Wisden Obituary

Brian Langford

Brian Langford in action
Brian Langford took 100 wickets in a season on five occasions © Unknown
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Players/Officials: Brian Langford
Teams: England | Somerset

LANGFORD, BRIAN ANTHONY, who died on February 12, aged 77, appeared in 504 first-class matches for Somerset, more than anyone in their history. He was a patient, probing off-spinner with a placid temperament, unlucky in a golden age of finger-spinners never to play for England. Five times he took 100 wickets in a season, with a best of nine for 26 (and 15 for 54 in the match) against Lancashire at Weston-super-Mare in 1958.

His father died early, forcing him to leave grammar school in Bridgwater at the age of 15. He took work as an errand boy in the accounts department at British Cellophane, and played for the Bridgwater club, showing promise as an opening batsman and mediumpacer.

Thanks to a talent competition in a local newspaper, he was taken in 1952 on to the Taunton groundstaff, where the coach Harry Parks turned him into an off-spinner. He stayed through the winter, when duties included cleaning the toilets. In early June he was summoned to Bath for twelfth-man duties against Lancashire and, to his surprise, found himself making a county debut in a match that turned out to be the most extraordinary of his career. The turfs on the newly relaid square had not knitted together - they could be wobbled about like lumps of jelly - and Lancashire won by an innings and 24 inside a day. It was a calamity, not least for Bath-based Bertie Buse, who had selected the three-day match for his benefit.

Langford's contribution was limited to three overs, but the remaining two games of the Bath Festival made his career. The groundsman rolled bull's blood from the local abattoir into the square, and Air Vice-Marshal Taylor, the Somerset secretary, gave the 17-year-old Langford a few shillings to buy a lighter pair of boots. On a responsive surface, he bowled 131 overs and took 25 wickets for 290 runs. When the national averages next appeared, his name stood above Alec Bedser at the top.

Two years of National Service disrupted his progress, but he re-established himself in 1956, when he again found Bath to his liking, taking 28 wickets in three games. "The only way to enjoy county cricket is to be a regular in the side," he said later in life. "I was too young to know it at the time, but those games at Bath did take the pressure off."

He was a vital member of the Somerset team when, in the 1960s, they shook off their also-ran tag and finished in the top half of the Championship six years running - and as high as third in 1963 and 1966. But key players retired and, by 1969, when he was prevailed upon to take on the captaincy, they were back at rock bottom. "We don't expect you to win a game," he was told. "Try your best." They did manage one win, but finished last.

By this time he was a master craftsman with the ball, and his 88 overs in the first Sunday League season that summer went for only 222 runs. At Yeovil he set an unbeatable record, bowling his eight overs without conceding a run. Forty-over cricket was in its infancy, and Essex's Brian Ward decided Langford was the "danger man", and should be played out.

With the help of some inspired signings - Brian Close from Yorkshire, and Tom Cartwright from Warwickshire - Langford lifted Somerset in the following two summers, passing the captaincy on to Close. He retired at the end of 1972, but reappeared occasionally during the next two seasons, and finished with 1,410 wickets at less than 25 apiece. He could later say with pride that he had played alongside both Harold Gimblett and Viv Richards.

After retirement he stayed close to Somerset cricket, though his one year as chairman in 1986 ended with the tempestuous departure of Richards and Ian Botham, a schism which proved beyond his conciliatory nature to prevent. The episode damaged the club, but it did not damage Langford's reputation. He was too good a cricketer, and too nice a man.

© John Wisden & Co.