Chapter Nineteen……….1951-1959 Blossom of fresh colour

The 1951 Festival of Britain was “reaffirmation of faith in the nation’s future”.   New plastics and paints were exhibited to a hard-pressed society.   Durham clubs showed faith by revealing colourful professionals to add much-needed gloss to the scene.   Those affording a pro hired quality.   Alex Coxon and C.S.Nayudu were Test cricketers as might have been Ron Aspinall (ex-Yorkshire) but for injury.   P.A.H.Carey (later Dobree-Carey which might have been too high-falutin’ for Darlington) had played for Sussex after war-time cricket in India.   West Indies were represented by Dick Fuller and Stan Goodridge “who had arms down to his ankles and terrified everyone with his speed”.

The DSL title winged to and fro like a shuttlecock over the River Wear separating Sunderland and South Shields.   For five successive seasons they, and pros Coxon and Nayudu, fought battles royal.   Shields won it in the even years, Sunderland the odd.   Coxon retired from Yorkshire after taking 131 wickets in 1950.   “Two matches at the end of the season, when I bowled non-stop for three-and-a-half hours, virtually sealed my decision.”   Alex coached in Rhodesia, kept his eye in with a spot of big-game hunting.   Willie Watson advised Sunderland to sign him.   Coxon (qv) strode the scene like a Colossus.   A combative attitude riled opponents and their followers but his drawing power was immense.   Quick and supremely accurate, Coxon was unplayable on helpful wickets.   A wonderful, groin-bruising leg-cutter brought tears to many a batsman‘s eyes.   Coxon bagged five-or-more wickets in 14 successive league matches in 1953, averaged 4.7 wickets per league match for Sunderland.   He, Norman Pigg and Arthur Stephenson benefited from Ken Brown’s wicket-keeping.   As with West Indies, runs came from their three Ws : Wheatley, Washington and Westcott.   Westcott’s sound judgement and deft footwork were the basis of his fine stroke-play.   ‘Mandy’ Mitchell-Innes, ex-Somerset and England, made stylish runs when work as secretary to Vaux Brewery allowed.

PRO-FILE (No. 16)

ALEXANDER COXON

(b. Huddersfield, Yorkshire, 18 Jan 1916)

Ex-Yorkshire and England fast-medium bowler at Sunderland (1951-58), South Shields (1959-64) and Wearmouth (1965-66).   A few matches for Boldon in 1967.   Fine, consistent bat who twice topped DSL batting.   Hostile with the ball and with great control – 30% of overs were maidens.   Equalled Alf Morris’ feat of taking 100 DSL wkts in three successive seasons (1953-55).   In his first 11 seasons his club was never lower than third.   In same period he topped DSL bowling three times, was never lower than fifth and his cost-per-wicket was always in single figures.

League record : Batting      291 inns    46 not   6,856 runs     (av 27.9)

Bowling      1,271 wkts for 11,673 runs  (av 9.2)

Tales of Coxon are as much part of Durham cricket lore as those of Trueman in Yorkshire.   Coxon was rarely punished but it happened once at rainy Old Trafford.   Alex called for sawdust.   It was carried by an inexperienced lad who asked the mid-pitch huddle where to put it.   “Put ’t bugger there,” scowled Alex, motioning where he stood.   The lad took him at his word and dumped the sawdust in the middle of the wicket.   It was Coxon’s last game for Durham.   Alex was a fine coach.   Few under his tuition failed to express gratitude.   He even took time with the less gifted.   I remember him trying to get beefy Ken Danby to punch the ball with his weight.   “Heet it, Ken, heet it,” implored Alex from mid-off.   After each “Heet it” and feeble pat Coxon crept closer to a disconcerted Danby.   At last Ken “heet it” perfectly, smashed the ball on Coxon’s ankle and knocked him off his feet.   Doubled-up with laughter, we feared a tirade.   Grimacing in agony, Alex raised his head and hissed : “That’s better, Ken”.   Despite the fiery outbursts Alex always gave credit where due.

