Mark Taylor congratulates Matthew Hayden on making the biggest individual Test score

Tubby and Haydos in 2003, after the latter broke the record for the biggest individual Test score

© Getty Images


One small Lancashire club, two Aussie giants

About 30 years ago, Mark Taylor and Matthew Hayden, legends in the making, spent a summer each as the overseas pro at an English club

Scott Oliver  |  

When the Australian selectors announced the touring party for the 1993 Ashes, the newsletter of one small cricket club in Lancashire was moved to proclaim: "Want to open the batting for Australia? Come and play for Greenmount!" At least, according to Matthew Hayden's autobiography, Standing My Ground, it did. The club's historians cannot corroborate this, suggesting it was either poetic licence or a wind-up to which Hayden fell prey. What is true is that the big Queenslander had spent the previous summer in Greenmount, a village north of Bury, one of Manchester's satellite towns, where fellow tourist Mark Taylor had been the pro in 1988.

Both these illustrious left-hand opening batters broke records for Greenmount, both finished top of the Bolton League (BCL) batting averages, both made good friends and left deep impressions, yet it is unlikely the two of them ever shot the breeze about it over a couple of coldies. In Test careers that overlapped by five years - Taylor won 104 caps, Hayden 103, two of only 13 men to rack up 100 games for Australia - they played just six matches together. Hayden intimates in his book that this may have had something to do with an incident between the two while he was playing for Australia A in a quadrangular one-day series, when he defended a team-mate by sniping at Taylor: "You've got one crap shot, a little pull over midwicket, and you're putting the crowd to sleep. Shut up and bat." Arguably not the greatest career move, given "Tubby" was Australia's Test and ODI captain at the time.

Back in the early months of 1988, however, Taylor's cricket was on a downward trajectory. He averaged 53 in his debut Sheffield Shield campaign, 43 the next, and just 25 in his third. Having just completed a degree in surveying, he even wondered whether his future might lie outside the game. In an effort to reboot, he accepted Greenmount's offer of £3000 for the season and headed to Lancashire with his girlfriend, now wife, Judi. It would turn out to be the perfect marriage of club and pro.

Greenmount started life as an adjunct to a congregational school, mooching around the lower leagues before eventually joining the BCL in 1984. They reached the final ball of that season's Hamer Cup final, the league knockout, with five runs to defend, and lost. In 1987, with Franklyn Stephenson as pro, they led the table for almost the entire season before losing on the final afternoon to Farnworth Social Circle, who won the title.

Who are the 1988 Bolton League champions then? The Bury Times tells you

Who are the 1988 Bolton League champions then? The Bury Times tells you © Bury Times

All of which meant Taylor came into a team desperate for success but somewhat traumatised. He found, though, a side that practised in somewhat shambolic fashion, and prompted by big-hitting batter John Ashworth declaring that nets were "f***in' rubbish", he immediately set about organising training along New South Wales lines. "Mark really shook us up as a club," says team-mate Gary Chadwick. "He showed, even at 23, that he was a leader. He knew as pro he had to come in and lead not just the team but the club. He took us to another level."

Greenmount started with a tie and two wins. Taylor contributed 13, 21 and 45 not out before making 90 out of 145 in defeat to Farnworth. They would only lose once more in the first half of the season as the runs begun to flow for Taylor: 131 against Kearsley, 111 against Farnworth SC a week later, and another hundred against Walkden. Halfway into the season, Greenmount were in pole position. They were helped by the 50 wickets taken by their overseas amateur Patrick Farhart, now best known for his stints as physiotherapist for India and Delhi Capitals but back then bowling inswing off the wrong foot for the St George Club in Sydney's southern suburbs. He and Taylor didn't know each other before arriving but hit it off immediately, taking regular midweek sightseeing jaunts and embedding themselves in the life of the club.

The two more than covered Stephenson's all-round contribution from the previous summer, and Greenmount only lost one more game that season, a narrow Lancashire Cup quarter-final defeat to Bootle at the end of a lean July for Taylor. If they were to slay the ghosts of that last-day stumble, they would need to turn enough draws into outright wins. They would also need, in the face of old habits, to sustain the professionalism instilled by Taylor. That culture was a given a test in a mid-July visit to second-placed Westhoughton.

