LAWRENCE BOOTH: John Edrich was selfless and his team-mates loved him

LAWRENCE BOOTH: John Edrich was utterly selfless and his team-mates loved him for it… he was the gutsiest of all England’s openers and his death is the end of a simpler, harder era of cricket

  • England cricket great John Edrich, 83, has passed away it has been confirmed 
  • Edrich was known for his bravery at the crease during his illustrious career
  • The opening batsman came from a renowned  Norfolk cricketing family
  •  He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2000 but fought on bravely for 20 years

John Edrich was arguably the gutsiest of all England openers, never more so than in his final Test innings in 1976 when, aged 39, he and the 45-year-old Brian Close survived a fearful barrage of short-pitched bowling from Michael Holding and Andy Roberts at Old Trafford.

At stumps on the third day of the third Test against West Indies, Edrich had 10 and Close one – runs, that is, not bruises, which numbered many more. Edrich burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Since there were no helmets in those days, and little else by way of protection, their bravery became the stuff of legend. Yet, next morning, the sum total of their work was 24 runs for Edrich in two hours and 20 minutes, and 20 for Close in two hours and 42.

Former England cricket great John Edrich has passed away aged 83, it has been confirmed

Edrich, seen here playing against Australia at the Oval in 1972 (right), enjoyed a long and successful career with England and Surrey

– John Edrich scored 39,790 first-class runs at 45, placing him 19th on the all-time list. Among left-handers, only Frank Woolley and Philip Hendren scored more.

– He was the leading run-scorer in an English first-class season three times, in 1962 (2,482 runs at 51), 1965 (2,319 runs at 62) and 1969 (2,238 at almost 70).

– He was Man of the Match in the first ODI, at Melbourne in 1970-71, after scoring 82 – though England lost by five wickets.

– No player in Test history scored more runs against Australia than Edrich’s 2,644 without registering a duck.

Once they fell, so did England: from 54 without loss to 126 all out, after a first-innings total of 71, to which Edrich had contributed eight in 108 minutes. He was utterly selfless, and his team-mates loved him for it. His death at the age of 83 feels like the passing of a simpler, harder era.

A first-class career that began with Surrey in 1956 and finished in 1978 had prepared him well for that ferocious evening in Manchester. At various moments, he had his hand shattered by Fred Trueman and Frank Tyson, his head nearly knocked off by South Africa’s Peter Pollock, and his ribs rearranged by Dennis Lillee during England’s traumatic 1974-75 Ashes defeat, when Edrich captained his country for the only time, at the SCG.

The title of his 1970 autobiography, Runs in the Family, referred to the fact that he was the youngest of the five Edriches, a renowned Norfolk cricketing family, to play at first-class level – his most celebrated cousin, Bill, 21 years John’s senior, had lit up the 1947 summer for Middlesex and England with Denis Compton. And the book’s opening line was characteristically matter-of-fact: ‘Some of my best friends have put me in hospital.’ 

But Edrich was far more than an uncomplaining punchbag. Left-handed, well-organised, low on ego and the owner of a merciless square cut, he finished with 103 first-class centuries, including 12 for England – and seven against Australia, and one each at Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide. Only Hobbs, Gower, Boycott, Hammond and Sutcliffe scored more than his 2,644 Ashes runs for England. 

John (centre) pictured with his young daughter, who he leaves behind having died aged 83 

The England opener with his first wife Pat, who he later divorced before marrying Judith, who passed away last year

In the 1970-71 series, Edrich’s 648 runs helped Ray Illingworth’s team win 2-0, despite the Australian umpires’ refusal to grant England a single lbw decision in six Tests. Also on that tour, he scored the first boundary in one-day internationals – a flick through midwicket – during a hastily arranged match at the MCG.  

Above all, he knew how to take his chance. In his second first-class game for Surrey, he made 112 and 124 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge.

And while his early path into the Test team was often blocked by Boycott after Edrich’s debut – mirroring his farewell – against West Indies at Old Trafford in 1963, Boycott’s absences twice left an opening. Twice, Edrich cashed in: 120 against Australia at Lord’s in 1964 in his first Ashes Test, then an epic 310 not out against New Zealand in 1965 at Headingley, when he was on the field throughout.

John came from a famous family of cricketers, including his cousin Bill (second right), seen here with Dennis Compton (right)

John Edrich coaches school children at a Daily Mail Boys And Girls Exhibition at Olympia London

His 57 boundaries in that innings – 52 fours and five sixes – remains a Test record; no one else has managed even 50. England’s card was now marked. 

Two hundreds followed in Australia that winter, and Edrich was well on the way to his eventual tally of 77 Tests and 5,138 runs at 43.

John Arlott captured his essence: ‘He had many technical limitations, knew them, and played within them, never assuming too much; knowing invariably what to hit, what to play and what to leave.’

He went on to be named as the President of Surrey Cricket Club, where he spent his career. The gates at the Oval’s Pavilion End are named after him

Edrich went on to become England’s batting coach, and president of his beloved Surrey, where the gates at the Oval’s Pavilion End are named after him. Mark Butcher, another Surrey left-hander who played 70-odd Tests, described him as a club legend, while Ian Botham yesterday remembered a ‘wonderful man’.

It was typical that a terminal leukaemia diagnosis in 2000 proved wide of the mark: given seven years to live, Edrich survived another 20, a fighter until the end.

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