A number of years ago, before Chris Old had become established as one of England’s leading all-rounders, he was sporting himself in the unaccustomed role of full-back for Otley rugby club, and a prophetic observer was heard to mutter sagely: ‘That lad’s got a good safe pair of hands. He ought to be a cricketer.’
His brother, Alan, the British Lions, and England fly-half, is also a cricketer who has played the game with distinction, though not at first-class level, and the third Old brother, Malcolm, was a more-than-useful footballer and has been a stalwart of Middleborough Cricket Club for many years.
Predictably Chris Old’s talent for rugby football, normally in the fly-half position that has been so impressively filled by brother Alan, has been restricted by his obligations to cricket in general and the Yorkshire County Cricket Club in particular. Imagine in this context the consternation felt by the Chris Old family when last summer there appeared to be a real chance that he would never step out again upon a cricket field in anger.Chris Old England Fast Bowler (1)
Bone growth in the knee had been operated on five years ago and recurrent trouble had come to a climax of pain and discomfort in August 1976, when he was told that another operation might be advisable but that success could not be guaranteed. Wise advice prevailed, based upon the same theory that all other possible cures should be tried first; then, if they were unsuccessful, the operation could still be undertaken.
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Chris Old embarked upon a course of treatment at the St James Sporting Clinic, Leeds and the results have bordered upon the miraculous. His wasted thigh muscle bulges now like any wrestler’s, thanks to the skilled and dedicated work of Mr. F. W. Shea FRCS and Dr. Ian Adams MD who, incidentally, is a medical officer of Leeds United Football Club.
The most spectacular result, of course, is that when these words are read, Chris will be contending for MCC in India when his family, his many well-wishers, and, one suspects, himself, had relinquished as a ludicrously optimistic pipe dream the hope that he would be selected for the tour. Occasional matches for Yorkshire from 1966 to 1968 gave the youthful Old little chance to show his pedigree. His first match for the county and the only one in the season of ’66 was against Hampshire at Portsmouth.
Doug Padgett, then York-shire’s elegant number three batsman and now their coach, recalls Chris’s baptism. `I remember “Butch” White bowling to Chris and making him play and miss five times an over with big out swingers to the left-hander. In the end “Butch” went round the wicket, but honestly, Chris wasn’t good enough then to get a touch. It’s incredible to think just how much his batting has improved to the point when he can take a good attack apart.’
The county was impressed by his potential as a fast bowler from the outset but opportunities were limited until the incomparable Fred had glowered his last glower for Yorkshire in the ’68 season. Chris Old’s reaction to responsibility and a greatly increased workload was admirable.
He topped the Yorkshire averages with 55 wickets at 17.10 apiece and Wisden carried the photo of a sensitive-featured, pleasant-looking introvert as different from his famous predecessor as Mozart is from the Rolling Stones. Naturally, comparisons, odious and otherwise, were initially the order of the day. ‘Fred would’ve gone after him if he’d been hit over top.’ He needs more fire in yer belly like Fred ‘ad.’ etc, etc; but Chris Old has gone his own way and in the process has proved himself to be his own man.
Thereafter his career, nagging injury apart, has never really faltered at the county level and his potential caliber as a Test player was recognized by selection for a couple of matches against the Rest of the World in ‘1970 and for the 1972-73 tour of India and Pakistan under Tony Lewis. Geoff Arnold’s illness let Old in for the second Test and match figures of 6 for 115 and 33 & 17 with the bat, both not out, represented an encouraging start that was developed satisfactorily in India until the even slower pitches of Pakistan defeated him.
Since then Chris Old has been a more or less regular member of England’s Test side without quite making the impact that his most devoted admirers believe his talent warrants; but it is impossible to know to what extent he has been hampered by injury, possibly aggravated by a hectic programmed that has only allowed him one winter’s rest (1975-76) since he became an established player.
The conclusion justified by the facts is that, if he is now fully fit and fortunate enough to remain so, then a fair number of batsmen and bowlers are in for a torrid time if a cricketer can perform as credit-ably and at times brilliantly as Chris Old has done when handicapped by injury, what may he not achieve when the clouds have lifted?
Improvement in his bowling coincided with the shedding of suspicion of jerkiness, a lack of rhythmic co-ordination in the pre-delivery strides, and with regard to his explosive potential as a batsman, a greater willingness to get into line in the face of top-class fast bowling, would instantly promote him to a very high class indeed.
When he first won a place in the York-shire side, Chris Old naturally became ‘Chilly’ to his teammates. Especially after the many disappointments and setbacks of recent years, England cricket followers will be hoping that a fully fit ‘Chilli’ will be able to make things tolerably hot for his country’s opponents, this winter and for many years to come.
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Chris Old had become established as one of England's leading all-rounders, he was sporting himself in the unaccustomed role of full-back for Otley rugby club
Chris Old had become established as one of England’s leading all-rounders, he was sporting himself in the unaccustomed role of full-back for Otley rugby club


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