1991 and all that! By Harry Brooks

​The recent emails on the 1991 season from Paul. Jez and Stan remind me of a time when I was very closely involved with the playing side at Lowerhouse. It may be of interest if I offer my own recollections of a campaign that was memorable in many ways, sometimes for the wrong reasons.

To begin with Manoj Prabhakar, a man whose surname is usually mis-spelt.   He was a genuine Test all-rounder who had toured England in 1990 with a decent Indian team and who had performed outstandingly as a pro in the Central Lancashire League.   We signed him for 1991 on a not inexpensive contract, partly but not wholly on the urging of Pankaj Tripathi, Lowerhouse skipper at the time, who had followed the 1990 Indian tourists avidly and who was looking forward intensely to playing with Prabhakar.

Tripathi  had succeeded Alan Holden as captain in 1990  and that one season had raised major doubts about him in the role.   Efforts were being made at the time to inculcate  a more disciplined approach by the players and he had not seemed, to me at any rate, to set the best example.   One incident particularly stays in my mind concerns the late season game at Haslingden when he arrived at the ground as his team were walking out on to the field.   With that kind of leadership example it was perhaps not surprising  that Lowerhouse suffered one of the heaviest defeats of the season, collapsing to 54 all out in reply to a large Haslingden total, with only Brian Higgin reaching double figures.

Some serious soul-searching at committee level during the winter led to a decision to replace Pankaj as captain and we appointed Jez Hope, whose disciplined and total commitment to the club set the best possible example, to take on the responsibility.   Trip was thanked for his efforts and we hoped that he would look forward to a productive batting season playing alongside a talented Indian professional he admired so much.   Unfortunately his disappointment at losing the captaincy was intense enough to make him turn his back on the club.   He didn’t take his bat home, but he did take it to Enfield.

1991 turned out a curious season, disappointing for the most part but ending on a high note.   Prabhakar failed to live up to his reputation, scoring 716 runs in his 19 league games at an average of just under 40 and taking 45 wickets at almost 20 runs each.   he ranked sixth in the professional batting averages and ninth in the bowling, a poor return for probably the highest paid of the pros.   Occasionally he did demonstrate his class, most memorably over one sunny weekend double-header when he piled up 191 runs and took 10 wickets against Todmorden and Rishton.   My match reports in the Burnley Express, in that far off time when the paper covered cricket properly, were headed  PRABHAKAR AT THE DOUBLE!

Off the field as well he was a disappointment, failing to sufficiently encourage and mix well with his amateur colleagues.   I don’t know of any member of that squad who would claim Prabhakar as a friend and there were mixed feelings when he pulled out of the last seven games citing injury.

But a silver lining did arrive in those last seven games, five of which were won, including three victories against teams finishing in the top five places in the final table.   A note on the six substitute professionals we employed is justified.

Through the good offices of Mike Turner, who ran Leicestershire for many years, we started with Gordon Parsons. a seasoned pro who was returning from injury.   Gordon did little with bat or ball in a home loss to Todmorden, but he did  leave a dressing room in high spirits through the optimism his engaging communication skills stimulated during and after the game.   Interestingly he was accompanied by his charming wife Hester, the sister of Hansie Cronje, who was to go on to become one of the biggest names in cricket history, for good and, sadly, bad reasons.  Hansie was 21 at the time and looking at the possibility of a league job in  England for 1992.   Parsons recommended him to me  –  “you’ll get him for peanuts”.  We didn’t pursue the matter, Hansie went to the Central Lancashire League and Lowerhouse missed what would have been a historic signing.

Our second substitute, at Rishton the day after the Todmorden game, was James Sutherland, a young Australian accountant who was spending a season with Chorley.   For the past 15 years he has been Chief Executive of Cricket Australia.   Rishton were riding high and Peter Sleep, their popular Australian professional, was in the course of compiling a club record 1621 runs at an average of over 80, but Lowerhouse, en route to a five wicket victory, had them back in the pavilion for a meagre 96.   Sutherland picked up four wickets and Jez Hope returned a superb 6 for 38.   Over the years odd snatches of play stay in one’s memory and my mind’s eye retains a clear view of the perfect outswinger from Jez that drew Sleep forward to to edge a straightforward catch to Brian Higgin.   His single run was Sleep’s lowest score of his record season.

Rochdale pro David Callaghan, a South African bustling all-rounder in the Eddie Barlow mould, deputised in both games against Accrington, an easy win at home and a narrow loss at Thorneyholme Road, turning in workman like performances in both games.   The home win saw a remarkable effort by Shane Warne who picked up 6 for 27 in 19 beautifully controlled overs as Lowerhouse cruised to 205 for 9.   Maybe Shane over-celebrated that evening, because the following day, in what was his final league game before returning to Australia to begin his glittering Test career, he went for 72 runs in 20 overs for only one wicket against Burnley, with Terry Little, Duncan Spencer and Jon Harvey making half-centuries.

We had a routine and comfortable win against a poor Colne side with the help of Lancashire’s Ian Austin, but the wins against East Lancs and Nelson in the the final two games of the season were ver special indeed.

Against a very strong East Lancs side we had the services of Morecambe professional Robert Haynes, a  leg-spinning all-rounder, all six-feet-three of laid back Caribbean languor and grace.   His performance on that bright and sunny Lowerhouse day in September 1991 can scarcely have been bettered in the club’s history.

East Lancs made a respectable 189 all out and went into tea in confident mood.   Haynes had taken  7 of their wickets for 59, with three of their players s run out.   He laid out in the dressing room nursing a sore back and asked me politely to bring him a pint of blackcurrant and lemonade.   He went slowly to the crease with Lowerhouse at 83 for 2, in no mood for quick singles, and in a dozen overs  plundered 96 runs off a bewildered East Lancs attack, with Lowerhouse winning by seven wickets and seven overs to spare.   An East Lancs bowler by the name of Robbins, recruited  from Blackburn Northern, went for 25 off his rwo overs and never played for the club again.   Some of Haynes’ on-the-carpet drives went like tracer bullets past fielders who didn’t appear keen to get in the way of them.

Mark Whitehead led the chants of ‘sign him on’ as big Robert strolled from the field and Chairman David Wren, who had missed the game because of a family commitment, took a call next day from from the player’s agent, but nothing came of it.

For the last game of the season against Nelson at Seedhill, who had won convincingly at Lowerhouse just a month before, I was conscious of the need to finish the season well if we could manage it.   Northants were playing their final game of the season  at Edgbaston a few days before and I was able to speak to their England all-rounder, David Capel, before play began and was delighted when he agreed to come for our game. He didn’t quibble over the generous fee I offered him and explained that he and his wife were leaving for Australia the following week and would combine the Nelson trip with a visit to a relative in Yorkshire.

The game couldn’t have gone better for us.   Nelson struggled against Capel’s pace, he took 5 for 40 and they limped to 138 for 9, with one of their batsmen going to A&E with a damaged wrist.   We were 12 for 3 in reply when Capel strode out to hammer a quick 78, blasting Joe Scuderi out of the attack in quick time and donating his decent collection to his  amateur team-mates.   We went away for the winter in good heart.

I’ve enjoyed writing this piece and I hope people, especially club members, enjoy reading it.   Nigel Stockley’s amazing Lancashire League website has been an invaluable help as a memory refresher.   I would also like to thank Adam Hope for the excellent and dedicated service he puts into the admirable Lowerhouse website