Cow Pats and Cricket Bats by Maurice Barnett ©.
In the light of the final comments in Chapter Eight, you will not be surprised to learn that an influx of new members from a wider area occurred in this decade.
We played a very good side called Saltley Methodists in 1949 and 1951, but unfortunately for them their ground became unavailable and they disbanded. They must have been attracted to this village club, because several of their members joined us and in so doing enhanced our playing strength overnight, both with bat and ball and equally important, in due course as workers and officials.
Arnold Hutchins was one - a good hard hitting batsman and without doubt our fastest and most lethal bowler since Frank Bayliss. Freddie Ward, brilliant in the field and an excellent Treasurer, Geoff Andrew and Arthur Ridge - both very good batsmen.
In 1952, we still had trouble with the outfield mower. The Atco which we had borrowed for a couple of years from Maxstoke had to be returned, so the Major loaned us £60 for a new one.
By this time I lived near the cricket field and being a keen gardener, also decided to 'kill two birds with one stone' and carry out ' a cow pat clearance exercise', early each match day - the accent being on 'early' to allow the sun hopefully to dry out the residue. Thus our whites remained less sullied and my rhubarb improved in flavour. (Oh no! - not the one about the custard please!)
It was not long before we discovered that the new Atco mower was too small for the job and so after some negotiations by the Major with officials at the Golf Club, we changed it for a heavier Dennis - the very one that Roger Upton used to talk to!
Throughout this decade, the Club and more important the village, were the victims of ever extensive floods as the River Tame overflowed its banks and submerged the majority of dwellings, including the pavilion in Whitacre Heath to a depth of several feet. Following heavy pressure by the villagers on the authorities concerned, culminating in a meeting in February 1960, successful steps were taken to build adequate flood banks and other safeguards to eliminate this hazard forever.
I recall we had to cancel a meeting at the Swan on one occasion when it was reported that the landlord, whilst surveying the flood waters in his bar from the top of the stairs, uttered a series of expletives and comments, which roughly translated could be interpreted as follows:-
'Oh dear, oh dear, phone the council missus, the blessed sewers have bust and there is excrement all over the place'.
It was not until we had wiped the steam off his glasses, however, that he noticed the empty cigar box floating on the incoming tide and learned how realistically 'Stool like' a well soaked Havana became. Nevertheless, his mistake was excusable - the Tame in those days had a viscosity of a well made minestrone. I suppose it did make the wicket good!
We had by now introduced a match fee of 1/- and subs remained at £1-1-0. As usual, money was tight and the now routine Whist Drives, Jumble Sales, Raffle and Dances were held in the district. The average credit balance varied between £10 - £20, but later on improved, at the end of the period to £40 - £80. Two ladies, Mrs Crossland and Mrs Andrew were elected to the Committee - the first Club ladies on our records. Subsequently Nora Crossland held the Secretary's office for several years, with great efficiency.
In 1953, co-incidental with
the arrival of our new landlord (Teddy Meade) steps were taken
with the help of our President,
Lawyer W W Green, to finalize an agreement to rent the ground direct from Messrs. Frederick Smiths Brewery. This was satisfactorily concluded and similar direct arrangements have prevailed to the present time, albeit the brewery has be swallowed up by others and we now rent the ground from Bass Mitchells and Butlers. ( 1987)
Other members arrived in the fifties, in addition to our friends from Saltley:-
|Ray Kings||The best spin bowler we ever had and a good batsman|
|Jack Lewis||Professional footballer for Walsall, good bat, brilliant wicketkeeper and fielder|
|Frank Baird||Prolific run getter|
|Glyn Yeoman||Fine batsman|
|Bernard Dicken||Fine batsman|
|Walter & John Birch||Batsman and wicket keeper respectively, both fine officials|
In all classes of cricket, fast bowlers operate most effectively in pairs and just as Trueman and Statham (England) and Miller and Lindwall (Australia) proved the point in the first class field, so we village cricketers regarded our two - Arthur Luckett and Arnold Hutchings.
Apart from the first three years of this decade (when the Major was 'in charge') I was privileged to Captain the side when these two were at their peak. Consequently, the need for bowling manipulation was relatively infrequent, much to the chagrin of Eddie Crossland, Bill Luckett and Jack Upton, who also could turn their arms to good effect.
Our bowling was even more strengthened and diversified in 1956 when Ray King's arrived. With his fierce off spin and an immaculate line and length whilst supported by Jack Lewis behind the wickets, Ray now vied with Arnold and Arthur to top the bowling averages. The results were fairly even.
