Lowerhouse Cricket Club 1963-1982: The Beginning of the Second Century

Lowerhouse began its second century as a Cricket Club in the 1963 season. If the health of a club is judged by both its past silverware and its likely future prospects of silverware, then Lowerhouse were setting off their next 100 years limping and on life support. It wouldn’t be too harsh to think the best chances had come and gone. Lowerhouse’s best run in the League had come way back in the 1906-1911 period. The team had 6 consecutive top half finishes, which for what was in those days a ‘true’ village Club, was truly remarkable. Shutt, Cook, the 2 Whittakers, Walker, Eliott and Pate gave Lowerhouse a real and rare amateur depth in those years. Lowerhouse’s best Worsley Cup years were in the Competition’s early days in the 1920’s. They had secured 3 semi-final berths in 6 years. In those days local fans must have fancied the Cup as the avenue to first silverware. They would have been eventually proved right but would not live to see it themselves.

Lowerhouse had a decent, if unspectacular side, in the 1950’s without threatening to win trophies. The best finish in the League was fourth in 1957 when Minor Counties player Bill Holt was professional. From 1963 to 1979 Lowerhouse could only rarely afford what might be termed a ‘superstar’ pro’ and the amateur strength in depth was lacking. This resulted in not a single top half finish from 1963 to 1979 but seemingly out of nowhere the Club would have its two best ever chances. In the Worsley Cup of 1980 and the League itself in 1982, Lowerhouse would come agonisingly close to the Promised Land.

Lowerhouse were in transition in the early sixties. The old guard of Monk, Tranter, Salkeld and Holdsworth had served the Club well from the Second World War onwards but had now departed. Up until 1966 the Club could still count on Maxie Mahmood the most talented amateur batter for a decade. He scored 4470 runs for the Club. Another boon was Jim Minhas playing in an amateur capacity. He too played until the ’66 season when he returned to Pakistan. He scored over three thousand runs and took 343 wickets for his adopted team. As pro’ at Todmorden in 1957 he had one thing his Lowerhouse colleagues hadn’t, a Lancashire League winners medal. Jack Stott emerged at this time as a real workhorse fast bowler who took a total of 345 wickets between 1961 and 1975. A blow was the premature retirement of the promising spinner Ken Smith. In 1967 after losing Mahmood and Minhas there was a brief respite when South Africans Graham Pedley and Des Sparks played for the Club. They qualified after getting jobs locally and both were of sufficient quality to get some games with Lancashire’s Second Eleven. Sparks would take 50 wickets at 15 and be invited back as professional 2 years later in 1969.      In the 1962 season Brian Higgin had emerged as an entertaining no-nonsense batsman. He would play for over 30 seasons, many behind the timbers and be a great and loyal Club servant. He scored over 8000 runs and passed Herbert Lawson’s Club record. In the early 70’s Phil Astin reached the First Eleven. He was a dour, gritty player.

Not one to take a backward step he always put a high price on his wicket. He made over 5 thousand runs and later was a well-regarded groundsman. In the mid-1970’s Stan Heaton took his chance to become another prolific amateur. He was especially good on the front foot and his trademark cover drive was of County standards. He made 7939 runs for Lowerhouse but history might judge his post-playing influence at the Club of even greater importance. An interesting fact is that between them Astin, Heaton and Higgin scored over 21000 League runs without any of them making a century! In the early 1970’s two left arm bowlers of contrasting styles were important members of the Lowerhouse team. These were Alan Holden and Trevor Jones. The former was the first ‘House bowler to get over half way to Tommy Shutt’s remarkable total of 1000. Lowerhouse’s revival in 1980 was partly due to the arrival of Jon Hartley and Pankaj Tripathi at the Club. Hartley did the ‘mini-double’ which was rare in that era and Tripathi as well as being a good batsman set a fantastic example as a fielder. Graham Bushell took over Hartley’s role in 1981 after he joined from Burnley. Another notable amateur was bowler Roger Bromley who would get over three hundred wickets for Lowerhouse. He was a pace bowler who provided more quality than quantity and could get the best of opponents out.

