It was great to see the lovely coverage of Sunderland CC's 1st XI League victory in the Echo yesterday and to see a return to the top tier of local cricket next season. Time then to reflect on the wonderful heritage of top professional cricketers who have served the club over the years.
One of the most interesting characters around Ashbrooke over the years has been the cricket professional and since 1887 there have been enough of them to warrant a book on their own. In Edwardian times, Alf Morris was among the best bowlers of his day in all forms of cricket while Emmott Robinson, one of the great characters of Yorkshire cricket, helped Sunderland CC to league success in 1936.
The year 1978 saw the arrival at Ashbrooke of Desmond Collymore, one of a string of West Indian professionals to serve the club. Described in reference books as a medium fast left hand bowler, he took 3 –11 in his first game for the club and 7-16 in his first cup match. All in all, he amassed 99 wickets during that season. He came from St Lucia and also played for the Windward Islands.
Test star Winston Davis came as a professional for one season thanks to the West Indies Cricket Board who wanted him to experience English conditions. He played against England in tests in 1985, famously breaking Paul Terry’s arm with a swift delivery.
Ranji Nanan was a swift off spinner. He was unfortunate to be at his peak when the West Indies had a fearsome squad of fast bowlers and could afford to neglect spin. He was a popular pro at Ashbrooke, played one test, and has gone down in history as one of Trinidad’s most successful cricketing servants.
Franklyn Rose, another West Indian Ashbrooke pro, also entered the history books – as the first man to bowl and take a wicket on Durham’s new Riverside ground when it opened during the 1990s. He was playing for Durham’s Second XI at the time. He made his debut for Jamaica in the 1992/3 season and also played for the West Indies.
Hard hitting and powerfully built, Philo Wallace was one of the most popular of Sunderland’s West Indian pros. He opened up for the West Indies on a number of occasions.
Moving on to cricketers from the Indian subcontinent, we also had the Indian all rounder Kirti Azad. He was an aggressive bowler and a huge hitter. He was also in the Indian side which won the one day World Cup in 1983, In the same competition he disposed of Ian Botham for six runs in the semi final.
The legendary Mushtaq Ahmed was also at Ashbrooke for a short while. The Pakistani spinner came at short notice to replace a pro who had broken his arm. Amusingly he claimed that his main prowess lay in his batting!
English pros have also had key roles to play for Sunderland CC in the last 50 years. The standard here was set by the irrepressible Yorkshireman Alec Coxon who played and coached in the 1950s. He was followed by the popular Ken Biddulph who had already played almost a hundred games for Somerset in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Ken also played for Durham and kept a pub on retirement from cricket.
Sunderland CC was also well served by miserly bowler Steve Greensword, a local man who had a brief first class career with Leicester. The side was also helped by a couple of professional Browns – Gary, brother of Middlesex wicket keeper Keith, and who had played for first -class Durham with considerable success and earned a single England cap. All this after playing at Ashbrooke as a junior – for Boldon CC!
Philo Wallace - a very popular pro