Kenneth Cranston, dental surgeon and cricketer: born Aigburth, Lancashire 20 October 1917; married 1942 Mary Harrison (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1964), 1964 Joanne Legg (one son); died Southport, Merseyside 8 January 2007.
Cricket attracts comets, players who flash across the sky for a summer or two and then fade with the leaves. Most of them have been highly gifted amateurs who would first appear as a schoolboy scoring a century at Lord's for Eton or Harrow, depart to explore the Congo, fight the Boers or drive cattle in Kansas, before reappearing at Lord's to score a century for their county, without having put bat to ball in the meantime. If they could spare the time, they might turn out for England. Ken Cranston was possibly the last of the breed.
Cranston was the son of a Liverpool dentist and he and his elder brother Ronald, who died young, displayed outstanding cricketing ability at Liverpool College. In 1938 Ken Cranston attracted Lancashire's attention while playing for Neston and won high praise from their coach Harry Makepeace after a century against Yorkshire II. The Royal Navy had his services as a dental officer until 1945 but he continued his cricket whenever possible, for the Navy, Combined Services and the British Empire XI, and returned to weekend cricket with the Liverpool Competition after the Second World War.
His startling first-class début came after Lancashire had sacked Jack Fallows, a captain who had taken them to third in the Championship and who was popular both with members and the team. It was Fallows who, at a London hotel the previous summer, with food rationing still in place, was told that only four eggs were available for breakfast, between 12 players and the scorer. "Give them to the bowlers," said Fallows. "The batsmen can have them tomorrow."
But Fallows was 38, and averaged only 5.39 with the bat, so Lancashire turned to the county's leading amateur, Cranston, to lead the side into the golden summer of 1947. "I wanted to prove myself" he told Brian Bearshaw, Lancashire's most recent historian, later:
I knew I was a reasonable player and it is only by playing first-class cricket that you find just how good you are. I did enough in that short time to satisfy myself. I went to the West Indies at the end of my first season and it was all anti- climax after that. I had a family growing up and I wanted to establish myself in dentistry.
He was certainly star material. Tall, lean and dark, Cranston had the looks of a Hollywood actor, was a dashing number six, a handsome stroke player with an average of 40.16 who was just quick enough to open the attack, used the seam intelligently and in his two seasons took 142 wickets at an average of 23. Under Cranston, Lancashire finished third and fifth and won 21 Championship matches. Such was his impact that England chose him to play in the third Test against South Africa after only 13 first-class matches.
At Headingley in the fourth Test, he took four wickets in six balls to end the second innings. Country and county were convinced they had uncovered a diamond. Cranston was made vice-captain of the England team to tour West Indies in 1947-48 and, with the captain Gubby Allen injured, led England to a draw in the first Test at Bridgetown. He bowled well in the third Test at Georgetown, taking 4-78, his victims including Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott, and finished with 18 wickets in the series (25.61) but found the West Indies' bowlers hard work and could average only 14.93 in 14 innings.
Bradman's Invincibles, a better team, old men will tell you, than Ricky Ponting's Australians of 2006-07, were the 1948 tourists and Cranston was recalled by England for the fatal fourth Test at Leeds where Australia, set to score 404 in the last day, a task then thought to be virtually impossible, romped home by seven wickets. Despite the pleas of the Lancashire committee, Cranston then returned to his dentistry, captained Neston, played occasionally for Free Foresters and MCC - he hit 156 not out against the joint champions Yorkshire in the Scarborough Festival of 1949.
Bearshaw thought that Cranston's retirement at 31 might have been accelerated by a lack of empathy with his team. Not until 1953 were Lancashire prepared to recognise the outstanding leadership quality of Cyril Washbrook, senior professional and world-ranked opening batsman. Cranston himself was full of praise for Washbrook: "He was such an experienced player and he could have made me look such a fool."
Cranston was Lancashire's president in 1993-94 and a regular attender at Old Trafford, where he was also president of the former Players' Association, and Lord's until his death. At 89, he was England's oldest surviving Test player and is succeeded in that position by Arthur McIntyre of Surrey.