There was a frosty frisson between Coxon and Nayudu (qv) as northern grit tried conclusions with eastern mystique.   It stemmed partly from intense ‘derby’ rivalry before of crowds of 5,000, partly from desire to be “cock of the walk“.   Nayudu, brilliant fielder and slashing stroke-maker, bowled leg-breaks.   To purists his action was ungainly and a dipping left shoulder betrayed his googly but his quick flight and wizardry mesmerised locals.   It is doubtful if he bowled better than against Wearmouth when taking 9 for 18 in the warmth of 1957.   He captured all nine in 32 deliveries, sent back seven in 11 balls.

Over

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Batsmen faced a searching investigation of their ability to play spin when Nayudu was joined in attack by slow left-arm Malcolm Scott.   Brilliant stumper Dick Hornby completed a prial of predators.   Precocious Scott played for Newcastle United and was 11 years at Northamptonshire where he joined Colin Milburn, Peter Willey and wicket-keeper George Sharp.   Ken Land punched belligerently through the off, savagely pulled anything short.   Ken Thompson, tall and well-built, drove handsomely off the front foot.   Following work in Germany, Thompson played for Stratford-upon-Avon where his batting is remembered still.   Coxon was 43 when South Shields signed him.   He had lost some zip but none of his accuracy and bowled 25% more maidens than at Sunderland.   Shields were champions in 1961 after an agonising miss the year before.   They pursued Wearmouth all season, gradually eating up a 9-point deficit until trailing by just a point when the two met in the final match.   Wearmouth needed only draw to be champions so Shields declared at 147.   Opener Tommy Moffat watched helplessly while three batsmen departed for 3 runs.   Tommy relished such predicaments.   Moffat defied Coxon for 96 minutes, made seven insignificant runs.   The rest blocked eternally.   After 68 agonising overs Wearmouth were 47 for 8.   And champions.   The Shields Gazette pressman considered it “an outstanding display of still life”.

Coxon-Nayudu dominance was interrupted briefly by burly Dick Fuller when Seaham Harbour were crowned in Coronation year.   Fuller’s speed claimed 356 league wickets (av 7.7) in four seasons, heading DSL bowling in 1952-53.   Pacy Frank Forster was his chief ally.

Denis Dempsey set a new record of 116 league wickets when Swalwell were TSL champions in 1951.   Denis maintained he got 117, said “I have a plaque to prove it”.   Dempsey returned to Swalwell after a season as Chester-le-Street’s pro and Swalwell regained the title in 1954.   Fred Gregory led with 791 league runs supported by Ken Halvorson and Harry Clasper.   Clasper once called a young partner for a suicidal single.   With fatal consequences.   Sharp Harry, ever blunt, quickly absolved himself from all blame.   “That’s the trouble with young lads today – too stiff in the arse!”

Reigning champions Gateshead Fell had to settle for runners-up in 1953 for all N.G.Loraine and W.M.M.Robson fully exploited a wet summer.   Nev Loraine’s fluid action concealed spiteful ‘lift’.   His matchstick frame and red helmet sat incongruously atop the tiny moped he rode to matches.   Once, surely with a tail-wind, he was fined for speeding.   After trials at Warwickshire, Loraine signed for Kimblesworth where his 158 wickets in all (av 6.5) ensured the NWD title.   He sent back 641 batsmen in eight seasons as pro at Horden and Whitburn.   After a spell at Reyrolle he joined neighbours Leslies as amateur, not least to succeed against Reyrolle after they sacked him.   For all his hostile reputation on the field Loraine was quite diffident and once sulked off a disco floor “because the strobe lights up everybody’s shirt but mine”.   Dentist ‘Pat’ Robson extracted batsmen, rotten or not.   Robson had an unorthodox action, both arms cart-wheeling at point of delivery made off the ‘wrong’ foot.   Late in-swing veered toward three short-legs who helped him pocket almost 1,000 league wickets (av 7.4).   Spectacular success at Durham University culminated in 9 for 6 for English Universities.   Durham were UAU champions in 1953 when lightning Frank Tyson petrified opposing freshmen.   Eighteen months later ‘Typhoon’ Tyson was terrorising Australia’s best.

