Martin Horton: Cricketer whose all-round skills helped Worcestershire to their first two county titles
Wednesday 06 April 2011
As a county cricketer Martin Horton was in the first rank. A busy, intelligent all-rounder with Worcestershire, he combined the specialist roles of opening batsman and off-spinner so effectively that in 1961 he did the "double", with 1,808 runs and 101 wickets, the only opener since the war to perform the feat. County cricket was a relentless circuit of three-day matches, 35 in little more than four months of that long, hot summer, and between the gruelling coach journeys Horton, a strongly built man of average height, batted 66 times and bowled almost 900 overs.
He was a cricketer's cricketer, popular with team-mates and opponents alike. His cheerful disposition and easy sense of fun were part of what made Worcestershire one of the happiest county sides in those years, and that spirit turned to glory in 1964 when they won the championship for the first time in their history, repeating their success a year later.
The son of a Worcester publican who had been the Midlands heavyweight boxing champion, Horton made his first sporting mark aged nine – in the pub skittles team. Three years later, in May 1946, he fell in love with cricket when he was taken to the beautiful ground at New Road, Worcester to see the Indians, and such was his progress that within another three years, nearing his 15th birthday, he joined the ground staff there. For 10 shillings a week he fetched tea from the local café, rolled the outfield and sold scorecards. The following summer he topped the Second XI batting averages.
His progress was slowed by two years of National Service, but he could hardly have made a more eye-catching return in 1955. By tradition the summer's tourists opened their programme at Worcester, with a good turn-out of pressmen in attendance, and on the last afternoon the South Africans were caught on a wet pitch that suited Horton's off-breaks. He took nine wickets for 56 runs, inflicting on the Springboks their only defeat outside the Tests. He stayed in the team all summer and completed the "double".
He was not quite a cricketer of Test class. As a bowler, although he had an easy rhythm and a sharp brain, he lacked penetration on hard, true pitches. As a batsman, although he scored an exceptional 2,468 runs in 1959, he had a short backlift and a punchy, bottom-handed style that was not what the purists at Lord's favoured.
It was therefore something of a shock – both to the commentators andto Horton himself – when he wasselected to play for England against India in the first Test of 1959. England had returned from a disastrous tour of Australia and were looking for fresh faces, not least an off-spinner to take over from the aging Jim Laker. Horton scored 58 and in the second Test took two cheap wickets, but he had notconvinced the cognoscenti and hereturned to Worcester. "I thought I was very lucky to play," he said in later life, "but perhaps unlucky not to play alittle longer."
The following summer a skiddy ball from Kent's fast bowler Fred Ridgway cracked his knee-cap. The aftermath of the injury led to some loss of mobility, with a few of his team-mates nicknaming him Jake the Peg. For all that, his opening partnership with Don Kenyon was as solid as any in the country and his bowling continued to take wickets, both vital elements in the championships of 1964 and '65. His last game was at Lord's in September 1966, losing to Warwickshire in the final of the Gillette Cup, an appearance that they owed to his century against Hampshire in the semi-final.
He was blessed with a happy marriage. With their daughter he and his wife emigrated to New Zealand, where for 17 years he was the national coach, bringing forward a generation of cricketers who raised the country to an unprecedented level of success. Last autumn, in honour of this, he was awarded the prestigious Bert Sutcliffe Medal.
Returning to England, he was cricket professional at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, where he coached the young Dean Headley, and Chairman of Cricket at the county, where his quiet wisdom and gentle humour kept things in perspective. From the age of 12 he had been besotted with cricket – "If I could have," he said, "I'd have been happy to play for nothing" – and he retained that love.
For many years, on match days at New Road or at the winter-time meetings of local Cricket Societies, his cheerful face was ever in evidence. In the community of cricketers he was as popular as they come.
Martin John Horton, cricketer: born Worcester 21 April 1934; played for Worcestershire 1952-66, and two Tests for England (1959); married 1956 Margaret Cox (one daughter); died Worcester 3 April 2011.
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