Author: Alan Birkinshaw
The date is indelibly marked in Howard Leach’s memory. July 11, 1987 was the day he captured the headlines with a stunning bowling performance.
The left-arm opening bowler captured took all ten wickets for Morley as they defeated Altofts by 11 runs in their Central Yorkshire League encounter at Scatcherd Lane.
Leach, who is now 71 and living at Dedham in North Essex, has two cherished mementos from that glorious day 33 years ago when he took ten for 33
The first is a framed copy of the scorebook from the Altofts innings and the second is the shirt of Yorkshire and England paceman Paul Jarvis.
Thanks to the powers of Facebook the story of Howard Leach, who sadly had his right leg removed in 2018 due to cancer, has been brought to my attention.
Late last week I received two handwritten notes and two pictures from Clive Jackson at Altofts regarding Howard Leach and his stunning performance against his club.
Yesterday morning a conversation with long-time Morley supporter Bob Mitchell, who described him as the finest bowler he had seen at the club, persuaded me to try and track down Howard.
Thanks to the help of his former Morley captain Peter Arundel and Ossett’s Bob Schofield – two of my colleagues on the league Management Board – who like Jackson were conversing with their old friend on Facebook, I got to speak to the man himself.
He admits to being a proud Yorkshireman who says he feels much younger than his 71 years. He even makes light of the challenges the loss of a leg has on his mobility.
Currently isolating in his own home due to the Covid 19 crisis, his chats on Facebook and his connections with his cricketing friends have proved to be a source of comfort.
They all recognised from playing with and against him that he was a bowler of remarkable skill. A player who gave heart and soul for his team.
Looking back on his ten for 33, Leach said: “I can remember it as clear as anything and the date July 11, 1987 is one, I will never forget.
” It was also the day Yorkshire won the Benson & Hedges Cup at Lord’s and I was given the shirt of Yorkshire’s paceman Paul Jarvis by his brother Andrew who played at Morley but was at Lord’s when I got my ten wickets.”
Conditions that day were favourable for the bowlers. He added: “The wicket was green, so the ball moved around. Terry Foy took seven wickets for Altofts when we were dismissed for 129.
“When they batted, I got off to a great start and removed their impressive opening batsman Tony Sutton in my opening over.
“It was my day and the wickets kept coming. At the other end, Andy Morgan had a couple of catches put down and both John Blakeway and Peter Arundel had good lbw shouts refused.
“I had eight wickets to my name when my old rival Terry Greaves came in. He told me 'I’d rather run myself out than let you get all ten.'
“Well, he turned out to be my tenth victim. Greavesy took a big swing and the ball went high in the air and was in the area between me and Peter Arundel at mid-on. Peter took responsibility, and I am glad of that, as he took the catch.”
What Howard did not know as he basked in the praise that was showered on him for his figures of 21.2-5-33-10 was that his skipper had been equally nervous as he took the catch.
“You don’t want to be the one to let a team-mate’s chance of taking all ten wickets slip through your hands, said Arundel.
“Thankfully, I took the catch and I must admit my heart skipped a beat while the ball was in the air,”
It was fitting that Arundel should share in Leach’s moment of glory as he had been responsible for persuading him to join Morley.
Leach recalls: “I was playing at Soothill in the Pontefract Section of the Yorkshire Council and Peter came to watch a play-off semi-final at Gomersal.
Morley 1987: From left: Richard Mollett, Barry Haigh, Ray Smith, Steve Rowse, Andy Jarvis, Peter Arundel (Captain) Howard Leach, John Blakeway, Ian Exley, Andy Morgan, Peter Lloyd.
“He came and spoke to me while I was fielding on the boundary and asked me to join him in opening the bowling for Morley.”
Arundel had been a keen admirer of Leach’s ability to move the ball both in and away from the batsman.
They were skills which Leach honed after reading and watching Sir Garfield Sobers along with studying the methods of England left arm opening bowlers Fred Rumsey and John Lever.
“I noticed how Rumsey held the ball with the tips of his fingers to make it swing and took a firmer grip to make it swing the other way. I just copied what I saw them do,” he said.