PRO-FILE (No. 17)

COTTARI  SUBBANNA  NAYUDU

(b. Nagpur, India, 18 Apr 1914; d. Indore, India, 22 Nov 2002)

Very popular all-rounder at South Shields (1953-58).   ‘Discovered’ by Jack Hobbs when a guest of Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram.   Hobbs made Nayudu aware that he was bowling googlies.   11 Tests for India; toured England in 1946.   Delivered a record 917 balls in a match in 1944.   Twice topped DSL bowling and was second twice.   Third bowler to take 100 DSL wkts in three successive seasons.   Dangerous batsman at club level with unconventional brand of stroke-play.

League record : Batting      111 inns     8 not     2,322 runs     (av 22.5)

Bowling      1,939 overs     404 mdns     4,832 runs     565 wkts     (av 8.6)

Fell’s fine batting featured Loraine, Robson, Jack Adamson, Ted le Jeune and Peter Carr who drove with blistering power.   They were succeeded by a rich crop of youngsters who included forceful Derek Cowell, speedy Tom O’Connor and sparkling G.C.Lamb whose father George devoted his life to Dryden Road.   I first encountered Charlton Lamb in a school match when, knee-high to a grasshopper, he came in at a critical stage and feathered three exquisite late-cuts to win the day.   ‘Charlie’ eclipsed Rothery’s DSL record with 1,041 runs in 1964 and had made 9,000 league runs (av 36) when work took him south.   Gateshead Fell engaged Ron Aspinall in 1957 after his whole-hearted endeavours at Durham City.   Aspinall’s off-spin was the final jig-saw piece to a talented young championship side.

Consett won TSL five times and were four times runners-up in 1953-1964.   All without a pro except for Cliff Wilson (ex-Worcestershire) in 1953.   Roxby Surtees conjured wins shrewdly and urged the last ounce out of his side.   Match-winning spinners Alan Moore and Harold Bitting gave chunky George Perks opportunity to execute brilliant stumpings.   Woe-betide any side if A.R.J.Steward got going on Blackfyne’s track.   Steward, a thunderous driver, hit a memorable hundred on return from honeymoon in 1953.   Dark clouds threatened Consett’s title dream.   Rain twice interrupted their reply.   Bert’s lightning century was made out of 129 without loss.   It won the crown and, literally, capped an extraordinary year.   His performance earned a county cap just three months after his club cap came off and dislodged a bail.   Steward was in the Crook side that won the FA Amateur Cup in 1954 and five years later experienced the thrill of holding aloft the cup at Wembley.   Bert was one of five cricketers to win Amateur Cup medals between 1954-64.   Jimmy McMillan (Kimblesworth) won four, Arnold Coates (Crook) two, one each for Ken Williamson (Norton) and Frank Clark (Lintz).

Darlington dominated NYSD for a decade.   Champions in 1950 and 1953-55, they lost only 22 of 220 matches.   Rev G.E.Holderness, later Dean of Lichfield, captained the early successes.   His was no passive role for his experiences as war chaplain in Burma stiffened the side’s resilience.   Paul Carey took 8 for 10 in 1952 to send back Stockton for 19 in time for everyone to watch the second half of the Cup Final.   Carey was succeeded as pro by Harry Clarke who played soccer for three League clubs and was pro at six cricket clubs.   Clarke, who turned out as amateur for Darlington between engagements, was a fiery bowler and his sharp wit enlivened the dressing room.

Darlington’s strong batting, dismissed only 28 times in those 220 matches, was led by three schoolmasters : openers A.W.Sanders and J.M.Camburn and Fred Robson an elegant stroke-maker who left to take up a headship in Berkshire.   John Camburn scored 9,791 league runs with front-foot drives that left cover-point helpless.   Hattersley[1] dedicates his history to ‘Hank’ Sanders, 50 years as player, coach, captain and secretary.   “A giant in stature and integrity…a caring and generous individual with a deep and genuine social conscience.”   Cold figures reveal 6,810 league runs, most leg-side.   Sanders, “the last Darlington player to bat in braces,” inspired local scribes to purple prose.   Hattersley recalls Hank’s braces snapping as a catch sped towards him.   “He grimly palmed the ball against his chest with one hand – and grabbed his trousers with the other”.   Sanders was forever fidgeting with his wardrobe at the crease although in one rapid innings he was “too busy to pay more than a perfunctory attention to his cap.   Even the nautical hitch to his trousers lost its customary rhythm as he ran some fine singles.”   Mostly he was less animated.   “Sanders measured run-getting in terms of geological epochs.   At 3.15 the Ice Age began to disperse.   The mastodon thawed out and a perfect cut past third man added four to the score.”

