Friday, 20 January 2017

85 Neath's England crciket captains

Neath's England cricket captains

C.F. Walters was a firm of Neath and Swansea opticians, established in 1899.  Coincidentally, though no relation, it is the name of the first Welshman to captain the England test cricket team.  Only two Welshmen have done this during the last 140 years - and both went to Neath Grammar School.

Test cricket consists of international matches which last from three to five days, unlike one-day games where the number of overs is limited.  Test cricket began in March 1877 when Australia played England, and has now expanded to ten countries, including West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and New Zealand.

Tony Lewis first played for Glamorgan while a 17-year-old at Neath Grammar School.  A middle-order batsman, who had played rugby at full-back for Neath and Gloucester, he played county cricket regularly from 1962 after three years at Cambridge, the last one as captain.  He took over the Glamorgan captaincy in 1967 from Ossie Wheatley, another Cambridge graduate, and in 1969 led Glamorgan to County Champions – and runners-up the following year. 

In test matches he had appeared once as twelfth man in 1966, having scored 2,000 runs that season, but during the winter of 1972/73 Ray Illingworth was unavailable to lead a touring team to India (as Alistair Cook has recently done).  Tony Lewis was appointed captain, with a certain Mike Brearley (another Cambridge graduate) as vice-captain.  In his first test, Lewis hit the winning run in scoring 70 not out, as England won the match which finished on Christmas Day 1972.  It doesn’t get much better than that - and in fact it did not, as England lost the series 2-1, which nonetheless was far better than Cook’s team (which lost 4-0).  Lewis retired from cricket with a knee injury in 1974 to a career in broadcasting and journalism, at various times serving as Chairman of the Wales Tourist Board, President of MCC, and Chairman of Welsh National Opera. 

C.F. Walters, a doctor’s son born in Bedlinog in 1905, is the other Neath Grammar School old boy to captain England.  He played for Glamorgan from the age of 17, but with moderate results.  His availability for county cricket was curtailed by work commitments as a surveyor and architect, until he became secretary of Worcestershire Cricket Club in 1928, which enabled him to play cricket as an (unpaid) amateur.  Following residential qualification, he blossomed into a stylish opening batsman - comparisons were made with Swansea’s Gilbert Parkhouse - becoming Worcester captain in 1931 and securing a regular place in the England team.  After a test century on Jardine’s tour of India, as senior amateur Cyril Walters stood in as captain for the next test - against Australia at Nottingham in 1934 - when regular captain Bob Wyatt withdrew though injury. 

Yet just over a year later, with the cricket world at his feet, Walters suddenly withdrew from cricket.  Reasons are still unclear - he may have contracted an illness from the tour of India, for in 1935 he had a breakdown in health, resigned as captain and secretary of Worcester, and distanced himself from cricket.  He had recently married a woman who did not care for the sport (some cricket-loving men could have advised him how to solve that problem!).  It was a painful decision, for Walters stated: “I wouldn’t go anywhere near cricket because I was afraid if I did, I would start playing again.  I never went near a match of any sort.” 

After his wife died in 1974, he returned to Neath, and renewed his connections with Worcestershire.  C.F. Walters died in 1992 aged 87, still playing golf - and having been cautioned about driving his Mercedes at a speed exceeding his age.  Perhaps his greatest service to his former club was in 1950 advising them to follow Worcester’s example by forming a Supporters Club: this gave Glamorgan financial stability after years on the brink of bankruptcy.

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