In my years of playing cricket, genuine characters were never far from sight — or out of earshot. No doubt this is true of many sports, but the nature of cricket and the length of time that participants are together, perhaps attracts people of a certain disposition. Last week, I learned of the death of a character with whom I was privileged to play in the later years of his career.
Hamish More, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, played 42 times for his country between 1966 and 1976, scoring more runs than any other Scottish player of that era. In Hamish’s view, the number should have been higher, although, by his own admission, it was partly his fault. Hamish was not known for being either tactful or taciturn. He was not shy in pointing out to selectors that he had scored 13 centuries in club and representative cricket before he was eventually selected. On that occasion he scored 50 against Cambridge University and, apart from becoming a regular in the national team, was invited to play in a number of select teams that included eminent international players of the time.
Another reason for not being selected more often was that Hamish took a break from representing his country in 1976 to care for his wife, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and a young family. Hamish’s softer side was always apparent when speaking of the effects of that stage of his life.
In 1979-80, he was selected for a Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) party to tour Bangladesh, in which he was the only amateur player. Following this, he returned to his country’s colours in 1980, when he played in Scotland’s first foray into English domestic limited-overs cricket. One of our first conversations centred on this when he became aware that I was from Nottinghamshire. Conspiratorially, he beckoned me to sit down.
“I opened the batting in the match against Nottinghamshire. I had been away from this level of cricket for four years and they got me to open against two of the finest bowlers in the history of the game on a green wicket tailor made for them. I survived for 12 overs, scoring 16 runs, and then they were replaced by bowlers of lower speed and quality. The first ball that one of them bowled at me was short and I went to hook it, only to be too early with the shot, the ball hitting me in the mouth. The rest of my stay in Nottingham was spent in the city’s hospital.”
Unspoken was the thought that his mental lack of mouth control had delayed his elevation to the national team and the physical damage to it had caused his retirement. Hamish continued to play MCC and club cricket into his seventies. I first met him when playing in a six-a-side tournament in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This was an annual international six-a-side tournament populated by teams from England, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, plus local ex-pats. Some teams had former professionals among their ranks.
In one match, I was bowling to a former Sri Lankan international. He hit me for three successive boundaries. The next delivery went sailing for six. In my despair, I looked up to see our wicketkeeper appealing to the umpire and pointing at the stumps. During the act of despatching the ball, the bat, or some part of the body, had dislodged a bail, so that the player was adjudged out. Hamish strolled in from the boundary and announced that I had acquired yet another international victim. Behind this droll statement was a simple truth, rather than a lack of tact. The likelihood of me taking the wicket of an international cricketer was slim, other than via a slice of fortune.
During Hamish’s peak years, Scotland was beginning to emerge from a lengthy period when its international standing was low profile, few games being granted “first-class” status. This was despite a cricketing history dating back to 1785, with its introduction by garrisoned English soldiers. After breaking from the UK Cricket Council in 1992, Scotland became an Associate Member of the International Cricket Council in 1994, taking part in the ICC Trophy in Malaysia in 1997.
Since then, it has experienced a roller-coaster ride in establishing its international credentials. It is not one of the 12 leading cricketing nations that play Test matches, but this is its ambition. The way to make a case for inclusion is to perform consistently well in limited-overs cricket. Qualification was achieved for ODI World Cups in 1999, 2007 and 2015 and for T20 World Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2021. Progression to the main round was achieved in that last tournament through victories in all three first-round matches. In the second round, the major cricket playing teams proved to be too strong, although Scotland’s overall performance provided it with a breakthrough not experienced since the famous victory over England in June 2018, one that I know pleased Hamish enormously.
Since Hamish’s time at Scotland’s crease, the development of the national team, all part-timers, has improved steadily. It has built on a well-established recreational cricket structure, its 17,000 players making it Scotland’s second most popular sport. Yet, to achieve full-member status, more needs to be put into place. The further development of women’s cricket is one, and additional sponsorship is another, as is the expansion of cricket in schools, of which I am sure Hamish would approve.
One verse of the song “When an old cricketer leaves the crease,” by the English folk-rock musician Roy Harper, puts me in mind of Hamish.
“When the moment comes and the gathering stands and the clock turns back to reflect
On the years of grace as those footsteps trace for the last time out of the act,
Well this way of life’s recollection, the hallowed strip in the haze,
The fabled men and the noonday sun are much more than just yarns of their days.”
Sadly, Hamish’s moments have been and gone. Recollection reveals him to have been a player of grace on the hallowed strip, an entertaining raconteur, friendly, engaging company with a sharp tongue, whose cricketing prowess contributed hugely to the success of both club and country and whose yarns stitched together the idiosyncrasies of cricket and its characters. I am honoured to have shared his company.