DateLine: 8th December 2005
Although a Test career of nine matches and 19 wickets may seem unremarkable, Richard Illingworth’s international career will always be notable for one thing. His first delivery was routinely delivered, and Phil Simmons routinely blocked it. The ball then unroutinely spun under Simmons’ bat and onto the stumps, and Illingworth became only the second Englishman (and twelfth of all time) to take a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket. Illingworth’s main Test rival during the 1990’s was Phil Tufnell, and although the Middlesex man was arguably more likely to spin teams to defeat, Illingworth offered more in the field and with the bat, was an infinitely easier tourist, and a far steadier character. Illingworth’s role for both country and county was typical of that of the modern English spinner, with its requirement to bowl economically, and sometimes for long periods, and to provide stubborn and competent resistance with the bat. However, Illingworth’s Test match record with both bat (18.28) and ball (32.36) stands up favourably against his contemporary English left arm spinners such as Tufnell (who averaged 5.10 & 37.68 respectively) and Min Patel (22.50 & 180.00). Even the admirable Ashley Giles averages 38.66 per Test wicket. His ODI economy of 4.23 was also excellent in an era where spinners were frequently greeted with a lack of respect and a lot of bat handle. His in cricket history is also sealed by the fact that he was last man out in the 1992 World Cup Final, as he and England gallantly chased Pakistan’s total.
With a surname like Illingworth (although no relation to Raymond) and a birthplace of Bradford, it is somewhat surprising that he never played for his home county, especially as the middle years of his career coincided with the ‘Yorkshire born’ staff policy. Worcestershire was the county he served for an amazing 19 seasons, and his 1997 benefit of £271,275 was a deserved reward for such service and for his role in the Pears glory years of the late 1980’s. It is no coincidence that Illingworth’s best two domestic seasons with the ball (58 wickets at 21.96 in 1988 & 41 at 21.78 in 1989) coincided with Championship winning seasons at New Road. There were rumours that he had been unhappy at being passed over for the vice captaincy for the 1998 season, although it is to his credit that there were no ultimatums, spats or demands to leave. Although both age and the emergence of Matthew Rawnsley reduced his appearances in the Championship in his final season for Worcestershire, Illingworth could still tie down an end in limited-overs matches, and it therefore seemed a little churlish when The Pears refused to grant Illingworth a limited-overs only contract for 2001 (as he had requested), especially as this was an arrangement they subsequently came to with other veterans Stuart Lampitt and David Leatherdale. Illingworth joined Derbyshire for 2001, after receiving overstated promises that the traditional Derby greentops were getting dryer and barer. Illingworth wasn’t seen after mid June, as Derbyshire decided that the solution to the awful start to the season was to play rookie left arm spinner Lian Wharton instead, despite the fact that the Yorkshireman had contributed with both bat and ball in his few appearances for the Peakites. However, Illingworth (along with Tim Munton and Rob Bailey) had brought a professionalism and maturity to Derbyshire, virtues often absent in recent years. Yorkshire did eventually have an influence on his career, as his First-class debut as an umpire came at Headingley as he officiated over Yorkshire vs. India A in July 2003. In October 2005 it was announced that Illingworth had merited promotion to the full list of First-class umpires, and so he will continue to serve the game he has already given so much to.
(Article: Copyright © 2005 Matthew Reed)