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Neil Drysdale: John Edrich was one of cricket’s greatest, whether with Boycott or in Ballater

John Edrich was one of Englands best cricketers.
John Edrich was one of Englands best cricketers.

I’ve never forgotten the clipped, precise tones in which John Edrich started talking about his love for Ballater and the fashion in which he and his wife, Judith, had treasured their move to the little Deeside community in the late 1990s.

I had contacted the former England Test cricketer – who played for his country 77 times and struck 12 centuries, including an unbeaten 310 against New Zealand – after finding out he was organising a fundraising event to help those who had been affected by the devastating effect of flooding across the north east in 2012.

Yet, our conversation soon switched to his favourite pursuit and we not only took a trip down Memory Lane to when Edrich and Geoff Boycott became one of the most successful opening partnerships in history and enjoyed Ashes triumphs over Australia, but the infamous summer of 1976 when he – at 38 – and Brian Close – at 45 – braved one of the most inspired and intimidating West Indian pace attacks in history.

As in everything else, the doughty campaigner, who has died at the age of 83, offered 100% blood, sweat and tears and lashings of courage and commitment.

There have been plenty of more elegant, graceful performers on the international stage, but Edrich loathed surrendering his wicket, battled as if his life depended on it, and nudged, nurdled and nervelessly accumulated enough runs to finish with a Test average above 43. As Boycott said: “John had one of the greatest temperaments I have ever seen. I would rather have opened an innings with him than anyone else.”

His talents flourished through unstinting hard graft and he instilled some of that work ethic in his young charges when he enjoyed coaching at Aberdeenshire CC, almost effortlessly making the move from The Oval and Lord’s to Mannofield.

He was also extremely proud of being president of Crathie CC and told me he could envisage no reason why Scotland couldn’t continue making progress in the ICC ranks.

He said: “When I came up here, I was initially a bit surprised to find so many Scots involved in cricket, but I knew from my time at Surrey about people like the former England captain Mike Denness and the Essex opener Brian Hardie.

“What I hadn’t realised was that almost every little village across Deeside had its own team and I grew to appreciate how the Grades scene was very competitive and there was this thriving sport which featured players of all ages and backgrounds.

“I had only recently moved to Ballater when Scotland took part in the World Cup in 1999 and they gave a good account of themselves in several matches. But cricket is a pretty simple game. Why shouldn’t the Scots do well? And the Irish. It has been one of the many pleasant things about coming to the north east.”

There were other less positive problems to overcome. Edrich was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia, which nearly killed him in 2005, and required constant surgery, in addition to receiving mistletoe therapy at the Camphill Well-being Trust in Aberdeen.

But, with typical generosity, he arranged a golf event for the trust which raised more than £11,000, and was similarly dedicated to helping Ballater businesses after Storm Frank devastated the region towards the end of 2015.

As he said: “It was sad to see the destruction, but it was amazing the way that the community pulled together in adversity. We were made to feel very welcome in the village and it is nice to be be able to put something back when it is needed.”

That was Edrich for you: a down-to-earth devotee of boosting others, whether on the cricket field or the golf course where he spent much of his later years.

Former Press and Journal sportswriter, Dave Edwards, recalled a cherished visit to John and Judith’s house where he was made to feel very welcome.

He said: “I arrived at his home in Ballater at 11am and didn’t leave until 2pm, such was his passion for talking about the great game.

“I remember his late wife with fondness: she was a lovely woman who had been born in Australia, the daughter of a Scottish father – and her home bakes were memorable.

”John was everything I expected him to be and, despite his illness, he was gritty yet courteous, and more than happy to share his thoughts.

“If anybody was going to live for another 15 years after that memorable meeting, it was going to be John, with the courage, bravery and determination which made him an England Test legend, and those same qualities served him very well in later life.”

Colin Smith, the former Scotland and Aberdeenshire wicket-keeper, was among those who heard the news of Edrich’s passing on Christmas Day.

As he responded: “I have a tear in my eye. Genuinely emotional. He was a gent.”

One suspects he won’t have been the only person to share that emotion about one of the game’s truly legendary figures.

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