Ray Illingworth, former England cricket captain and coach, dies aged 89 | Cricket

The former England captain Ray Illingworth has died at the age of 89, Yorkshire have announced.

Illingworth, who led England to an away Test series victory over Australia in 1970-71, had been undergoing radiotherapy for esophageal cancer.

Illingworth played 61 Tests for England between 1958 and 1973, scoring 1,836 Test runs at an average of 23.24 and claimed 122 wickets at 31.20. He captained England 31 times, winning 12 of those matches.

Illingworth went on to become the chairman of selectors for England between 1994 and 1996, and coached the team in 1995-96.

Yorkshire paid tribute to Illingworth and posted on Twitter: “We are deeply saddened to learn that Ray Illingworth has passed away. Our thoughts are with Ray’s family and the wider Yorkshire family who held Ray so dear to their hearts.”

Illingworth the player was shy of true elite status, but as a solid lower middle-order batsman, infuriatingly miserly off-spinner and specialist gully fielder, he was never far from the action.

But his wider impact on cricket in England was marked. At his best he will be remembered as one of the nation’s finest captains – a single-minded leader with an appetite for authority and broad enough shoulders to bear it.

At his worst, in his second act as selector, coach and over-arching ‘supremo’ of the national side, the same qualities engulfed him and those who served at his pleasure.

By a lesser number, primarily those involved at his beloved Farsley Cricket Club, he will be cherished as the life-long club man who prepared wickets well into his 70s and could not resist arriving to paint the crease even after a heart attack slowed him in 2011.

In his home life he was a doting husband to his childhood sweetheart Shirley, father to Diane and Vicky and later both grandfather and great-grandfather.

After starting his professional career in a Yorkshire dressing room dominated by big characters, Illingworth grew in stature as a fixture of the dominant White Rose side which swept seven county championships in nine years between 1959 and 1968.

Ray Illingworth bowling for England against West Indies in 1973.
Ray Illingworth bowling for England against West Indies in 1973. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock

England also came calling but it was not until his move to Leicestershire in 1969 that he truly found his calling. Installed immediately as captain at Grace Road, he was then summoned to lead his country when injury struck Colin Cowdrey. Initially a stand-in, he held the position for over four years, winning 12 and losing five of his 31 Tests.

Illingworth leveraged power on and off the pitch, demanding more concessions than ever before from the board and more input in selection than the job typically entailed. For those who made his cut, he called for outright obedience and a clear commitment to his game plan.

If that caused a couple of bumps in the road, notably with Geoffrey Boycott and John Snow, it was frequently a productive arrangement for all concerned. The era peaked with an away Ashes success against Bill Lawry’s Australia in 1970-71, Illingworth’s overriding legacy even after his remarkable return to Yorkshire colours at the age of 50.

Originally appointed team manager, he eased himself back into the playing roster and ended up with a John Player League winners’ medal.

That would have proved a fitting finale had he not been tempted back into the spotlight as England’s chairman of selectors. He joined what was essentially a sinking ship and hopes were high that his astute reading of the game and simplicity of approach would put things right.

Ray Illingworth with the England captain Michael Atherton, with whom he clashed.
Ray Illingworth with the England captain Michael Atherton, with whom he clashed. Photograph: Andy Hooper/Daily Mail/Rex/Shutterstock

Instead his tenure was a debacle. Most obviously, he clashed on every conceivable level with the captain Michael Atherton, declining to award the young Lancastrian the same powers he had claimed when holding the role.

The pair were generationally and temperamentally incompatible and Illingworth’s eye for a player appeared more than once to be offering only blurred vision. In his three years in post he accrued enough responsibilities to warrant the ‘supremo’ moniker, but as results and relationships teetered off a cliff – most notably an ill-tempered and ill-advised public rebuke of the bowler Devon Malcolm in South Africa – there was nobody with whom he could share the blame.

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