On July 28, 1982, Warwickshire chose to bat in their County Championship match against Lancashire at Southport but didn’t start well.
Openers Dennis Amiss and Robin Dyer were out with just six on the board and then Andy Lloyd edged Ian Folley behind, at which point Geoff Humpage joined Alvin Kallicharran at the crease with the score a modest 53 for three.
Lancashire’s next success arrived when a David Lloyd off-break eluded Humpage’s attacking shot and bowled him. That left it 523 for four.
Humpage had made 254 and, with Kallicharran (230 not out), added 470 – the highest fourth-wicket partnership in English cricket, surpassing the 448 by Surrey greats Bobby Abel and Tom Hayward against Yorkshire at The Oval in 1899. It remains the highest partnership for Warwickshire.
People assume that was my best knock, but although it was great to score 254, of course, I’ve got mixed feelingsGeoff Humpage
His 254 (314 balls, 24 fours, 13 sixes) was Humpage’s maiden double-century, its 13 sixes the most struck by an Englishman in a first-class innings. It was to remain his career-best and the standout score in an impressive career which brought 24,703 runs for Warwickshire and England.
But Humpage is adamant that, although it was his biggest innings (though in fact it would have been bigger but for a dodgy hand-signal from the captain) it wasn’t his best.
“People assume that was my best knock,” he said, “but although it was great to score 254, of course, I’ve got mixed feelings because we lost the game and really it was embarrassing.
“Late on the first day, Kalli and I looked over to Dennis Amiss and he put up one finger. We thought that meant one more over, as it usually does, but what he meant was he’d declare at the next wicket. Thinking it was the last over, I had a swing and got out to Bumble but we could have gone on and on.
“It was a shame because Lancashire were tired and out of it and didn’t want to bowl and I never had a better chance of getting to 300 and the partnership could have gone over 500. Dennis should have sent someone out with a pair of gloves with that instruction!
“But we gave them a way back in and batted terribly in the second innings, when everyone thought it would be so easy, and then Lancashire knocked them off for no wickets.”
The scores: Warwickshire 523 for four and 111, Lancashire 414 for six and 226 for nought. Lancashire won by ten wickets. A remarkable match indeed. That damned hand-signal!
I asked him how he wanted to play it and he said ‘just keep going.Geoff Humpage
And, nice though it is to have an enduring place in the record-books, Humpage considers other of his innings superior, notably an unbeaten 141 against Yorkshire at Edgbaston in 1983.
Set a target of 299 on a difficult, relaid wicket, the Bears slumped to 180 for eight before, skilfully farming the strike, Humpage built a chanceless century to steer his side to a thrilling one-wicket win.
“At tea we still needed over 100 with only myself, Norman Gifford and Bob Willis left,” he said. “During tea most of the crowd went into the bar and stayed there. But by about ten past five we had got it down to about 20 needed and out they came again. Gifford got out after three overs of the last 20 and we still needed 60 so Willis, the captain, came in. I asked him how he wanted to play it and he said ‘just keep going.'”
Such innings, played with the team in greatest need, were always the most satisfying for Humpage. Like his successor behind the stumps in Warwickshire’s team today, Tim Ambrose, he never went missing in a battle and, in the era in which Humpage played – 1974-1990 – there were plenty of those as the team often struggled.
But Humpage possessed the requisite resilience and defiance – qualities moulded by a working-class Birmingham background of which he remains fiercely proud.
“I look back on my Warwickshire career as 16 years of pure enjoyment,” he said. “Not bad for a lad who was born the youngest of five in a back-house in Sparkbrook and went to Golden Hillock Secondary Modern.
“Back then in the late ’60s/early ’70s, Birmingham was a big industrial city with lots of factories local to Sparkbrook and all the lads went to work in them, but that wasn’t what I wanted. When I was 14 I was asked by a careers officer what my intentions were and I put ‘professional sportsman.’ He just laughed.
“Coming through the age-groups, when the squads were selected you’d see all the names from King Edward’s and Coventry High School and all the grammar schools – and then there was me from Golden Hillock. I was proud and it just made me fight really hard for what I wanted.
You can only have so many Geoff Boycotts and Chris Tavares in the team – you need your attacking players too.Geoff Humpage
“To then be given the opportunity to play for Warwickshire was a dream come true. Suddenly there I was keeping wicket when people like Barry Richards and Glenn Turner were batting.”
Suddenly, Humpage was mixing with – and thriving against – the best cricketers in the world. Richards, Turner, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Ian Botham and many other world-class players. Humpage’s career coincided with an era when county cricket was arguably at its strongest, and certainly at its most stellar.
He was unfazed.
“You can’t allow a reputation to take a wicket,” he said. “I was always positive because I always liked to entertain. You can only have so many Geoff Boycotts and Chris Tavares in the team – you need your attacking players too.
“I was very lucky in that often I’d be batting with Amiss or Kalli who you knew weren’t going to get out so that gave you that bit of freedom to attack. Also, the top bowlers were always trying their hardest to get the top batsmen. I remember when I got my first hundred, against Sussex, John Snow was bowling to Rohan Kanhai and it was a real battle: a top-class fast-bowler against a top-class batsman who liked to hook. After Snow finally got his man the next two balls he bowled to me were two leg-breaks, and not very good leg-breaks, which I hit for four. He’d got his man and then let the pressure off.”
When you consider that, for much of Humpage’s time, Warwickshire were a pretty ordinary team, his career stats – 17,843 runs, including 29 centuries, at an average of 36.41 and 738 wicket-keeping dismissals – are mightily impressive.
“You don’t realise until you look back,” he reflects, “and think ‘that was not too bad.'”
Much better that ‘not too bad,’ actually.
In a different era, one which did not include the likes of Alan Knott, Bob Taylor, David Bairstow, Paul Downton and Roger Tolchard, Geoff Humpage would surely have made many more England appearances than the three ODIs that did come his way.
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