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The summer Alan Butcher reached his peak – Almanack

Alan Butcher
by Almanack Archive 5 minute read

More than a decade on from his only Test appearance, Alan Butcher enjoyed a prolific season with Glamorgan to be named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1991.

When Surrey decided not to renew Alan Butcher’s contract in 1986, he thought seriously of retiring from first-class cricket. Instead, he accepted an offer to join Glamorgan, for whom his consistent batting and, latterly, his astute captaincy have been an inspiration. Moreover, and importantly, he began to enjoy his cricket again, something he had not experienced with Surrey for some seasons.

Last season he thrived on his responsibilities as captain. While Glamorgan, who had propped up the County Championship for two years, rose to eighth, their best position for twenty years, the elegant left-hander, who many thought should have played for England more often than his solitary appearance in 1979, had his most successful season, finishing with an aggregate of 2,116 runs for an average of 58.77.

He hit six Championship hundreds, but it was his unbeaten 104 against Middlesex in the NatWest Bank Trophy quarter-final at Lord’s which best epitomised his many qualities. Glamorgan’s early-order batsmen, including Viv Richards, were dismissed cheaply, but Butcher, on a slow, unresponsive pitch, countered the formidable Middlesex attack and batted throughout the innings. Despite the home side’s emphatic nine-wicket win, this captain’s innings earned him the Man of the Match award.

Alan Raymond Butcher was born in Croydon on January 7, 1954, and after playing for Beckenham Under-11s he spent five and a half years in South Australia, where the family emigrated. He made a considerable impression with the Glenelg youth team, winning their Junior Cricketer award for outstanding performances, and was selected for the South Australia Under-15 side, and later for an all-Australia representative team. South Australia Under-15s included David Hookes, and had Alan’s family decided to reside permanently in Australia he would almost certainly have played for his state team, and through qualification he would have been eligible for his adopted country.

After the family’s return to England, he played for Surrey Young Cricketers before joining the county staff in 1972, having played two Sunday League games at the end of the previous season. In a Surrey side boasting a batting line-up which included John Edrich, Mike Edwards, Younis Ahmed, Graham Roope and Stewart Storey, he was selected primarily as a left-arm medium-fast bowler who batted at No. 8 or No. 9.

In only his third first-class game, he took six for 48 against Hampshire at Guildford, his wickets including Barry Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Roy Marshall, while two years later, in 1974, his three for 11 in Surrey’s Benson and Hedges Cup semi-final against Lancashire was followed by an eleven-over spell in the final which yielded 23 runs as Leicestershire were beaten by 27 runs. However, the lively left-arm in-swingers are now only sparingly used, although some orthodox slow left-arm is occasionally revived in an attempt to break a partnership.

Butcher began opening the innings for Surrey midway through the 1975 season, partnering Edrich, a batsman whom he admired for his ability to concentrate fully, never to appear ruffled and never to play any differently. The following season he achieved his first Championship century, against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, and his consistent batting over the next three seasons earned him an England cap against India at The Oval in 1979. He made 14 and 20, succumbing to the spin of Venkataraghavan in the first innings and the swing of Ghavri in the second, but he was not given another chance at that level, although he was called up for a one-day international against Australia in 1980.

Mike Brearley, who captained England in that 1979 series, rated Butcher as one of the best players of fast bowling in the county game, a view shared by many over the last fifteen years. His seasons’ aggregates varied between 1,300 and 1,700, on good, bad and indifferent pitches, especially those at The Oval in the mid-1970s which lacked bounce and pace. Strangely, apart from a period when Geoff Howarth opened the Surrey innings with him, Butcher has always been involved in a left-handed opening combination. Grahame Clinton followed Edrich, and since he joined Glamorgan Butcher and Hugh Morris have developed a productive partnership which has yielded 4,845 runs at an average of 56.00, including eighteen century stands.

Readers of the coaching manual will not find many faults with Butcher’s technique. He is well balanced, the weight evenly distributed on either foot enabling him to launch into a half-volley from the quicker bowlers or position himself for the hook and cut. Most batsmen of small stature, and most left-handers, favour the latter, and Butcher’s trademark is the slash past gully. While it sometimes gets him out, it also brings him lost of runs, and he revelled in the stroke last summer on flat pitches from which the ball rarely deviated. An abiding memory was Mike Gatting’s field-placing when Butcher was batting at Lord’s with a short Tavern boundary on his off side. There were two gullies slightly backward of square, with a third fielder in front and another posted ten years deeper. Butcher relished the challenge and followed his century in the NatWest game several days earlier with fifties in the Championship and Sunday League matches.

Although Butcher’s strokeplay is characterised by an attacking approach, he is always prepared to graft when the occasion demands. In 1980, he scored 107 before lunch for Surrey at The Oval, ironically against Glamorgan; nine years later, on the same ground, he frustrated his former county with a superb defensive innings of 88 not out that occupied 84 overs. On a pitch which provided exaggerated bounce and turn on the last day, he showed unwavering patience and concentration, denying himself any liberties and saving the game for his adopted county. It is this tough competitiveness, allied to his professionalism and sportsmanship, which has always endeared him to his fellow players. In addition to these qualities, he has shown that he possesses a shrewd cricket brain and the ability to be an inspiring leader.

In 402 first-class games, Alan Butcher hit 22,667 runs at 36.32, including 46 hundreds. In his only Test appearance, against India at The Oval in 1979, he registered scores of 14 and 20.

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