Former Porthill Park and Staffordshire batsman David Hancock celebrates his 80th birthday today… and he has plenty of memories to share. CHRIS TRAVERS reports…
DAVID Hancock’s personal score ticks over to 80 today, but reaching that total is nothing new for the former Porthill Park and Staffordshire batsman.
In fact, the quick single which takes Hancock to the landmark is small fry compared to his career stats at club and minor counties level.
The left-hander was prolific for Porthill Park – scoring just shy of 12,000 runs – and racked them up during his 25 years representing Staffs.
Racking up the runs for Staffordshire might be doing Hancock a disservice. After all, there were 9,286 of them spread across 204 Championship appearances.
And that doesn’t even include the List A scores he made or his time playing for the Minor Counties representative side.
Hancock was the county’s leading run scorer until Steve Dean went past his tally on his way to 10,163 runs.
And it all started for an 18-year-old Hancock, still at Newcastle High School, with a call to face Yorkshire seconds at Redcar in the final match of 1958.
“There was myself, Bob Taylor and David Steele who all made our Staffordshire debuts that season,” recalls Hancock, who also excelled at rugby.
“Two of them went on to greater things… and one didn’t! My excuse was that I was still at school and at that time the thought was you couldn’t go in to first-class cricket because there was no money. It was better to get an education.
“Back then, Lawrence Hancock (Staffs secretary) would send little postcards to your house and you had to reply as to whether you could play.
“There was a huge amount of excitement about making my debut, no real nerves.”
Hancock made 32 in his debut innings in a rain-affected draw, but certainly made an early impression on the Staffs committee.
Secretary Hancock – no relation – reported in the following year’s handbook that ‘new recruit David Hancock played a remarkably mature innings in the game at Yorkshire’.
“That must have been the last time I played one of those!” adds former architect Hancock as he looks back at Sentinel press cuttings and county yearbooks saved by his mother.
“I remember John Ikin (Staffordshire captain) played a masterful innings and Yorkshire’s Jack Birkenshaw was run out.
“I can recall who flung the ball in to wicketkeeper Bob Taylor!”
Hancock’s county involvement was stunted over the next couple of years as an extra spell at school and commitments at Manchester University hampered his availability.
But there was a landmark moment for him in 1960 against Nottinghamshire seconds at Bignall End – the first of eight Championship centuries while wearing the Staffordshire Knot.
“Dad and grandad were there,” explained Hancock. “Dad was a driving instructor, so Lawrence Hancock must have got in touch with him to get down to the ground.
“Myself and Fred Bailey put on 191 for the second wicket – Fred was a bloody good cricketer.
“There was quite a big crowd on the ground that day and it was a proud moment to get that first hundred for Staffordshire.”
Two other Staffordshire hundreds stick out for Hancock – 121 following-on in a brave defeat to Durham, plus 135 against Lincs, when Staffs were also forced to bat again, but emerged victorious.
However, from all of his memorable moments, there’s one century which is prominent when he reminisces about his career. The time he managed to upstage legendary West Indies all-rounder Gary Sobers in 1967.
“A good-sized crowd turned up at Porthill, mainly to see Norton’s professional Sobers, the great West Indian all-rounder, who had been in brilliant form the previous season in the Test series against England,” said Hancock.
“Norton were undefeated after seven matches and top of the league. We also had a pretty good side at Porthill. Don Whiston, the Stoke City footballer, was our skipper and Peter Timmis, who bowled for Staffs, was our pro.
“Don won the toss and I went out to bat on a glorious afternoon. Behind me, keeping wicket for Norton, was Gerry Sobers, Gary’s extrovert brother. He had a mouth full of gold teeth. When he smiled it dazzled you.
“On a hard wicket Gary started with some very quick bowling. I was dropped off him a couple of times by Gerry, which caused a bit of family friction. I was riding my luck. It was the only way to play against someone of Gary Sobers’s class.
