Winter AGMs declared war-time cricket over. War-time austerity continued. Clubs had to get a permit from the league secretary to buy equipment. A blazer cost £5, a bat £2, a ball ten shillings. Demand for balls was so great that manufacturers were instructed to supply half orders only. Rubber grips were scarce so bat handles were wrapped with padded tape. Restoring neglected grounds was a daunting task. Scythes were needed to clear Blaydon’s wilderness. Coal extraction damaged Quaking Houses. “It was saucer-shaped and dropped eight feet from the stone wall to the square.” The War Office granted North Durham £3,000 compensation towards reconstruction of their ground. They did not stage a home match until 1950.
On 26 July 1945 Britain woke to the promise of social change under a Labour Government. Change in cricket, too. Durham County League reformed in 1948. While geographically convenient for clubs in central Durham it had a knock-on effect for other leagues. D.Coast lost six clubs out of 14, NWD lost three of 10, Mid-D two of 13. NWD and Mid-D adopted overs cricket. Mid-D and D.Co introduced evening matches. TSL allowed works’ sides to re-arrange holiday-week fixtures as two-night matches, 150 minutes each night. DSL introduced two-night matches to accommodate the extra fixtures when extending to 14 clubs in 1961. They were eventually switched to Sundays because players found them “loathsome”.
An increased number of Sunday matches in 1946 caused bitter controversy. Iciness between entrenched factions outlasted the winter freeze that followed. Opponents held the Sabbath sacrosanct. Clubs with tenancy agreements that forbade Sunday play were fearful of losing members who threatened to withdraw financial support. Advocates believed Sunday cricket would increase public interest without preventing Lord’s Day observers following their ideals should they wish. Committee men and pragmatic professionals scented financial benefits. Sunday friendly matches at Shotley Bridge realised £80 compared with £52 for league matches.
North Durham and Jack Wiper led the Sunday crusade. When ‘gate’ receipts increased from £150 to £420 in one season they knew they were on to a money-spinner. Wiper pushed the boat out. He arranged matches between the top local players and a Commonwealth XI of pros of the calibre of Sobers, Worrell and Ramadhin. Some 2,000 attended. Sport attracted large crowds in the immediate post-war years. Durham City announced record ‘gate’ receipts of £400. Seaham Harbour took £100 for one match. It did not last. Within four years both were in deficit. Announcing a loss in 1960 the president declared NYSD “in a precarious position”.
In 1947 Jack Hayes became the only amateur to take 100 DSL wickets in a season. “Wickets are easy to get nowadays,” he said. “Batsmen are not half as good as they used to be and are mostly too old.” Jack, 43 himself, had a point. The number of hundreds in the immediate post-war decades is the lowest since the 1890s. The average age of the county side was 30. Hayes might have made allowance for the effects of a World War on club cricket. Five Test men and a dozen county cricketers had lost their lives. By 1951 six post-war Durham men filled their place : Alan Townsend, D.G.Harron, Stephenson and Walford together with Spooner and Jim McConnon who would both play for England. Little did Mrs McConnon know how far baby Jim would go when he used to crawl into Burnopfield ground through a gap in the fence.
Hayes was concerned for the future. “Teams nowadays don’t put enough faith in young blood.” Again, he could have allowed for lads on National Service when they might have been in the 1st XI. Jack repeatedly asked to play in the Seconds to help youngsters develop. Coaching was indeed a priority. Clubs heeded Bradman’s advice and laid concrete practice wickets. An indoor school was built at Wolviston at a cost of £2,500 largely financed by substantial grants from the Ministry of Education and Durham CCC and £100 from NYSD. Bill Coverdale (qv) took charge of winter nets at Horden and Durham engaged ex-county men Tom Collin and Frank Booth to coach boys in the school holidays. C.L.Adamson groomed a successful Bow School side to maintain private schools’ reputation for good coaching. Junior leagues were introduced for under-18s.
Obviously it took years for these innovations to bear fruit. Veterans seized the limelight. The Parkinson brothers and ‘Elly’ Richardson were largely responsible for Greenside taking the TSL title in the sublime summer of 1947. The season began sensationally against North Durham. Richardson took 10 for 10 with knifing ‘nip’ off the wicket. In the two previous seasons Richardson and Joe Parkinson demolished North Durham for 13, 14 and 5, the lowest TSL total. Philadelphia won three DSL titles between 1948-51 the guile of Ellison, cartoonist Bob Lowerson and bespectacled Scot W.K.Laidlaw who rolled leg-breaks and googlies from a low, square-arm action and twice topped DSL, bowling. Leading scorers were Joe Ord, Bobby Fisher, Jack Welsh and Stan Robertson who made 1,004 in all in the warmth of 1949.
PRO-FILE (No. 15)
WALTER WILLIAM COVERDALE
(b. Romford, Essex, 30 May 1912; d. Gateshead, 6 Oct 1972)
Graceful ex-Northamptonshire right-hander and medium-pace bowler at Horden (1946-50) and North Durham (1951-63). Topped DSL batting in 1947. Consistent bat, his dominance shown in innings of 84 in 1951 when seven others failed to score. A picture in creams with weathered, walnut complexion and silvery hair. Valued employee at currency manufacturers De la Rue and played a few matches for Swalwell. Immense contribution as coach and groundsman. Discovered brown patches on Horden’s square. Bill dug up a sample and had it analysed by his doctor who diagnosed the cause as arsenic.