"It hammered down all morning," says then 16-year-old allrounder Phil Heaton, who travelled to the game with a "very keyed up" Taylor, for whom it was a chance to take a significant step toward the title. "We got there and a couple of our senior players thought, 'There's no chance. We're going to have a couple of pints.' Mark saw this and never said anything, but you could tell he wasn't happy. Within a couple of hours the sun came out, they started mopping the ground and eventually the umpires said it was fit to start. A couple of our lads had had three or four pints by this time, so Mark starts going absolutely berserk at them: 'You're a disgrace. You're going to throw the league away.' Then it started raining again before we could start."

They played a bit of football too, apparently: Greenmount's Phil (left) and Gary Neville circa 1992

They played a bit of football too, apparently: Greenmount's Phil (left) and Gary Neville circa 1992 © Greenmount Cricket Club

"He just ripped into us," adds Dave Mason, the team's left-arm spinner. "Both barrels. 'I've not come all this effin' way to play in teams that aren't taking it seriously.' Everybody was taken aback. There hadn't been a cross word said until then and it really had the desired effect. The dressing room went quiet. Nobody knew what to say. We went into the clubhouse and, me being a smart-arse, I said, 'Would it be okay if we bought you a beer?' He just smiled and started laughing. The ice was broken again."

In August, Taylor returned to form, starting with 114 against Farnworth SC, followed by a top-scoring 33 against Heaton and a battle with Indian Test offspinner Arshad Ayub. The bank-holiday double header brought an abandonment, followed by a nervy game against Astley Bridge in which, with the finish line in sight, the old wounds appeared to be opening up. Greenmount had struggled to 101 for 6 with ten overs left, at which point Neville Neville, father of 13-year-old Gary and 11-year-old Phil, future Greenmount first-teamers and Manchester United and England full-backs, smote eight sixes in the final five overs to help secure a winning draw.

A week later Taylor made 108 not out as Greenmount chased down Eagley's 144, meaning the club's maiden Bolton League title could be wrapped up on the penultimate weekend, against a side that had trounced them earlier in the campaign. This time round, Tonge were rolled for 73. Taylor made an unbeaten 35 in an eight-wicket romp, and Greenmount celebrated into the witching hours.

Two days later, Taylor accompanied a friend of Chadwick's to watch Bury FC at Wrexham. "They busted a gut to get back to the club for a drink, 60-odd miles, only for the barmaid to refuse to serve them. Mark went absolutely ballistic. Needless to say, they managed to get themselves a pint when it was explained he was club pro," Chadwick says.

The 1992 Greenmount line-up, featuring one up and coming Australian Test opener (front row, second from right) who would put the fear of god into bowlers worldwide

The 1992 Greenmount line-up, featuring one up and coming Australian Test opener (front row, second from right) who would put the fear of god into bowlers worldwide © Greenmount Cricket Club

Friday night, the team reconvened for a celebratory pub crawl through the neighbouring village of Tottington, which left them rather bedraggled when they arrived at Walkden for the victory lap. Taylor was soon shaken from his hangover, recalls Heaton. "That last game, we picked the batting order out of a hat. Patrick drew number four and made late 40s, which he said was his best ever score. Mark drew number eight or nine and he wasn't having it. He just said, 'No chance, I'm going for the league record!' and opened the batting."

He did get that record, compiling his sixth BCL hundred of the campaign, while Farhart took the three wickets he needed for 100 across all competitions. Taylor's aggregate of 1283 runs (at 64.15) was the fourth best in BCL history, just short of the tally of both his opening partner on Test debut four months later, Geoff Marsh (1334 runs for Little Lever in 1984), and the man who stood alongside him in that great Australian slips cordon, Mark Waugh (1359 runs and five tons for Egerton in 1985). The following summer Taylor plundered 839 Ashes runs, which remains the third highest aggregate in a Test series. "He definitely got his mojo back," Mason says.

After this breakthrough season, Greenmount stuck with the Australian template, engaging Jamie Siddons the following year, Wayne N Phillips the year after, and Dean Waugh in 1991, but it wasn't until Hayden's arrival in 1992 that they again struck gold. He had just topped the run charts in his debut Sheffield Shield season, and came over with state Under-19s team-mate Chris Holding, the club's overseas amateur. The pair lived together next door to club stalwart Tony Horrocks, whose wife Glenys ensured they were well looked after.