In 1963 and 1965 Pascal Roberts of Trinidad was Lowerhouse’s professional. His main role was as a quality left-arm bowler. He took 130 wickets over his two seasons but made only a solitary fifty. The Club were joint 8th in ’63 but down in 13th in 1965.  Even that was a slight improvement on 1964 when not for the last time in this era the Club were mired at rock bottom. This was despite getting a big name pro’ in the highly volatile Jamaican Roy Gilchrist. He’d been an exciting addition to the West Indian fast bowling ranks before his bad behaviour wore his welcome out after just 13 Tests. In the timed matches of League cricket a strike bowler such as Gilchrist was much sought after. He had many great seasons in the Central Lancashire League and his only season in the Lancashire League, for Bacup, had seen them crowned the 1960 Champions. It just failed spectacularly at Lowerhouse and only 2 games were won that 1964 season. In one of them Gilchrist took 10-41 at home to Ramsbottom but it could only be called scant consolation.

From 1966 to ’68 Roy Collins the ex-Lancashire off-spinner served as ‘House’s pro’. He was a popular cricketer but a journeyman compared with some of the big names playing for opposition teams. These included Neil Hawke, Johnny Wardle and Clive Lloyd.  The team were joint 8th in ’66 and ’67. There were a remarkable 18 draws in the latter year. With Minhas’s departure after 1966 and Des Sparks unavailable in 1968 after his 50 wickets in the previous season, the Club’s slip to joint 10th in ’68 might well have been worse.  After making a good impression in 1967, John ‘Des’ Sparks was made professional for 1969 and he would serve that role for 3 seasons. He was a good bowler who took a goodly 78 wickets in ’69 but that number fell away to the sixties in ’70 and ’71. His batting skills were quite limited and his average position in the order was No. 8. In his 3 year stint only Nelson in 1971 finished below Lowerhouse. The 1960’s had been very forgettable and the next decade had started in the same vein. Sparks had never played First Class cricket at the time of his ‘House duty and he may have been seen as a relatively cheap option because the Club’s finances weren’t great. Nevertheless he went on to play at State level for Northerns in 1972 and, thus, followed in the footsteps of his late father and Uncle, who had both played First Class cricket in South Africa.

Meanwhile Lowerhouse signed Duncan Carter of Barbados for the 1972 and ’73 seasons. He had impressed at Burnley in the mid-60’s. He was of a similar profile to Sparks. He was maybe a yard quicker despite a shorter run-up and was a better batsman without being able to rescue a poor amateur line-up. Lowerhouse were joint bottom again in 1972 but Carter’s improved wicket haul of 79, saw them get a much needed rise to 11th a season later. Carter went on to make a big impression north of the border with Dunfermline C.C. where a knee injury led him to call it a day and return to his home island. He then worked as a police detective.

Tasmanian Tony Benneworth played as an amateur at Lowerhouse and impressed with both his ability and positive attitude. On this basis he was a logical choice to become professional for the 1974 season. He had a good year with almost 800 runs and 52 wickets but his performance and personality couldn’t stop Lowerhouse falling to 13th in the Lancashire League standings.

It had been a difficult spell for Lowerhouse comparable only with their horrid run in the 1890’s. Yet even by poor recent standards 1975 was an abysmal year. Worcestershire man Bob Lanchbury was made pro’. He’d had a year or two on the fringe of the First Elevens at Gloucestershire and his native County. He was a sound, if unspectacular batsman who made 654 runs but not really a bowler and his 8 wickets did little to help a struggling team. Not only did Lowerhouse finish bottom, but they got less than half the points of the second bottom side! The League standings looked just as ugly as the -14 points of the 1892 season.

