With the league reinstating the Fastest Fifty Trophy as one of its annual awards, Reg Nelson looks at some of the big hitters who have lifted the prize.
When the Fastest Fifty Trophy started in 1955 it became the most intriguing award given by the league. Okay, the best batting or bowling average would trump it for prestige, and the later Sir Learie Constantine All Rounders Trophy was the Holy Grail for cricketers in the league.
But there is a certain fascination about a trophy that can be won by an unsung batter, or tailender who decides to chance their arm in pursuit of quick runs.
I suppose when the Fastest Fifty Trophy was measured in `minutes at the crease it could depend on how many balls the batter would receive in the shortest time, and how quick the opposition captain could arrange his field. However, it was the only parameter the league had, and there was a general acceptance for it.
It goes without saying that over rates were much quicker in the distant days when there were no `unofficial’ drinks for batters or inordinate conferences in the field.
Geoff Edmond Hitchenor of Baildon was the first winner when he took just 19 minutes to reach his 50 in 1955. His grandson is that prolific seam bowler Craig Hitchenor who won the title with Baildon in 2009. Speaking in 2021, Craig said, “My dad (Mick) can remember it like yesterday, but there is not much specific detail. He can recall the huge trophy on the sideboard at home in Baildon. He was also presented with a replica trophy which was given to Baildon when I was playing there.”
Craig concludes, “He was known by most as Eddie, and after playing under Ronnie Burnett at Baildon, he spent 2-3 seasons at David Brown Tractors CC in the Yorkshire Council, before finishing at Horsforth in the Aire Wharfe”.
Another interesting character was Harry Mcllvenny, of the old Bradford club, who won the Fastest Fifty in 1959. He also played for Bradford Park Avenue as a centre forward on the adjoining ground.
He was quite big for a wicketkeeper, but he was as safe as houses behind the sticks. However, his real fame came with his ability to hit a ball.
He was a genuine tailender but was sometimes promoted in the order when the last ten overs beckoned. In an era of `woody’ linseed-treat bats, he could still launch the ball on the leg-side right out of the ground and into Horton Park.
Another fine striker of the ball in that era was Brian Sutherland, who was part of the famous double winning Pudsey St Lawrence side of 1956. He scored the Fastest Fifty in the league in 30 minutes in 1964.
When on song he could change the fortunes of a game in a matter of overs. He was also regarded as the finest gully fielder in the league at the time.
A real character that will surely go down in Laisterdyke folklore is big hitting David Yates. He was always an unsung, rustic middle order batter who would rarely show the consistency to even creep into the lower reaches of the league batting averages.
But, on his day he would hit the ball into orbit, and it was almost impossible to subdue him. He could sway the fortunes of a game in a matter of balls, such was his power.
His Fastest Fifty Award in 1970 for a 27 minute fifty was ample reward for one of the most revered hitters at the time.
In the seventies several county cricketers joined the Fastest Fifty crowd with Phil Carrick, Howard Cooper and Kevin Sharp all doing the deed.
But the king of the Fastest Fifty was Murphy Walwyn, above, who first came to the fore in 1975 when he passed the half-century in 22 minutes. He would win it an unprecedented seven times while at East Bierley.
1975- 22 minutes
1980- 14 minutes
1987- 28 minutes
1991- 26 minutes
1992- 19 minutes
2000- 27 balls
2001- 17 balls
Walwyn was one of the league’s greatest post-war all rounders, winning the Sir Learie Constantine All Rounders Trophy in 1985, and taking all-ten wickets in a match twice.
His first all ten came against Farsley in 1986 and came at a cost of 47 runs. Twelve months later, Yeadon were on the receiving end as Walwyn took ten for 45.
But it was his cavalier batting he will be more remembered for as he was famed for his towering sixes.
One could only imagine how far he would have hit a ball with the modern bat with its thicker edges supporting a far deeper sweet spot in the middle. In fact, the modern Twenty/20 game would have been just up his street.
Pace bowlers have made good hitters down the years, and none more so than Eddie Halliwell who won the trophy in 1979 and 1986 at two different clubs.
He was a genuine swing bowler who first found fame at Laisterdyke, and later played at Windhill and Queensbury.
County bowler Peter Hartley also won it twice at two different clubs in a similar era. Keighley born Hartley took 683 First Class wickets, and although not known for his batting prowess on the county circuit, once scored an unbeaten 127.
By 1996, with scoring techniques improving, the Fastest Fifty Trophy was measured by balls received rather than the minutes at the crease.
The all-time fastest fifty by the old criteria was jointly achieved by Walwyn (1980) and Phil Padgett (1984) in 14 minutes.
Richard Peel of Bankfoot was the only batter, apart from Walwyn, to have achieved the feat in both systems. He recorded 20 minutes in 1993, and a record 16 balls in 1997.
In a way, it is surprising that dynamic stroke players like Chris Pickles, Richard Robinson and Chris Gott never won the Fastest Fifty, although the latter famously hit six sixes in an over from off spin bowler Paul Whitaker who would eventually play county cricket.
When the 21st Century arrived, Pudsey St Lawrence had two hard hitting batters who would win the Fastest Fifty three times between them during the years 2002-2005.
