By Paul Eddison
Shane Warne’s first ball in Test cricket on English soil has gone down as the most famous in the history of the game – but his first experience in this country was altogether less successful.
Warne was signed as Accrington CC’s overseas pro for the 1991 season, two years before the delivery that left Mike Gatting bewildered at Old Trafford; however he wasn’t even deemed worthy of a second season at the club.
The Lancashire League side have had their fair share of top quality pros, not least the two generations of Lloyds, David and Graham. But Warne’s efforts in his one season were not sufficient to be invited back.
Current chairman Rod Kenyon was just starting out on the committee at the club when Warne was brought in, and remembers the doubters well.
“He was only 18 or 19 and a few of the spectators said to me, ‘What have you brought this guy in for?’” remembers Kenyon.
“‘He can’t bat or bowl’. And in the end we didn’t sign him the following year.
“He loved it here and really enjoyed himself on and off the field. Without going into too much detail, he certainly seemed to be a fan of the nightlife here.”
Warne was not exactly a total failure, he managed 73 wickets at an average of 15, but was less effective with the bat, scoring just one fifty in 22 league games.
Still, he will go down as Accington’s most famous-ever Australian, although that was very nearly not the case.
Back in 1931, Accrington reportedly offered Don Bradman, then 22 and the world’s best batsman, £500 a season for a three-year deal.
Bradman eventually had to turn down the offer because of a clause in his contract with Australia, ending the protracted speculation with a telegram to the club.
“The club did offer him terms but it didn’t come off,” said secretary Mark Taylor. “We actually have the letter in the pavilion from Bradman himself declining the offer.”
The club came into existence all the way back in 1846, and has been part of the Lancashire League since its creation in the last 19th century.
Three consecutive titles followed from 1914-1916, inspired by the league’s first international Test cricketer, South African Charlie Llewellyn, who starred in the first two title campaigns.
He was a key figure for the club during two spells that stretched over 15 years, however the title in 1916 would be their last for nearly half a century.
Their next championship coincided with the arrival of West Indian fast bowler Wes Hall, the gentle giant who was the club’s overseas players for three years between 1960 and 1962.
Hall managed 329 wickets in three league seasons, helping Accrington to the title in 1961, and while they couldn’t defend their crown the following season, Hall twice managed ten wickets in an innings, the first Accrington player to do so in the Lancashire League.
“Wes Hall was a gentle giant, and he was very fair to the amateurs. But when he was up against the professionals, he would bowl all sorts to them,” explains Kenyon.
“Our wicket-keeper back then, Jack Collier, was sponsored by a local butcher. He used to stick a steak in each glove to try to ease the pain of keeping wicket to Wes.”
While there have been a huge number of big name overseas stars at Accrington, with the likes of Bobby Simpson, Mohsin Khan and Nathan Astle having all turned out at Thorneyholme Road, they have also produced a number of homegrown talents who went on to star at first class and Test level.
Bumble is the current president, having played for the club over an incredible 47-year-span, making his debut in 1962, with his final game a shock comeback in 2009 at the age of 62.
There he played alongside son Graham, who played for the club until he was 16 before returning after retiring from first class cricket and helping the club to a first league title in 33 years in 2008.
They would repeat the feat the following season as they bounced back from some difficult seasons, becoming the first team to go from last to first in the league with the first of those titles.
“It was very enjoyable going back,” remembers Graham. “I had lots of friends who were still there from when I had played in the 80s.
“It was a good team with some very good players so I had a really enjoyable five or six years there.
“They had been struggling a bit for a few years but it all came together at the right time.
“I think most clubs have had financial problems and we were no different. The game has changed from when teams brought in big name players and I think people are starting to realise that now.
“The club seems to be stable now, and my two sons play there. Joe will be 17 next year and plays for the seconds, although he’s played a few games for the first team, while my younger son Joshua is in the under-13s.”
The next generation of Lloyds look set to carry on the family tradition, and Kenyon is hopeful the club can continue to build.
They were champions in 2013 thanks in large part to the efforts of Ashar Zaidi, who went on to earn a contract with Sussex after finishing the season as both the leading run-scorer and leading wicket-taker in the league.
Now in place is South African Ockert Erasmus, who is preparing for his third season, and Kenyon believes the future is bright.
“Things are looking good. Ockert has settled in the area and is coming back for a third season. He lives here now.
“He helps coach the youngsters which is very important for us because they play less cricket in school these days.
“We’ve got a number of youngsters coming through so it’s about giving them a chance and making them comfortable at this level.
“There are four teams in a very small area here so we have lots of big games during the season.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday November 20, 2015