John Woodcock, legendary former Times cricket correspondent, dies aged 94
Tributes paid to 'doyen' of profession, who wrote on cricket for the Times for 65 years
John Woodcock, the doyen of English cricket writing, has died at the age of 94.
Woodcock, who lived almost his entire life in the village of Longparish in Hampshire, was cricket correspondent of The Times from 1954 to 1987, and continued to contribute articles after his retirement - the last of which turned out to be an appreciation of Ben Stokes' match-winning hundred at Headingley in 2019.
He also served as editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack for six editions from 1980, where he "immediately increased the status and literary quality of an institution that was starting to ossify", according to his colleague and eventual successor as editor, Matthew Engel, in his tribute in The Guardian.
Few men in history can have been witness to more live Test matches than Woodcock, who watched his first as a nine-year-old in 1936 when England took on India at Lord's, before travelling to Australia in 1950-51 as an assistant to EW Swanton, for whom he was tasked with shooting cine-film footage for the BBC, in the wake of a brief stint as their scorer in 1948.
At Headingley in 1952, he covered his first Test match as a reporter for the Manchester Guardian - a match made famous by Fred Trueman's 0 for 4 scoreline. Then in 1954-55, he returned to Australia for his first assignment as the Times' (then-unbylined) correspondent, travelling on the SS Orsova alongside Len Hutton's team, with whom he struck up many life-long friendships.
A self-styled "cricket writer" rather than a journalist, he rarely broke stories but covered every match with an unparalleled detail and a beautifully under-stated turn of phrase.
"He was the most thorough watcher of a day's cricket I've ever known," Henry Blofeld, the former Test Match Special commentator, said in a tribute to mark Woodcock's Outstanding Contribution to Sports Writing Award in 2018. "If I was watching the same day of cricket that he was, I would open the Times the next day and read in it at least two points I'd never seen. He was a very close examiner of the game and any report he wrote was always worth reading."
Other former colleagues of Woodcock's paid tribute on Twitter, including those whose playing careers he covered. "One of the finest of cricket writers, and wonderful company," wrote Mike Atherton, the former England captain who has followed in Woodcock's footsteps as Times correspondent since 2008.
Mike Selvey, the former Guardian correspondent and England seamer, paid his own tribute on Twitter. "The finest of all cricket writers," he wrote. "The Doyen. The Godfather. You wanted context, he could provide it because he'd seen so much."
"One of cricket's greatest friends and writers," added Derek Pringle, who followed his own England career by becoming cricket correspondent of the Independent and later the Daily Telegraph. "John Woodcock was the kind of scribe we'd all like to be - elegant, informative and generous with a beautiful turn of phrase."