arlington’s 1950 success climaxed a thrilling race with Norton and Redcar.   All three were level with five to play.   Darlington beat Redcar in the penultimate match to pip Norton on run-average.   Yet Norton were strong in batting.   D.C.H.Townsend and Harry Thompson twice rubbed off huge totals to win by 10 wickets.   Thompson’s placement was supreme “bisecting fielders as accurately as if he used a slide rule.”[2]   University and Northumberland cricket claimed C.R.M.Atkinson.   His leg-spin was seen at Norton in only three seasons before he followed team-mate Tom Birtle into county cricket.   Atkinson left Somerset to concentrate on teaching but later took up the captaincy.   He returned to Millfield as headmaster and was chairman and president of Somerset.   Ken Williamson’s remarkable career began in 1947.   Educated at Barnard Castle, he excelled at football and squash and represented Durham at rugby and cricket.   Williamson claimed 651 wickets, scored 10,500 runs (av 38) and 11 hundreds.   Early runs accrued quickly with minimal back-lift before executing strokes of rapier deftness or the murderous finality of the broadsword.   It was said runs came so easily to Williamson that he did not always give of his best.   If true, bowlers must have been grateful for his audible, self-congratulation after a good shot did nothing to temper their annoyance.

Formed in 1931, Beamish and East Tanfield won NWD four times between 1953-60.   Scoring runs on their postage-stamp field was no problem, stopping the opposition not so easy.   All the more incredible they should sign a leg-spinner who tossed the ball high.   But then W.R.Roxby, gentleman of cricket, was an incredible bowler.   Roxby began at South Moor at 15 and represented Durham Colts before army service.   By 1950 he had passed 1,000 wickets.   He pocketed 350 when pro at Burnmoor and Langley Park, 940 in eight years at Beamish where one-legged Billy Embleton kept wicket.   Roxby was almost 50 when signed by Annfield Plain.   He rewarded them with 610 scalps in five years.   Bill could account for 2,947 dismissals when he took a well-earned rest in 1966.   George Linsley impressed Roxby at Burnmoor and was at Beamish for the duration of Roxby’s engagement.   The last of Linsley’s eight hundreds was the best.   He opened against Annfield Plain and stroked 19 fours in a magnificent undefeated 165 out of 197 for 8.

J.G. Keeler was a 15-year-old tot with a Harrow-size bat on debut for South Moor.   Keeler joined the Royal Navy.   In Sydney he was persuaded to turn out for St. George’s.   Sensitive to grim events, Jack felt a deep sense of guilt about playing in war-time but it made him realise how much he loved cricket.   He wore St George’s ringed cap for much of his career.   As county opener Keeler came to the notice of Coxon to whom he expressed gratitude for improving his technique.   As consequence Leicestershire offered a contract.   Without guarantee of a house ‘Chipper’ declined.   He accepted terms at Burnmoor and Chester-le-Street instead.   Keeler was a classy, little bat with wrists of steel.   He rose to the big occasion, most memorably with 90 and 97 against the West Indians.     Mention of rising to the occasion, Jack was at work at 6 am the day he made a brilliant 135 v the Indians.

Twelve-year-old Colin Milburn got a ‘duck’ in his first three league innings yet the chubby-cheeked 16-year-old was youngest to score a century for Burnopfield.   Even then he had all the attributes : sound technique; powerful cover drives that clunked against the club’s corrugated iron fence; effortless pulls that soared over it with an audible whirr.   Milburn marked a last home appearance with a hundred.   Chester-le-Street was next on the road to fame where a century was followed by 156 not out and 7 for 4 in a match against Horden.   It earned county selection as opener.   Colin, now 15 stones, gorged on Indian spin and hit 101 before being stumped.   At close he was hunting autographs in India’s dressing-room.   Next day he was at his desk at Stanley Grammar School.