Of all the games of cricket I have played or witnessed, our fixture at Whitacre against Fillongley stands above all others in my memory. Fillongley batted first and Arthur Luckett opened the bowling. Chris Price kept wicket and Jack Lewis fielded at silly mid off. After the first five balls of the innings had been bowled the score book read :-
Fillongley 0 runs for 5 wickets.
Arthur clean bowled two and Jack took three brilliant catches (two at full stretch). Our opponents staged a slight recovery, however and managed nineteen runs before they were all out. Luckett took 9 wickets for 7 runs and caught the other at slip from the bowling of Hutchings. We won!
However, we did not always have things our own way with our friends from Fillongley - a Club which has appeared on our fixture cards with the occasional lapse, for at least the last eighty years. They in turn have trounced us more than once, at Whitacre on the original ground in the centre of the village and latterly on their delightful, relatively new ground, 'down the lane'. I suppose on reflection, honours are about even with a Club which has provided us with so many keen and enjoyable contests for so long.
Another match which stands out, is that against Sandwell - Luckett and Hutchings again bowled throughout unchanged. This time Arnold Hutchings took 9 wickets for 3 runs. Sandwell were all out for 23. We then batted and (wait for it!) we lost, all out 21.
In this same period Arnold also captured nine wickets against Wylde Green (9 for 6) This time we won.
From the foregoing scores it can be concluded that whilst our bowling was indeed very strong, our batting fell short of a similar standard - (Fred Houghton and G Andrew being our mainstays). Our scoring ability became more balanced however during the next two years, (1956-1958) when Frank Baird, Glyn Yeoward and Bernard Dicken became members.
At this point, it is expedient to refer to Fred Houghton in greater detail. A character who lived and breathed cricket right from the time he was a lad, until he died in retirement, living in Coleshill. In later days he could be always be found on Coleshill Cricket Ground on match days and when given the opportunity (which was often) he would recount local stories galore to his old mates and new found friends.
As a player he was unique - mainly for Whitacre, although he did savour the close cut outfield of Water Orton for a short time, before the war. He was a 'stone waller' supreme. He usually opened the innings - and that was one end sealed up! Frequently he carried his bat, in black blue and sometimes bleeding hands (because he scorned the use of batting gloves), and by dint of leg glances, perfectly executed late and square cuts and occasional push, off or on, he topped the averages (eg 1952) or appeared in the first three regularly.
He also kept wicket, mowed,
rolled, prepared and repaired it. On one occasion when the motor
mower was out of action, he even cut the outfield with a hand
mower to the boundary in preparation for a key match on August
Bank Holiday Monday. (About 2½ acres)
Fred was a fine fellow of the village and our Club. It is a pleasure to pay him this tribute, which no doubt could be echoed and extended by many who remember him.
We were sorry to see our friend and mentor, the Major leave this district in 1957, for business reasons. He joined us when we were in trouble and left during one of our brightest periods - and he was pleased about that!
More players joined us and we began to think about increasing our Fixture List, through evening games and the formation of a 2nd XI. Our wickets in 1957 were pitched at right angles to the road, which, given the narrowness of our ground, limited the number available. It was decided therefore to pitch the stumps parallel to the road, in anticipation of games every Saturday and during the evenings. Some thought six hits would become more frequent (and lost balls), but nevertheless it proved to be a success and has remained so until now.
Thinking of six hits, several elderly followers in the village have commented on what they consider to be the record. Legend has it that sometime in the 1920's such a 'Swipe' culminated in the ball coming to rest in the Swan yard, outside the back door. No on seems to remember who this village Jessop was, but the ball could have landed on the top of the incline in the road, bounced into the yard and rolled to the door. Who knows?
The greatest six I have ever seen at Whitacre was hit by Arnold Hutchings. Batting from the Coton Road end he almost cleared the tall oak tree behind the pavilion. Just to make the point that big hitting, as well as fast bowling, also came in tandem, Arthur Luckett could also 'slog' when so inclined- he scored 27 in the last over before a tea-time declaration, on one occasion.
At the end of this period our team had become a well balanced, very keen outfit, as confirmed by the 1959 results:-
Played 22, Won 18, Lost 1, Drawn 2, Tied 1.
The game lost was against Castle Bromwich C.C. on August Bank Holiday Saturday, when our three main bowlers were away. It was in fact the only game that season in which a hundred runs were scored against us. The tie was an exciting finish against Birmingham Y.M.C.A.
Incidentally, this was not the first occasion Castle Bromwich thrashed us - they did it two years previously (1957) when their wicket keeper Tom Pickering scored a never to be forgotten century (I was one of the bowlers).
The improvement in our performances was timely - knock out cricket was on its way.