John Brian “George” Statham, CBE (17 June 1930 – 10 June 2000) was one of the leading English fast bowlers in 20th century English cricket. Initially a bowler of a brisk fast-medium pace, Statham was able to remodel his action to generate enough speed to become genuinely fast. This, together with unflagging accuracy and the ability to make the ball – new or old – break back, made Statham a consistent force both for Lancashire in the County Championship and in Test cricket, where his strikepower helped give England perhaps its strongest attack of the 20th century during the 1950s and early 1960s. He overtook Alec Bedser‘s record of 236 Test wickets in the Fourth Test at the Adelaide Oval in 1962-63. This new record of 242 Test wickets (24.27) was rapidly overtaken by his famous new-ball partner Fred Trueman two months later in New Zealand. Statham finished with 252 Test wickets (24.84).
Statham was remarkably gentlemanly for a fast bowler and would rarely bowl a bouncer (and would warn the batsmen beforehand if he did), but his straight, full-length bowling could easily hit a batsman on the foot. Statham was also a brilliantly athletic out-fielder who was well suited to the one-day game when it emerged in the latter part of his career.
On 30 August 2009, Brian Statham was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
Youth and early career
Statham was born in Gorton, Manchester on 17 June 1930. He played cricket for Whitworth Street in Manchester schools cricket matches. Statham played his earliest cricket as a junior for Reddish & Gorton Cricket Club (renamed Denton West Cricket Club in 1947) in the Saddleworth & District League and then the North Western League from 1948, along with his three brothers. Statham joined the Royal Air Force for his national service. He was based at Stafford and would return home at weekends to play cricket. He joined Stockport Cricket Club and played for them in the Central Lancashire Cricket League. Statham also played football for Denton West as left wing, and was offered trials with Liverpool and Manchester City. However, it went no further as his father did not want him to pursue football as a career. At the age of eighteen, he came to the notice of the Lancashire officials who needed considerable reinforcement for their bowling attack, and was offered an engagement a year later, which he accepted.
Prior to making his Lancashire debut on 17 June 1950, his 20th birthday, Statham had received no formal coaching. Early on in his career with the club, he became known as George because when he arrived it was the first time in years that there was no one player called George. In his first year, 1950, Statham had relatively little bowling to do because the under-prepared pitches at Old Trafford were so favourable to spinners Roy Tattersall and Malcolm Hilton. Nonetheless, two fine performances against Somerset and Yorkshire and several valuable early wickets in other innings gave him an excellent average even though he only took 36 wickets in the County Championship, which Lancashire shared with Surrey that season. This placed him top of the average amongst bowlers of pace, but at the time he was seen as only a promising newcomer who might strengthen a department in which England had been deplorably weak ever since the resumption of first-class cricket after the Second World War. However, when England were depleted by injuries in Australia, Statham and off-spinner Tattersall were surprisingly called into the team despite no previous representative experience. Though Statham did not achieve anything of note in his initial Test, by the time the 1951 season began he had made a meteoric rise.
With Alec Bedser and the spinners doing most of the work against South Africa in 1951, Statham had to do very little in the Tests, but he only missed 100 first-class wickets due to injury and showed himself a formidable bowler on a pitch offering help. In India, his average was good, but the heat and humidity certainly seemed to take their toll upon his body and he did little in the Tests, with the result that he was not chosen for a Test match in 1952 even though he was gaining speed and straightness and was often extremely formidable despite conditions rarely favouring bowlers. In 1953, Statham was within a whisker of heading the first-class averages and bowled wonderfully on the most placid of pitches against Hampshire, but Bedser ensured he was not needed in the Ashes Tests. Statham and fellow fast-bowler Fred Trueman were on occasion, in 1953, called up to the Test squad, but with the England team maturing, the captain, Len Hutton did not feel comfortable playing two fast-bowlers, often preferring the more economical, slower bowling of Alec Bedser and Trevor Bailey. This meant that Statham and Trueman rarely bowled in tandem in this period.
