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Two Rooms And A View: 45 - Cricket And Current Affairs

...Australia batted first and amassed a moderate total of 228. When Durham batted, I watched in amazement as Miller and Loxton bowled at speeds rarely seen in the Northeast. The ball was beyond human detection from the boundary. At the close, the home county was 93 for 5. Sadly, the second day of the long-awaited game was washed out due to rain....

Robert Owen recalls cricketing days. To read more of Robert's life story please click on Two Rooms And A View in the menu on this page.

Cricket was a very poor second to football as an outdoor activity in the town's schools during the late nineteen forties. The wonderful summer of 1947 and the feast of runs by Compton and Edrich in county cricket helped to stimulate interest at a national level.

At a local level, the visit by the Australian touring team to Sunderland to play Durham, was the highlight of the following year. I remember queuing to get into Ashbrooke in the hope of seeing the world famous Don Bradman. It was a big disappointment to the 15,000 crowd when it was announced that he wasn't playing.

Lindsay Hassett was the acting captain and when he went onto the field with Durham's huge Bill Proud to 'toss the coin', it was like the 1940's version of the Little and Large show.

Australia batted first and amassed a moderate total of 228. When Durham batted, I watched in amazement as Miller and Loxton bowled at speeds rarely seen in the Northeast. The ball was beyond human detection from the boundary. At the close, the home county was 93 for 5. Sadly, the second day of the long-awaited game was washed out due to rain.

At a school level, there was a cricket league but only one team per school. In charge of the Stanhope Road team, was Charlie Swainston, a former South Shields second team cricketer.

Practice used to take place in the school yard most lunch times, using a set of portable stumps and a cork ball. This was open to anyone interested, and I recall the occasion that got me a place on the school cricket team.

On this particular day Charlie Swainston was standing in the umpire's position. Batting was the school's opening batsman, who had the same initials as the famous Australian cricketer, Don Bradman. Our Don was in the fourth year while I was a relative junior, two years below him. He was a technically correct stylish batsman and after each shot used to freeze statue-like as if somebody was taking a photo.

Anybody who fielded the ball could bowl, so I tried my luck. The cork ball was easy to spin on the cement surface, so ambitiously I tried an off-spinner. Usually I had great difficulty with my line and length, but on this occasion the ball pitched in the right place.

Don played his characteristic forward defensive shot with toes, nose and elbows all in the correct position. The ball however, turned sharply and crept in between his bat and pad. The wicket tumbled. I recall his facial expression as he looked up at me as if to say, "Who did that?"

At the same time Charlie Swainston turned around and asked, "What's your name son?" After I told him he answered, "Let's see if you can do that for the school cricket team next week!" (I think he thought he had found another Jim Laker.)

The trouble was, I couldn't. Spinning the ball was easy, but maintaining a correct line and length was not. Anyway I thought to myself, 'I want to be a batsman, not a bowler.'

Charlie Adamson, the deputy head, occasionally used to supervise the lunchtime cricket practices. He was a great spin bowler and I'm sure he enjoyed the practice as much as we did. He used to say, "Keep the ball down because you have to pay for any windows you break."

That was good advice immediately after lunch when the yard was empty, but as pupils returned for the afternoon and with about 350 youngsters in a confined space, it was a miracle that nobody got a broken ankle as the ball was hit to all parts of the schoolyard.

During year three, I did manage to hold a regular place on the school cricket team, scoring a few runs and bowling occasionally. We used to play in a white shirt, grey trousers and white gym shoes. This was quite a contrast when we played the High School (later Grammar/Tech) who turned out in all whites. They undoubtedly had the best team in the league. The highlight of my season was when I took five wickets for 25 runs against them on their ground!

In the summer of 1949, a number of pupils from each school were nominated to attend a coaching session at South Shields Cricket Ground at Wood Terrace. This was organised by Durham County Cricket Club and the coach was a former Warwickshire County player named Tom Collins.

With two of my team-mates, wicket-keeper Charlie Swann and Chuck Wilson, we excitedly looked forward to this special coaching day in August. I even returned early from holiday with my sister in Birmingham so that I could attend.

We prayed that it would not rain, but it may as well have done for all the coaching that took place! Dressed in cricket gear, a multi-coloured county blazer, cap and smoking a pipe most of the time, Tom Collins just stood and watched, occasionally talking to some teachers who had come to recommend their protégés. If the event had been held forty years later, a prosecution under the Trade Descriptions Act might have been successful. Nevertheless, this was the first time I had practised in a cricket net, and it acted as a stimulus to join South Shields cricket club the following year.

Whenever our cricket or football periods were cancelled at school due to inclement weather, which was fairly often, Arthur Yeoman used to replace them with what he called, 'Citizenship Studies'. In the eyes of most of the class this was a poor replacement for our favourite lesson, but looking back many of us found it interesting.

He used to explain how Parliament and local government worked and encouraged us to read newspapers. This was about the same time I discovered the South Shields Library. Both together, they gave birth to my life-long interest in local affairs.

By the time I was in the final year at school, I could name most of the directors of departments in the County Borough. How many people remember Dr Leith, Medical Officer of Health; John Reid, the Borough Engineer; Swann, the town's Librarian; Crawford, Transport; Chris Peacock, Cleansing or Harold Ayrey, the Town Clerk. Fifty years later I read that the Government had set up a committee to report on introducing Citizenship Studies in schools. Bring back Arthur Yeoman!

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