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Lancashire's spectre of a gentleman captain

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Mihir Bose | 15:37 UK time, Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Much has been written about Lancashire being on the brink of their first outright County Championship title since 1934 – victory over Surrey this week would guarantee the crown.

Seventy-three years is a long time to wait and it is right that the focus should be on this Lancastrian cricketing hurt.

Yet I am a bit surprised that 1950, a season in which they shared the title with Surrey, has not received more attention.

For a start, two seasons afterwards Surrey began their sequence of seven Championships in a row, a run which has never been bettered and, on a personal note it was towards the end of that sequence that I took to cricket and - like all little boys who always adore champions - made Surrey my team.

How refreshing, incidentally, it is to make this statement of support for a team and not expect showers of abuse. If I were ever to talk about my childhood fondness for a particular football team, fans of other clubs would bombard me with claims that I could not possibly be neutral.

But I have always had a soft spot for Lancashire too. My love for cricket was deepened by reading the famous Manchester-based cricket correspondent Neville Cardus. I had the privilege of lunching with him just a few weeks before he died.

In the 1970s I had much pleasure in seeing the great Lancashire one-day teams of Clive Lloyd, Farokh Engineer, little Harry Pilling and of course, the captain Jackie Bond.

Lancashire’s captain during that title-sharing season of 1950 was a certain Nigel David Howard.

The following winter he led the MCC touring team to India and Pakistan and captained England in India in the Test series (Pakistan were yet to gain Test status).

He played for England only four times, all as captain. He drew his first three Tests, won the fourth in Kanpur then he was taken ill.

England were led by Donald Carr in the fifth in Madras, which India won, recording her first ever Test victory. Howard never again played for England.

In the summer of 1952 England had their first professional captain in Len Hutton, which marked the slow death of the old world of gentleman (amateurs) and players (professionals).

Howard was very much a gentleman. If he was the youngest to captain Lancashire it was because counties would rarely give the role to professionals.

Cricket was not his livelihood and he retired from cricket to run the family textile business.

Cyril Washbrook

In his obituary Wisden recorded that in 1950 “greatly assisted by [Cyril] Washbrook, his senior professional (above), he led the county to the top of the table”.

That Wisden quote sums up a lost cricket world and its implication is clear.

As gentleman captain Howard would not even have shared the same dressing room as his senior professional Washbrook, (the players had their own dressing room).

Howard was captain because he was a gentleman but required the assistance of the real player to achieve anything worthwhile on the field.

Even in his best seasons as a batsman in 1948 and 1950, Howard did not average more than 37.

Nevertheless I find Wisden’s assessment a trifle grudging.

So perhaps if Lancashire win at Surrey this week, as I do hope they do, some of their followers will remember the gentleman captain who led them to half of the title back in 1950.

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