It was against the West Indies in 1953-54 that Statham’s determination saw him gain a regular Test spot. Excellent performances on placid pitches made him the leading bowler on either side with 16 wickets for 28.60 each, and in 1954 he was deadly when available to play against Pakistan (injury kept him out of England’s shock loss at the Oval in the Fourth Test). Statham headed the first-class averages for the first of four occasions, though he only took 92 wickets due to appalling weather constantly interrupting cricket in Lancashire, and was made a Cricketer of the Year by the 1955 Wisden.
Into his prime
Selected to tour Australia in 1954-55, Statham’s superb bowling, generally into the wind, helped the fiery Frank “Typhoon” Tyson win England the Ashes series by three Tests to one. Whilst he never achieved anything sensational, his back up to Tyson made sure the pressure Tyson’s pace put on the Australians was maintained at both ends. With Tyson unavailable due to a blistered heel, Statham paired up with Trueman to open the bowling against South Africa at Lord’s in 1955. Statham produced best bowling figures in Test matches in South Africa’s second innings in the match; his 7/39 as England won by 79 runs. He bowled unchanged for two hours on a good pitch in England’s unexpected victory. Had injury not intervened and kept his appearances down to only half of Lancashire’s County Championship matches, Statham would have had remarkable figures. The highest first-class score of his career came against Leicestershire in 1955; however, his innings was cut short on the orders of his captain, Cyril Washbrook, who asked that Statham get himself out so that he would be fresh to bowl. In 1956, with pitches consistently favouring spinners, Statham did so little that he failed to reach 100 wickets. Still, his 6 for 27 against the Australians was enough to show his greatness was not in doubt.
On some dubious pitches in South Africa that winter, and in the following two English summers, England’s unparalleled spread of bowling talent again gave Statham little chance to show his ability, but in county cricket, even with no regular partner, Statham was still the most reliable bowler and almost never failed to produce some extraordinary analyses. In 1957 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, he took 15 for 89; against Leicestershire at Old Trafford in 1958 13 for 64; and at Cardiff that year he and Tattersall bowled Glamorgan out for 26. His average of 12.29 that year was his best-ever but he was still only third in the first-class list due to large numbers of very helpful pitches.
Helped by Higgs to incomparable heights
With Ken Higgs providing the support Statham had been yearning for since he began, 1958 marked the beginning of Statham’s greatest period. Despite England’s “old guard” of May, Laker and Lock collapsing in the Australian tour of 1958-59 and England losing four-nil, Statham bowled as beautifully as ever. His 7 for 57 at the MCG was regarded as some of the best bowling ever seen at the ground, and represents his best figures against Australia.
In the following two seasons, though pitches in England were covered after play began for the first time, Statham carried all before him both at county and Test level. So good was he that in 1960 his speed and accuracy gave him an average of 10.91 from 19 county matches, and in the Tests against the South Africans he was equally formidable: taking 11 for 97 at Lord’s and inflicting only the third “king pair” (out first ball in each innings) on “Tich” Wesley in the third match. The previous year, in an exceptionally dry summer, Statham’s consistency was shown by the fact that, with only one haul of six in an innings, he still took 97 wickets for 16.49 each despite missing seven games with a strain. By 1960, Higgs’ assistance, gave Lancashire so formidable an opening attack that until mid-August, they looked like winning the Championship. In many games, such as that against Gloucestershire at Bristol, they dominated proceedings so completely that Lancashire won with little support from their batting. Against the West Indies in 1960-61, Statham confirmed his position as the best bowler in the world with 27 wickets for 20 runs each on pitches offering bowlers very little.
