County Cult Heroes - Lancashire
(Lancashire career 1933-59)
Cyril Washbrook was at the heart of Lancashire cricket for 30 years, first as a player and groundbreaking professional captain, then as manager. Known familiarly (except to those under his command) as `Washie', he was loved as the embodiment of those sterling qualities often associated with northern cricketers. He played for Lancashire at 18 and England at 22 but it was on the resumption of cricket after the war that his career really flourished, in opening partnerships with Len Hutton for England and Winston Place for Lancashire. In 1956, when he was 41, he was recalled to the England team but fell two runs short of a romantic century. He retired in 1959 with 34,101 first-class runs at an average of 42. The famously jaunty angle of his cap was at odds with his dour personality. He was unsympathetic to the post-war growth of player power but his deeds on the field remain the cornerstone of his justifiably high reputation.
Ken Higgs arrived from Staffordshire in 1958. He took 7 for 36 in his first Championship match to win the game and finally provide a reliable opening partner for Brian Statham after an eight-year search. He regularly and uncomplainingly bowled a thousand overs a season, uphill and into the wind if necessary. His arrival, however, coincided with a depressing time for Lancashire as they failed to fi nd replacements for experienced players and slipped to second-bottom in the 1962 Championship. Nevertheless Higgs thoroughly deserved his Test summons three years later and to general surprise he and John Snow put on 128 for the last wicket to help win the final 1966 Test against West Indies. Displaced by Peter Lever and Ken Shuttleworth, he left Lancashire at 32 but reappeared to play for Leicestershire until he was 49 and is still mentioned in deeply respectful tones by Jonathan Agnew on TMS.
Harry Pilling is remembered because he was 5ft 3in tall, which does him a major injustice because he was a brave, underrated batsman who was desperately unlucky never to play for his country. He was the first man to reach 1,500 runs in the John Player League and at Lord's in 1970 his outstanding unbeaten innings of 70 against Sussex steadied all our nerves and brought Lancashire their fi rst Gillette Cup. Although not a big driver of the ball, he was an expert at nudging and nurdling and was a model of consistency at No. 3. His partnerships with the 6ft 4½in Clive Lloyd gave much pleasure to those who appreciated the comic vision of their mid-wicket conversations, even if the TV cameras struggled to keep them both in the same frame.
The career of Jack Simmons gives hope to every club cricketer. A journeyman professional in the Lancashire leagues, he made his fi rst-class debut in 1968 at 27 and thereafter scarcely missed a match - or meal - for over 20 years. His nickname 'Flat Jack' rather diminishes the effect of his tidy offspin and legendary tales of his consumption of fish and chips should not obscure his great contribution to Lancashire cricket, though it is a signifi cant part of his appeal as a folk hero. He made vital runs in the lower order, often in partnership with his fellow spinner David Hughes, and it was from his bowling that Jack Bond took the famous catch to dismiss Asif Iqbal to win the 1971 Gillette Cup when a Kent victory looked inevitable. He made a huge impact as the overseas star of Tasmania and is currently chairman of Lancashire.
Ian Austin inherited Jack's cap and bells as the rotund jester of Lancashire cricket. His girth caused considerable merriment among spectators but his nagging, niggardly seam bowling, especially in one-day matches, created respect among batsmen who were unable to play it. A big-hitting lefthander, he would have batted higher in the order had he played for any other county. At Scarborough in 1991 he went in with Lancashire 129 for 8, in pursuit of 343. Austin hit a whirlwind century in 61 balls and Lancashire fell just 48 short, with the Yorkies so deathly pale they could hardly celebrate their victory. He played in nine one-day internationals, with little success, but his talent as an all-round cricketer rather than as a trencherman is the reason he will be remembered as a true Lancashire cult hero.
This article was first published in the March issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
Click here for further details.
Colin Shindler is a Lancashire supporter and best-selling author