The need to enthuse the Lowerhouse membership and fan base was necessary and a big name was called for in that regard. Lowerhouse, therefore, signed ex-England star Colin Milburn for the 1976 season. He was an amazing character and human being but was handicapped by the loss of an eye in a car accident which had curtailed his career at higher levels. On sound pitches he could still bat very well but Lowerhouse’s pitch was regarded in the ‘sporty’ category. Milburn got half-centuries at Burnley and Rishton but only 426 runs in total. He took a mere 10 wickets meaning ‘House had only got 18 wickets from their pros’ over 2 full seasons! Strangely enough the team made a very good start to ’76 but the false hope only led to frustrations and recriminations. Lowerhouse would go on to finish 13th and their constant struggles to be a relevant Club showed no signs of coming to an end.

With the exception of the 1979 season, when he was with the Indian touring party, Lowerhouse had Mohinder ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath as professional from 1977 to 1981. For once there could be no quibbles about the Club’s choice. He was a model pro’ who played responsible cricket to give his side their best chance of victory. A few critics, clueless in my humble opinion, wanted more fireworks from his batting, but Jimmy realised that much depended on his own shoulders, and played accordingly. He was a very useful medium-pace bowler with a relaxed and gentle run-up. He took 263 wickets in his four ‘House years. In Tests he scored over 4000 runs at over 43 and captained his Country like his father Lala had. His Test career was one of ups and downs. He was thought suspect to good fast bowling but worked on his game such that he scored 1152 runs in 11 away Tests to the mighty West Indian side of that era, and the hated rivals, Pakistan. On one of his downs he scored just 1 run in 6 innings and had to put up with the ‘Mr Amarnought’ jibe. His proudest moment was surely winning the 1983 World Cup when India pulled off a shock win versus the West Indies. Lowerhouse were a lowly 12th in 1977 and then 10th a year later but there was a better vibe about the Club which would pay some dividends soon. In 1980 Lowerhouse would finish fifth and reach the Cup Final for the very first time (see later) and repeat that position again in 1981. It was the Club’s best finishing position since 1957 and ended a depressingly long run of bottom half finishes.

In 1979 Nasim-Ul -Ghani deputised for Amarnath. He was a veteran who had played Test cricket for Pakistan as a teenager way back in the fifties. He was chiefly famous for coming in as a night-watchman and going on to make a century in a Lord’s Test Match in 1962. He had a very decent year taking 72 wickets with his slow left arm bowling and making over 400 runs. As in 1978 Lowerhouse repeated their tenth place finish.

So on to the story of 1982 and Lowerhouse’s best ever League season. Lowerhouse had appointed the promising young Kiwi Evan Gray to fill Amarnath’s shoes. He made a great early impression when taking a hat-trick in his debut and a win versus Haslingden. He would go on to take 69 wickets at 11 and make 547 runs. The season developed into a duel with Rawtenstall and their mighty pro’ Franklin Stephenson. He would later become the last player to do the 1000runs-100 wickets double in County Cricket. Lowerhouse lost that duel by a solitary point. It had been an exciting season and Lowerhouse’s only second podium place. It would be wrong to say there were recriminations after the season; more that there were many theories on whether the team could or should have been Champions. A plausible theory was that skipper Alan Holden had under-bowled his pro’. Gray who bowled over 80 eight ball overs less than Rocky’s Stephenson. Others looked at crucial individual games. The two most scrutinised were the away games at Rawtenstall and Burnley. At the Worswick Memorial Ground Lowerhouse were 94-3 chasing 144 but fell 8 runs short. Many disagreed with the run-out decision that saw Gray out for 45 when batting assuredly. Lowerhouse’s suspect tail must also take some of the blame as they also did in the devastating loss at Turf Moor. Lowerhouse seemed in control at 55-2 chasing just 113. Lowerhouse’s supporters convinced of impending victory didn’t do their side any favours by riling the Burnley pro’ Gary Robertson into a 6-45 performance, much out of character on his season’s form. ‘House collapsed to 88 all out.  When it came to the last match Lowerhouse were head-to-head against Rawtenstall but 5 points behind. From the Rocky point of view they just had to make sure they weren’t bowled out to be the Lancashire League Champions of 1982. They batted first and their tactics were to deny Lowerhouse that crucial bowling point. Off 34 eight ball overs they’d reached 50-6(Gray 5-20). For those still awake Lowerhouse cantered to a hollow victory. Maybe Rawtenstall could have gone out in a classy way to prove themselves genuine Champions but Lowerhouse’s prior mistakes had left themselves with nobody but themselves to blame. My own belief, for what it’s worth, was Lowerhouse didn’t win in 1982, just as later on in 1997, because they didn’t have the depth of amateur talent to get them over the line. The 21st Century teams that achieved success had that crucial extra depth.