“Gary had a lot of variety in his attack and tried everything, including his wrist spin. But while he took wickets regularly at the other end, and my partners came and went, I just batted and batted and the score rattled along.
“At last I found someone to stay with me in Peter Timmis, who had a decent knock of 20-odd before he got out. It took some of the pressure off. But looking back, I think I must have been at my peak around that time in 1967.
“I can clearly remember putting up my hundred with a leg glance, a flick off my legs down towards the pavilion. While I was in my 90s it had all gone quiet. Then when I reached a century everybody came out and cheered.
“Gary Sobers had certainly given me a hard time, but I managed to upstage him that day. It was a privilege and pleasure to score a century in such illustrious company. We declared at 188 for nine and I carried my bat for 110.
“The day was made complete for me when I caught Gary off Peter Timmis’s bowling. We got him out cheaply as well for 17. But we were denied victory as the match ended in a draw.
“Afterwards, Gary came up to me and said they’d tear us to ribbons when they got us back to Norton. But he was out of luck. That match was rained off.”
Sobers wasn’t the only bowler who felt plenty of frustration at failing to dislodge Hancock.
Russell Flower, a left-arm spinner for Warwickshire and Staffs team-mate of Hancock’s, had an answer for most things thrown his way. But Hancock was a different proposition.
“I played for Stone at Porthill Park one day,” said Flower. “We batted first and got a couple of hundred. It was a dusty wicket, so as a spinner I was relishing the prospect of bowling.
“I could get most of the Porthill batsmen out, but didn’t get anywhere with David.
“He got 80-odd not out to save the game. His doggedness and skill stuck with me for a long while.
“He also scored that hundred against Sobers. Not many people achieved that in local league cricket.”
Every opening batsman needs a partner, though, to lay firm foundations.
And for Staffordshire, more often than not, spectators watched Hancock and Peter Gill stride out to front the county innings.
The pair estimate that they opened 150 times for Staffs, meaning there’s no better man than Gill to summise his opening partner’s talent.
“David was a very good batsman. He was suited to league and minor counties cricket,” explained Gill, himself no slouch with the willow after accumulating 6,861 Championship runs in green and gold.
“He was dogged, but unruffled. All of a sudden, you think you’ve got him tied down and the ball would disappear over mid on.
“We just got on with batting together. In fact, I don’t think there was a ever a run out when we batted.
“Dave was obdurate and I was probably the one who glided the ball about more – our styles worked well.
“I can just see him batting now. He always had his collar up and his Staffs cap on. He was very proud to play for the county.”
That pride inched up a notch ahead of the 1974 season when Hancock was appointed county captain in succession to Doug Henson.
Hancock led the county until the end of the 1981 campaign – and his captaincy brought about a change of approach.
“I had been dropped towards the end of the 1973 season and found out I wasn’t playing in the paper,” recalls Hancock.
“When I was captain I would always let someone know if they were not playing. I always thought it was better to explain the decision to them, rather than them read it.
“I started off well as captain. We won the first game. You had to get on with the game, trying to fit four innings in two days. You wondered how you managed to do it, but we did.
“Our discipline was good on the pitch… and not so good off it!
“Laurence Hancock used to say: ‘We played hard on the field, but God knows what they did after the game’. He used to have a meal booked at the hotel we were staying at, but we never went, we just stayed at the club.”
It was enhancing the social side of the game which was also a key aspect of Hancock’s captaincy.
There are plenty of stories flying about which wouldn’t be suitable for publication, but at the heart of matters on and off the pitch was a love for the game.
“The Northern tours, playing Durham and Northumberland consecutively over four days, were the highlight of the season,” added Flower.
“David developed big friendships with Durham, Northumberland and Lincs, who we played the most in those days.
“He always thought a big part of the game was meeting up after play and socialising with the opposition. It doesn’t really happen nowadays.
“You’d play Lincolnshire away and their opening batsman, Geoff Robinson, worked for the Ross group. Hank would arrive at the ground with a cool box and Robbo would give him a load of fresh fish to bring home.
