Geoff Pullar: Cricketer noted for his calm temperament whose batting average was better for England than for Lancashire

 

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The Independent Online

The former England cricketer Geoff Pullar was a proud Lancastrian held in great affection by team-mates and supporters, not least for his record against Yorkshire.

A left-handed batsman with an upright stance and a sound technique, he made five centuries in Roses matches, including two in 1959, when the old enemy would win the first of seven County Championship titles in 10 seasons but who were defied by Pullar in both of the summer’s Roses fixtures, at Old Trafford in May and Bramall Lane, Sheffield, in August, winning neither.

He made a third 100 against Yorkshire in September – before lunch on the opening day for good measure – in the end-of-season match between the Champions and The Rest at The Oval. It was the year that established him as a batsman of considerable merit; he was one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year in the 1960 edition.

He had made his county debut in 1954 as an 18-year-old and exceeded 1,000 first-class runs for the first time in 1957. Midway through the 1958 season his captain, Cyril Washbrook, noted a tendency for Pullar’s concentration to lapse and sent him for a spell with the Second XI. It turned out to be a master stroke. Back in the senior side, Pullar made two 100s and four 50s and began the following season with an extraordinary run in which he made a half-century at least in 11 of his first 12 innings, twice going on to 100. The 1959 season would bring him 2,647 first-class runs at an average of 55.14, and the first three of his 28 Test caps.

Pullar’s Test career was notable in that his average for England (43.86) exceeded his career first-class average (35.34) and for the fact that he made his four Test 100s and 12 half-centuries playing as an opener. It was a role he had never filled for Lancashire, but his solid technique and phlegmatic temperament persuaded the selectors to try him at the top of the order. Pullar responded with 75 on his debut in the third Test against India at Headingley, followed by 131 at Old Trafford – the first Test century scored by a Lancastrian on his home ground.

His character served him well on the 1959-60 tour to West Indies, when he courageously took on a fearsome bowling line-up that included Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Chester Watson. His top score was only 66 but he averaged 42.77 as England won a series in the Caribbean for the first time. Team-mates found his unflappable nature a source of comfort; Ted Dexter remarked that there was no more reassuring sight when England were due to bat than Pullar sitting calmly at the back of the changing room in his scruffy jockstrap, drawing on a cigarette.

In the 1960 home series he scored a career-best 175 against South Africa at The Oval, putting on 290 for the first wicket with Colin Cowdrey. He would later express regret that he did not go on to make a double hundred, blaming his smoking habit for compromising his stamina. Stamina was not lacking on the 1961-62 winter tour, in which he batted for seven hours to make 165 against Pakistan in Dacca, sharing an opening stand of 198 with his Lancashire colleague, Bob Barber, that remains the highest by two left-handers for England.

He fared less well against Australia in 1961 and on the Ashes tour of 1962-63, when the renowned left-arm fast bowler Alan Davidson seemed to have his measure, although it was injury rather than form that brought an end of his international career. Struck down with a knee problem in the fourth Test in Adelaide, he did not play for England again.

He was somewhat injury-prone, sometimes to the amusement of colleagues, who thought he would do anything to avoid long spells in the field. Once, after complaining of a bruised toe in a match at Old Trafford, he withdrew to the dressing room to find his team-mates had moved the physio’s couch next to his locker and had placed on it a cushion, a heat lamp, a glass of beer and one of his favourite cowboy novels in readiness for his arrival.

He was said to be annoyed initially but soon saw the funny side, even though his catalogue of mishaps was hardly an invention. During his career he suffered three broken wrists, a broken finger, a broken toe, missed the 1963 season with his knee injury and had bouts of dysentery and pleurisy on tour. Although he was a cricketer for 17 years, he reckoned that, taking off matches missed, he played for the equivalent of only 10 full seasons. However, he would also point out that had he not been ruled out of National Service because of weak ankles he might never have become a cricketer in the first place.

He was known by the nickname Noddy, although not, as once was thought, because of his propensity for nodding off in the dressing room as he waited to bat. It was coined by his Lancashire colleague Ken Grieves, who likened Pullar’s red Triumph TR3 to the sports car Enid Blyton’s Noddy drove around Toytown. 

Born in Swinton and brought up in Oldham, where his primary school adjoined Werneth CC, for whom he would play in the Central Lancashire League, he left Lancashire for Gloucestershire in 1969, exile softened by a good contract. Retiring with an aggregate of 21,528 first-class runs at 35.34, and 41 centuries, he returned to Lancashire, bought a fish and chip shop in Wigan, swapped it for another in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, then set up a sandwich shop in Knutsford where he settled.

Always a keen driver, he also worked for a private hire company and was still ferrying travellers to Manchester Airport until a couple of weeks before his death. A junior table tennis international in his youth, he took up golf in his later years and was a long-standing member of Heyrose Golf Club.

Geoffrey Pullar, cricketer: born Swinton, Lancashire 1 August 1935; married Pat (two daughters); died Knutsford, Cheshire 25 December 2014.

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