Fading from the heights
Despite a record benefit against the Australians and a few wonderful performances in 1961 (notably 8 for 47 against Hampshire), decline set in for the previously incomparable bowler. His haul of wickets fell from 97 at 10.91 to 78 at 17.93 and Lancashire became a weak county for the first time in Championship history. In 1962, though he was as good as ever in the Tests against Pakistan, with little support for him and Higgs, Statham fell further and only just reached 100 wickets, with Lancashire only just escaping finishing last.
When Fred Trueman and Statham toured Australia for the 1962-63 Ashes series they had 216 and 229 wickets respectively were poised to overtake the record of 236 Test wickets set by the assistant-manager Alec Bedser. The Australian captain Richie Benaud was another contender with 219 wickets, but it was Statham who broke the record in the Fourth Test at Adelaide. Trueman caught Barry Shepherd in the gully to give him his record 237th wicket. Despite the record Statham rarely shined on the tour, taking 13 wickets (44.61), and was used as a steady stock bowler. Statham took his record to 242 wickets, but returned to England while Trueman continued to New Zealand, where he broke Statham’s record after only two months.
In 1963, whilst his county form on overgrassed pitches was back to something close to his best, on the less grassy surfaces in the First Test against the West Indies his bowling lacked its old venom, and he was surprisingly replaced by the veteran Derek Shackleton for the rest of the series – a move criticised heavily in the press because it was known fast bowlers would do well at Lord’s. A highlight that year came when Statham took five wickets in the first-ever Gillette Cup match against Leicestershire.
In 1964, Statham, despite the arrival of Sonny Ramadhin to provide help, was disappointing and out of contention for the Ashes Tests. He did take 15 for 108 against a weak Leicestershire side and 7 for 50 against Warwickshire at Coventry, but had more bad matches than in any other season of his career.
Troubled by internal strife, Lancashire chose Statham as a full-time captain for 1965 (he had led them a few times in 1962).
The cares of captaincy were, perhaps, not well-suited to Statham and many of the decisions he made as captain between 1965 and 1967 were widely criticised – perhaps because Lancashire’s form did not improve from its poor level of the 1961 to 1964 period. Despite this, the club’s committee declared Statham’s first year as captain “an unqualified success”. As a bowler, Statham was as deadly as ever in the 1965 County Championship, taking 124 wickets for 12.41 apiece, and doing almost as well in 1966 and 1967. He in fact was so good that England recalled him at the age of 35 for the final Test against South Africa in 1965, and Statham did not disappoint, with an excellent 5 for 40 in the first innings. His form was so good it was known MCC would have selected him to tour Australia for the fifth time had Statham not made it known by then that he did not wish to be considered for tours.
After being relieved of the Lancashire captaincy, Statham announced that the 1968 season would be his last – indeed he announced early on he would not play after the August Bank Holiday match with Yorkshire. With Lancashire no longer dependent on him due to Higgs’ great form, Statham still went off on a high note with a first innings return of 6 for 31. In 1968, he took 69 wickets at an average of 17.08. Statham had given such service to Lancashire that the county gave him a second benefit in 1969, but it raised only 1,850 compared to over 13,800 for his 1961 benefit.
Statham was also appointed a CBE in 1968 in recognition of his services to cricket.
Statham became a member of the Lancashire committee in 1970, and was a member of it until 1995. He was appointed as president of the club from 1997 to 1998. Believing after erroneous media reports that Statham was in financial trouble, Fred Trueman organised two testimonial dinners to raise money for Statham. He died of leukemia a week before his 70th birthday, survived by his wife Audrey and two sons and a daughter.
The section of Warwick Road which runs past Lancashire County Cricket Club’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground was renamed “Brian Statham Way” in Statham’s honour. Incidentally, the other end of Warwick Road was previously renamed Sir Matt Busby Way after the former Manchester United manager, as the road runs past their stadium’s Scoreboard End.
On 30 July 2011 Tameside Council dedicated a plaque to Brian for permanent display at Denton West Cricket Club which was unveiled by Brian’s widow Audrey in the presence of Brian’s former teammates Geoff Clayton and Colin Hilton.