In 1996 Alistair Alcock was Ainsdale’s first ever overseas signing with the New Zealand Maori proving a hit both on and off the pitch. Back home he had represented both CD and Otago at first team level. A pacy, accurate bowler he initially suffered by bowling a first class length but once he adapted to club conditions he put in several match winning performances with both ball and bat. Alistair had an interesting start to his time at Ainsdale. After arriving at Manchester airport in mid April wearing shorts and flip-flops ( weather 2 degrees Centigrade and sleeting ) he was detained due to a work permit irregularity – he didn’t have one – and, after making his debut, he had to leave the country for 7 days whilst it was sorted out. Not many people get a paid for week in Tenerife after just one week into their job.
1997 Blair Hendren. As part of the strong Aukland set up, Blair, the great grandson of Patsy Hendren the England and Middlesex great ( 51 Tests and the 3rd highest run scorer in English first class cricket ) never got to play first class cricket himself but was an outstanding pro for ACC. As a medium / fast bowler he was steady rather than devastating and his figures were possibly flattered by bowling at several weak line up’s as the Comp had been expanded to 25 clubs. That said, any ambitious player prepared to dodge the canine detritus and Billy McGennity’s post match hospitality at Tranmere Victoria probably deserves an 8 wicket haul. Once he adapted his game to slow, seaming tracks, Blair was immense with the bat hitting conventional shots with huge power and timing. He became the first Ainsdale player to pass 1,000 runs in a League campaign.
1998 Simon Murphy was another overseas pro who never quite made it to first class level and his experience’s came from playing for Canterbury Country in what was effectively state 2nd eleven cricket. Until Yassir Ali many years later, Si-Fi was undoubtedly Ainsdale’s fastest ever bowler as numerous opposition batsmen and our own porous slip cordon could testify. On one particular occasion, when a certain Dr. Bolton had let a second successive nick go straight through him for 4, he offered to let any of his critical team mates replace him at second slip. The offer was unanimously declined.
Ainsdale topped the Competition for the early part of the season but a critical narrow loss at Caldy in early July saw their challenge implode before the usual strong finish in August and September at least gained credibility if not silverware. Simon’s individual contribution was to smash the individual wicket taking record for a season with 110, a record that will never be beaten as the Competition as was is no more. This was 10 wickets better than the previous record of exactly 100 held by the legendary Aigburth spinner, Reg Squires.
1999 Matt Walker was Ainsdale’s 4th Kiwi pro and in terms of pure League stats alone, the best. That assessment could be borne out in his first class career where the Taranaki born all-rounder featured for both Wellington and CD between 1995 and 2004, the undoubted highlight being 3 ODI appearances for the Black Caps against Pakistan in 2003. In the second match of the 3 game series he took 4 for 49. In all Matt played 50 first class games, averaged over 32 with the bat including 2 centuries and 13 half centuries and took106 wickets at the healthy average of 23. In 2004, his 84 whilst batting at 9 greatly helped Wellington secure their 20th State title as they drew against their nearest rivals, Canterbury.
In an echo of his Ainsdale past however, he walked out on his contractin October that year after a row with his coach, Vaughn Johnson, over his fitness – or rather lack of it.
An article by Wisden Cricinfo staff from October 13th read;
“Johnson was shocked at Walker’s decision. “ It comes as a complete surprise to me. I thought our relationship was pretty strong. I’m extremely disappointed we couldn’t get around the table and talk about it”. Wellington officials and the New Zealand Players Association had tried to arbitrate without success. Johnson appears to have the backing of other Wellington players and none have come forward to support Walker”.
However, back to 1999 and the collosal Walker took the Merseyside Comp bowling apart to rack up 1245 runs. For years Irby had dominated the Comp with ex Bradford League pro’s Spence and Pratt to the fore but now they were in a period of mild decline although many a batsman had been tied down in frustration by the leg stump lines employed by their spinners Johnston and Gibson. Not Walker though and as yet another maximum cleared the tennis courts and headed in the general direction of Formby, one of the pair, fielding at deep square, turned to the Ainsdale lads lapping the ground and actually proclaimed in total sincerity, “it’s not fair” as an 8 year old child might. It would be rude to name which of the pair it was but what the heck! it was Jonno.
As if his exploits with the bat were not enough, Matt also weighed in with the ball and took 103 wickets, only the 3rd player ever to break the100 mark and the only one to manage the 1,000 runs and 100 wickets double. With such heroics you would have expected ACC to breeze to the title but that was far from the case as they slumped to 6th. The amateurs had become lazy behind a top class pro and offered inadequate support.
For 2000 Matt Walker returned, larger than….well…….Matt Walker 1999. After just one game he disappeared, Lionel Stanyon calling round to take him off for a days work only to find an empty flat. He was tracked down to Swardesden in the East Anglia Premier League and although a lot of legal argument followed, the ECB were toothless, the East Anglia Prem non-commital and his unwitting new club understandably embarrassed. Swardesden did however agree to reimburse us his £1,000 air fare but made the unbelievable mistake of giving the cash to Fat Matt to pass on.
Perhaps he just forgot in a difficult period for him which included a ban for fighting on the pitch. Apparently, as he took guard in a particular game, the short leg fielder, hidden behind the batsman’s considerable bulk, had placed a large cream cake in the crease. The pro didn’t see the funny side and spent the next few weeks on the sidelines, then in the second’s before disappearing back Down Under leaving two good clubs out of pocket and underwhelmed. The ECB now finally acted and and banned him from returning to play indefinitely.
The upshot was that, without a pro, we all took responsibility for our cricket, the effects of this standing us in good stead in the coming years.
For 2001, with his twin brother Mark already at the Club, and having had our fingers well and truly burned the year before, we took the brave step of re-engaging Simon Murphy – a clear case of better the Devil you know. With his hopes of a first class career behind him, Si Fi What a Guy was a shadow of the bowler he had been in his previous spell but his upbeat personality, newly acquired skills with the bat and the 42 wickets he did take we had a fantastic season, coming runners up in the League to Birkenhead St. Mary’s.
It was in the Cup competitions however that we excelled in 2001 and reached the finals of both the Lever Cup and the Kaufman Cup, held at Liverpool Road on successive weekends. However, immediately prior to the Lever final Simon sabotaged our efforts. Never the best trainer, in fact he’d probably give Jon Pearce a ( slow ) run for his money, he suddenly morphed into Mr. Motivator and put an astonished group of team mates through a strenuous aerobic session followed by a warm up game of footie. Within 2 minutes however, our in form opening bat, Steve Cropper, had gone over on his ankle with all the grace of Dumbo missing the flying trapeze and he was not only a passenger in this final but also a major doubt for the Kaufman a week later. Simon was never seen training again.
After the disappointment of losing out to Wavertree in the Lever for what would have been our first piece of silverware since 1964, Simon played a major part in our success against Birkenhead in the 45 over Kaufman final. After a good opening burst, Simon was recalled into the attack as Shakeel and Mal Cockbain were taking the game away from Ainsdale with some ferocious hitting. In his first over back he removed both and we were on our way. This was also the “Plumb as a dog!” game where umpire Chris Bell gave a surprise LBW decision against Birkenhead’s star bat Haque. For this great deed he had that part of the ground named after him which will always be known as the Bell End.
A third stint at Liverpool Road was never really on the cards for Simon who, at times, was difficult to manage but he was warm, funny and mischievous in equal measures and he left behind many friends, memories, bar tabs and phone bills.