League record : Over 9,000 league runs (av 35)
Reyrolle won a ‘hat-trick’ of TSL titles in 1948-50. The core of the side was assembled from technicians in ‘reserved’ war-time occupations, the rest as the workforce swelled to 10,000. Handsome stroke-maker Billy Pickering was pro. In 1946 he just missed a third successive league hundred when dismissed on 92 and hit 1,016 in all. Diminutive, pale Pickering opened with ruddy and rotund George Baston. The middle-order bristled with three free-scoring all-rounders. Russell Pickering grunted in with groin-aching strides, Ernie Broome was poetry in motion. Dynamic post-graduate Peter Molloy bowled ‘chinamen’ and was the first ‘Aussie’ to play for Durham. With little wag Harry Hudson’s high- flighted leg-breaks Reyrolle had a bowler for all seasons. They attracted big crowds with rarely a spare seat in their double-decker pavilion.
Nine of Norton’s 1938 title team enjoyed another success in 1946. D.C.H.Townsend and Grigor were still match-winners. Two further titles in 1949 and 1951 made it six in 11 seasons. C.L. Townsend urged the club to buy the ground as it was being eyed by housing developers. Son David conducted negotiations, acquired a further twelve acres in the process. The new land was cleared by members and the present sports complex began to take shape.
India’s appearance at Ashbrooke in 1946 symbolised the return of peace-time cricket but the 1948 visit of Australia was the more memorable. Overcast skies did not deter 17,000 squeeze tight in anticipation, men and women in their ‘utility’ suits, most in hats. The invincible ‘Aussies’ had recently amassed 721 in a day against Essex. Heaven help the best available in Durham. Within minutes the Australians were 3 for 2. Don Tallon and boy wonder Neil Harvey the victims. Electric excitement. After half-an hour they were 22 for 3. Frenzied excitement. Dr F.I.Herbert and T.K.Jackson the war-torn heroes. Tall, left-arm Fred took 3 for 80 despite war wounds. Medium-paced Keith, after years in a POW camp, captured 5 for 76. No cricket cap peak jutted more defiantly than that of T.K.Jackson. (Re-christened ‘tea-cake’ that day in my euphoric, infantile humour.) Off-spinner N.W.Owen, nearly 700 league wickets while pro at Wearmouth, Sunderland and Bishop Auckland, conceded just 34 off 14 overs. Miller and McCool took toll of Laidlaw’s leg-breaks and the Australians totalled 282.
Durham opened with Dawson Harron, in fine form for Durham City, and Gordon Thompson, three post-war hundreds for Darlington but, of course, Miller and Loxton were a different proposition. At 25 both openers and Stan Robertson were back in the pavilion. W.A.Buffham and D.W.Hardy stood firm and Durham were 93-5 at close. Rain washed out the second day. Wally Buffham was a delightful stroke-maker for Stockton either side of the war. Tall with sleek, jet-black hair, he cut a dashing figure as war-time lieutenant with the Green Howards. Wally, a county regular, never owned a bat. All-rounder Don Hardy succeeded his father as club captain and R.B.Proud as county captain. Teak-tough Hardy was a law unto himself, ruled with a rod of iron : “I demand ability, concentration and, above all, guts and determination”. Hardy’s furrowed brow, echoing crinkly auburn hair, was testament to his own concentration. “As far as I am concerned,” said Hardy, “you can burn all records and averages.” Just for the record he made over 10,000 league runs for Boldon.
‘Bill’ Proud towered over Lindsay Hassett as they walked out to spin the coin. Proud hit 87 for Oxford in the 1939 ’Varsity match and played a few matches for Hampshire. He made his Bishop Auckland debut at 14 and scored 5,896 runs for the Kingsway club, imperious straight-drives a feature of his dashing approach. Arthur Austin completed the eleven.
Prominent footballers donned flannels for the summer. The seasons were virtually separate so they were able to combine both sports. Few were flannelled fools. Bobby Robson, now Sir Bobby and adulated ‘Magpies’ manager, played for Langley Park. When Wearmouth pro Len Shackleton opened with late swing to Sunderland team-mate and Yorkshire left-hander Willie Watson the ‘gate’ was £230. DSL barred Watson from playing as amateur. ‘Raich’ Carter took his place! Other DSL pros included Lindy Delapenha (Middlesbrough) and Ted Purdon (Sunderland). Charlton Athletic manager Jimmy Seed who played cricket for his village club Whitburn recommended they sign his inside-forward Syd O’Linn, a left-hand bat. Syd brought along fellow-South Africans Stuart Leary and Ken Kirsten and the trio transformed Whitburn from wooden-spoonists to champions in 1950. Next year O’Linn and Leary began successful careers at Kent and O’Linn went on to play seven Tests. One trivial event illustrates both the keenness and consideration engendered by war and the scarcity of money after it. Rain prevented a start at Wearmouth and spectators were refunded their entrance money at tea-time even though play had not been abandoned. The players waited patiently for the rain to cease. Play began at six and Whitburn were only three short of victory when time ran out.
Freed from war work (and all need to bake seagull pie) women’s cricket forged a stronger base. Girls’ schools played more cricket. An Equipment Loan Scheme was set up to help new teams. Clubs were affiliated to Northumberland & Durham Women’s Cricket Association. Durham Women’s Cricket Association re-formed in 1950. These were encouraging developments but it remained difficult for women to establish a strong foothold and there was an element of self-consciousness in women’s attempts to promote their cricket : “Women shine particularly at fielding, are very eager, waste no time when changing over, and are always cheerful players”.
 O. Barrass : A History of South Moor Cricket Club