Staunch Lancashire cricketer
Friday 29 December 2006
Robert Berry, cricketer: born Manchester 29 January 1926; twice married; died Manchester 2 December 2006.
Bob Berry was a small, slow left-arm bowler with distinguishing quiff of fair hair and a big grin, who appeared in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was accurate, economical and a skilful flighter of the ball, learning his trade in those searching finishing schools the Lancashire leagues.
Nowadays, he would not have hesitated and might have gone straight to Sussex or Kent, but in 1948 county loyalties were still strong and he duly arrived at Lancashire to make his début that year. Already at Old Trafford were a lanky seamer named Roy Tattersall, who was about to be converted into an England off-spinner, and another slow left-armer, Malcolm Hilton, who won worldwide fame the same year by bowling Don Bradman.
All three spinners were to play for England, with varying success, and were consequently worth a place in a county team, but even Lancashire, sympathetic as they were to finger spin, backed by the best close field in England, could not play all three on anything like a regular basis and it was clear that eventually one would have to leave to advance his career.
Berry and Hilton were thus the fiercest of rivals and the best of friends. Berry became the front-runner in 1950 and, after taking five wickets in a Test trial, made a startling début for England with nine wickets in the first Test against West Indies. Despite tight bowling at Lord's in the second Test, he went without a wicket as West Indies went on to their first win in England, and was dropped. Chosen for the Australasian tour the following winter, he failed to win a Test place.
By 1953 he was indisputably Lancashire's number one, taking 93 wickets at an average of 18.97, including a 10-102 against Worcestershire at Blackpool, the third Lancashire player to perform the feat. Two years later, his star fading, he was playing for Worcestershire, until 1958, and from there joined Derbyshire until he retired in 1962. He was the first cricketer to win three county caps.
In his career he took 703 wickets at an average of 24.73. He never aspired to be more than a tail-ender with the bat but was recognised as an excellent outfielder. He was highly popular cricketer, with a renowned sense of humour, and on his retirement became a successful hotelier in the Midlands.
He is often referred to as a pigeon-fancier, which is a myth arising from an incident at Chesterfield, which ended with his collecting a captured intrusive pigeon off the pitch and taking it to its reported owner, who disclaimed it. There was much scurrying, a long hold-up in play and a very disgruntled Derbyshire captain, who thought that the hullaballoo could have cost him his century.
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