Where are they now? Cheshire – 1988 NatWest giantkillers and Minor Counties champs

By Neil Fissler

Neil O’Brien admits that he could not help but feel sorry for Northamptonshire after Cheshire knocked them out of the 1988 NatWest Trophy.

O’Brien was the captain of the part-timers made up of students, insurance brokers, teachers and bedroom furniture manufacturers who won by a wicket in Chester.

He says that the competition was nothing more than a day out for his side but for the professionals there were livelihoods at stake.

But that did not stop Northants from coming a cropper at Boughton Hall when they were bowled out for 161 despite skipper Geoff Cook carrying his bat for 53.

Cheshire helped by 40 from former England opener Barry Wood got off to a steady start but despite losing wickets at a regularly intervals were still in it in the last over.

And they were taken home by Andrew Fox who edged Alan Walker for a four off the penultimate ball to seal victory.

O’Brien said: “For Northants it would have been a very slow wicket but it wasn’t like that for us because it was a club ground.

“We thought we were going to play Dennis Lillee, who was signed on at the time, but instead they played Winston Davis and were held together by Geoff Cook.

“And then, when it was our turn to bat, we lost wickets fairly steadily but we got down to the last over and Andrew Fox got a thick outside edge and it flew to the boundary. I remember that, although being quite delighted that we’d won, feeling quite sorry for Northants because for us it was a day out.

“For them it was their living. They had to go back and get really annihilated. They were over confident and they didn’t get stuck in on the batting side.”

Then in the second round they came close to repeating the same trick again, again at Boughton Hall, this time against Derbyshire.

Derbyshire managed to post 190 thanks to Peter Bowler (46), Bruce Roberts (57) and John Morris (41), who were the only batsman to reach double figures.

Cheshire, in reply, were flying along at 78-3 when rain came and stayed for the next day and a half and when the teams came back on the second reserve day there was to be no fairytale ending.

Derby’s Danish seamer Stan Mortensen produced a special spell of 5-15 to end any dreams of a second successful giantkilling as Cheshire were skittled out for 103.

O’Brien said: “We probably should have beaten them but the rain came and we had to borrow the machine to take all the water off the pitch from Lancashire.

“That allowed us to get the game on but we’d lost momentum over those two days and we finished up in no-mans land.

“Mortensen’s bowling suited the wicket which had been saturated and was a very difficult wicket to bat on by then.”

The season did, however, have a happy ending for Cheshire who were crowned Minor Counties Champions after they beat Cambridgeshire by 13 runs in the Championship final.

Back row (left-to-right):
Graham Hall: The county treasurer was an accountant. A Cheshire CCC life vice-president.
Charlie Davis: The scorer who’s son Philip and grandson Ashley have both gone on to play for Cheshire.
Barry Wood: England opener who played for his native Yorkshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire. Runs his own stables and is an after-dinner speaker.
Tony Murphy: A seamer who also played for Lancashire and Surrey and was working in IT, business re-engineering and event management. Now managing director of a health and safety company and has been Surrey’s cricket chairman.
John S Hitchmough: Seamer who became a leading rugby league referee. Lives in Warrington and works as the operations director, central region, for Trust Inns.
David Varey: An opening batsman who also played for Cambridge University and Lancashire. Is now an Insurance broker with Griffiths & Armour Insurance Brokers in Birkenhead.
Steve Crawley: An all-rounder who also played for Scotland. He joined the Caledonian Brewing Company in 1993 and stood down as a managing director 20 years later.
Ron Richardson: A batsman who played for Cheshire between 1963 and 1970 and worked for a sugar manufacturers and was county chairman when he died on the Wirral in November 1998, aged 71.
Donald Smith: A seamer who played for Cambridge University, Cheshire and Cornwall. He later became a Cheshire selector and  was a school teacher at Marple Hall School, Cheshire. He died in April 2015 aged 81.

Front row:
Simon Dyson: Dulwich College educated batsman spent 37 years working for IBM and has since sat on committee’s for the MCC and the Cricket Foundation.
John O’Brien: Left-arm spinner who spent nine seasons playing for Cheshire and Warwickshire seconds. Is now the head of Engineering Design at the Sellafield nuclear plant.
Ian Cockbain: Batsman also played for Lancashire and captained Cheshire for ten years, and also played football for South Liverpool. He now runs his own wealth management company in Formby. His father Ron played for Cheshire and son Ian now plays for Gloucestershire.
Neil O’Brien: An all-rounder who captained Cheshire between 1987 and 1990. Also represented Cheshire at table tennis and is now retired living in Stockport after working as an agent in the sportswear industry.
John J Hitchmough: A batsman who played for Cheshire for nine years. Is still living in his native Liverpool where he is earning a living as a taxi driver.
Mark Boocock: A leg break bowler who played for Worcestershire seconds and the MCC. Went to work for the National Coal Board in Bradford and is now Legal Services Manager at Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Trust.
Ken Holding: A batsman who became match manager with Cheshire. Was a school teacher until retiring he died in Chelford, Cheshire in June 1997.

Andrew Fox: Yorkshire-born seamer became a maths professor at Liverpool College.
Neil Smith: Keeper also played for Essex. Took up a manufacturing career but lost a battle with cancer in 2003, aged 53
Geoffrey Blackburn: Left-arm spinner who played for Lancashire second XI. Now running his own bedroom planning and furnishing business in Liverpool.
Ian Tansley: A batsman who played second XI cricket for Warwickshire and Derbyshire. Still based in Stockport. A senior estimator for the FK Group.

This article was originally published in The Cricket Paper, June 5 2015

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