Cyril Washbrook was one of Lancashire's - and England's - finest batsman.
He was born in Barrow, the village near Clitheroe, on 6 December 1914, but by the time his cricket was developing sufficiently to attract the interest of Warwickshire and Worcestershire as well as Lancashire, he was attending Bridgnorth Grammar School. He nearly did not join Lancashire. He failed to get into Birmingham University, where he would have taken a degree in brewing, only because he had not done a written paper in art. If he had, and had gone to university, he would have joined Warwickshire as an amateur. Instead he went straight from school to join Lancashire as a professional.
When Washbrook arrived at the railway station for Old Trafford in April 1933, he was making only his second visit to the ground. A tall man, carrying a bag, had also left the train and the 18-year-old Washbrook asked if he could tell him the way to the ground's main entrance. The man said he was going there and would show him the way. 'What are you, a batsman or a bowler?' he asked Lancashire's latest groundstaff recruit. 'A batsman,' said Washbrook. 'There's not much chance for batsmen here,' grunted the man who turned out to be Sydney Barnes, then 60 years old and a bowling coach at Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, Washbrook made the sort of immediate impact that must have left the likes of Buddy Oldfield, still waiting for his debut after four years on the staff, scratching his head in wonderment. He scored 202 not out for the second team against Yorkshire, was thrust into the first team, and in only his second game there he scored 152 against Surrey at Old Trafford. He was sitting in the junior players' dressing room later when Barnes came in, patted him on the shoulder, pointed out to the wicket, and said simply 'Well played.'
Washbrook went on to become the county's finest post-war batsman and an opener to stand alongside Archie MacLaren in a Lancashire team of all time. His career spanned twenty-six years and his total of runs for Lancashire — and in all first-class matches — stands third behind only Ernest and J. T. Tyldesley.
But for the war he would have been Lancashire's most prolific run-scorer. In the five years up to the war he scored nearly 8,000 runs for Lancashire alone; in the five years after he scored more than 8,000. A similar volume of runs in the six years of the war would have taken him to over 36,000 for Lancashire — against the 27,863 (34,101 in all matches) he scored — and would have given him a hundred centuries.
Washbrook scored seventy-six centuries — fifty-eight of them for Lancashire — and believed he would have reached 100 regardless of the war if he had not become captain. 'I began to bat a little lower in the order to strengthen the middle of the batting,' he said. 'At that stage we were either in the cart or not going quickly enough, and I got out a number of times after getting 50 when normally, as opener, I would have gone on to a hundred.' Washbrook scored six centuries in his first two seasons as captain, but only one, against Hampshire in his last season, in the last four years. 'I was very proud to be captain of Lancashire,' he said. 'But it was a position I never coveted. I enjoyed it but I'm not sure I wouldn't have been happier just to have continued opening and scoring more runs. But I was a lucky captain. I had a decent set of chaps and I was the Boss and they knew I was the Boss.'
Washbrook had been through a hard school and demanded the same sort of dedication, discipline and self-control he himself had always practised. He never once spared himself in the cause of Lancashire cricket and expected his men sternly to follow his example so that he became, in a sense, a bogey man to the many newcomers Lancashire fielded in those rebuilding days. He tried desperately hard to see the point of view of the new generation, but instead of becoming a father figure, he assumed, undoubtedly without being aware of it, the role of all-demanding schoolmaster. Eric Todd, who wrote for the Manchester Evening Chronicle, said Washbrook was a lonely man after Place and Ikin retired. 'I have nothing in common with this team,' he once told Todd, who added 'This might have explained why Lancashire won nothing under Washbrook's captaincy, although being unpopular or feared did not affect his own performances.'
Certainly, Lancashire had a good enough side to have won the title, particularly in his final year when Geoff Pullar, Ken Grieves and Alan Wharton all exceeded 2,000 runs with Bob Barber and Peter Marner getting 1,000, and Brian Statham, Ken Higgs and Tommy Greenhough all taking 100 wickets. But Lancashire were fifth that year, 20 points behind the winners, Yorkshire, which was exactly the same margin between themselves and Surrey when they finished runners-up in 1956.
When Washbrook retired, he had completed exactly 500 games for the county, a figure exceeded only by Jack Sharp, Ernest and J. T. Tyldesley. He regarded the high spot of an illustrious career which included thirty-seven Test matches with six centuries and 2,569 runs for an average of 42.81, as being asked to tour Australia, which he did twice. And one of the greatest moments of his career, naturally, was the 98 he scored against the Aussies in 1956 when he was recalled to the team at the age of 41 and after a six-year absence. He was a Test selector himself at the time and was asked by the chairman, Gubby Allen, to go and order the beer while they discussed him. 'He told me I had been chosen and I said "Surely the situation isn't as desperate as all that." But you don't refuse to play for England and I don't appreciate players of today opting out of Test matches. I was very glad to get to 98 in that Test match but another two wouldn't have done any harm. But I was pleased not to have let my co-selectors down.'
Washbrook became a member of Lancashire's committee soon after his retirement as a player and, apart from a two-year break, stayed on until 1988 when he was elected President, only the second professional player after Len Hopwood to be so honoured.
He was a magnificently aggressive batsman in the Golden Age mould, one who took the attack to the bowler, and was one of the finest cover fielders in England, following a great Lancashire tradition. He would have made just as good an amateur player as he did a professional, perhaps even better if he had been totally released from the reins in which professionalism naturally held him. He once said he would like to be remembered by people because he provided entertainment. He can rest assured he did that.
Extract from 'From the Stretford End', the official history of Lancashire County Cricket Club
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