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Born on May 5, 1911, Lancastrian “Buddy” Oldfield had an excellent Test debut. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man whose Test career was sadly truncated by World War II.
Norman “Buddy” Oldfield was the classic case of a career being curtailed due to a war. He did a competent job for Lancashire, made his Test debut in the last Test before World War II, closed one short of a hundred runs, ran into disagreement with the Club after the War, made a move to Northamptonshire, and could never find his way back.
Oldfield was an excellent batsman who cut and pulled powerfully (not a very common attribute among batsmen brought up in conditions conducive to swing bowling). The finest compliment had come from Neville Cardus, who once compared him with Johnny Tyldesley: “If this man (Oldfield) does not go to the top of the tree there will be a scandalous interference with destiny.”
RC Robertson-Glasgow added: “He (Oldfield) has a beauty of stroke and a sort of quiet daring beyond the average four or five. He would surely have gone to Australia.” Frank Tyson, later his Northants teammate, wrote that Oldfield was “a small dapper man with a full head of black hair, who would sit by the window before going in to bat, smoking and blinking furiously. He might have been nervous but he was one of the best back-foot players I’ve ever seen, a fearless puller and hooker and a devastating cutter, even into his forties.”
From 332 First-Class matches for the Red Roses and Northants, Oldfield had scored 17,811 runs at an average of 37.89; he scored 38 hundreds.
Born in Dukinfield, Cheshire, Oldfield went for the Lancashire trials in 1929, but had to remain confined to the Second XI till 1935. The selectors could hardly be blamed, as the Lancastrian juggernaut had rolled over the others, clinching the title in 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930, and 1934 — finishing as “only” the joint-runners up in 1929.
Lancashire coach Harry Makepeace, after spotting the red rose on the sweater and blazer of a pint-sized youngster, had nicknamed him Bud. When Oldfield entered the fray he became Buddy, since Bud had already been taken. Nobody knew him as Norman in subsequent years.
He failed on his First-Class debut with scores of two and ten against Middlesex at Lord’s, but made up with 101 not out against Hampshire at Liverpool and 111 not out against Leicestershire (when nobody reached fifty) at Old Trafford. After a couple of quiet seasons, Oldfield scored 1,812 at 42.13 with four hundreds in 1938. That season, Eddie Paynter (291) and Oldfield (135) had added 306 for the third wicket against Hampshire at Southampton: it remained a Lancashire record till 1990 till Michael Atherton and Neil Fairbrother went past it against Surrey at The Oval.
He scored four hundreds in 1939 as well, and along with Cyril Washbrook, became one of the two Lancastrian contenders for the Test squad. With England already 1-0 up in the series, he was summoned for the third Test at The Oval.
At the top level
Walter Keeton fell for a duck after Wally Hammond elected to bat, and the nervy Oldfield found himself walking out to join Len Hutton sooner than he had expected. The nerves certainly did not show on the ground. Wisden later wrote that Oldfield “was new to Test cricket and he seized the opportunity to prove his worth. He scored freely with a delightful late cut, timed his leg glances with masterly skill and also drove fluently.”
Hutton fell for 73, and Oldfield was eventually caught-behind off Learie Constantine for 80. Joe Hardstaff jr’s 91 helped England reach 352 despite Constantine’s five-for, but a hundred from Bam Bam Weekes and four other fifties got the tourists a 146-run lead. Keeton fell early again; Oldfield batted gustily before he edged one off Tyrell Johnson, another debutant, to the big gloves waiting behind him.
Oldfield had scored 80 and 19 on debut. Thanks to The War, he would not play another Test. Of all men to have played a single Test, only Rodney Redmond (107 and 63) and Andy Ganteaume (112) have scored more, while Naveed Nawaz (21 and 78 not out) has equalled Oldfield.
[Note: At the time of writing of this article, Jimmy Neesham has played a single Test and has scored 33 and 137 not out. He will almost surely play more, though.]
The clash, the ban, the move, and the revenge: scenes from a drama
Oldfield had lost six seasons for being part of a champion side; he had lost six more seasons due to the War. Now, when he was about to resume his career with Lancashire, the club did not agree to his terms; he had to make a move to Northamptonshire along with teammate Albert Nutter.
An angry Lancashire management barred him from entering Old Trafford. Oldfield’s obituary on The Independent mentions a letter from Clifford Oldfield (Norman’s son) to the Lancashire historian Brian Bradshaw. It mentioned how Buddy had taken Clifford to a Test at Old Trafford, only to be denied entry by the gatekeepers. Clifford had to be handed over to George Duckworth to be allowed entry.
Lesser people may have taken things in their stride: not Buddy. He had to be allowed entry to Old Trafford when he toured Lancashire for Northamptonshire, and the 100 he scored at Old Trafford in 1951 could have been straight out of a top-ranked drama: banned, denied entry with his son to the ground, a shift to another county, entering the ground with his head high, scoring a hundred (he scored two more hundreds against them at home); how much better can it get?
Meanwhile in 1949, he had an amazing run of 118, 168 (his career-best), 60, 42, 108 not out, three, 103, one, and 151; he toured India and Pakistan with Julian Cahn’s Commonwealth XI where he scored 110 at the Brabourne Stadium, 158 at Eden Gardens, and 108 at Brabourne again against full-strength Indian attacks.
Northants gave Oldfield and Nutter a benefit season in 1953, which made them richer by £2,728. That season, he (149 not out) added 361 for the opening stand with Vince Broderick (190) against Scotland at Peterborough, which fell just short of Archie MacLaren and Reggie Spooner’s 368 (set in 1903 against Gloucestershire at Aigburth: the record still stands).
The last season was Oldfield’s last: he played in only three matches, but they were enough to demonstrate his class. Against Surrey at The Oval, Oldfield scored 106 as Northants were skittled out for 180, with Oldfield scoring 106 of them (Brian Reynolds came next with 20).
His last match came, rather fittingly, at Old Trafford: the hosts declared with a 104-run lead, and at 67 for five an innings-defeat seemed inevitable. The 43-year old Oldfield then added 52 with George Tribe, and by the time he was dismissed the match had been saved. He left Old Trafford on a high.
Oldfield later became an umpire (“without particularly enjoying the activity,” Wisden wrote) and officiated in two Tests. Lancashire welcomed him back as a coach in 1968. An emotional Oldfield admitted: “I should never have left. The money would have caught up and they were the only team I ever wanted to play for.” He continued as Lancashire coach for five seasons.
Oldfield passed away on April 19, 1996 at Clevelys, Blackpool. He was survived by his three sons.
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