Wisden Obituary

Roy Tattersall


Roy Tattersall in action for Lancashire, Kent v Lancashire, Dartford, May 7, 1960
Roy Tattersall: master of variations © PA Photos
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Players/Officials: Roy Tattersall
Teams: England

TATTERSALL, ROY, who died on December 9, 2011, aged 89, may have been reluctant to advertise his own talents, but in the Lord's Test of 1951 against South Africa he was as ruthless as a hired hit man. Exploiting a soggy pitch, he took seven for 52 and, in the follow-on, five for 49 to wrap up a ten-wicket victory for England on the third afternoon. His match figures remain the fourth-best in a Lord's Test and, just a year on from a sensational summer for Lancashire after he had changed to off-spin, and a few months after an emergency winter summons in the middle of the Ashes, it looked like the dawn of a long and storied international career. But three years later he was making the last of 16 Test appearances: for most of the 1950s, he was little more than an onlooker.

Even so, Tattersall was one of the most successful of county bowlers, feared by leading batsmen and admired by team-mates and supporters. In all, "Tatt" - as he was universally known - took 1,369 wickets at 18.03, went past 100 wickets in eight consecutive seasons, and claimed five in an innings 99 times and ten in a match on 18 occasions.

Tattersall was born in Bolton, played in his home-town league and was 25 by the time he made his Lancashire debut in 1948. Initially he was a seamer, but in the winter of 1949-50 the club began preparing pitches that would play to its strength in spin. Under the tutelage of Harry Makepeace he switched to off-breaks. He proved a quick learner, picking up six for 69 at Edgbaston in May 1950 and, by the end of the summer, 193 wickets in all, becoming the inaugural winner of the Cricket Writers' Club Young Cricketer of the Year award. Lancashire needed only four points - from a first-innings lead in a draw - to secure the County Championship when they visited The Oval for their final match, but they played cautiously and collected none; Surrey then crushed Leicestershire in their last game to share top spot.

Tattersall's bowling contained broad hints of his previous incarnation as a seamer. His run-up was long, at a little under 15 yards, and gently curving. With a high arm, he bowled at a lively pace, but was astute enough to adapt to conditions. In a mannerism copied widely by Lancastrian schoolboys, he kept his bowling arm hidden from the batsman. He did not wedge the ball between his index and second finger, but preferred to cut or roll it off his index finger. "I don't think he should be classified as an off-spinner," said his team- mate Jack Bond. "If you had to call him anything you would say he bowled off-cutters, but to me he was just a bowler with a big range of variations." Tattersall's off-cutter could be devastating, as Len Hutton often discovered, and he mastered flight, length, change of pace and - aided by his height - steep bounce. He was quick to praise the contribution of a formidable trio of close catchers: Jack Ikin, Geoff Edrich and Ken Grieves. "If you're bowling with people so close," Makepeace told him, "their wives and families depend on you." Tattersall was so accurate their livelihoods seldom felt threatened.

In January 1951, he and greenhorn team-mate Brian Statham were summoned to Australia when Trevor Bailey and Doug Wright were injured. Such was the urgency of England's need that they had the rare luxury of an air passage and, barely acclimatised, Tattersall made his debut in the Fourth Test at Adelaide. He took three wickets in Australia's first innings, bowling Jim Burke off 23 yards. At Melbourne, he put on 74 for the last wicket with Reg Simpson to help England to their first win in an Ashes Test since 1938. In New Zealand shortly after, Tattersall overcame a chilling wind and a last-day earth tremor to take six for 44 at Wellington.

Back home, he warmed up for the Tests with eight for 51 for MCC against the South Africans at Lord's, before his 12-wicket haul in the Test there. But at The Oval, ominously, he bowled only 19 overs to Jim Laker's 65. Laker's emergence is usually cited as the reason for Tattersall's relatively short Test career, but Statham believed the after-effects of the MCC tour of the sub-continent in 1951-52 also played a part. On an exhausting five-month trip, Tattersall bowled nearly 250 overs in the Tests in India alone. "The nip disappeared from his spin, never to return completely," Statham wrote. The selectors must have agreed: there were only two more Test appearances.

But he remained a key figure at Old Trafford, on and off the field. "Because we were both from Bolton, he took me under his wing and looked after me," said Bond. "I had never met him until then, but he had been a hero of mine." The pair would travel to away matches together, at a sedate 45mph, in Tattersall's black Ford Consul. "I spent many hours asleep in the back seat of that car," Bond said.

In July 1956, Tattersall had taken 91 wickets and Lancashire were well placed to win the Championship when, without explanation, he was dropped by Cyril Washbrook for a month, missing eight matches. It was a decision that baffled the dressing-room and rankled, even with the uncomplaining Tattersall, for years. The uncertainty it created hastened his decision to leave after his benefit season in 1960. He accepted a job in the carpet industry in Kidderminster and played for the town's Birmingham League club. In the summer of 2011, though seriously ill, he eagerly followed Lancashire's progress towards the Championship, and contributed a foreword to a book celebrating the long-delayed triumph. When Simon Kerrigan took nine for 51 against Hampshire in September, they were the best figures for the county since Tattersall's nine for 40 against Nottinghamshire in 1953. He was watching on television when the title was secured at Taunton; his wife Phyllis said she saw his eyes sparkle for the first time in weeks.

© John Wisden & Co