Not out at 80, Norman Gifford’s still going strong
Worcestershire legend Norman Gifford is celebrating a double milestone in his 80th birthday and clocking up 60 years since his debut in a County Championship match which ended in one day.
Gifford’s remarkable bow for the county came in 1960 against Kent at Tunbridge Wells.
Kent went in first and were dismissed for 187, Gifford finishing with four for 63, only for the visitors to be skittled for 25 and 61 in a combined 43 overs with paceman David Halfyard producing match figures of nine for 29.
But after that chastening experience, Gifford would go on to enjoy major success with Worcestershire, being part of three Championship-winning sides, appearing in four Lord’s finals, and picking up 2,068 first-class wickets.
He also earned 15 Test caps, in an era where Derek Underwood was his country’s number one choice as spinner, and remarkably at the age of 44 skippered England in two ODIs.
Gifford has still been actively involved as Worcestershire’s part-time spin bowling coach in recent years, passing on his vast experience to the likes of Ben Twohig and Brett D’Oliveira, and his enthusiasm for the game burns as brightly as ever.
He recalled: “You could say it was a remarkable first game for myself as it was all over inside a day!
“I remember Dick Richardson was having a cigarette and, after another wicket fell, he went in and said: ‘Leave it there, I’ll have it when I come back!’
“It was an indication of the sort of wicket it was.
“It was wet through with no grass on it when we started and then a lovely warm day and, as it dried out, it just baked and when the ball pitched on it, it left craters and went all over the place.
“The game started on a Wednesday and I was back in the nets at New Road on the Thursday!”
Gifford’s decision to move to Worcestershire did not make him popular with all supporters of his native Lancashire.
He said: “After having a trial, Worcestershire decided they wanted to offer me a contract but in those days you couldn’t do that without getting permission from the county of your birth.
“Lancashire wanted to see me before they let me go. They invited me to Old Trafford, I had a net and then played in a ‘Club And Ground’ game for them at Altrincham Grammar School on a wet wicket that turned.
“I got wickets and they wanted to offer me a contract me as well. My dad said ‘what are you going to do’ and I felt I had a better chance if I came to New Road than if I had stayed at Old Trafford.
“In the years to follow, when I played I used to walk out at Old Trafford and some people would have a moan at me and say ‘you traitor’ but it was a good decision by me.”
Gifford enjoyed a good relationship with Underwood even though he would almost certainly have played a lot more Tests in another era.
He said: “At that time Derek Underwood was around and, on wet wickets in the UK, it was going to be a struggle to get him out of the side.
“Ray Illingworth was a blessing for me. There were times when the wickets were drier and they were a bit more up and down and he would say ‘I want him to play, not Deadly (Underwood)’.”
“In another time, I might have had a run like Graeme Swann. It could have happened. I only played one Test where myself and Derek both played, against Pakistan in Karachi and I got five wickets in the second innings.
“But I got on really well with Derek. We used to have a long chat and still do if I see him. He sometimes comes to the PCA events and we had a big reunion of all the England players at Lord’s three or four winters ago and he was there for that.”
Gifford learnt from many people in his long career and has been happy to pass that knowledge on to the likes of Twohig.
He said: “When you’ve learnt things, and you’ve been down that road, know what the pitfalls are, you can help other people.
“I still get that buzz from helping and passing things on to the youngsters.
“When Twiggy (Twohig) made his debut at The Oval a couple of years ago, I was delighted for him. I’ve seen him develop from as a 15-year-old, but it takes time for a spinner.”
Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.