Dennis Brookes

Northants cricketer
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The Independent Online

Dennis Brookes, cricketer: born Kippax, Yorkshire 29 October 1915; married (two daughters); died Northampton 9 March 2006.

Reading or hearing a Northamptonshire score, the reaction was, for decades, "How many has Brookes got?" Dennis Brookes, to those unlucky not to be born in England's heart, was the county club's one-man batting order.

He played from 1934 to 1959, 492 matches, scoring 28,980 runs, which puts him among the top 60 scorers in history. From a lad who learned to bat against a lamp-post, in a Kippax street, near Leeds, he became, if not the most famous, certainly one of the most illustrious players to wear the maroon cap and Tudor Rose.

Nor did he follow the usual route to Wantage Road as a discard from Headingley or Old Trafford. He was 16 when he scored 145 for a local league club and, spotted by a Northamptonshire scout, was invited for a trial. Three years later, in 1934, he made his début at Bradford and by 1939 was the county's regular number three.

Brookes's sound defence and native caution in choosing his shots made him a regular and heavy collector of runs, mostly with well-timed drives or cuts and glides. He was not a spectacular player but, in a team that finished bottom of the championship for seven of his first nine years, his was always the light at the end of the tunnel.

After the war, which he spent in the RAF, he opened the batting and was chosen, along with other hopefuls, for the 1947-48 tour of West Indies where a finger injury, followed by an infection, ended his Test career. Back home, excellent as his credentials were, he was never likely to displace Hutton or Washbrook.

By the 1950s Northamptonshire had assembled, under a swashbuckling captain, Freddy Brown, and by skilful manipulation of the qualification regulations, a team of some talents, including three top-class Australians and players from seven other counties. After several amateur candidates were considered, Brookes became the first professional captain, commanding this legion for four seasons from 1954, during which time he led them from seventh to second in the table. He steered his county to their first victory over Yorkshire in 40 years and to their first ever win at Old Trafford.

He scored a century against every county, his last coming, to his great satisfaction, against Yorkshire. During Brookes's reign, Northamptonshire, said the official history, "were as well run and successful as a cricketing county of such a size could reasonably expect".

Seventeen times he exceeded 1,000 runs in a summer, passing 2,000 six times. In 1949 he scored 267 against Gloucestershire and in 1952 he averaged 47. He continued playing as Second XI captain and was rightly elected president, for 1982-84. He became a JP and distinguished elder statesman of the county, living, for many years, in a house whose back garden gate opened on to the members' car park. Where else?

Derek Hodgson

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