Yorkshire v. Leicestershire – County Championship 1954.
Something a bit different this time. I’ve spent a fair while reading around this game, gone down all sorts of rabbit-holes, and found out all sorts of things that might just be interesting to me, but I think its worth knowing more about what has gone before, even just to fit into context some of the things that came prior or afterwards.
Terry Spencer was no batsman, but everyone has unexpected roles to play in a cricket match. As Johnny Wardle came in to bowl the last ball of his 13th over of Leicestershire’s second innings at Huddersfield, at around a quarter to five on 18th July 1954, Spencer’s tally of eight not out had left all things possible. The crowd had taken to their feet in expectation with Wardle looking for his eighth scalp of the match.
Huddersfield in the mid-1950s was in transition, struggling for public entertainment as people made the as-yet-permanent change from town centre theatres to in-home televisions, with rental schemes proving irresistible. Only the day before Leicestershire arrived, the Palace Theatre had announced plans to close its doors leaving only the Theatre Royal open for those who enjoyed stagecraft.
Yorkshire, too, were a team in transition. 1953 had seen a disastrous 12th placed finish, the likes of Trueman and Illingworth not quite able to match the level of Wardle. Leicestershire, on the other hand, had been a side on the rise. In finishing joint 3rd at the end of the previous campaign, Charles Palmer’s side had achieved their county’s best ever position though a poor start to 1954 saw them sitting bottom.
The White Rose side had been visiting Fartown once a season since the late 1800s, even though the pitch there was known to be somewhat lively, especially early in the day. Not long into England captain Len Hutton’s career, Essex had visited in late July 1935.
Hutton had made two ducks that match as Yorkshire succumbed for a meagre 31 in their first innings, before improving to 99 all out in their second – still 203 runs behind their visitors. The pitch at Fartown, it is fair to say, could be tough.
June 1954 was a little different, though there was bad weather throughout the test against Pakistan at Lord’s a few days before– Wardle’s 4/33 in the tourists’ first innings of a match that saw three days washed out illustrative of a spell that saw ball often overpower bat.
The 5,000 or so spectators who gathered at Huddersfield on that Wednesday morning witnessed nothing of the sort. Hutton was opening the batting and though his form had been some way short of his usual standards (he was to miss the upcoming second test with soon-to-be-diagnosed acute neuritis) his watchful style saw him through the opening overs, while partner Frank Lowson struggled at the other end.
By the time he was out, at 1.15, Hutton had made 60 of Yorkshire’s 82 runs. Lowson continued to make heavy work of things, eventually falling for 38; the second wicket bringing together Ted Lester, and a Vic Wilson who was already finding his feet. Lester improved the scoring rate before holing out to Brian Boshier at mid-off.
That dismissal saw Willie Watson come to the middle. Watson had a fair reason for his thoughts to be elsewhere, having been released from the test to visit his son’s bedside at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. By Wednesday 3-year-old Graham was reported to be showing signs of recovery, and his father went back to his day job and put on a fine display of batting.
The score raced from 183/4 to 351 as Watson and Wilson put the Leicestershire bowling to the sword, Jack Walsh taking some particular treatment despite Wilson, in particularly, struggling with his spin early on. He ended having conceded 77 runs off just under twenty overs. That ‘just under’ proved critical as Wilson found Foxes’ captain Charles Palmer at mid-off. At 351/4, and with a few overs remaining in the day, a nick off Fred Trueman went down at slip as Leicestershire reached 27/0.
The Thursday saw Yorkshire’s opportunity to toil in the field, and the visitors ensured they did just that. While Wardle put down a tough catch off his own bowling, chances were few and far between during the first two sessions of the day.
The hero of their innings was undoubtedly Maurice Tompkin, returning to Huddersfield having played 10 games for the town’s football team just after the war. That Town side had narrowly avoided relegation and while Tompkin scored once, it came in a 4-1 defeat at Middlesbrough. He forged happier memories this day.
Coming into bat with Leicestershire 58/1, Tompkin joined Gerry Lester in a chanceless two and a half hours for a partnership of 125, when a Brian Close off-break nipped through Lester’s defence to bowl him. Undeterred, Palmer and Tompkin pushed on, past 200 and towards Yorkshire’s total as they looked to secure a first innings lead and the points that would bring.
With 222 on the board, Tompkin nicked a snorter from Trueman to slip only to see Close let the chance go to ground, a rare slip in an innings that saw Yorkshire’s bowlers throw everything at home, only to see boundaries battered to all corners and runs flowing like wine.
Eventually, he came a little bit too far forward to Wardle and found himself stumped by Roy Booth. From 315/5, Leicestershire fell to 328 all out, losing both the initiative and first innings points.
Though he had failed with the bat, another stumped by Booth but off the bowling of Appleyard, there was still time for Terry Spencer to shine. He twinkled in the evening of the second day, clean bowling Lowson for eight and seeing Hutton play behind to be caught by fellow Yorkshireman Jack Firth.