Iain Priestley, who took 4-27 on debut for Yorkshire, won the trophy in 2002 and 2005, in 21 and 19 balls, respectively.
James Smith, above, emerged in 2003, winning the Fastest Fifty award in just 16 balls- a joint-record at the time. He quickly established himself as one of the hardest strikers of the ball in the league and he won the Fastest Fifty again in 2016.
Talking in the winter of 2021, James looks back at his 2003 knock: “Of the two occasions, I can only recall one of them!! It was Gomersal at home in 2003.
“Back in the days of winning and losing- draws - rain had affected the game as we chased their target and, after the rain relented, we needed approximately 90 off ten overs as I went in to bat.
“The most memorable part of the day happened just as I was setting off to go into bat. Paceman Adrian Rooke was next to me and as I walked past, he said, “good luck pal” and I responded without hesitation, “Don’t worry about me mate.”
“It was dark, it was dank, and it was miserable!! The bowlers were two left arm spinners in Gareth Lee and Matthew Barnes. Both were experienced and wily characters.”
“At the start of my innings, I vividly remember missing two full tosses by trying to hit them into orbit. I knew it would only take one to come out of the screws to get me going and, sure enough, a six over midwicket off Lee to the far side of the ground gave me that moment.
“From then on, I focussed on keeping my shape and striking as hard as possible through the line of the ball. The score kept ticking on nicely and I reached 46 before I knew it.
“Barnes was bowling at the Tofts Road end, and he darted one towards middle and leg stump. I had already descended onto one knee and the quicker ball had done me for the lap slog, so I quickly threw my hands through it. It wasn’t a clean connection and as it reached its peak height, I was convinced I was out.
“However, it landed about two yards over the 40-yard boundary which was greeted with cheers and applause from dressing rooms. I had no idea why! (I believe I had matched the previous best of 16 balls by `Peely’ from Bankfoot)
“I was out to the opening bowler a few balls later (again trying to win the race to landing something on Mars) with us needing only a few to win with four overs left. I had done my job without an iota of a clue what I had achieved.”
Smith concluded, “What I do know is…………I was later the receiving end of two of the fastest with Richard Whitehurst and Muhammad Bilal! These were two exhibitions of clean hitting.”
Sarfraz Ahmed, above, was surely one of the biggest post-war hitters in the league, and in 2004 he took the accolade in 18 balls.
Ahmed was Woodlands’ long-serving overseas player who bowled left arm fast, possessing a steepling bounce with his stock ball that was fractionally short of a length.
He did not get the volume of wickets his abilities deserved, but he was extremely miserly when it came to giving runs away, and few batters could cope in comfort.
His additional asset was his tail-end hitting that often came to the fore when Woodlands were struggling. His towering sixes often went over the houses at Albert Terrace, and clean across Cleckheaton Road. He would go on and win the Fastest Fifty in 2004 and 2011 in 18 and 16 balls respectively,
Sandwiched between Smith and Sarfraz’s 16-ball feats was an incredible knock by Whitehurst who lowered the record to 11-balls.
He was at Gomersal at the time and struck five sixes and five fours in his 11-ball fifty against Pudsey St Lawrence.
He said, “It was always something that I thought was a possibility as I’d come close quite a few times. I remember a game against Bankfoot two weeks before when I had been on 40 from 10 balls. I then proceeded to `play and miss’ the last three balls of the innings with Richard Peel the current holder at the time watching from the edge.
“If I remember rightly, Pudsey St Lawrence got a big score against us and when I got to the crease it was a matter of trying to get maximum batting points at best. The first ball I smashed to mid-off for none but timed it well. I just felt like I was in the zone straight away.
“I think the next three balls went for six and I just thought I’d keep going. I hit ten boundaries on the spin, albeit I did get one lucky top edge for four which could have gone anywhere. I suppose it was just one of those few and far days” he modestly said.
In 2021, another destructive batter emerged in the name of Mohammad Bilal of Woodlands, who normally batted late middle order. He hit a 14-ball fifty, which included seven sixes, against Pudsey St Lawrence after being asked to open the batting at Tofts Road. This was a tactic to foil the expected rain that could have negated Woodlands chances of winning the title.
Ironically, this was not his best knock when later in the season he hit a stunning 37-ball century against Morley, hitting 13 sixes and four fours. Bilal had established himself as one of the cleanest hitters of the ball seen in the league for many years.
Surprisingly, Hanging Heaton has never won the trophy despite having an abundance of high-quality strikers of the ball. In recent seasons David Stiff, Callum Geldard and Ben Kohler-Cadmore were all capable of winning it.
It is interesting to speculate on the possible future winners of the trophy. Certainly, Conor Harvey of Townville could achieve this award before his career is up given his clean hitting. He often bails his team out of a batting crisis with a flurry of expansive shots.
Left-hander Farakh Hussain of Jer Lane is also quite capable of winning it. In 2021 he struck a remarkable century in 39 balls against Hopton Mills - hitting 14 sixes and five fours. This was the fastest hundred since the formation of the Bradford Premier League in 2016 until Mohammad Bilal beat it by two balls a few weeks later.