Friday, September 16, 2011

Its been a very long wait for Lancashire

Cricket at Lancs0004

My father was born in Stockport a few days before the battle of the Somme in 1916. The town may be technically in Cheshire but then, as now, many of its inhabitants saw themselves as Lancastrians – my father certainly did - not least in his lifelong support for Lancashire County Cricket Club. Like me Dad became a cricket fan at a very early age and by the time he was ten a Lancashire allegiance was engrained in him. Good timing, for in 1926 Lancashire won their first County Championship for 22 years and followed this with further wins in 1927, 1928, 1930 and 1934. A golden age indeed for the red rose County but thereafter, a solitary tied Championship in 1950 aside, no wins at all – until now.

Back in the 1920s one of the lynchpins of the Lancashire side was the Australian Test match fast bowler Ted McDonald. From 1925 to 1930 he was virtually an ever present in the side taking 970 wickets in 193 matches – an average of five per game. McDonald has a firm place in the Briggs family folklore because in 1930 he was photographed giving his autograph to a couple of young Lancashire fans – one of whom (the boy on the left in the cap) was my father. Not only did he sign Dad’s autograph book but he undertook later to get all of his team-mates autographs as well – on the cardboard frame in which the photo was placed. The original of that framed photograph is in the excellent cricket museum at Old Trafford.

Ted McDonald was unusual in playing in County cricket as an overseas player in the inter-war years he had to qualify and for two years he played in the Lancashire League before making his county debut in 1924. This followed a very successful tour with the 1921 Australians when he took 27 Test wickets at an average of under 25. It is intriguing to observe that he was already 33 years old when he made his first appearance for Lancashire and that his in final full season, 1930, he was 39. Not bad for someone described in Wisden as being “…far faster than the average English fast bowler”!

My father would have been thrilled with Lancashire’s success in the Championship this year. I only watched his County with him once but that was in the famous 1971 Gillette Cup final against my own County Kent. I was born in Kent and it was never even a subject for discussion that I chose to support the County of my birth rather than adopt my father’s team. We sat together for that enthralling match at Lord’s when Kent looked to be on the way to overhauling Lancashire’s modest 60 Over total of 224 until Jackie Bond took a famous catch to dismiss the on-fire Asif Iqbal. Lancashire has an astonishing record in One Day cricket with no less than 16 trophies between 1970 and 1998 – though none since. But for all this, in my father’s view, the only domestic cricket prize that really mattered was the County Championship and I am sure that if Dad was around today his smile would have been as wide as it was at Lord’s in 1971 – and he would be reminiscing about the games he saw the last time Lancashire stood unchallenged at the top of the pile way back in 1934.

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