By Frank Smith
WHEN the ECB asked their Twitter followers to name their club’s cricketing heroes, Derek Randall, Harvinder Singh and Monty Panesar were just a few of those mentioned.
But in amongst them was the lesser known name of Richard Cragg, who has the unconventional role of being Bramhall CC’s president and groundsman.
“It is a curious mixture isn’t it?” admits Cragg.
His affinity with the Cheshire club started 58 years ago when he started playing for one of the junior teams and barely a day goes by where the 68-year-old is not working at the ground.
The retired English teacher has been groundsman since the Seventies and he played an integral role when the club relocated from their previous home near the centre of Bramhall to a former farmer’s field in 1998.
The result of the work by Cragg and the other key men behind Bramhall is a beautifully picturesque setting to play cricket, which was recognised when it was chosen for a Cheshire Minor Counties game in 2011.
Cragg said: “Bramhall Cricket Club is a very large part of my life.
“The first thing is I am a cricket lover. I’m a member of Nottinghamshire CCC and I love watching Test cricket, and I love watching cricket at the other end with the youngsters coming through our club.
“I suppose I am centrally immersed in the club and a cricket nut – that is probably the best way to describe me.
“A large part of my life has been shaped by the club. And I don’t regret being a servant of cricket because I think it is a really beautiful sport and a very complex and artistic sport.
“It would be fair to say cricket has probably governed my life.”
Cragg was a talented cricketer who went on to represent England at school and university level.
He was a pro in the Lancashire and Cheshire League with Romiley for two years in the late Seventies, but apart from that, he has been a member at the club since 1957 and captained the first team for seven years over two spells.
First team captain Nick Cantello said: “All volunteers are important to clubs, but Richard goes above and beyond what most volunteers do.
“He is a full-time groundsman, he is down there seven days a week and sometimes from 7am until we finish our practice on a Thursday at around 9pm, giving us coaching advice and getting involved.
“Clubs at this level cannot run without people like Richard. He is a fantastic groundsman, a fantastic person and he played a very high level of cricket, so you do listen to him when he is talking.”
Bramhall won the Cheshire Cup in the Seventies and the Cheshire County League in 1988, but their finest moment came in 2001 when they won the National Club Cricket Championship.
Cragg compared Bramhall to West Bromwich Albion FC due to the club yo-yoing between Cheshire Cricket League’s top two divisions.
Last season was one of mixed emotions as the first team won their final two matches to remain in the Premier Division, but their 2nd XI were relegated from their top division – something which Cragg said was a real blow to the club as it will make the younger players’ transition into the first team even harder due to the wider gap in quality.
The performances of 20-year-old Danny Lamb, who has recently been given a scholarship contract by Lancashire and will now be involved with the professional squad, was crucial to Bramhall’s survival.
But for Cragg it was his sister, Emma Lamb, who has been the biggest success story of the summer.
The 17-year-old England U19 international made her debut for the men’s first XI, becoming the first woman to play in the Cheshire County Premier League.
Cragg said: “She is a really elegant, stylish batsman and bowls lovely-flighted off-breaks, and she is an accomplished fielder.
“She has fantastic concentration, and bats like there is a giant bubble around her – she is really impressive.
“She has been the most exciting development for the club this season. A female cricketer has not only got into our first XI, but she has performed.”
Cragg, who is at the end of his first year as president, has no intention of slowing down his involvement with the club.
He is also the head junior coach and the development of the next generation of players is his number one priority moving forward.
Cragg said: “My main hope for the club is that we have such a strong nursery, there is a steady flow of our youngsters who we have coached ourselves in the first team because that has not been happening. That would be my main objective.
“We want the coaching to be of such a high standard that parents seek us out as a club because of the quality of our coaching and because they know first team opportunities will be there, and their children will be looked after.
“My hope is that we could develop some first-class cricketers who could play in the first XI.
“We are striving for excellence and it is really important that we retain our status at first and second level.
“I would say things are running relatively smoothly. We have a beautiful cricket ground with a decent wicket, a good square and the outfield always gets high marks from the umpires – not to mention the four-lane nets facility with astroturf – so we have everything we need here.
“As long as we maintain momentum, I would say we are in a pretty promising position at the moment, and now we need to keep moving onwards and upwards.”
He added: “There are some big clubs in our league like Chester, Nantwich and Alderley Edge – big town clubs – and they will always attract the quality players in our area so if we could become a top six club then I would be really happy with that.
“Simply wanting to be a top half of the table club is not showing a lack of ambition, it is being realistic with what can be achieved.”
Cantello, who has been at the club for ten years, added: “Bramhall really strives to achieve excellence and the way they promote the youngsters and give them opportunities is a really big plus for the club.
“When I was a young lad I was exposed to senior cricket early on and it helped me massively so it is great we do that.Bramhall pay for their members to become level two coaches out of their own costs so we have a high number of level two coaches which is a huge plus.
“The club has a very bright future.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday October 23, 2015