Tony Lock
Cricket News

Foxes Flashback - Tony Lock

Tony Lock (born 5th July, 1929)

Perhaps because he only played for two and a half seasons Tony Lock is maybe one of the forgotten characters who played a crucial role in building self-belief in the great Leicestershire team of the 1970s.

Not a lot had gone right for the club between 1956 and 1964 (4 wooden spoons and 3 bottom but one positions). However, the ground was purchased in 1965 and plans were quickly made to build the new pavilion. This was critical. The main reason players did not want to come to Leicestershire was that they wanted to avoid getting splinters in their feet descending to the Victorian showers in the old structure!

Tony Lock very much dipped his toe in the Leicestershire water by playing just 8 mid-week games in 1965. By now he had abandoned his England career and all but emigrated to Western Australia. He intended just playing in the Lancashire League, but Leicestershire’s Secretary, Mike Turner had other ideas.

In 1966 he returned as captain and made an impact with his aggressive batting and bowling, but more than anything else by his fielding close to the wicket and enthusiastic captaincy. This was not always to the liking of his players. Early one morning, that normally reliable slip fielder, Maurice Hallam, dropped a ‘sitter’. “Unlike you Maurice, to drop such an easy catch” he was teased at lunchtime. “I could have caught it easily, it’s just I did not fancy getting hugged and kissed by the skipper so early in the morning”.

Lock played 49 tests for England, in an era when he competed for selection with Yorkshire’s Johnny Wardle, another strong character who had his own ideas about captaincy and slow left arm bowling. He was not selected to tour Australia in 1962/63 (MCC curiously choosing three off break bowlers and no left arm slow bowler) so he decided to go there anyway, and so started almost a decade of playing for Western Australia, and where he lived for the rest of his life.

One of his most astonishing ‘achievements’ was to help Jim Laker bowl Australia out in the Old Trafford Test of 1956. Laker taking 19 wickets for 90, Lock 1 for 106. The wicket was perfect for slow bowling, and Lock’s response to each Laker wicket was to bowl faster and faster the more frustrated he became.

He was also a fundamental part of the Surrey team that won seven county championships in a row in the 1950s, and in two seasons he took more than 200 wickets (the last bowler to do so).

Leicestershire leaving the field following beating Gloucestershire in July 1967 to go top of the table for the first time in 14 years.  

Front to back: Tony Lock, Jack Birkenshaw, Albert Matthews, Maurice Hallam, Barry Dudleston, Terry Spencer, Micky Norman, Brian Booth, Peter Marner. Roger Tolchard and John Cotton in the background.

Having finished 8th in the Championship in 1966, Lock’s first year in charge, things were starting to look up for Leicestershire. The 1967 season started damply, but the weather picked up in June and somehow or other, Leicestershire went into their match against Yorkshire at Grace Road in early July, top of the table having won six matches. Lock had been largely responsible for three of the victories with 13 wickets against Glamorgan, taking six for 45 to bowl out Somerset on the last afternoon and 10 wickets in the sixth victory against Gloucestershire. The Yorkshire match the day after the Gloucester victory was eagerly anticipated, Duncan Road was rammed with cars and the queue went back to the Lutterworth Road and Saffron Lane, and this for a championship match on a Wednesday!

Leicestershire’s ‘admirable affrontery’ (as described by Dicky Rutnagar in ‘The Telegraph’) was all too much for Yorkshire who decided that enough was enough and won the game by an innings. Their entire team played at some time for England, and leading the way was Ray Illingworth with 11 wickets and 60 runs, and a future fox (and winner of two England caps), Chris Balderstone who scored 23. Brian Close had obviously read the wicket correctly, because the only Yorkshire bowler above medium pace to play was Fred Trueman, and he failed to take a wicket, with Don Wilson and the young Geoff Cope being the other successful bowlers.

This defeat rather knocked the wind out of Leicestershire’s sails, and it was not until early August that they won again. This time it was Lock the batsman, and the 81 not out at Cheltenham was his highest score in England and helped ensure victory. The last two victories were back at Grace Road and brought him 10 wickets against Worcester and 13 against Northamptonshire. Though Leicestershire were now joint top of the table with Kent, they had won fewer games, so would cede top spot to them. More importantly Yorkshire had one game left and only needed a first innings lead to retain their title; a two-day innings victory over Gloucestershire at Harrogate more than achieved this!

As he addressed the cheering crowd at the end of the Northampton game, Tony promised that ‘Leicestershire would be champions next year’. With the England all-rounder Barry Knight by then qualified, and younger players like Jack Birkenshaw, Roger Tolchard and Barry Dudleston developing, many thought that this was quite likely. Though in fairness there were mutterings that the Grace Road wicket was generally prepared to help the skipper’s style of bowling and ‘needed to improve’.

Tony returned to have another great season for Western Australia, whilst England toured the Caribbean. Then, disaster. Fred Titmus was badly injured in a boating accident and was flown home, and another slow bowler was needed for the fourth test at the slow bowler friendly Port of Spain. I suspect the list of experienced slow bowlers who were ‘match fit’ was not a long one and Lock was summoned from Australia. He was not successful at Port of Spain, but in the final test at Georgetown, his first innings score of 89 (his highest in first class cricket) and an unlikely century partnership for the 9th wicket with Pat Pocock kept England in the game and helped them win the series.

Shortly afterwards his wife became ill, and he decided just before the 1968 season began that he would not return to England, and his cricketing career in England and with Leicestershire was over.

Tony Lock was a remarkable cricketer. During his career he held 831 catches (only Frank Woolley and WG Grace have taken more) and took 2,844 wickets (9th on the ‘all time’ list).

His 128 wickets for Leicestershire in 1967, included a remarkable 88 at Grace Road. No Leicestershire bowler has ever taken so many wickets at their home ground in one season.

He was a bowler who knew triumph and disaster. At the end of the New Zealand leg of the 1958/59 tour, he saw himself bowling in slow motion. He was shaken, for though he had been called for throwing on several occasions, the film showed very clearly that he ‘threw’ his faster deliveries. He resolved to bowl more slowly and eliminate the illegal delivery. His later triumphs for Leicestershire and Western Australia show how successful he was in doing so.