lucky club cricketer he had been when first summoned to play for the county. His batting was agricultural, his fielding leisurely and he bowled brisk offspin off a one-pace run that caught many batsmen unaware. The tales of him are legion: from his exchanges with his amateur captain to the mix-ups running between the wickets. "For God's sake, call," Sam Cook once begged him and back came the reply: "Heads." He tells his tales from a wheelchair now, on the Gloucester Spa and at Cheltenham College, still with his broad Gloucester vowels. Why did they never use him on Test Match Special? No one has brought more sunshine to the county's cricket.

David Lawrence (1981-91,1997)
His parents might have come from the Caribbean but `Syd' was a Gloucester boy through and through, never more than on that glorious evening at the Wagon Works in 1985 when, on a good batting wicket, he and Courtney Walsh ripped Yorkshire apart for 83. His boyhood friends were there and they enveloped him as he left the field, a champion from their own streets. Walsh was an athlete, lean, smooth and reliable but Syd was all effort and heart, a big hulk of a man, whose arms and legs were everywhere as he hurtled towards the bowling crease. He could be wayward; he could be unplayable. Eventually England picked him but in Wellington, in his fifth Test, his left kneecap cracked in two and all Gloucestershire squealed with him. Syd did not give up. He worked relentlessly in the gym and five years later he made a brief comeback. No Gloucestershire cricketer tried harder.

Jack Russell (1981-2004)
He should have played 100 Tests. He was the best keeper in the land and he showed them all at Lord's when Gloucestershire won four cup finals in two years and he stood up to the quick bowlers. He learnt his cricket among the men of the Stroud valley and nobody looks out on the damp mists or breathes the Cotswold air with greater pride. He paints the canals and railway lines and listens to the `March of the Gloucestershire Regiment' in his car. His quirks remain legendary, from his elaborate Weetabix routine to the floppy white hat that the men in suits tried to ban. He was a cricketer of fixed habits, a competitor who strove always for perfection, and he made his oddball batting effective enough to score two Test centuries. Every cricket lover in the county shared the outrage of his lost Test place - and with David Graveney chairman of selectors, too!

This article was first published in the December issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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