Lowerhouse started the 1963-1982 period on a very poor run of form in the Worsley Cup. They went from 1953 to 1964 without winning a single tie. In fact Lowerhouse suffered the Competition’s record loss when beaten by 376 runs by Burnley in 1959. This game featured the extraordinary innings of 306 not out by Burnley’s ill-fated pro’ Collie Smith.  It looked as if they might redeem themselves in ’64 when Gilchrist’s 7-39 saw Nelson fall for 91. So often Nelson were the nemesis for ‘House in this competition and so it proved emphatically again, when Lowerhouse could only muster 37. Lowerhouse reached its fifth semi-final in 1965. A bye was followed with a comfortable 7 wicket win versus Church. A strong East Lancs team set them a 112 run target but Lowerhouse fell at this hurdle again when they were 48 all out.(Minhas 29) Lowerhouse got a measure of revenge on the men of ‘headquarters’ when they sent them packing in the first round of 1970. Unfortunately Burnley beat them in the Second Round. Before the Second World War the ‘House had a great Cup record against their cross town foes but that had turned Burnley’s way since. The 37 all out of 1964 was outdone by the ignominy of the 1973 nine wicket loss to Todmorden, when Lowerhouse on their own ground were 29 all out. Some people arriving a little late couldn’t believe it was all over!  The team showed spirit by rebounding in 1974. A handy bye was followed by an exciting game versus Enfield. Both sides made 156 but Lowerhouse reached their sixth semi-final having lost fewer wickets. Unfortunately it was the same old story as they fell victim to the genius batting of Nelson pro’ Collis King. He made 125 out of 189 before Trevor Jones clean bowled him. Jones was convinced he’d got him plumb l b w early on in his innings. Maybe the umpire didn’t want to miss the entertainment King always provided! To be fair ‘House fought bravely but were 144 all out.  Lowerhouse almost reached another semi in 1979 but Mick McLeod’s 76 saved Burnley.    So to 1980. Lowerhouse were handed yet another bye and followed it up with a 6 wicket win over Enfield with pro’ Amarnath’s 49 not out seeing them home.  The flags were out in the village as now at the seventh time of asking Lowerhouse would make it through to their very first final. Opponents Rishton were bowled out for 97. Amarnath again starred with 5-38 and his 53 not out meant there were few nervous moments in the reply. Maybe the temporary change from Worsley Cup to Martini Cup had done the trick for Lowerhouse!  One unfortunate thing was that their fellow finalists would be East Lancs by far the best side in the League that season.

The Final was a great event in those days and local radio gave it full coverage. The ‘House made a good start when Tripathi made an astounding catch to see the back of Peter Swart the ultra-competitive pro’ of their opponents. The tide turned towards the home team with teenager Kevin Hayes’s excellent 78 not out. Hayes would later play County cricket and become a top Bolton League player. Just before the interval steady and persistent rain meant the match would be concluded the following Sunday. Set 187 to win Lowerhouse were virtually doomed when talisman Amarnath went for 18. Jon Hartley in his last Cup innings for the Club got a consolation not out 50 but they were a cavernous 52 away from their first silverware. At least ‘House fans could console themselves that they were getting ever closer and one day it would actually happen. So much so that one intrepid die-hard fan, Paul Hargreaves put £200 pounds @ 500/1 that that would occur in a Worsley Cup Final in the August of 2004. IF ONLY!!


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