Whatever the scores elsewhere, the 95 not out by Ron Pearson was surely the most notable incident of the Birmingham League last weekend.
There cannot be too many people who remember Sydney Barnes as a player; but 95-year-old Ron, believed to be the oldest-surviving Birmingham League player, actually played in the same side as him for two seasons.
Ron, who lives with his wife in Harborne, made his debut for Smethwick’s second team in 1931 and started a long career in their first team in 1934. A top-order batsman, usually an opener, he was good enough to represent Staffordshire and make “some centuries and plenty of 50s” in the league.
He made a brief return to action on Saturday. Invited by Barry Stokes to attend President’s Day, he watched Walmley take on Wolverhampton and enjoyed tea with other former players.
Sadly, few of his team-mates remain.
“I’ve outlived most of them,” he says, “but I do keep in touch with one or two by post.
“Sydney Barnes [who was in his 60s at the time] was our professional in 1935 and 1936,” he recalls. “He was a wonderful bowler but a very severe sort of man. He didn’t do a lot of smiling and we were all terrified of dropping a catch off his bowling. Fortunately I never did.”
Barnes was far from the only great player that Pearson came across in the Birmingham League. Maurice Tate (who claimed more than 2,700 first-class wickets) and Jamaican left-arm spinner Alf Valentine represented Walsall, George Headley played for Dudley while the likes of Cyril Goodway, Tom Pritchard, Eric Hollies, ‘Tom’ Dollery, Dick Howorth, Arthur Booth and Dick Pollard all made regular appearances in the league. Some matches drew crowds of more than 3,000.
Indirectly, Ron’s experience spans the entire history of Warwickshire CCC. For Barnes played with the likes of FR Foster, both Quaifes, Teddy Diver, Sydney Santall and Johnny Shilton: names of almost mythical quality that evoke thoughts of the golden age of pre-World War One cricket.
Indeed, one could argue that Pearson is the last link with the first blooming of Warwickshire cricket.
He also has links with the present. After his final season, in the late ‘50s, Ron was replaced as Smethwick’s opening batsman by a certain Dennis Amiss.
“He didn’t have very large shoes to fill,” Pearson says modestly.
It’s not quite true, either. Ron topped the club’s batting averages in 1935 and played a major role in helping the club to their first Birmingham League title in 1951. He was, by all accounts, a fine player.
The Second World War – Ron served in the Western Desert for five years – robbed him of his prime cricketing years before a burgeoning career with British Steel ate into his time afterwards.
But he has no regrets. “I don’t think I was good enough to play at a higher level,” he says. “Besides, I was busy with my job and then I started playing golf.”
It is a hobby he has sustained to this day; often completing nine holes in the morning. He’s surely on course to post his century.