The former England captain Ray Illingworth has died at the age of 89, Yorkshire cricket club announced on Saturday. Illingworth, one of the few men to lead England to a Test series victory in Australia, in 1970-71, had been undergoing radiotherapy for esophageal cancer.
Illingworth played 61 Tests between 1958 and 1973, scoring 1,836 Test runs at an average of 23.24 and claimed 122 wickets at 31.20. He captained England 31 times, winning 12 of those matches.
Illingworth went on to become was the chairman of selectors for England between 1994 and 1996, and coached the team in 1995-96.
Born in Pudsey, Yorkshire, in 1932, his cricketing talents were apparent early when he averaged more than 100 with the bat for his school and showed proficiency as a medium-pace bowler, later adopting spin. Both deliveries saw him take many wickets for few runs.
He was also a talented footballer and had opportunities to play at two local clubs, Huddersfield Town and Bradford City. But it was his abilities with a small, hard red ball for Farsley in the Yorkshire League that quickly brought him to the attention of Yorkshire county coaches. He excelled for Yorkshire’s seconds and made his debut for the first XI shortly after his 19th birthday.
Illingworth grew in stature, soon coming to the fore in a talented Yorkshire side who won seven county championships in 10 years – for three of which he was captain – between 1959 and 1968.
Despite on-field success, when Illingworth sought a three-year contract he was bluntly told to “bugger off”. His services were rapidly secured by Leicestershire, who appointed him captain. Shortly after, an injury to Colin Cowdrey, the England captain, saw Illingworth appointed in his place.
He would later return to Yorkshire, initially as team manager, though he also managed to make a playing comeback at the age of 50 in 1982. The period was marred by controversies surrounding Geoffrey Boycott, whom Illingworth sacked as captain. Boycott’s supporters would exact revenge by winning control of the Yorkshire committee – a result which brought the end of Illingworth’s Yorkshire career.
Eventually his first-class career spanned 32 years from his debut in 1951 to his final appearance in 1983.He finished with 24,134 first-class runs and 2,072 wickets and was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1960.
At his best he will be remembered as one of the nation’s finest captains. Highlights included the away Ashes success against Australia in 1970-71. That would have proved a fitting finale had he not been tempted back into the spotlight as England’s chairman of selectors in 1994.
He joined what was essentially a sinking ship and hopes were high that his astute reading of the game and simplicity of approach would put things right.
Instead his tenure was a debacle as he clashed regularly with the captain, Michael Atherton. Illingworth wrote a book entitled One-Man Committee in an attempt to air his side of the controversy but was then charged with bringing the game into disrepute and fined £2,000 for comments relating to the bowler Devon Malcolm. On appeal the fine was rescinded.
Illingworth, who could be confrontational and was never shy of speaking his mind, was unable as a coach to connect with a number of England players.
Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, paid tribute to Illingworth on Saturday night, saying: “It’s always incredibly sad to lose a person who has given so much to the English game, and to the sport of cricket in general.
“Ray was a superb cricketer, and his deep love, passion and knowledge for the game meant he continued to contribute long after his playing days had finished. We send our sympathy and warmest wishes to Ray’s friends and family at this difficult time.”
Yorkshire paid tribute to “the club’s most successful modern-day captain”. The county said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened to learn that Ray Illingworth has passed away. His success at county level was matched on the international scene, enjoying a long career with England as captain.
“Our thoughts are with Ray’s family and the wider Yorkshire family who held Ray so dear to their hearts.”
Leicestershire said: “Everybody at Leicestershire County Cricket Club is deeply, deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former captain Ray Illingworth. Our thoughts are with Illy’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
Marylebone Cricket Club, of which Illingworth was an honorary life member, said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of his death.
Farsley Cricket Club, for whom Illingworth continued to prepare pitches for many years, said that “cricket has lost a great”.