Not surprisingly given the twists and turns of my life, my tenure at Northamptonshire CCC was filled with firsts, lasts and everything in between. It is a time I remember with a very special warmth in my heart. I made life-long friendships with some of the most wonderful people I have been lucky enough to meet, both cricketers and supporters alike. I am very proud of my county cricket days, particularly to have captained the club to their first ever trophy in 1976. I was almost a veteran by then, as my career at Wantage Road began with a two year qualifying period in 1964.
The rules of qualifying at that time meant that I was unable to play any first class cricket nor was I able to represent my country for two full seasons, so even though I was desperate to play I had to bide my time playing in the second XI for Northants during the 64/65 season. I was in fact the last player in first class cricket who had to qualify in this way as the rules changed immediately afterwards. However my time in the 2nd XI gave me a great opportunity to hone my bowling skill which was to stand me in good stead during the 1966 season when I was picked for the first XI. In fact, I was glad to have something other than batting as my forte as it just didn’t happen for me at the beginning of the season. My bowling figures shone compared to my batting average that season. I took 53 wickets at 16, which compensated for my batting average of 23 from 31 first class matches!
Playing at Northampton was an education in more ways than one. The social side of cricket opened my eyes. I played with some of the great character there like Colin Milburn – personalities didn’t come any bigger than Colin, Roger Prideaux, Dave Larter, Bishan Bedi, Sarfraz Nawaz, Geoff Cook, Wayne Larkins, Bob Cottam, David Steele, Roy Virgin, John Dye and Peter Willey amongst many others. It was a dressing room full of characters but none more so than Colin who was larger than life and a great guy. He was a real livewire in the dressing room and loved to sing Tom Jones songs – especially The Green Green Grass of Home – and he could sing well. I still remember the day he lost his eye in a car accident as if it was yesterday. We had been to a nightclub and I left about ten minutes before the rest as I’d had enough. Colin left later and drove home, after imbibing a certain amount of alcohol, down many winding lanes, clipped the curb causing his car to bounce across the road and was struck head on by another car. He was thrown through the windscreen.
As we all now know the doctors were unable to save his eye. The following day, we were all sitting in the dressing room waiting to commence play and all of us, to a man, were in a very emotional state. It was a very sad moment for me as I was close to Colin, he’d always looked after me and I couldn’t believe it. Colin tried to resurrect his career later but he was never the same again and had to give up playing eventually going into commentating and writing. That lasted for about two years but the media work started to dry up and the same people who loved and admired him when he was at the top of his game soon started to forget him. Despite all his bravado and brashness he was actually a very sensitive guy and he started to drink again. Colin could drink a bottle of gin during an evening and when I saw him I told him to cut down his drinking but his words to me were profound. “ No Mushy, I’ve nothing to live for. I won’t see 50.” He died in a pub in the middle of the afternoon from a heart attack at 48 years of age.
Bishan Singh Bedi
One of the greatest friendships I made during my time at Northants, and who is still a great friend of mine, was the legendary left arm Indian spinner – Bishan Singh Bedi. I still remember the first time I saw him in April 1972. I saw this tall, slim man wearing a very big turban came over to me during pre season training and gave a hug even though I hardly knew him then. “I’m glad I came here” he said, “I came because you are here.” It made him feel at home that I was from the same part of the world as he was and we very quickly developed a fantastic rapport.
Bish was a magician of a bowler and was like poetry in motion to watch. One fascinating thing about Bish was that I rarely saw the back of his hand when he let the ball go, which was unusual as most left-arm spinners show the back of their hand after delivery. He did have that stock delivery but when he really wanted to turn the ball, the whole of his palm would be facing the batsman. His fine leg after delivery, with the ball curving into the right-hander, pitching middle and leg and turning away was incredible. I had never seen anything like it and we were all convinced that he could turn the ball on glass! He could bowl on any pitch, he was never ruffled, upset or tense and it showed in his bowling whether he was bowling to Barry Richards, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanai, Viv Richards or Alvin Kallicharan.
Lords 1976 – Gillette Cup
Winning the Gillette Cup at Lords in 1976, was one of my greatest achievements during my time at Northants. We were the underdogs against the hot favourites Lancashire, who had won the competition in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1975.
I won the toss and put them in – John Dye and Sarfraz bowled really well up front – Dye took 1-9 from seven overs. Bishan bowled magnificently, taking 3-52 from 11 overs. However for the last over of their innings everybody expected me to give the ball to John Dye. He was walking in taking his jumper off when I had to tell him he wouldn’t be bowling – I threw the ball to Bishan instead. It was an instinctive move but he ended up going for 20 or more off the last over as David Hughes got stuck into him and finished 39 not out.
Our supporters were silent at the end of the innings and I think everyone thought I messed things up by not giving John Dye the last over. I must admit I made a blunder there but we still only needed 196 to win. I sent Roy Virgin and Peter Willey in first and they put on 103 for the first wicket and that set us on our way.
We got the runs with six wickets down in the end and just 11 balls remaining. When Colin Cowdrey presented me with the Gillette Cup – the first in the 98 year history of the club, I was so happy and filled with pride – for me, my team and everyone associated with the club.