McCORKELL, NEIL THOMAS, who died on February 28, aged 100, was a neat, unobtrusive, highly skilled wicketkeeper for Hampshire between 1932 and 1951. Unlike many of his brethren of the time, he was also a fine batsman, and would have been a strong England candidate had it not been for Les Ames. It was a measure of McCorkell's longevity that, when he made his debut as a 20-year-old at Taunton in May 1932, his captain was Lord Lionel Tennyson, and Phil Mead was at No. 4. In that first summer - "a world of wonder", he said later - opponents included Harold Larwood, Hedley Verity, Patsy Hendren and Walter Hammond.
But he was not wide-eyed for long. Hampshire's 1933 Cricket Guide remarked: "McCorkell has already shown that he has the right temperament for county cricket and he has a bright future." By 1935 he was opening the batting regularly, scoring two centuries in a week against Lancashire in July, and passing 1,000 runs for the first time. Next summer, with an Ashes tour approaching and Ames struggling for fitness, he was selected for the Players at Lord's. He kept tidily, but Ames recovered to take his place on the boat.
McCorkell was born near the harbour in Old Portsmouth and, after leaving school, worked at the Navy Officers' Sports Ground and played for his local church team. An impressive performance for a Portsmouth District XI against Hampshire Club and Ground earned him an invitation to join the staff in 1931, although the county's £3,000 overdraft nearly put paid to the offer. George Brown, the former England wicketkeeper, was in his forties, and Walter Livsey, who doubled as Tennyson's butler, had retired, which meant Hampshire had a vacancy behind the stumps: McCorkell swiftly filled it. And though he lost some of his prime years to the war, during which he worked as a fire fighter at an aircraft factory, he returned in peacetime for another six seasons. In 1951, aged 39, he made his only double-century, 203 at Gloucester.
|Neil McCorkell would have been a strong England candidate had it not been for Les Ames|
He retired at the end of the season, by now a senior professional and quietly passing on his wisdom to such new recruits as Jimmy Gray: "On away trips our captain Desmond Eagar would say, 'Who are you rooming with, Mac?' and he always replied, 'I'll take the nipper.'" McCorkell remained cheerfully uncomplaining when called upon to open the innings at the end of a long stint behind the stumps. Gray remembered: "He'd say, 'Well I've seen it all day, so I'm the ideal chap for the job.'"
McCorkell made 396 first-class appearances, scoring 16,106 runs at 25, including 17 hundreds, and passing 1,000 runs nine times. He took 532 catches and made 185 stumpings (512 and 177 for Hampshire, a county record until it was surpassed by Bobby Parks). Thus a career that began with Mead and Tennyson ended alongside Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie and Derek Shackleton, key figures in Hampshire's first title-winning year, in 1961.
He moved to South Africa, where he lived until he died, and was cricket coach for more than 30 years at Parktown Boys' High School in Johannesburg; the ground there is named after him. At the time of his death he was the second-oldest surviving county cricketer. McCorkell made just one overseas tour, to India with Lord Tennyson's XI in 1937-38. He had no great success on the field, but the trip produced one much-quoted incident when McCorkell joined his captain on a tiger shoot and, alarmed at his inaccuracy, exclaimed: "Good Lord, you've shot the bloody goat."