John Carruthers’ outstanding Bradford League career has resulted in him becoming the latest player to be included in the Wisden Club Cricket Hall of Fame. He was selected by freelance journalist Scott Oliver who has explained the background to the accolade to website editor Alan Birkinshaw.
The Hanging Heaton Cricket Chairman was chosen for his achievement of taking 1,014 league wickets over a 23-tear period which made him the 13th highest wicket taker in the competition's history, Carruthers was a feared paceman in his pomp and earned selection for the England Amateur XI. and is the 19th player to feature in Wisden’s Club Cricket Hall of Fame and is the subject of an in-depth feature by Oliver in the latest edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly.
Oliver certainly knows a thing or two about league cricket. as he played for Moddershall in the North Stafforshire & South Cheshire League where he captained international players Imran Tahir, Rangana Herath and Chris Lewis while playing against the likes of Tino Best, Shahid Afridi and Ottis Gibson. He wrote about his exploits in the Cordon section of the ESPNcricinfo website.
His own cricketing experiences have underpinned his work as a freelance writer, and he admits that the Hall of Fame came about by accident.
He said: “I was writing something about the golden era of league professionals for the now defunct All Out Cricket magazine which was produced by the same team at Trinorth that are now behind Wisden Cricket Monthly and was on the amazing Lancashire League website which has an unbelievably comprehensive database, including pretty much every scorecard in the league's 100-odd-year history.
“I was trying to work out which year, in the modern era, had the highest concentration of 'superstar' pros. I didn't quite go as far as making an XL spreadsheet, but I did draw a big chart on two pages of an A4 notepad and filled in the big names, at the end of which it seemed to me as though the year in question was 1981.
“I had a quick look at the averages for that season and, sitting atop the batting charts was a guy called Bryan Knowles, an amateur, who I'd never heard of. After a few more hours down the wormhole, I worked out he was the first amateur to make 1,000 runs in the Lancashire League for 62 years and the first to top the averages for 20-odd.
“The top three in the bowling averages that season were Franklyn Stephenson, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, with Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and Mohinder Armanath not far behind -- that is, five people who'd play in the World Cup final two years later.
“So, I tracked him down and asked him about that glorious season and more. I then pitched it to All Out Cricket, who loved it and said: "Can you do one every issue?" However, around the same time, the editorial team were in talks with Wisden over reviving the Wisden Cricket Monthly title, running it from the same Trinorth offices at the top of the Bedser Stand at the Oval. So, the Knowles piece was put on ice for a few months, until the new Wisden Cricket Monthly's first issue came out.
“Anyway, having accepted the invitation to turn it into a column, I did make it clear to the editor-in-chief, Phil Walker, that although it was fairly easy to research Bryan Knowles, not every league in the country has an amazing resource like the Lancashire League's where I could independently unearth such stories.
“ There are one or two other good ones knocking about -- I'd say the Bradford League and the Northern League are probably the next best, with the Liverpool Competition also not bad from the point of view of trying to find some legends of club cricket -- but other than that you're struggling a wee bit when it comes to the pre-Play-Cricket era.
“At this point I started to write to officials from the various leagues asking for nominations. Not all of them replied. But the Bradford League sent back six names and John Carruthers was chosen from among them (I've also recently interviewed Murphy Walwyn to go in a future issue, probably at the back end of the summer).”
So how does Oliver choose his subjects? “There are no set criteria as such. I don't really want to limit it in any way, although I'd say it probably falls under four loose headings, equating to time-frames of achievement,” he said.
“There are those like Bryan Knowles, where the focus is one exceptional season, although the player is likely to have had a very good club career around that, as he indeed did. Ajaz Akhtar also falls into that category: he became the first and, as yet only bowler in top-flight Northamptonshire League cricket to take 100 wickets in a season, sailing past the previous best of 81. He took the 100th wicket off his very final possible delivery of the season,” Oliver pointed out.
“Then there are those that had a very good phase at one particular club, although, again, they might have done well before and after. Steve Dean falls into this category: he was universally recognised as the best batsman in the Birmingham League during his 12 years at Walsall, but he also played for a while at Cheadle in Staffordshire beforehand and, after, down in Sussex.
“Similarly, Jon Bean spent eight years at Bootle, during which he made 1,000 runs in three straight seasons when it was a rarity for an amateur to do it even once, and he also has getting on for twice as many Liverpool Competition hundreds as the next guy. But he actually played more seasons at Bowdon in Cheshire.
“Then there are the stalwarts, guys measured for their whole career, across however many clubs that is. Ideally, they will be top players.
Oliver admits: “I'm a sucker, especially, for stories about good clubbies mixing it with the pros, which is kind of unique to cricket, of course, and ultimately it is stories, not stats, that bring these pieces alive.
“But I think when you start to get to people who've played 40 or 50 seasons then the achievement side of things can relax a little because you're looking at legends of longevity and people who are just deeply, deeply embedded in the fabric of the recreational game and deserve to be celebrated as such. Although, of course, it needs to be accompanied by some achievement -- or, failing that, some excellent yarns!!
“Finally -- although this has not happened yet -- I'm open to someone going in for a ludicrously brilliant one-off performance, provided there's a suitable context for it. For instance, they might come in at 80-6 in the National Knockout final with their team chasing 250, score 120 not out and win the game off the last ball with a switch-hit six.!!
“Or they might take a last-over hat-trick to win a match by one run and, in so doing, win their club the title by a hair's breadth. Those sorts of things would just about squeeze you in past the very vigilant Hall of Fame bouncers
“On top of all that, I'm open to people who are involved in club cricket but aren't themselves players -- or aren't primarily chosen for what they did as players.
“The latest one to go online, Naz Khan, was a sort of super-administrator who dragged his club, Attock, from parks cricket almost to the top of the Birmingham League pyramid, while probably my favourite one so far is a scorer by the name of Ivor Chaplin who hasn't missed a game since the 1960s, which means he's scored in every 1st XI league match his club, Brentham in Middlesex, has ever played.
“For non-playing inductees -- scorers, umpires, tea ladies (or 'persons'), groundsmen -- they really do have to have gone way above and beyond the call of duty, though, because there are thousands and thousands of amazing volunteers, past and present, who make club cricket even possible, and I can't include them all!
“And of course, we are open to exceptional women players -- we have featured Ann Baker, a stalwart of Surrey ladies cricket -- although getting the information is very, very difficult.”
So far, 13 of the Hall of Fame features have been posted on line at https://www.wisden.com/tag/the-wisden-club-cricket-hall-of-fame
The feature on John Carruthers will go on line later in the year after those featuring Jon Bean, Mike Ingham (Lancashire League all-time top runscorer) plus John Graham, Lee Crozier, and Stephen Humble from the North East Premier League who are the three South Northumberland players to have appeared in all six of their club’s national finals.
It is clear that Carruthers is in distinguished company and if you would like to read Scott Oliver’s excellent feature and would like to purchase a copy of Wisden Cricket Monthly, follow the link below.