In a further contribution from former Pro Geoff Lawson he takes a look back on the glory days of international overseas players, some of the great West Indians to play league cricket, and some of his former teammates at Crimble:
The CLL has had a long history of employing current and former Test cricketers as professionals. Sadly the progression of the international program and mutated visa regulations has put an end to the best players in the world gravitating to the Leagues all across Britain not just in Lancs and Yorks. and more’s the pity (I recall Rishton of the Lancashire League employing Viv Richards in 1987 when he was at his peak of batting ability).
Of course Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Franklin Stephenson, Curtley Ambrose, Andy Flower and a host of others have been integral to the CLL being a competition that beckoned those from across the cricket playing globe.
Competing in the Leagues was seen as an integral ingredient for any aspiring players education, on and off the field. When I was a 12 year old catching the bus from my relatives house in the Sydney beachside suburb of Maroubra with my older brother to watch the 1969 Sydney Test match, the thought of ever playing against any of the West Indians was beyond fantasy.
My Dad had driven up from Wagga Wagga (about a 7 ½ hour trip in those days) to pick up our new Pontiac from the Holden factory – the old man loved his Yank tanks (and as the owner of a service station he could afford the petrol) and the opportunity to go to the SCG was irresistible.
Wagga is actually closer to Melbourne than Sydney by a couple of hours but the SCG was always seen as the home of cricket for us New South Welshmen. As we rushed onto the forecourt of the old Sheridan Stand I took up a possie on the fine leg fence (I could only just see over it because the concourse was set below the level of the playing surface), Allan Connolly was bowling from the southern end (which as an SBC commentator I was to rename the “UNSW End“ almost 30 years later) and Rohan Kanhai was facing up. Allan Connolly gave me his autograph which I still have. A decade later the same man was facing up at The Crimble and it was GF Lawson running in – such moments are not lost on me.
I’m not sure how old Rohan was in 1979 but it would be fair to say that he was not at his peak, (he did top the averages and aggregates that year!) nevertheless his innings in the Wood Cup semi final was the difference between a win and a loss in a very tight game (catches win matches lads …..I’m almost over that one as well). Some great players do not lose their class and he was one of those.
Colin Croft was at Royton that year and fortunately for most batsmen in the League it was a wet (wetter than usual I was told – hate to see a really damp season!) summer and the pitches were very slow and the footmarks often bog holes – Crofty had that significant splay of the front foot and needed a firm purchase as he delivered to generate his full pace. I faced him on some hard Australian tracks and he was nasty indeed with the angle in and the seam away.
‘Franco’ Stephenson was having his ‘gap‘ year at Littleborough before commencing a long and fruitful carer at Notts – his slower ball was the forerunner of much of what we see in contemporary T20 cricket. To that time Rohan Kanhai was the ‘greatest‘ player I had ever been on the same field with or against, I can honestly say that it was an honour then and remains so to this day.
Of course the ‘local‘ pros knew the conditions well and knew how to make the most of them with clever seam bowing D V Parker or craftily playing the ball late like Albert Ross and Stewart Wales
One lesson to be learned as a young aspiring professional is that here must be respect for the opposition and in particular the amateurs that turn up every week from their places of work to play a very competitive sport.
I loved playing club cricket at home and competed just as hard for UNSWCC as I did for NSW or Australia. When asked what I thought of the standard of Australian Club cricket my response was “they are amateurs playing with a professional attitude“. And that’s what I also saw in the northern Leagues. Skill has its place but attitude commands the performance.
Having a drink or three Friday night is the club cricketers way of preparation that was denied him (or her, Kate) due to work commitments during the week. It was never my place to ‘tut tut’ Fare or Lamb or Hall or McLellan or “insert Heywood players name here“ if they chose to take the tension out of their minds and bodies at weeks end.
Graddie of course saved his celebrations until given permission by the road manager at the conclusion of each fixture – a real amateur with a pro outlook! Fare of course needed little incentive to commence his relaxation theory after Tuesday nets. Colin Gradwell was a quality player, you could see by the footwork and ease of timing that he was a serious batsmen at his peak, his catching at slip, when Wally Devine let them go, was outstanding and went a long way towards our many victories. Pros do appreciate when the edges get taken.
Wally was a youthful, bounding, effective presence with the gauntlets and not afraid to appeal whenever the occasion marginally presented. Bowling pros also appreciate ‘keepers who shout loudly and often. Fare could catch too. Championship success is so often built on the quality amateurs and we had our share.
Perhaps with the nation polling to leave the EU (seriously you people??!!) the cricket leagues of the UK may find a way to get promising young players returning from the dominions to learn their trade and add value and entertainment. I will always advise young Australian cricketers to do so, and if the play at Crimble then all the better.