Tommy Greenhough: Spin bowler who overcame injuries to play for Lancashire and England

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The Independent Online

Tommy Greenhough, who has died aged 77, was that rare jewel, a genuinely talented English leg-spin bowler who played first class cricket for Lancashire from 1951 until 1966. Successfully overcoming a series of debilitating injuries that would have ended the career of all but the most courageous, he went on to become the first Rochdale-born cricketer to play for England.

His career seemed set fair when, having broken all local league records, he first signed for Lancashire, aged 16, in 1948. However, amid winter employment in a local mill, falling 40 feet down a hoist, he broke his wrist and badly damaged both ankles. On being told that there was little prospect of him ever playing cricket again, Lancashire summarily cancelled his contract.

Somehow Greenhough managed to persuade the Old Trafford Committee to re-engage him on a weekly contract while he proved his fitness. Ultimately rewarded for his dogged determination, over the years, he steadfastly emerged as one of the great characters of the game. Few who saw him bowl will ever forget the enthusiastic hops and skips that constituted his highly individual run-up. Always a prodigious spinner of the ball with a well-disguised googly, on a wicket with a hint of bounce he could prove unplayable.

He finally made his first class debut in 1951, but an unfortunate series of finger injuries further delayed his progress and it would be another five years before he would cement a regular place in the side. Then, forming a powerful triumvirate with his fellow spinners Malcolm Hilton and Roy Tattersall, he took 66 wickets, was awarded his county cap and toured in the winter with the Duke of Norfolk's XI.

However, as time went on, increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity, in 1958, he seriously considered leaving the game. Only a firm guarantee of more regular cricket by the Lancashire captain Cyril Washbrook brought a last-minute change of mind.

The following year, fully repaying his captain's trust, he not only took 122 wickets but won the first of his four Test caps, against India at Trent Bridge. In the second Test, at Lord's, amid 16 captivating overs, he took 5 wickets for 36 runs and could easily have had more if the wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans had not missed a number of stumpings. Much more disappointingly, earning the ire of the umpires, he was controversially charged with unlawfully damaging the wicket with his follow-through.

Time spent remedying the problem forced him to miss the next two games, at Headingley and Old Trafford. Happily, recalled for the final Test, at The Oval, he was subsequently selected for the victorious MCC winter tour of the West Indies (1959-60). The following season, again riding high in the averages, in his only one Test appearance that year, against South Africa at The Oval, he took 2-99 in 44 overs.

While he was also a doughty lower-order batsman, with a top score of 76 not out, it is his incomparable artistry as a bowler that ensures his place among the game's élite. In all he played 255 first class matches for Lancashire, taking 751 wickets at an average of 22.37. Notable among many match-winning returns, his best dates from his benefit year, 1964, when in the final game of the season, at New Road Worcester, he took 7-56.

Surprisingly released by Lancashire two years later, Greenhough seamlessly returned to local league cricket before forging a new career in local government administration. Later, successfully moving into coaching, he made a most positive contribution to the game at its grassroots level.

Kenneth Shenton

Thomas Greenhough, cricketer: born Cronkeyshaw, Lancashire 9 November 1931; married; died Rochdale, Lancashire 13 September 2009.