Milburn made his Northamptonshire debut in 1960.   In 1966 he hit a century before lunch on three occasions, was one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year.   He opened for England.   Was run out for nought.   A concerned father went to the dressing-room to find Colin smiling.   “What you grinning at?” asked Jack.   Grin turned to laughter.   “Hang around long enough and you might see me bag a pair!”   England appearances were agony for mother Bertha.   “He wouldn’t let me watch when he was a little lad.   Now I can’t bear to watch him.”   Fame did not turn Colin’s head.   Down-to-earth parents saw to that.   The devil-may-care psyche had yet to surface.   When it did Bertha was perturbed, more than once said to me : “I just wish he could find a nice girl and settle down”.   Colin never forgot a name or face from his club days.   I last shared his company at Shotley Bridge’s centenary.   Ale and cricket talk flowed freely.   Half way through the day Milburn, the man who belted 181 between lunch and tea at Brisbane, telephoned his mam for permission to stay.   The rest of his, ultimately tragic, career lies beyond this story.

Dean Bank were Deerness League champions in 1924-25.   Johnny Gurkin took 100 wickets each year.   Dean Bank moved to the ground of Chapter Colliery before the war, emerged from it with a new ground as Dean & Chapter.   They were D.Co champions in 1949 and George Allison bagged 102 wickets.   Tall and well-built, Allison was 47 years a colliery blacksmith.   For relaxation he performed outstanding bowling feats notably 10 for 36 against Castle Eden when pro at Wheatley Hill, champions of D.Coast.   Allison signed for Coxhoe where he continued as amateur.   The club’s headquarters was the back room of the ‘Victoria’ where no social evening was complete without George singing Frankie and Johnny.   Dean & Chapter won D.Coast four years in succession.   It was nearly five.   Unbeaten in 17 matches in 1962, they were well clear with four to play.   Three were lost, the last to Shildon BR who were champions.   In those five years Dean & Chapter won 80% of matches and dismissed 80% of opponents for under 100.   Tommy Swainston regularly took 5-wicket hauls in a match-winning combination with Bobby Brewis.

Ushaw Moor formed in 1881.   They lost to Consett in an 1891 Challenge Cup Final that took 28 days to complete owing to rain and difficulties obtaining a ground.   Billy Harding took ill on the first day but recovered in time for the resumption three weeks later.   Ushaw Moor were elected to Durham County Junior League in 1893, scored 382 against Crook yet were defunct before the year was out.   The colliery gave “substantial aid” but subsequent appearances were spasmodic.   Entry to Deerness & District in 1921 began a nomadic journey into four leagues.   Ushaw held sway in Mid-D after engaging Gordon Thompson who often reached 1,000 runs.   McDermott and Jimmy Wood bowled them to three titles in 1956-61.   Esh Winning clattered their corrugated iron fence to the tune of 328 when crushing Croxdale by 241.   So many sixes sailed into a garden that an irate housewife threatened to keep the ball if it landed there again.   “You will be doing us a favour, missus,” replied a weary fielder.   The incident had its humour but was prologue to serious complaints of cricket balls landing on property.

Cricket was reported at Hylton in 1864 and Hylton Colliery were in existence at the turn of the century.    Champions in 1937, they dominated D.Coast after the war and won three titles each alternate year from 1948.   Prolific pro-batsman Harry Bell set them on their way.   His successor, W.G.Charlton, built on the foundation.   Bill Gowland and 19-year-old Tommy Thompson shot out Washington for 12 in 1957.   Their partnership sparked three successive titles in 1959-61, another in 1964.

[1] Robert Hattersley : Darlington Cricket Club from 1827

[2] William Bielby : A History of Norton Cricket Club (1847-1997)

Chapter 20

Chapter 18

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