Lancashire cricket stalwart recalls entertaining Robert Mugabe and Mother Teresa

An eclectic, international cast of characters – from Ian Botham and Dennis Lillee to Mother Teresa and Mick Jagger – appear in the memoirs of Valley-born former Lancashire Cricket Club chairman Bob Bennett. Recently published and available as an eBook on Amazon, ‘From Bacup to Barbados’ is a warm but frank account of how the son of a Ross Mill mule spinner proudly donned the whites for his home town and county, before going on to rub shoulders with presidents and celebrities.

Spanning more than 40 years, Bob Bennett’s cricketing career straddled both the tail end of an anachronistic era clinging to days of ‘gentlemen versus players’, and the dawn of the truly modern age.

Given his batting position, it is perhaps apt that Bob’s memoirs should begin with a solid opening partnership – forewords from former England captain Michael Atherton and fellow Lancashire and England icon, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd.

As Atherton sums up succinctly “Bob’s life is the story of how cricket was, for good and bad.”

During the 1992 Cricket World Cup campaign in Australia, Bob was reacquainted with his old friend Everton Weekes in Perth.

Weekes, the West Indian legend who sadly died last month, had, in Bob’s own words, unquestionably provided that initial spark to ignite his cricketing ‘candle’ as a young boy.

He knew him as the hero smashing batting records down at Bacup’s Lanehead Lane, but also as a charismatic visitor to the family home.

The 237-page autobiography moves from his tentative early forays in the sport, through his 50 appearances for Lancashire, his 11-year tenure to 1997 as chairman of the Red Rose county, and manager of six major tours with the England senior side and England ‘A’ squad.

As Bob reflects, it is an innings which has contained “so many special moments”.

In his latter two ‘administrative’ roles in the game, he met and entertained a remarkable wealth of global leaders and figures, including Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Robert Mugabe.

Arduous tours spanning four continents in the 1980s and 90s would threw up an unpredictable – at times – hazardous itinerary of challenges both off and on the field – including food poisoning epidemics, a pilot strike, and even the outbreak of war.

“I was the last ‘proper’ England tour manager”, says Bob, who laments the time he had to write to every county club secretary ahead of one senior tour in a bid to enlist the services of a doctor – seemingly an unaffordable extravagance for the national side as recently as 1993.

“They had to get themselves much better organised. When we went to India we had myself, Keith Fletcher the coach, and the physio. Three of us – and a touring party of 17. Now the back-up staff exceed the number of players.”

He also admits things could have gone “badly wrong” two years earlier during the aborted England A tour of Pakistan when the military phase of the Gulf War began in January 1991, leaving the touring party locked in a hotel before managing to board a hastily-arranged flight out of the country.

Despite organisational headaches interspersed with the odd calamitous batting collapse, Bob, whose book also reflects on moments of personal doubt and tragedy, looks back with the greatest pride on that Indian tour.

While often characterised as the ‘tour from hell’ in some quarters due to a combination of disappointing results, logistical headaches, and medical and disciplinary mishaps, he concludes: “Whilst it was an extremely difficult and demanding tour to administer, from a management point of view, it was without doubt the most satisfying of my six overseas tours.”

Bob, who has two daughters Georgie and Jill, was finally persuaded to share his life story with the world after an American lawyer he met on a cruise ship – who “knew nothing” about cricket – insisted he put pen to paper.

Shortly after completing the book, Bob was deeply saddened by the death last month of his ‘icon’ Sir Everton, one of the greatest batsmen of all time and, arguably, as much a revered figure in his adopted town of Bacup as his native Barbados.

We will be serialising excerpts of ‘From Bacup to Barbados’ over the coming weeks.

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