Hayden's first competitive game on English soil actually came as sub pro for Bacup in the neighbouring Lancashire League. Deputising for Roger Harper, he took 4 for 47 with seamers that Greenmount team-mates would uniformly describe as "terrible, though not as bad as Mark's bowling", and followed up with 73, adding 101 for the first wicket with one Mark Taylor (not that one), who he ran out for 44, which may or may not have been an omen. His keenness for a game even saw him turn out for the BCL representative XI in their annual Trinity Cup match with the Bolton Association. He top-scored with 69 in a one-run win.

Taylor with Andy Williams, with whom he had a partnership of 248 against Kearsley for Greenmount in May 1988

Taylor with Andy Williams, with whom he had a partnership of 248 against Kearsley for Greenmount in May 1988 © Bury Times

Still, Greenmount lost their first two BCL games. Though Hayden did not struggle in the early part of the season, he did not score big either, making 27, 50, 55, 24, 30, 117 not out, 35, 39, 34, 55 and 44. It was exactly the sort of thing that frustrated him. "I always found scores under 10 easy to reconcile because they were essentially no result," he wrote in his book. "For me, the scores that niggled most weren't the outright failures but the half-results."

That's a whole lotta niggle, then, and to compound matters, nine of his ten dismissals were caught, which might suggest a man too eager to go into that famous bullying mode, the big front dog and pummelled straight drives, and yet he didn't hit a single six across those games, which doesn't exactly scream of an attempt to dominate. Perhaps it was about having to adapt from the bone-hard Queensland pitches to the softer Lancashire offerings. When it did click, though, Hayden certainly made hay, averaging 173 over the next 11 games. He was a man on a mission.

"We used to take him to the local hostelry on a Friday night," says Chadwick, "and he would only drink water. Absolutely nothing was going to get in the way of his cricket. He couldn't believe that us lot, who'd worked all week, would be having eight, nine, ten pints."

"He was so single-mindedly obsessed with the goal of playing cricket for Australia," says Heaton, "even though he wasn't as close to it as Mark was when he was with us. He was so fit. He was running up hills every day. He was going to the gym every day. He was totally obsessed with making himself a better player."

Hello, massive! Hayden and Gary Neville (then 17 and an apprentice at Manchester United) put on a big stand in Greenmount's Hamer Cup semi-final in July 1992

Hello, massive! Hayden and Gary Neville (then 17 and an apprentice at Manchester United) put on a big stand in Greenmount's Hamer Cup semi-final in July 1992 © Bury Times

Some of that may well have rubbed off on Gary and Phil Neville, footballers who maximised relatively earthly gifts to collect 85 and 59 England caps respectively. Having become the youngest player to represent Lancashire 2nd XI in May, aged just 15, Phil opened the Greenmount batting with Hayden for four matches in June. He also captained England U-15s in football and cricket that year, and his Lancashire U-15s team-mate Andrew Flintoff later asserted that the younger Neville "could have been England's Sachin Tendulkar".

Gary was no slouch either. He and Hayden added 236 for the third wicket in a tight Hamer Cup semi-final win against Astley Bridge. A now famous press clipping from the Bury Times shows them in front of the scoreboard, Hayden with 140 not out, Neville with 110 not out, an impressive effort given that half the overs were bowled by Ian Harvey, later to play 73 ODIs for Australia. It was the last game of cricket Neville ever played, with Sir Alex Ferguson pulling the plug on things lest there were any injuries (apparently, he had plans for his Class of '92). The following Saturday, sans Nevilles and with a cup final appearance already banked, Hayden and Greenmount pulled off an astonishing win at home to Westhoughton that strengthened their BCL title push.

On and off amid regular showers, the visitors eked out 166 from their 50 overs. Greenmount started their reply at 7.34pm, leaving a maximum 17 overs to chase, light permitting. Heaton recalls a divergence of opinion as to how things should be approached. "Derek Kay, a senior player, said: 'There's no point going for these. We'll get nowhere near.' Hayden just turned round and said, 'Watch this.'"

