Foxes Flashback - John Steele
John Steele (born 23rd July 1946)
I’m afraid that John will always be known as David’s brother. He, who on his Test debut at Lord’s got lost on his way to the wicket and managed to get sponsored by his local butcher to the tune of one lamb chop a run.
In fact, both brothers bowled slow left arm, were determined right-handed batsman and were fine fielders.
John was ‘Staffordshire’ through and through. He learned his cricket the hard way, playing for Sneyd, a Stoke on Trent club whose ground was next to a slag heap. They were members of the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League. Top of the league bowling averages in 1965 (the year John made his debut for Staffordshire) was a certain G.S.Sobers, the greatest cricketer in the world, and also prominent were Wes Hall, Nasim ul Ghani and former England batsman, Jack Ikin.
He had been on Leicestershire’s radar for some while. He first appeared for the seconds at Rushden in 1963, starting (like all the best) with a duck but taking three wickets, playing with the likes of Jack Birkenshaw and HD ‘Dicky’ Bird. If you were an aspiring slow left arm bowler wanting to play for Leicestershire in the 1960s, number one obstacle was skipper Tony Lock. His sudden departure at the start of 1968 left a gap, but funds to recruit a replacement were tight.
He finally signed for Leicestershire in 1969. After a year qualifying, he played for both the three day and one day team in 1970 with modest results. He took only one wicket in his six Sunday League matches; it should have been two except Ray Illingworth dropped a sitter off him at Coalville. I remember getting into severe trouble from my father because of the inappropriate suggestion I made to the England captain that I believed would improve his catching.
The following year John established himself as an opening batsman and Barry Dudleston’s partner. The innings that confirmed this was his maiden century, a little matter of 195 against Derbyshire; according to ‘Wisden’ he pottered around for an hour in the 90s, reaching his hundred in 5 hours and batted for 8 hours in total. Though he scored another 20 first class hundreds, this was the highest.
Throughout the 1970s this opening partnership with Dudleston endured; Twenty were more than a hundred and two were triples. Against Glamorgan in 1975 one of 335, and then the record 390 scored in 1979 against Derbyshire at Grace Road.
In a county team where there were frequently four quality slow bowlers playing, he took more than 40 wickets in a season 6 times. Ironically his best, 68 coming in 1984 which was his first after moving to Glamorgan.
Overall, 15,000 runs, 584 wickets and 414 catches are the figures of a fantastic all-rounder.
Seven ‘man of the match’ awards in the one-day competitions show how important he was in these campaigns as well. During the 1970s he spent several winters coaching in South Africa and played a little provincial cricket for Natal.
He moved to Glamorgan in 1984, but a bad hand injury in 1986 saw the end of his playing career, but he continued to coach Glamorgan’s junior teams until 1993 before embarking on his umpiring career, retiring in 2011. Though he never umpired in International cricket he did officiate as a ‘Reserve’ umpire in a couple of tests.
Richard Holdridge - Club Historian