OBITUARY : Norman Oldfield

The true measure of Norman "Buddy" Oldfield's stature as a batsman can be gleaned from his selection in 1939, for the last Test match before the Second World War, when the selectors could call upon middle-order players of the class of Hammond, Leyland, Hardstaff, Edrich and Compton.

In a match that ended 12 days before the outbreak of war, Oldfield scored 80 and 19, "a lovely first innings" according to Neville Cardus. Six years of hostilities ensured there would not be another. He did tour India, with a Commonwealth team, in 1949-50, scoring a century in three successive unofficial "Tests".

He had joined Lancashire in 1929 after playing against the county for his home-town club of Dukinfield. The professionals were amused to see this slight figure, 5ft 2in, lugging in a heavy bat. They were less titillated by his ferocious strokeplay. He made 72 out of 127 and was immediately signed.

Such was Lancashire's then power - champions in 1926-27-28-30 - that Oldfield had to wait six years to make his first-class debut. The coach, Harry Makepeace, had already nicknamed one diminutive professional "Bud" after the budding red rose emblem on sweater and blazer; meeting with another, he told Oldfield "You'll have to be Buddy." The name stuck forever.

Once through the door Oldfield scored 1,000 runs a season up to his selection for England. He and Cyril Washbrook were judged the outstanding talents in the Lancashire team of the late 1930s. Cardus, comparing Oldfield with Johnny Tyldesley, enthused, "If this man does not go to the top of the tree there will be a scandalous interference with destiny."

But when the war was over Oldfield returned to Lancashire to be offered the same terms as in 1939. With a family he needed security, so he and the all-rounder Albert Nutter went off into the leagues and then to Northamptonshire. An angry Lancashire committee banned both from Old Trafford. Brian Bearshaw, Lancashire's historian, remembers a letter from Oldfield's son Clifford, in Australia, telling how he was taken by his father to a Test match at Old Trafford but had to be handed over to the wicketkeeper George Duckworth, at the gate, to be admitted.

Frank Tyson recalled Oldfield at Northampton for Engel and Radd in their county history: "A small dapper man with a full head of black hair, who would sit by the window before going in to bat, smoking and blinking furiously. He might have been nervous but he was one of the best backfoot players I've ever seen, a fearless puller and hooker and a devastating cutter, even into his forties."

R.C. Robertson-Glasgow described Oldfield at his peak, in 1939, thus: "He has a beauty of stroke and a sort of quiet daring beyond the average four or five. He would surely have gone to Australia."

Oldfield did have the satisfaction of scoring a century for Northamptonshire at Old Trafford and peace was made when, after an umpiring career, he returned to Lancashire, as coach, saying: "I should never have left. The money would have caught up and they were the only team I ever wanted to play for."

Oldfield scored almost 18,000 runs at an average of 37, including 38 centuries, all of them, according to his peers, entertaining. He was, as they say in Dukinfield, a gradely lad.

Norman Oldfield, cricketer: born Dukinfield, Cheshire 5 May 1911; married (three sons); died 19 April 1996.

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