Paul Edwards talks to the Lancashire scorer Alan West about Taunton and Luneburg Heath...
The quest for precision has played a big part in Alan West's life. His education at the Manchester Grammar School, his undergraduate career reading Modern Languages at Downing College, Cambridge, and even his national service listening to the radio transmissions of the East German airforce on Luneburg Heath all placed him in environments where accurate knowledge was required.
So it is not surprising to hear that West took all of 20 seconds before deciding to apply for the job of Lancashire scorer when Bill Davis retired over 14 years ago. The opportunity to marry his capacity for the exact assembly of information with his lifelong love of the county's cricket was far too attractive to pass up. The fact that his experience was limited to childhood enthusiasm and the scoring necessary to broadcast for Radio Lancashire was surely no obstacle to his doing the work. "Scoring's not brain surgery, is it?" he said. "You need to concentrate and you need to be precise, and I've always had those qualities. When I applied, I told Lancashire's Cricket Secretary Dave Edmundson that I couldn't imagine a better job with which to finish my career."
That career had been spent in education, first as a teacher at Mill Hill, Bolton School and St Mary's College, Blackburn, then as an examination administrator, spending 14 years at the Joint Matriculation Board. Since 1998, though, West has been Lancashire's official scorer, recording their triumphs and disappointments with a shrewd eye and no fuss. "Before I started I had to have an interview with Dav Whatmore and John Crawley to make sure I wasn't a monster or a madman," he recalled. "Anyway, they took me on. I regard it as a reward for a lifetime's devotion to cricket."
Like the vast majority of people who spend much of their lives around the first-class game, West's love of cricket was fostered at a club. In his case this was Denton St Lawrence, where all his uncles played. He first came to Old Trafford in 1950 and the family connection with Lancashire was strengthened when his cousin Eileen married the county's slow left-armer Bob Berry. (The link was made even firmer much later when, after Eileen's death, Bob married Vera, the widow of another Red Rose left-arm spinner Malcom Hilton.) "Bob was a great bowler and an inspiration to me," said West. "I still plan to write a book about him and Malcolm."
Berry's selection for the Test Trial in 1950 prompted the young West to accompany Eileen to the second day of the game at Bradford, but the game ended before lunch, Jim Laker having taken eight for 2 on the first day of a contest played a drying pitch. Six years later he was at Old Trafford to watch Laker take his nine for 37 against Australia, only to have to return to national service having seen just one of the off-spinner's 10 for 53 in the second innings of the famous Ashes Test.
But the memorable days' cricket West has missed are comfortably outnumbered by those he has seen, and his recollections reflect no Lancashire prejudice. Yes, he agrees with many others that Brian Statham was both "a great player and a great man", but his batting hero was Len Hutton and he was proud to witness Viv Richards's 189 not out in the one-day international against England in 1984. He has a soft spot for Michael Atherton, not least because they attended both the same school and the same Cambridge college.
And so to Taunton 2011 and the moment West had waited 61 years to see. Watching him mark down the runs scored by Karl Brown and Steven Croft in their third-wicket partnership, it would have been easy to think that he was scoring an end of season game which was meandering to a draw. That, though, is part of the county scorers' style: however excited they may feel, they have to record what happens and it's incumbent upon them to do so in an undemonstrative manner. "In any case," adds West, with a casualness one rather doubts, "the big moment was when Warwickshire drew at the Rose Bowl. And I had said in the morning that Hampshire would bat all day and we'd win - but I don't know if I really believed it. When Steven Croft hit that boundary, I just recorded the four and then went down to the outfield. I finished off scoring afterwards."
One senses that the depth of West's pleasure when Lancashire won the title was comparable to that of any of the players, even if it was less effusively displayed. (His pithy, two-word description of a day's cricket at Hove in 2008 during which Stuart Law and Gary Keedy had carved out a winning position still prompts a chuckle from the hacks who heard it.) West enjoys his sport partly because he understands its place in his life. He rightly takes deeper pleasure in the fact that his three sons all read mathematics at Cambridge before going on to build careers as professional musicians.
This sense of perspective has helped him in other respects too When he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma early in the 2010 season, he approached the matter in typical fashion. "I knew I was ill but the doctors said it was treatable," he said. ' "Well, you get on and treat it" I told them. "That was end of story really. I returned to scoring this June." Precise facts and no fuss are the Alan West trademarks. They have served him well in at least two successful careers and he will be employing them once again when the County Champions travel to Abu Dhabi in March.
Photo of a jubilant Alan West at Taunton by Simon Pendrigh
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd