@reverse_sweeper 3 minute read
Scott Oliver profiles Nick Archer, a behemoth of the Birmingham League whose tough runs are only part of the story.
First published in issue 30 of Wisden Cricket Monthly
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, they say, but the size of the fight in the dog. The diminutive Nick Archer may not have been the most glamorous batsman in the Walsall line-up for much of his 29-year first XI stint, nor in the Staffordshire sides for whom he played 152 championship matches, 95 of them as the county’s most successful ever captain, but he was the one you would want in the thick of a crisis. “I made a pair on debut aged 17, didn’t play again for five years, then only missed one game before retiring,” he says.
His toughness was in part forged through playing top-flight rugby union for Moseley during the amateur era – as scrum-half, of course – and in part through his innate tenacity. He’s known widely as ‘Torch’ – not on account of being pocket-sized and bright, but because of “coming back from an England Schools rugby tour to Australia, in a bit of a hippy phase, having my hair cut to reveal a tan and bright-white forehead”.
No Walsall player has scored more than Archer’s 10,651 Birmingham & District Cricket League (BDCL) runs – most of these in its 1980s and early-90s pomp, when it provided 11 National Knockout finalists in 14 years – while he also won nine BDCL titles.
Two of those National Knockout finalists were Walsall, Archer making 44 in defeat to Teddington in 1991 – the year he played for England Amateurs against the Sri Lankans – followed in 1996 by victory over Chorley on his 41st birthday, this a few weeks after his top BDCL score of 128 not out, a year after compiling a personal best BDCL aggregate of 895 runs. Fine wine.
He led both Walsall and Staffordshire for 11 years, and in his first year skippering the latter Nottinghamshire were given such a scare in the 1985 NatWest Trophy that BBC cameras pitched up at Trent Bridge. However, from 71-6, Notts rallied to restore the natural order. But it was a sign of things to come.
Staffordshire’s growing strength – Archer was able to call on four future England pacemen: Joey Benjamin, Paul Taylor, Dominic Cork and Dean Headley – took them to three Minor Counties championships and two Holt Cups between 1991 and 1993, defeat to Devon at Lord’s in 1992 denying them a ‘triple double’.
Nevertheless, Archer considers Staffordshire’s greatest achievement ending Durham’s 65-game unbeaten run, up at Stockton in 1983. On an individual note, he cherishes a battling 45 as stand-in opener against Sylvester Clarke and a pulled six off Malcolm Marshall “on an unbelievably slow pitch”. In 1989 he stepped up from his second-fiddle role to win the Wilfred Rhodes Trophy as the Minor Counties’ leading batsman, averaging 82.83. In all, there were 4,545 runs at 35.5. But just one hundred: 107 not out against Lincolnshire. This was in part because of the limitations of two-day cricket for the middle-order batter – “If I got in early it meant we were in the s**t” – and Archer is now into his fourth year as chairman of the re-branded ‘National Counties’, overseeing its rejig for the 2020 season, with promotion and relegation in the three-day game.
Prior to this, ‘Torch’ did a stint as Staffs chairman and, before that, 10 years as secretary. He is the longstanding general manager of the BDCL and still regularly drops in at his beloved Walsall. It all epitomises the man: selfless graft to ensure others have a platform to flourish.
Tough and unflappable as a skipper, open and approachable as an administrator, Archer’s service to cricket has been immense. A shining light, you might say.
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