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Jack Simmons reflects on his time with the Red Rose

Jack Simmons reflects on his time with the Red Rose

"It was the dream of any young boy to play for Lancashire and I was no different.”

The former all-rounder looks back at his Lancashire career, the unforgettable twilight semi-final in 1971, how much it meant playing for the Red Rose and who he believes was the best player he played with.

Jack Simmons trudged through the Old Trafford dusk, swung open the ornate iron gate in front of the Old Trafford pavilion and watched his old pal David Hughes disappear into the gathering Manchester nightfall.

"I can see him now, walking out to the wicket, looking up into the sky, with Warwick Road railway station behind him and the little lights of the scoreboard flashing like cabaret spotlights," recalled the former Lancashire batsman.

"David just disappeared from view. There were 20,000 fans inside Old Trafford and another 5,000 on the boundary ropes. There was absolutely no way they were going to go home.

"That day will always be part of Lancashire folklore but how we finished the game I'll never know."

Dubbed the twilight semi-final, Lancashire's 1971 clash with Gloucestershire is still remembered by many as the greatest limited-overs climax in cricket.

The thrill-a-minute, rain-affected tie, started at 10.30am and finished at five minutes to nine, but not before David Hughes had slogged an incredible 24 in one over off John Mortimore, to end the longest one-day game in history and put Lancashire in their second Gillette Cup final.

"We were chasing 229 and when we slid to 163-6 with all the big guns out and only the skipper Jack Bond left when I went in, it looked like curtains.

"I faced the first ball and pushed it back down the wicket. Bond walked down to me and said: Well, you've played yourself in now, you'd better start playing your shots.

"Dickie Bird, who was the umpire at square leg, was clucking about like an old mother hen.

"He was going, we can't play first-class cricket in this light. Can you see Jack? He was just nagging everybody to distraction.

"Suddenly Arthur Jepson, the senior umpire intervened.

"What's the problem Dickie, lad," he said.

"Dickie just carried on fussing about the light, so Arthur pointed to the moon and said what is that in the sky Dickie?

"It's the moon," replied Dickie.

Jeppo said: 'Yeah, that's right, now how far do you want to see. Now shut up and let's play.'

"It was an hilarious moment in an incredible game. We got to 203 and I went for the big one and got my leg stump knocked back.

"When David Hughes came in at 8.45 we needed 27 to win in six overs in almost total darkness – and one of the fastest bowlers in the world, Mike Procter, still to come.

"So David just went for it – 4,6,2,2,4,6. How he saw the ball I'll never know.

"We were dancing around the pavilion. I was shouting out the window: 'Right, you can take your time now! We can get the rest in singles. David just hit the next one out of the ground and we were in the final."

The real heart of English county cricket, it is said, lies with the honest county pro not selected for his country but always giving 100 per cent on a bone-chilling day at Scarborough or a dank April afternoon in Swansea.

To Lancashire supporters, for two decades, Simmons epitomised that player – ever willing to put his team first as Lancashire awoke from a 25-year slumber to win a record four Gillette Cup finals in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1975.

Sandwiched in between that were Sunday League crowns in 1969, 70 and 1989 – Simmons' final year at Old Trafford.

Lancashire were the undisputed one-day kings, the Manchester United of cricket.

His Lancashire debut came late, at 27, and he was still reeling in the wickets by the bucketful when he hung up his spikes at 48 for the last time in a championship match at Lytham in 1989.

"I didn't want to finish because I still felt I was playing as well as ever. I was convinced I could have gone on to my 50th birthday.

"But Lancashire told me I had to finish. They wanted to give some of the kids a chance. It was a bit of a sad way to end but I had enjoyed 20 fantastic years.

"I recall bowling the great Colin Cowdrey middle stump in my first season with Lancashire.

"A few months before, I'd watched him score a marvellous century on television sat at home in Accrington.

"That was just an incredible moment in my life. Even now, more than 30 years later, I still can't believe it's all true.

"It was just like a fairy tale. Cricket has given me a hell of a good life.

Simmons' benefit year 12 months later raised an astonishing 128,300, a clear indication of the affection and respect with which he is regarded to this day.

It was all a world away from his early life as a draughtsman with the Accrington Brick and Tile Company, and Lancashire County Surveyors' Department at Preston, when at weekends he would play for a few bob in the Ribblesdale League.

"It was the dream of any young boy to play for Lancashire and I was no different.

"I'd have walked to Old Trafford to play and I signed my first Lancashire contract for £750 for the season.

"I was earning more as a draughtsman, but I didn't care. There were no agents or negotiations in those days. It was just 'sign here, son'.

"Sometimes I'd get my contract not knowing how much I'd be getting. Unbelievable really. "I'd say to the secretary, 'you're not going to do me are you.' He said no, Jack, so I'd sign.

Simmons locked horns with Sir Garfield Sobers, Barry Richards, Viv Richards, Geoff Boycott, Ian Botham and many more, but Lancashire's great West Indian captain Clive Lloyd gets his vote as the greatest.

"Clive was a legend and I remember going into the dressing room at the MCG during a break in the Test match between Australia and the West Indies.

"I'd gone to see Clive in Melbourne but there he was fast asleep in the corner. Clive could sleep anywhere.

"I looked out of the pavilion window and Vivian Richards was at the crease – 172 not out.”

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