Unable to dislodge Booth from the side, Firth had moved on to Leicestershire where he had helped in that club’s rise up through the County Championship, and remained a fixture at Grace Road for another few years.
That quickfire brace saw Yorkshire end the second day on 20/2, with the game still in the balance.
Things can change quickly, even in county cricket, and Huddersfield’s pitch was back to playing its devious tricks on the third morning. Just as in 1935, the early morning conditions, allied with bowling with both speed and swing brought the best out of a track to the disadvantage of Yorkshire.
Terry Spencer (left), with Mike Turner
On this occasion, Terry Spencer was the visiting hero, taking seven more wickets to add to his two from the previous night. His new career-best figures of 9/63 would not be bettered for the rest of his career – in fact they were the second best figures ever recorded at Fartown, after Arthur Mold’s 9/41 in a somewhat embarrassing Roses match in 1890.
Furthermore, George Geary once took all 10 wickets in an innings at Glamorgan, and 9/33 against Lancashire, but Spencer’s figures came in at the fourth best in Leicestershire’s history (though David Millns has since bettered them with 9/37 at Derby in 1991).
Perhaps most telling of all the statistics of Spencer’s unchanged spell is the fact that he clean bowled seven Yorkshire batsmen; following Lowson, Wilson, Lester, Watson, captain Norman Yardley, Wardle and Trueman all departed having seen their wickets broken by the Leicestershire quick. Only Brian Close avoided losing his wicket to Spencer, his ill-advised sweep caught behind off Palmer.
This was all the more remarkable as Leicestershire were without opening bowler Boshier, who had suffered severe sciatica during the game and was a doubt to even bat in the final innings. That innings, after Yorkshire had collapsed for just 113, left the visitors needing 137 to win, and to lift themselves from the foot of the table.
Having contributed little to the game so far except two early wickets in the first innings, the pitch was rather favourable to Fred Trueman, too, and the fiery youngster made it count early in the Leicestershire reply.
He claimed four scalps of the first five to fall, as the rain closed in again, and despite their modest target the visitors soon found themselves at 29/5, and looking all the world like being rolled over embarrassingly short.
This was the cue for captain Palmer to dig in, seeing off the threat of Trueman and bringing Wardle and Appleyard to the fore. He found an able deputy in Victor Munden, the two putting on 43 for the seventh wicket before Palmer let a straight delivery from Wardle through his defences.
There was little over an hour left in the game when Jack Walsh came to the crease, and Leicestershire still required 65 runs to win. More expansive cricket was needed, and as the remaining time dropped to three quarters of an hour remaining, the required runs were reduced to the thirties, as Munden and Walsh hit a flurry of boundaries to heap pressure on the Yorkshire attack.
They had reached 123 by the time Munden tried to sneak a quick run off Appleyard only to see Yardley pounce on the ball and throw down his stumps to give Yorkshire hope that they might still save the game.
Walsh holed out shortly on the boundary, meaning that the last over, to be bowled by Wardle began with Leicestershire requiring nine runs and with one wicket remaining.
Spencer first took a quick single, before running a leg by with the ailing Boshier to get himself back onto strike. From there, he smashed Wardle into the crowd for six to bring the tantalising prospect from the final ball.
A run, and Leicestershire would win, a dot ball and it would be a draw, whereas a wicket would see the first tie in Yorkshire’s history.
Terry Spencer was no batsman, but everyone has unexpected roles to play in a cricket match. As Johnny Wardle came in to bowl the last ball of his 13th over of Leicestershire’s second innings at Huddersfield, at around a quarter to five on 18th July 1954, he saw Spencer dab the ball to the ground and sprint desperately to make the run.
However, Wardle was sharper, and pounced on the ball in a flash. He turned, he set himself and he threw it hard at the non-striker’s end stumps. He hit them, and Spencer was run out, to the delight of the 1,000 strong crowd, each one a witness to something truly special in Yorkshire history – the first ever tie, and six points for each.
What happened next?
Well, Yorkshire played just one more County Championship game at Huddersfield, Fred Trueman rifling his way through Gloucestershire the following season.
Hutton spent some time out of the game with stress, missing the next couple of tests, to travel to Australia and return with the Ashes – a national hero.
The Palace Theatre did indeed close its doors, reopening as a cinema, and later a bingo hall. It is now student flats, retaining the Palace name.
Both Wardle and Watson were named as Wisden Cricketers of the Year for 1954, but were unable to help Yorkshire loosen Surrey’s grip on the championship, winning the title for the third of seven consecutive seasons. Both had left Yorkshire when they next regained the title in 1959.
Most tragic of all was Maurice Tompkin. Two years later, he went into hospital after complaining of back pains, and a week later passed away.
Terry Spencer played on with Leicestershire until 1969, retiring at the end of that season, before being called back into occasional action as late as 1975. He became an umpire when his playing career finally ended.