Obituary: Cyril Washbrook

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THE CRICKETER Cyril Washbrook formed with Len Hutton England's most famous post-war opening partnership, and he was as fierce in his Lancastrian pride as Hutton was in his for Yorkshire.

Like Hutton's, Washbrook's true career figures over 26 years were impaired by six years of war, yet there can be little argument that in his native county he was surpassed as an opening batsman only by Archie MacLaren and in England he would be among the first 10, possibly the first five, of the last half-century.

Washbrook was a small stocky man, nimble and quick enough to become one of the great cover points of his generation. His defensive technique was almost as good as Hutton's and if he could not match the Yorkshireman's peerless driving, he could pull and hook as well as any man on the planet; Washbrook enjoyed fast bowling.

He was an unmistakable figure on the field, faded Lancashire cap pulled over one eye, a prowling gait and a predatory eye fixed on the batsman, swift to pounce, fast and accurate in the throw. His whole demeanour proclaimed: "This is Lancashire and I am Washbrook." Opponents, even taciturn characters in baggy green caps, took the message and respected it.

As a boy born near Clitheroe in the first December of the First World War, he was of a generation that put duty and service first, and regarded application, dedication and self-control the major virtues. He always gave the best of himself and could never understand, when later he had to lead younger, more tolerant generations, that anyone could offer less. He came through a hard school and found it difficult to unbend.

Bob Bennett, a former Lancashire chairman and ironically the man later responsible for the England team's discipline, played for Lancashire as an amateur when Washbrook, always a professional, was the team manager. He bought a cream shirt and a new pair of slacks. "I thought I looked pretty smart," he said, "and I folded the shirt cuffs back a couple of inches. As we left the dressing room I passed the captain's door and was confronted by the manager. `Where are you going?' I mumbled something about going on the field. `On the field? Well, roll your bloody sleeves up. You're going out there to work, not to ponce about.' "

Washbrook's scores for Bridgnorth Grammar School attracted attention from Worcestershire and Warwickshire but, when he failed to win admission to Birmingham University, he accepted a professional offer from Lancashire. On his arrival at Old Trafford the bowling coach Sydney Barnes told him, "There's not much chance for batters here."

After he had scored 202 not out against Yorkshire II (Hutton got a duck) and then 152 against Surrey in his second senior match Barnes offered him a gruff "Well played". Brian Bearshaw, in his Lancashire history From the Stretford End (1990) points out that Washbrook scored 8,000 runs in the five years before the Second World War and a similar figure in the five years afterwards, and calculates that the war cost him some 9,000 runs and the extra 24 centuries that would have taken him past the magical 100.

England called him 37 times and he formed with Hutton the most famous partnership since Hobbs and Sutcliffe. He twice toured Australia, averaging 42, and his greatest triumph came in 1956 when, himself a selector, he was asked to return to play against Australia, at the age of 41, and scored 98. With Hutton, in Johannesburg in 1948-49, he scored 359 in 310 minutes, a record that stands.

When they were returning to the field after an interval an Englishman called to them: "You need another 30." The pair exchanged glances. "I don't know what that means, Cyril," said Hutton, "but we'd better get them."

Washbrook was Lancashire's first professional post-war captain and, when Surrey bowled his team out for 27 at Old Trafford, the Daily Express expected me to get some comment. I knocked politely, asked for "Mr Washbrook" and was confronted by this impassive, hard-eyed little man. I made my request, he looked at me icily for a second, said "No" and banged the door. So much for after-the-match quotes in 1958. Public relations, to most of Washbrook's generation, was a vague American concept. He courted neither publicity nor favour, content to be judged, to live and die by what he did when he wore the red rose or the lions of England. He later served England twice as a selector.

Neville Cardus, the ultimate Lancastrian, put Washbrook in perspective in a Guardian essay in June 1957, on the club's centenary: "There is Washbrook, still as dominating as MacLaren himself. There is Statham, honouring the fast bowling tradition. There is Hilton, as Lancashire as Eddie Paynter . . . and we have only to look at Tattersall to know we are at and of Old Trafford, bone of Lancashire's bone. The ground is full of ghosts. No cricket field has known greater players, greater games, rain or shine."

In 1988 Washbrook became only the second professional to be elected President of Lancashire. He could be spotted, on the committee balcony, pensive, distant, perhaps a man who could see the ghosts.

Cyril Washbrook, cricketer: born Barrow, Lancashire 6 December 1914; CBE 1991; married (one son); died Manchester 27 April 1999.