Thursday, February 24, 2011

The English Game: Lancashire & Northamptonshire

by Ben Roberts


The Australian test team have been defeated in three of the four past Ashes series due in no small part to two modern day Lancashire heroes. Andrew Flintoff proved his strength in England’s 2005 and 2009 victories. His charismatic presence with bat and ball, and indeed in the field in 2009, lifted the English regularly in both northern summers. James Anderson, somewhat dismissed by opponents in his earlier career, provided Australian cricketers, and cricket watchers alike with a lesson in swing bowling during the recent series in Australia.

Lancashire has had two periods of sustained success in the championship, at the turn of 20th century and the golden era of the 1920′s and 1930′s. The most recent success came with sharing the 1950 championship with Surrey although they did win division 2 in 2005 to regain promotion. Lancashire have been the most successful limited overs team of all counties, despite not being able to win the T20 championship as yet.

Lancashire have always been another strong provider of personnel to English cricket. Batsmen of the quality of Cyril Washbrook and Eddie Paynter were champions for both club and country during the Lancashire glory years of the 1920s and 1930s, Paynter finishing his career with a test batting average of over 59. In an earlier part of this era, the Tyldesley brothers, Ernest and Johnny, forged cricket careers that led them both to represent their country and remain to this day the highest and second highest run scorers for Lancashire.

Brian Statham holds the record for the most wickets in the county’s history, 1,816, and too represented England, forming a lethal bowling combination with Yorkshireman Fred Trueman during the 1950s. There is a great deal of irony in this bowling partnership as Lancashire versus Yorkshire, the ‘Red Rose’ versus the ‘White Rose’, potentially has been the greatest rivalry in cricket history. That you should elect to refer to a match in terms of a 15th century war speaks of the desperation to perform.

During the golden era, Australian test cricketer EA “Ted” McDonald was part of the Lancashire team. McDonald’s 198 wickets in a single season is still the record haul for a Lancashire bowler. Forgotten Australian cricketer Stuart Law played for the county from 2002 until 2008, and captained the county also. Andrew Symonds is another modern Australian cricketer to have worn the ‘Red Rose’, but Australians, and indeed numerous other international players, have a greater affinity with Lancashire cricket outside of the county.

The Lancashire League is famed for its competitiveness and highly remunerated professional positions. A combination of both qualities, along with quotas on international players in county teams, led to a consistently strong flow of high quality cricketers making their way to Lancashire from early times. The league was very often the first port of call for emigrating internationals before being recruited by a county. Australian and West Indian cricketers have always been a favourite recruiting target of the Lancashire clubs.


In the late 1990s and early 2000s Northamptonshire was a home to a group of Australian cricketers playing under the banner of being good enough for any test team in the world, except of course Australia. We may lament, ‘Oh for Australia to have that ‘problem’ now’. Matthew Hayden, who captained Northants prior to becoming a regular test team member, Phillip Jacques and Martin Love all played for a period at the club. The most successful Australian at this time however was clearly Michael Hussey.

Hussey during his time at Northants remained an enigma of first-class cricket, with huge run scoring feats for both the county and Western Australia not being enough for many years for him to gain national selection. Hussey holds the record for the highest individual score for the county (and indeed the second highest score); as well he holds the record for the most runs for Northants in a championship season.

Northants have also seen great Australian bowlers turn out for them. In the 1950s George Tribe followed the well worn path of Lancashire League cricket to become a champion for Northants, holding a number of records to this day. In the late 1980s and prior to Australia’s revival as a cricket team, Dennis Lillee was sounded out to make a comeback. After playing for Tasmania during the 1987-88 Australian summer, Lillee signed on for Northants for the 1988 English summer. Injury truncated Lillee’s stint at Northants to 8 matches, and his comeback attempt went no further.

But what of Northamptonshire as a county club. They have never won the County Championship, having come second four times. They share this ignominy with Gloucestershire and Somerset. Up until the Second World War they were one of the county championships perennial strugglers. From May 1935 until May 1939 the county recorded no victory in the County Championship. In a somewhat mirrored history to Somerset, Northants embarked on a post war recruiting drive.

Frank Tyson probably the most noted from those recruited. The express paceman served both Northants and England well, and for both it was a great loss when he emigrated to Australia in the prime of his career. The county has been criticised for the high number of international imports (primarily South African) that they have recruited over the years. Many South African cricketers took advantage during the apartheid ban of the Northant welcome. Alan Lamb, also later of the England test team, was the most successful with over 20,000 runs for the county.

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