JIM Gambrell, who died last week at the age of 86, will go down in the history of Huntingdonshire cricket the finest bowler of his generation. He played a prominent role in the success of the formidable Huntingdon CC side in the period 1950s-1970s and wa
JIM Gambrell, who died last week at the age of 86, will go down in the history of Huntingdonshire cricket the finest bowler of his generation.
He played a prominent role in the success of the formidable Huntingdon CC side in the period 1950s-1970s and was a stalwart of the Hunts county team for 15 years.
He also played with distinction for Cambridgeshire.
The tall, raw-boned paceman, who hailed from Bythorn - as a youngster he must have been a fearsome prospect on some of those village pitches - turned in a series of match-winning performances for club and county, after he began by playing for Jim Rowan's XI.
He went on to grace the playing fields of his home county and further afield for more than 20 years.
Statistics don't always tell the full story but in Gambrell's case they speak volumes. For Huntingdon CC he played from 1952 to 1972 and took 1,034 wickets at an average of only 10.5 runs per wicket. For Hunts between 1948 and 1963, he collected 73 wickets at an average of 19.00 and for Cambs he took 50 wickets in 13 games, the best performance being 8-63 against Northants in 1950. On six occasions he took five or more wickets in an innings.
The sight of Gambrell bowling, with his rhythmical run-up, high action and cocked wrist was something to admire - unless you were the batsman waiting apprehensively at the other end!
His success was the reward for speed and accuracy, line and length.
There were some remarkable performances, including the startling figures of eight wickets for nine runs against Ramsey in a Smith Barry Cup final at Warboys. "Gambrell the stump-wrecker" trumpeted the headline of the report in The Hunts Post.
But he also demonstrated his ability against the professionals in the county championship second elevens (Hunts had a strong friendly fixture list in those days) including developing youngsters, seasoned pros and even some test players fulfilling the qualifying periods with their counties: players of the calibre of David Gower, Mushtaq Mohammed and many others. Denis Brookes, of England and Northampton, was among those who considered that Gambrell could have made it as a county professional.
In one fixture at Ramsey against Northants II, Gambrell was smashed for four through the covers off the back foot - not a frequent occurrence - by a chubby youngster. His name was Colin Milburn. "I'd heard he was good," mused Gambrell. He later went on to dismiss Milburn twice.
It was on a green wicket at the St Peter's Road ground one morning in 1960 that he produced his best figures for the county. Against a Somerset II side that included Mervyn Kitchen, who went on to become one of Somerset's leading batsmen and latterly a first-class umpire, Gambrell took 8-15 and the visitors were all out before lunch.
His ability was not confined to bowling. His batting was good enough for him to be classed as an all-rounder and good enough to record a century in a SB cup final. Although a strong Huntingdon batting line-up limited his chances, he scored 5,466 runs for the club at a respectable average of 25.78.
Jim Gambrell always played fairly and was admired and respected by colleagues and opponents alike. He was a good-natured, good-humoured family man and one whose mark has been left indelibly on the annals of Huntingdonshire cricket.
The funeral is at Bythorn Church next Tuesday (February 19) at 2pm.