Stalwart of Essex cricket
Wednesday 15 February 2006
Gordon Barker, cricketer: born Leeds, Yorkshire 6 July 1931; married (one son, one daughter); died Chelmsford, Essex 10 February 2006.
If a word had been coined exclusively to describe the cricketer Gordon Barker, then it would be "stalwart". For 444 first-class matches Barker, born in Leeds but frustrated in his wish to play for Yorkshire, would be most likely to emerge to open the innings for Essex. He rarely disturbed scorers, statisticians or biographers, but year in, year out, rain or shine, Barker made runs and took catches, mostly from close in, and in 15 of those summers he passed 1,000 runs.
He was spotted by Essex while playing on National Service and when he joined the county club in 1954, it was reported that he had scored two centuries in one week, one for the Army and one on début for Essex against the Canadians at Clacton. He was capped the following year before Wisden predicted, "There is a solidity about him and he may be the sheet anchor for some time to come." By 1957, he had formed a regular partnership with the more aggressive Dickie Dodds; they complemented one another both temperamentally and technically.
Barker was a dapper little right-hander, who occasionally bowled, and a first-rate slip. He also played on the wing for Southend United, scoring nine goals in more than 50 Football League appearances. One of his outstanding matches for Essex came in 1959 at Westcliff when Essex needed 211 to beat Kent on a wearing pitch. Barker, "driving splendidly and without fault for three hours 20 minutes, hitting 17 fours", reported Wisden, hit 105 out of a total of 193, but Kent won by 17.
Barker's modesty was illustrated by an incident in Jim Laker's first match for Essex in 1962. The arrival of the great off-spinner, even in his autumn, was hailed as "like signing George Best" and there was much anticipation when Laker bowled his first ball in new colours, at Valentine's Park, Ilford. It dropped on its accustomed spot, turned and caught an inside edge and flew to Barker, at short leg, who dropped it. Trevor Bailey recalled:
I must say, in Gordon's defence, that he had not fielded in that position before to a bowler of that calibre. His only complaint, apart from fury at missing the chance, was that it earned him bigger headlines than when he scored a century.
In his career, he scored 22,228 runs at an average of 29.21, hit 30 centuries and took 236 catches.
Barker served cricket in retirement, becoming a sports teacher, coach and eventually groundsman at Felsted School, where his pupils included the future Essex and England cricketers Derek Pringle and Nick Knight.
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