"Great spell Roy, are you okay to carry on?" These words, or some very like them, were probably spoken quite frequently to Roy Tattersall by his skipper Nigel Howard in the early 1950s, a period in which the Lancashire offspinner was one of the best bowlers in the land. For eight seasons in succession he took over 100 wickets apiece, his best summer being 1950, in which his 163 victims went a long way towards helping Lancashire share the County Championship with Surrey.
So when the title finally returned to Old Trafford in September, it was not surprising that the sporting press was interested in Tattersall's take on it all. It would have been easy for the 89-year-old to echo RC Robertson-Glasgow's One-Way Critic and opine that while of course he was pleased that Lancashire had won something, modern players had it easy and he'd like to see Glen Chapple's side come up against Howard's. But Tattersall was above such empty point-scoring: instead, he preferred to extol Chapple's fighting qualities, praise Simon Kerrigan and Stephen Parry's spin bowling and laud Tom Smith and Steven Croft's resolute batting.
Thus, a professional cricketer, who was sometimes lucky to pocket a thousand pounds in a season and had to work in a builder's yard to make ends meet in the winter, reached across the generations and applauded young men whose earnings from the game should help set them up for life. When Lancashire won the Championship in Taunton, Roy's wife Phyllis said that she saw his eyes sparkle for the first time in a few weeks.
And now, less than three months after that memorable afternoon in the West Country, Tattersall - "Tatt" to very many Lancastrians - has died. Lately confined to following his county's progress on TV from his home in Kidderminster, and nursed with devoted loving-kindness by Phyllis, he finally succumbed to a battery of complaints, one of which removed much of the use from a right arm whose skill and subtlety had flummoxed the greatest batsmen in the world over half a century earlier.
The skilful obituarists have duly chronicled his career. Born in Tonge Moor in 1922, Tattersall did not join Lancashire until he was 25, and his performances did not attract much attention until the 1950 season. That spring, with the encouragement and guidance of Harry Makepeace, the best coach with whom he ever worked, Tattersall switched from seam bowling to offspin. Helped by some of the best close fielders in the country and guided by Howard's shrewd and sympathetic captaincy, he began to take bucketloads of wickets.
"A tall man, Tattersall could extract steep bounce from a relatively docile wicket, and in his pomp his control of length varied from the merely excellent to near as dammit perfect"
Yet he was never an orthodox offspinner in the style of Jim Laker, whose success in the 1950s helped restrict the Lancastrian to just 16 Test appearances: Tattersall did not wedge the ball between the first and second fingers of his hand but preferred to cut or roll it off his index finger; he could bowl at anything between slow to medium pace depending on the conditions of pitch and match; he had the seamer's ability to drift the ball away from the right-hander; and he occasionally bowled off 23 yards, claiming the first of his 58 Test wickets, that of Australia's Jim Burke, with just such a delivery . A tall man, Tattersall could extract steep bounce from a relatively docile wicket, and in his pomp his control of length varied from the merely excellent to near as dammit perfect. In a career that effectively spanned nine seasons he took 1369 first-class wickets at 18.03 runs apiece.
Given the excellence of Lancashire's team in the 1950s, it is remarkable that they secured only one title in the decade - and even that was shared with Surrey. Part of the explanation lies with the power of Stuart Surridge's men, who began their run of seven consecutive Championships in 1952. But there are still many Lancastrians who believe that if Tattersall had not been dropped for seven games in 1956 - at a point when he had taken 91 wickets and was virtually neck and neck with Don Shepherd in the race to a century - the Championship would have returned to Old Trafford after a gap of a mere 22 years. As it was, Lancashire finished second to Surrey by 20 points and Tattersall was left to recover from a blow that he later admitted had knocked the stuffing out of him. Over 50 years later his mystification and hurt remained fresh as a new wound.
The decision to drop Tattersall was taken by Cyril Washbrook, a skipper whose batting skill and courage were undoubted, yet whose disciplinarian ways did not endear him to his players. More inclined to give rollickings than encouragement to his team, Washbrook was a martinet, who was frequently out of sympathy with the talented cricketers he led. "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die," said the Lancashire coach Stan Worthington to Tattersall when he asked why he had been left out. It is interesting to speculate what reaction such a supine attitude might have provoked from either Geoff Edrich or Alan Wharton, both of whom had fought in the war.
Still out of favour with the powerful Washbrook and unable to provide for his family on second-team wages, Tattersall left Lancashire in 1960 and moved to Kidderminster where he worked for a carpet manufacturer and played for Kidderminster Victoria in the very strong Birmingham League. Having made full use of his height and upright delivery in his days as a professional cricketer, Tattersall continued to stand tall and was duly respected in later life. He was always ready to talk about the days when he and his friend Brian Statham - Tatt 'n' Stat as they were known in Lancashire - had joined forces with Malcolm Hilton and Tommy Greenhough to bowl their county to within a couple of wins of the outright title. Having been voted the first Cricket Writers Young Cricketer of the Year in 1950, he was honoured many years later to be president of Lancashire's Former Players Association. Neither body could have made a better choice.
Great spell, Tatt. Have a rest.