Saturday, 13 September 2008

Derbyshire Legends 9 - Les Townsend (1903-93)


Les was one of those players who would earn a fortune in the modern game and a key member of that outstanding side that played prior to the Second World War.

As a batsman he was a powerful hitter, especially straight. Tommy Mitchell recalled bowling to him in the nets at Derby and as soon as he'd let the ball go, running away. Many a fine bowler of that period came on the receiving end of the Townsend treatment and he played the same way in most situations.

He could perhaps have finished with a higher batting average than he did, and 27 over a career of almost 500 matches is nothing spectacular. Again, though we should remember that the wickets were uncovered at this time and that Les was a fixture in a middle order who normally played under instruction to get their runs quickly so that the bowlers could get at them again.

Denis Smith, Harry Storer, Albert Alderman and Stan Worthington were th "serious" batters of the side, while Townsend and the Popes were normally expected to get runs but to ensure that no time was wasted. Les' innings were usually fast scoring affairs and he boasted a highest score of 233. With 22 centuries and over a hundred half centuries he could handle the willow and life was seldom dull when he was at the crease.

He suffered as a bowler too, with Bill Copson, Alf and George Pope and Tommy Mitchell regularly bowling sides out without the need for his medium paced off breaks. When they were required, he rarely let the side down and finished his career with the highly impressive statistics of 1088 wickets at 21 each. He took five in an innings on 51 occasions and ten in the match 16 times.

In 1933 he excelled in scoring over 2,000 runs and taking 100 wickets and was voted one of Wisden's cricketers of the year. He also was the antithesis of the suggestion that all Derbyshire cricketers were hard drinking men, as a lifelong non-smoker and teetotaller. Six Test appearances came his way, but he never did himself justice in appearances agsinst India and the West Indies, taking just siz wickets and averaging only 16.

On retirement he emigrated to New Zealand where he coached and was held in high regard - just as he is by all Derbyshire fans. Definitely someone we'd like to sign this winter...

PS The photograph shows Les Townsend hooking Indian seamer Nazir Ali for four at Bombay in 1933

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