John-Hampshire-CC-2
Former England batsman and an umpire, John Hampshire was the first to score a century on Test debut at Lord’s © Getty Images

John Hampshire (born February 10, 1941) who passed away on March 1, 2017, was an elegant middle-order batsman who was the first to score a century on Test debut at Lord’s. A giant of Yorkshire cricket, he later became a respected umpire. Arunabha Sengupta pays homage to this excellent servant of the game.

His name was misleading. It evoked the mental image of salt, sand and spray of the southern coast, along with the Arlott-ian drawl. Yet, he hailed from far North and became a giant of Yorkshire cricket.

Indeed, almost 22,000 of John Hampshire’s 28,000 First-Class runs came for that great cricketing county.

He started as a youngster, a gutsy yet attractive batsman in the lower middle order, who drove Fred Trueman to the game and away. Down the years, he hobnobbed with greats of the game, Geoff Boycott, Brian Close, Ray Illingworth, Phil Sharpe, Vic Wilson and Don Wilson… And as he clawed his way up the batting order down the years, there came Chris Old, Geoff Cope, Tony Nicholson, David Bairstow and others.

He played under men as hard-bitten as Don Wilson, Close and Boycott for Yorkshire and Illingworth for England. And then he performed the unenviable task of taking over the mantle of leadership from Boycott. It was a job fraught with plenty of potential pitfalls and predicaments, and perhaps he did not quite enjoy himself while at it. After two years, he handed the reins over to Old.

However, he carried playing till 1984, his 25th season. And all through he remained a brave, tough soul, an attractive batsman, a superb close-in fielder, and, in his own way, the kindest of men: a Yorkshireman to the core, despite the last name.

The Lord’s debutant

Never was his Yorkshire character more prominently on view than during his Test debut, at Lord’s against Garry Sobers’ West Indians.

No, it was not a mighty West Indian attack. Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith had moved on and Andy Roberts was still some years away. The once-great Caribbean side was going through a barren phase of seven years. In particular, the bowling was a weak unit, as it was to remain for another half a decade.

The visitors had lost the first Test quite dismally by 10 wickets. Yet, at Lord’s, as the 27-year-old Hampshire walked on to the ground in national colours for the first time, the tourists were making a determined effort to get back in the series.

Some hefty scores at the top of the order enabled them to post 380 in the first innings, and then Sobers and Vanburn Holder struck with the new ball. John Edrich, Peter Parfitt and Basil D’Oliveira managed just 11 between themselves, and John Shepherd induced Boycott to edge to the ’keeper to make it 37 for 4.

It was in this precarious position, even as a few dangerous minutes remained to be played on the second afternoon, Hampshire trotted out for the first time, every aspect of his bearing that of a sacrificial lamb.

He was in the side not because of any excellent run. In eight years of First-Class cricket he had managed only 10 centuries. But that summer, Colin Cowdrey, Ted Dexter, Ken Barrington, Tom Graveney and Colin Milburn all became unavailable in unison. And Hampshire found himself in the cauldron of Test-cricket tension. Somehow, he survived the first few nervous moments to remain unbeaten on 3 at the end of the day.

The next morning Holder bowled Sharpe to make it 51 for 5. As his Yorkshire teammate walked back, Hampshire was joined at the wicket by the best man for such a crisis. Alan Knott and he added 128 for the sixth wicket.

When Knott fell, Hampshire was joined by his erstwhile Yorkshire mate Illingworth. The two added 60. Struck twice on the arm by Holder, the debutant refused to give way. He drove straight off the front-foot, and leant back to drive through the off-side. He was equally adept at forcing balls to the leg. And all the while he excelled in concentration and defence. When Shepherd claimed him leg-before he had scored 107, having batted for 4 hours 48 minutes. Hampshire walked back as the first man to score a century on Test debut at Lord’s. England had progressed from 37 for 4 to 249.

Illingworth, who had moved to Leicestershire that season, went on to hit 113 and England totalled 344. The match ended in an exciting draw, with the hosts at 295 for 7 chasing 332 for a win.

In spite of the rather glowing tribute in Wisden, Hampshire himself played down his achievement. According to this self-effacing man, he had edged and nicked his way to his century and had never felt so embarrassed in his life.

However, the promise of this Test remained unfulfilled at the highest level. Hampshire did score 55 at Adelaide as Illingworth led his men to the memorable if controversial Ashes triumph of 1970-71. He hit his way to a quick 51 not out as Brian Luckhurst stonewalled at the other end and England recovered from early shocks to chase down 89 against New Zealand at Christchurch.

Yet, his remaining appearances took place once in several blue moons and 403 runs at 26.86 were all he could achieve at Test level. A participant in the first ever ODI, his accomplishments in the 3 ODIs were equally unremarkable.

Yes, Hampshire was much more at home in the county pastures. He continued scoring tons and tons of runs for Yorkshire, maturing like old wine, hitting a purple patch from 1974 to 1978.The last of these years, 1978, was perhaps the best he enjoyed, hitting 1,596 in the summer at 53.  In 1978-79 he also played a season for Tasmania, scoring a fighting 46 not out against Mike Brearley’s men after Yorkshire mate Old had bowled him for a duck in the first innings (that particular match saw England led by Bob Willis).

Hampshire also enjoyed another excellent season with the bat in 1980, but captaincy remained a crown of thorns. When he passed the baton to Old, he celebrated the relief with 4 hundreds in 1981.

The umpire

After calling it a day, the Yorkshire man chose the only road that made sense for him. His heart was still beating to the enticing rhythm of the game and there he wanted to remain. He managed to get on the First-Class umpiring list.

From there it was a steady path to the top grade yet again. In 1989, as England and Australia squared up for the fourth Test in the Ashes series, a 48-year-old Hampshire made his second entry into the Test level. He stood as umpire alongside Barrie Meyer and from then on became a respected name in that domain.

It was in the following winter that he made history when he teamed up with John Holder to stand for all the Tests between India and Pakistan in the 1989-90 series. Neutral umpires had been used earlier, but this was when they became the norm. Hampshire was officiating when a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar faced an 18-year-old Waqar Younis.

Before his retirement in 2005, Hampshire stood as umpire in 21 Tests and 20 ODIs.

In 1972 he had played in the first ever Benson & Hedges Cup final contested between Yorkshire and Leicestershire. The opening batsman for Leicestershire in that encounter had been Barry Dudleston. 30 years later, Hampshire and Dudleston stood as umpires in the Benson & Hedges Cup final as Ian Bell stroked Warwickshire to a 5-wicket victory over Essex.

In 2016, a year before his death, Hampshire took over from fellow Yorkshire-bred Test umpire Dickie Bird as President of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. He called it the ‘icing on the cake’.

John Hampshire, exemplary Yorkshireman, passed away after a long illness on March 1, 2017.