Leach played his early cricket at Birstall where he came through the junior ranks along with the well-known duo of Charlie Manby and Gary Binks.
The first wicket he took in first team cricket as a 15-year-old was that of the hugely respected Ossett and Central Yorkshire League stalwart Vernon Grace as he returned figures of 5-55.
Largely due to his work in the carpet business he was persuaded to join Birstall Carpet Company in the Dewsbury & District League.
The batsmen struggled to cope with Leach’s lively bowling and in his final season with the club he took a staggering 132 wickets.
In the 1970 Crowther Cup final at Heckmondwike, Leach took 5-9 as Thornhill were bowled out for just 38 in reply to the Carpets’ score of 253-8 which included 150 from their skipper Joe Smith.
Leach decided to take a step up when he moved to the Bradford League with Queensbury. In three seasons he took 141 wickets.
He remembers one day playing at Laisterdyke and was asked by their club chairman’s son to go into the room next to the bar to speak to the chairman.
Leach recalled: “He offered me £1.50 a week and would pay my subs. When I walked back into the bar my team-mates asked what he offered me.
“When I told them £1.50 they said they would give me £5 so I stayed where I was. Money was not my motivation. but neither was I going to turn it down.”
He eventually moved on for one year each at Brighouse (52wkts) and Eccleshill (58wkts) before enjoying a hugely successful spell at Heckmondwike.
The hugely successful Heckmoindwike side. Howard Leach is second from the right in the back row
Under the shrewd captaincy of Rodney Smith, Heckmondwike pulled off a hat-trick Central Yorkshire League titles between 1976 and 1978.
It was while at Heckmondwike that Leach picked up a tip from one of his colleagues and changed his angle of attack.
“I had always bowled left-arm round and Geoff Hall who had played at Somerset suggested I bowl over the wicket.
“I wasn’t convinced about making the change and told him that I could only bowl round the wicket, but he persisted and gave it a try.
“In those days, our big rivals were Hanging Heaton and their dangerman was Ronnie Hudson. Bowl it on his legs and he would smash you out of the park.
“I was finally convinced about bowling over the wicket when I bowled Ronnie with a beauty that went between bat and pad and hit middle stump. It proved to me that bowling over the wicket was something to persist with.”
While at Heckmondwike Leach played in a game against Yorkshire as the club marked the opening of a new clubhouse.
“One of the players in our team was a big lad called David Marshall, a farmer from out Pocklington way. He smashed off spinner Geoff Cope all round the park and we were treated to the sight at the end of the innings of Geoff Boycott admonishing his bowler.”
From Heckmondwike Leach returned to Brighouse for three seasons where he took 92 wickets to take his overall Bradford League tally to 343 at an average of 15.44.
After an initial spell at Morley and one at Soothill, Leach returned to Scatcherd Lane in 1986 and soon impressed all and sundry with his ability to make the ball talk.
One of his Morley colleagues who keeps in touch with him is Australian wicketkeeper David Jones, a player Leach describes as being a “great stumper, who was so light on his feet and a great clubman.”
The feelings are mutual, and Jones reckons that if Leach had been 10 miles an hour quicker, he would probably have won 50 Test caps.
Another three-year spell at Brighouse followed and it proved to be the end of his league cricket career, one that saw him capture more than 1,000 wickets in all competitions.
After moving to Essex in 1995 with his work, Leach hung up his boots. He was tempted to play in one charity match for Mersea Island but knew his time was up.
“I was in the field in that game and a catch was drilled towards me and it fell about three yards short of me. My reactions certainly were not quick enough. In my prime I would have backed myself to make the catch. I was 50 and knew that I should not play anymore,” he said.
Just listening to Leach recall the stories of his playing days was thought provoking and it is comforting to know that even in the loneliness of Covid-19 isolation, the warm blanket of friendship of the cricket community has wrapped itself around him.
He can share the memories of many hard-fought battles with friends and foes alike on social media and re-engage with people he may not have seen for many years.
Howard Leach will always be fondly remembered at Morley and it has been a pleasure to tell his story.
|HOWARD LEACH'S BRADFORD LEAGUE RECORD|