I started watching Lancashire League games in 1969. One of the biggest changes to the present day as been the gradual decline in the relative quality of the professionals. Most now are worthy journeymen but in the 1970’s you could still see very good Test players playing League cricket. The main reason for the decline of big-name players is not surprisingly money. Post-Packer there is more money in the game at the top and with the advent of 20-20 and I.P.L. that trend has accelerated. League Clubs with dwindling support just can’t compete any longer. Occasionally a wealthy benefactor has treated the Lancashire League to a real star player such as Viv Richards, Allan Donald or Chris Cairns. It seems light years since 1949 when Everton Weekes earned more at Bacup than the ‘golden boy’ of English cricket, Denis Compton, did at Middlesex!
Without the star names one of the best things in watching Lancashire League is to spot up and coming players on their way to elite status. The supreme example this millennium would be Michael Clarke who played at Ramsbottom in their Worsley Cup winning year of 2002. Just a decade before Lowerhouse had come close to signing another future giant of the game, Brian Charles Lara. Sometimes you can watch a young player and be fooled about his potential. Those who saw the young Ben Johnson for Colne in 1996 must have thought he would be an Ashes adversary for England. Johnson blitzed 1718 League runs that year but his overall career left us scratching our heads. He scored only 4000 first class runs and averaged under 35.
One Australian, from the same era, who did fulfil his potential was Michael Bevan and the first time I saw him play is the subject of a match to remember. The game took place on a cold, raw day in the first week of May, 1993 .It pitched Lowerhouse against visitors Rawtenstall. ‘House batted first and made 157-7 in a reduced 41 overs. Paul Webb opened scoring 12. He was a well-built chap who had joined us from Littleborough,(I think)He only played a handful of games before leaving. The bulk of the home side’s runs were scored by professional Cameron Williamson, who’d made 69 when becoming one of Bevan’s 3 victims. Williamson was a good and enthusiastic pro’ but his early promise as a junior with South Australia wasn’t converted and he played only 2 games at First-class level. If Webb was a fleeting visitor,Williamson’s batting partners were not. Both Stan Heaton and Chris Bleazard made 20-odds. What became of those two!
At the half-way stage it looked an even game. With a little light rain delaying the re-start the target was 141 off 36 overs on a greenish, slow wicket. Certainly a different surface to one a Sydney-based player would be used to. Lowerhouse made early inroads as Peter Wood and Glenn Barlow made only 2 apiece. Those two made approximately 25,000 Lancashire League runs between them so their early departure was a real coup for ‘House. Meanwhile Bevan was going about his business in an unflappable manner. He looked so impregnable that Lowerhouse gave him a single early in each over and concentrated on putting the amateurs under pressure. This seemed to work as wickets fell and the run rate increased. Rawtenstall wanted 23 off the last 3 overs and their strong following that day from the Valley were wondering if their pro’ was a little too cool. They needn’t have been concerned as he found a new gear and the tension that had slowly built in the match was abated quickly as Bevan scored the necessary runs in boundaries. He walked off with 91n.o. like somebody who didn’t know what the fuss was about.
It was fitting that ‘House fans saw the young Bevan’s skill as a closer that day because he would play that role in 50-over cricket better than almost anyone else in history. He went on to play 232 ODI’s scoring nearly 7,000 runs at the remarkable average of 53. His Test career was limited because he could be vulnerable to short-pitched bowling but his name lives on for the Dhoni-like player who excels at the end of innings in ODI’s. At Lowerhouse in May, 1993 we got a sneak preview of what the cricketing world would see later on and, although ‘House lost the game it was definitely one to remember.
- Paul Hargreaves