Durham Meeting Report

Stephen Ransome reports on the February meeting of the Durham and North East Branch:

From Philadelphia to Lords

A small group of members gathered to hear our Treasurer, Malcolm Pratt, talk about his life and experiences in cricket , ranging from the local recreational game to his involvement in the development of England’s most recent First Class County.

Malcolm, described by one member as ubiquitous, gave ample evidence of that ‘label’, outlining his life in the game which has been full, committed and successfully influential.

He is the youngest of seven siblings, from Shiney Row ,then Co Durham now Tyne and Wear, and was brought up in the pit village suffering the hard upbringing so often associated with pit village life. He attended Shiney Row School and did well at English and Maths. It is possible that these skills were the root of Malcolm’s lifelong involvement in the game – his Maths teacher also took cricket and his maths and English provided the basis for future employment.

From an early age he followed cricket but, on his own admission, he was keen but not very good at the game. He, nevertheless, played occasionally at junior level for his local team, Philadelphia and graduated to U18’s and the occasional game for the second team. He recounted one memorable game ,the only one he played for the first team, at local rivals Eppleton. He was posted to long off and spent most of the evening peering over and retrieving the ball from behind a wall beyond the boundary, struck there by ,Jack Howe ,a fearsome smiter of the ball. Inevitably, Howe hit one flatter but no less hard towards Malcolm who , going through all the emotions that most fielders go through when confronted by such a situation, took a stinging catch, to his great relief and, possibly, amazement, only to overhear a spectator mutter loudly ‘he didn’t catch that well’. (Maybe that the spectator was referring to the batsman not hitting it higher?).

Malcolm’s main contribution to his club, though ,was as a scorer. His skill at this had been noted and , to illustrate how seriously the game was taken, was subsequently interviewed, successfully, by the full Club committee for the position of First XI scorer. He recently found, `while sorting through some papers in his loft, the meticulously recorded minutes of that meeting.

Fred Gill , the Chairman of Philadelphia Cricket club became a major influence in Malcolm’s future. Gill summoned Malcolm to see him one morning . Malcolm, fearful he had committed some horrendous error, expected a dressing down but was, firstly, applauded for his skill in keeping the score book then asked what he intended to do when he left school.. Gill was also the boss at the National Coal Board ,at the local Colliery, and subsequently gave Malcolm his first employment. Within a short time Malcolm was also informed, much to his surprise ,that he had been appointed Assistant Club Secretary. As Malcolm added ‘you don’t argue with the boss’. All this at the age of 17 and sealed Malcolm’s long and illustrious future involvement in cricket administration and club development.

He has subsequently served the club in numerous roles , for over 60 years, and is currently their chairman having effectively set the club on a sound financial base. They are debt free for the first time since 1962 and repaid its debt 18months ahead of schedule. Some clubs borrow to pay revenue expenditure which tends to be a risky strategy. A philosophy of not paying players, other than a professional, encourages local players to enjoy the game. He believes the introduction of Premier League Cricket has destroyed local league cricket as it puts too much pressure on clubs to pay players with promotion /relegation the objective. He laments, also, attempts to interest junior players, in the game and the club, through an offer to the local schools, of free cricket coaching during the summer, did not yield a single response.

Another string to Malcolm’s involvement in local sport came through contact with Bill Jones ,the local village news correspondent . Each village in the area had such a person who was responsible for reporting on local cricket and football games and providing the results for the local Sunday paper. Bill enlisted Malcolm to help him and when Bill retired Malcolm took on the local job expanding it to three other clubs. This role led to the sports Editor of the local Sunday Sun enlisting Malcolm to cover the Durham Senior League cricket for them . gradually he expanded the role to include Northumberland and Teesside providing a regional service. Occasionally reports were also commissioned by the national press.

After moving from the National Coal Board to the Ministry of Agriculture , as an Inspector ,primarily working from home, he found more time to spend on his reporting role in both football and cricket. The job pressurised but very satisfying, meeting the deadlines in providing an accurate and efficient service to the print media in the North East. His reporting work dominated his Saturday evenings so it helped that his wife, Beryl, was willingly involved in the tasks especially as Malcolm regularly had also to provide comprehensive summaries of games for the Sunday press after the results were wrapped up. Malcolm also gave an interesting insight of how technology had changed during his time from heavily labour intensive to an almost fully automated operation.

In 1971, Malcolm was elected to Chester le Street Urban District Council thus opening another influential strand to his career. He rose to Deputy leader, and subsequently Leader ,of the Council at the time when Durham County Cricket ,then a Minor County, were looking to apply for First Class status. An approach was made to the council by Matty Roseby , father of Michael Roseby (ex Middlesex) a local businessman ,and Jackie Hampshire ,who was working at the Cricket Centre, run by Roseby and Mike Weston ( a former Durham player, and England and British Lions Rugby International) , in nearby Houghton le Spring. They asked for investment from the Council to develop the Ashbrooke ground , in Sunderland, where Durham played some of their Minor Counties games, as a home for the County. It which was promptly turned down. A discussion about developing a new ground in Chester Le Street , however, met with more a favourable response. The council supported the application.

Despite local the opposition – an 18,500 signature petition was raised against the development of the ground- which made life very difficult for a time, both personally, for Malcolm, as leader of the Council, and politically, for the Council, the plans were eventually approved . Malcolm’s role eventually led, after he bowed out of local political office, to being made President of the County Cricket Club. Malcolm’s political and cricketing involvement have also led him to a few encounters with Her Majesty, showing her around the Riverside Ground when she officially opened the ground and, later, when receiving his MBE. He recounted anecdotes of how natural and unaffected The Queen and Prince Philip were he found them, being helped out of a particularly awkward moment by the Queen.

One of his proudest cricket moments with Durham was the appearance at Lord’s, in 2007, in the Friends Provident Cup final, particularly as Durham won, capping a wonderful experience at the home of cricket.

The long, busy , influential and successful involvement in grass roots to first class cricket, significantly without a notable playing career , is relatively rare and it is not surprising that Malcolm has been recognised by the games own OSCA (Outstanding Service to Cricket Award) in 2009.