Chapter Eight

The FiftiesAnother world class player came to Nelson in 1951. Dattu Phadkar, the Indian Test all-rounder, put in some memorable performances to keep Nelson interested in the League championship right up to the end of the season. An abandoned match at East Lancashire three fixtures from the close of the season followed by a defeat at Bacup put paid to the chances of pipping the East Lancashire club to the title.

Phadkar registered seven scores over 50 and took five or more wickets in a match on no less than 13 occasions. A final batting average of 53.61 was the highest ever recorded for Nelson and his 100 wickets cost 9.93 runs each. Included in his aggregate of 697 runs was a sparkling 116 at home to Todmorden. Dattu was persuaded to sign further contracts for 1953 and 1954 but he was unavailable for 1952 because of his commitment to tour England with the Indian team.

Reputably the fastest bowler in the world at the time, Ray Lindwall, was persuaded to spend a season at Nelson in 1952 and he proved to be a great attraction throughout the League. He missed the "magic" ton by a mere 4 wickets but his consistent wicket-taking ensured that Nelson lost only one match and finished the season sharing runners-up spot. There were four matches in which Nelson were not able to bowl because of the weather but Lindwall still managed to take 5 or more wickets in a match on ten occasions. In four other matches he took four wickets. He averaged over 34 with the bat, his highest score being 78 not out against Burnley. Lindwall's best bowling performances were reserved for the encounters with Accrington in August. He took 8 for 33 at Nelson on the 16th and followed this up with a 7 for 29 feat the very next Saturday.

Chick Hawkwood achieved the notable distinction of scoring a fifty on every Lancashire League ground when he made 65 at Accrington. He then retired at the end of the season, having accumulated 8,393 runs at an average of 32.79. He had compiled four centuries and participated in no fewer than 21 century partnerships.

1953 was a disaster! Apart from the fact that poor weather made too many matches impossible to complete, Dattu Phadkar contracted pneumonia after only two weeks in our damp and cold climate. Although some of the best known names in world cricket were engaged to act as substitutes, the team could not settle and results were not as good as expected. Roy Marshall, Frank Worrell and Sonny Ramadhin (for a Worsley Cup-tie) were amongst several substitutes appointed.

The high-light of this best forgotten season was a First Round victory over Lowerhouse in the Worsley Cup. With Jim Gibson making 52 and Johnny Greenwood 45, Nelson had made a reasonable start to their innings and felt comfortable on 144 for 7. Neville Wood and Denis Smith really put Nelson in command though with a brilliant 136 partnership. Wood was out for 74 and Smith finally went for 78 as Nelson made 302 all out. Lowerhouse put up a good show and were within 23 runs of victory when their last wicket fell.

The weather was bad again in 1954 and the club's finances took a severe battering. A loss of £867 liquidated the Consolidation Fund and cash in hand and at bank plummeted to below £250. Match membership stood at ten shillings per year but total subscriptions amounted to £986. Gate receipts realised £681. One can see the struggle that was being experienced by the committee when the balance sheet stated that total expenditure was over £2700, including wages of £1438.

On the playing side Clarence Winslow retired after scoring 7,060 runs during 23 seasons. Like his famous partner, Hawkwood, war service had prevented him from accumulating runs for four years at about the time he would have been expected to have reached his "peak". Winslow hit five centuries and took part in 14 century stands. Roy Pickles, improving all the time as an all-rounder, left the amateur ranks to take an appointment as Stand's professional in the Bolton League.

Despite all the gloomy news, Nelson rallied and both the weather and the results improved in 1955. Phadkar had accepted an appointment with Rochdale in the Central Lancashire League and Nelson's new paid man was Geoff Noblet, a young Australian bowler. He took a total of 84 wickets at less than ten runs apiece but, even more encouraging, were the performances of some of the amateurs. Neville Wood recorded 610 runs and Denis Smith came to the fore with 410 runs. Wilf Horsfield took 71 wickets and Alan Haigh was beginning to stake his claim for a regular first team place behind the stumps.

In 1956, Wood (with a century against Enfield to his credit) and Smith both hit top form and scored 676 (average 37.55) and 673 (39.58) respectively but the bowling lacked penetration and only on six occasions did Nelson take all ten opposition wickets. Johnny Greenwood retired after joining the elite who have scored more than 7,000 runs for Nelson. Greenwood's tally was 7353 (average 20.26) and he had also taken 439 wickets (average 17.5) to put him second only to J.E.Brooks as the most successful amateur all-rounder to represent Nelson. Brooks had played from 1899 to 1922, scoring 6378 runs (average 19.21) and taking 752 wickets (average 12.97).

The Second Eleven, under the captaincy of Jimmy Kerrigan, won the championship of the Junior League in 1956 and followed this with two more title wins in 1957 and 1958 to become the only club to gain a hat-trick of Junior League championships.

The professional for 1957 and 1958 was Baloo Gupte, the brother of the famous Indian Test spinner who was professional at Rishton. Nelson maintained reasonable league positions in both seasons but the general public was restive for a top class professional again. The committee obliged and, as soon as Johnny Wardle announced his retirement from the first class game, officials were on their way to tempt him to join Nelson. He accepted the challenge of a professional appointment in league cricket and Nelson's fortunes were due to take a turn for the better.

Wardle took 101 wickets in his first season and also scored 634 runs. The young pace bowler, Colin Madden, chipped in with 59 wickets and Nelson finished in second place. In the last match of the season Nelson made 170 for 5 declared and then dismissed Bacup for 85, Alan Haigh taking three catches and stumping another three.

Wardle followed up his first season successes with a 96 wicket return in 1960 and the best of the amateurs was Walter Thomas who collected 50 wickets at just over 13 runs each. "Wally" had taken over the opening bowling from Colin Madden who had moved on to Earby to be their professional. But Wally's real claim to fame and a place in the record books was achieved in a completely unexpected way. On 18th June, at Seedhill with Burnley as visitors, Nelson slumped to an amazing 41 for 9 with Dattu Phadkar, now the Burnley professional, taking 5 for 14. Walter Thomas joined Joe Harrison at the crease and within an hour had put on 65 for the tenth wicket - a club record which stood until 1995! Thomas was caught on the boundary one short of a memorable half-century. Burnley's reply was 73 all out - a win for Nelson by 33 runs. Denis Smith headed the Nelson batting averages, having made 626 runs, including a century against East Lancashire, whilst Wardle added a further 558 runs. Amongst Wardle’s runs was a remarkable innings of 94 scored at Rawtenstall. He was at the crease no more than 60 minutes and he hammered 21 fours! Nelson finished the season in a worthy third position.