“That wouldn’t have happened if people didn’t like David. They did it because he stopped for a drink and talked cricket. It was part and parcel of the day.
“And you have to remember, we only had liquid at night!”
Gill was vice-captain under Hancock and recalls a skipper with a steely determination to win, but also to have fun.
Gill remembers his skipper breaking his thumb at Northumberland’s Jesmond headquarters when he “aquaplaned in to the stumps after slipping in the rain trying to execute a run out”.
And while they waited for the start of play, you had to be on your guard when Hancock’s mischievous side emerged.
“One game at Cleethorpes we were sat there on the Sunday morning and the sea fret was in at 10 in the morning.
“We were all sitting on cricket bags reading newspapers.
“Dave always had a trick up his sleeve and he lit the bottom of Mike Ikin’s Sunday Express. Mike continued reading it, until all of a sudden these flames appeared. You can imagine the chaos…
“Above all that, though, David was a very good captain. He was laid back, but certainly no fool.”
The end of Hancock’s Staffordshire career came in 1983 when he made one last appearance after Steve Dean was unavailable.
By that stage, Hancock admits he knew it was time to bring the curtain down on his county career.
“It was Lincolnshire at Longton, my last game. I opened the batting with Dave Cartledge (the current head of cricket).”
“Carlo got 94 and he was sending the ball all over. I stood at the other end thinking ‘what’s going on here?’
“I’d had enough by the end of the 1981 season, in truth. I was 41 then and coming towards the end. It was time for someone else to have a go.
“It was a happy time. The Northern tours were great. I had great relationships with all of the players. We were in it together.
“There were some good wins and some bad losses.”
One loss, though, still rankles with Hancock. It might be 42 years ago, but a Gillette Cup defeat by Sussex at Stone is one that got away.
Sussex, with the likes of Geoff Arnold, Imran Khan, Kepler Wessels and Gehan Mendis in their side, posted 221.
Rain took the game in to a second day, but Staffordshire were on course for victory thanks to Hancock’s 68 and 85 from Nasim-Ul-Ghani.
And then umpire David Constant made a controversial decision… and Staffs ended up falling short by two runs.
“Myself and Nas were winning that game. It was getting easy. Ok, Geoff Arnold and Imran Khan hadn’t come back at that point,” said Hancock.
“I was given out caught behind off my elbow by David Constant. We could easily have won that game if it wasn’t for him – and won it comfortably. I walked off and just looked at Constant.
“We needed three off the last ball and couldn’t do it. Geoff Arnold won the gold award for what was described as one of the best last overs seen by the adjudicator.
“He bowled a great over to Keith Stride. In those days, the gold award winner received a tie and Geoff gave it to me and told me I deserved it more than him.
“Sussex went on to win the competition that year. The last ball hit Stridey’s foot. If it had hit his heel, it would have gone for four leg byes.”
His playing career might have come to an end, but Hancock returned to the Staffordshire scene to serve the county as first match manager and then president from 2008 to 2014 – a role, Gill says, he filled with “unbelievable enthusiasm”.
And he’s still a regular – and popular – sight at Staffordshire matches across the country along with his wife Dehrne.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time as president and it gets you back in to the game,” said Hancock.
“You also got to mingle with the supporters who I have always appreciated. It’s great to get involved with them.”
The coronavirus prevents Hancock from celebrating his birthday as he had planned.
But at least when the party does start, it won’t be interrupted by a former England international, as Flower explains.
“We played up at Hartlepool and were staying at Seaton Carew,” he added. “Upstairs, near the rooms, there was a ballroom and we were in there having a drink. John Ikin, our captain who played for England, went to bed and then David brought out crates of Guinness.
“We were all well behaved, but a bit noisy. JT (Ikin) suddenly appeared on this balcony in his pyjamas and England blazer.
“He said ‘halves for the batsmen, pints for the bowlers. Good night gentleman’. And clapped his hands. We got the message.”
Whether it’s a half or pint Hancock sups today to celebrate his landmark, it’s well deserved.