Hayden's opening partner, Jon Harvey, remembers it slightly differently: "He said, 'We'll bat four overs, then make a decision.'" They were 18 without loss at decision time, and the remaining 149 were biffed in 11.5 overs of carnage, despite the visitors' pro, Frans Cronje (brother of), exaggeratedly lengthening his run-up to slow things down. Harvey finished unbeaten on 87, Hayden on 75. "He said to me at one stage, 'There's no way you're getting your hundred here,'" says Harvey, "and just milked the strike for the last 20 runs. Pure quality."

Class of '88: Taylor is third from right in the front row

Class of '88: Taylor is third from right in the front row © Greenmount Cricket Club

Heading into August joint top with Heaton, Greenmount suffered a crucial three-run defeat at Farnworth, for whom Chetan Sharma took 6 for 39, including the big wicket of Hayden, caught behind for 11 in pursuit of just 122. The following week brought a contentious draw with Little Lever - the players were taken off for bad light with Greenmount needing 28 runs from 20 balls with five wickets in hand. Hayden had been happy to trade verbals in an innings of 90. "I never saw him have a go at other pros," says Chadwick. "There seemed to be an unwritten code of respect there. But if any of what we used to call 'Billy S***fighters' started sledging him, then they'd get it. Matthew really did know how to put them back in their box."

The rest of the month was a washout - just three of 35 BCL fixtures were played to a conclusion - although Greenmount were able to squeeze in their Hamer Cup final. Chasing Egerton's 224 for 3 from their 55 overs, the stage was set for Hayden.

He promptly made his lowest score of the season, caught one-handed by a diving mid-off for two. "He hit it like a tracer bullet," says Heaton. "It was a once-in-lifetime catch. I was lying down in the dressing room, and Matty came in and absolutely dismantled the place. He was not happy." Some sub-10 scores aren't so easy to reconcile, it seems. Harvey carried the fight with 113, yet Greenmount only mustered 193, to be well beaten.

By the time the rains relented in September, Greenmount were outsiders in a four-horse race for the title. They slipped badly at the first hurdle, dismissed for 84 as Egerton inflicting a third defeat of the season, but won the following day to give them a mathematical chance on the last afternoon. Another defeat left the calculations moot, however, as they wound up in a creditable, if disappointing, fourth place, enough for Lancashire Cup qualification. Hayden signed off with 59, finishing on 1438 runs at 75.68, beating Taylor on both counts (which may or may not have pleased him), albeit not in terms of hundreds or trophies.

Writ on the bat: how many runs did Mark Taylor make by the end of the first week of August 1988?

Writ on the bat: how many runs did Mark Taylor make by the end of the first week of August 1988? © Bury Times

In their different ways, both men left a huge impression on Greenmount, the club's story interwoven with that of these two legends - two of Australia's all-time top ten Test run-makers, compilers of the country's highest and joint-third-highest individual scores.

When Mark Taylor was ambushed by Nine Network's This Is Your Life crew during the Brisbane Ashes Test in 1998, his valedictory series, it was Dave Mason who walked out as the final guest. "I got a phone call from Neville Neville, who wasn't able to go," Mason recalls. "He asked if I'd go instead, all expenses paid. I thought it was a wind-up at first, but I flew out to Brisbane with my wife and son. Some guests, like Ian Botham, were able to pre-record their messages for Mark but I couldn't, as it was a live broadcast. My claim to fame is, I made the final cut of the show, whereas Botham didn't."

As for Hayden, 14 years after his Bolton League adventure he was lying on his back at the MCG nets, doing stretching exercises, when he heard an "Oi!" from the viewing gallery and looked up to see Phil Heaton. They went for a few beers at close of play (Hayden made 153 in an innings victory), reminiscing, among other things, about kit. "When Matt and Chris Holding left," recalls Heaton, "they headed down to the markets at Cheetham Hill and bought a load of clothes to take home with them. [Hayden] said to me, 'I need a bag for it all. Can I have your cricket bag?' I said, 'Okay, but I want your cricket kit then.' He said, 'Fine, you can have it' and gave me his bat, pads, even his Queensland helmet - the lot. I wore that helmet for the next 15 years!"

The year after Heaton acquired himself a new lid, Greenmount engaged Jon Harvey as pro, but in 1994 went back down the Australian route, signing New South Welshman Richard Chee Quee. He had a decent season - 1415 runs at 54 - yet failed to go on to open the Test batting for Australia, which he may well have considered a flagrant case of false advertising.

Scott Oliver tweets @reverse_sweeper