Obituary, 2001

Chris Balderstone

BALDERSTONE, JOHN CHRISTOPHER, died suddenly at his home on March 6, 2000, aged 59; he had been suffering from cancer. Chris Balderstone - "Baldy" - was a formidably fit man who became a Test cricketer and an international umpire after a successful career in football. In the 1960s, he was a stylish inside-forward for Huddersfield Town and Carlisle United who played occasionally as an all-rounder for Yorkshire in the close season. However, when he passed 30, he was brought to Leicestershire by Ray Illingworth, and changed emphasis to become primarily a cricketer. The move quickly paid dividends: his cool-headed 41 not out won Leicestershire the inaugural Benson and Hedges final, and Balderstone the Gold Award. Thereafter he flourished, averaging over 40 in the Championship in the next two years and, in 1974, also finishing top of the county bowling averages with his back-up leftarm spin. He still found time to play for Carlisle, and scored the penalty against Spurs that briefly put them top of the old First Division in September 1974.

However, his most famous day came a year later, and it was also Leicestershire's. On September 15, 1975, he was playing cricket at Chesterfield but had also committed himself to turn out for Doncaster Rovers against Brentford. This was the day Leicestershire won their first-ever Championship, which they secured with bowling bonus points. Towards the close, Balderstone was still batting and the Doncaster manager, Stan Anderson, was pacing the Belle Vue ground with increasing agitation. With the Championship decided, Balderstone could easily have given his wicket away and headed off to football, but it was not in his nature. He stayed till stumps were drawn, had to change in the car, played his usual solid game of football, then came back to complete his century next morning.

His professionalism and courage earned him a place in the last two Tests against the fearsome 1976 West Indies, when he was already 35. It was a time when the selectors were struggling for candidates and, though starting respectably with 35 in the first innings at Headingley, he was twice blown away for nought by Michael Holding at The Oval, and left out of the winter tour party. He continued in county cricket for another ten years, and made his 32nd first-class century against Sussex when he was 45. This was a tribute to his fitness, though he was never fast: Martin Johnson once noted that his speed matched his initials - JCB. In 1988 he became a first-class umpire; he stood in two one-day internationals and made the historic decision, at Lord's in 1993, when Robin Smith was the first player given out by TV replay in an English Test. Genial and even-tempered, Baldy never attracted an unkind word on the circuit, which was a response to his own attitude. Barry Dudleston, a colleague as both player and umpire, said: "He only ever saw good in the game, both football and cricket."

© John Wisden & Co