Half a century ago this week, the M.E.N. published a fascinating insight into life behind the scenes at Old Trafford during the First Test match against the West Indies.
Photographers captured every aspect of the grand cricketing occasion – from cushion-sellers slumbering on a pile of pillows to England captain Ray Illingworth padded up in the nets.
Former England cricketer Colin Milburn, whose playing career was cruelly cut short by an eye injury, was pictured commentating on proceedings.
And spectators were caught in a variety of moods and poses watching the Test unfold.
Most of the time they were happy as England won by 10 wickets – and the rain stayed away!
The West Indies squad at Old Trafford included five players making their Test debuts during the three-match series.
They were batsman and wicket-keeper Michael Findlay, bowlers Maurice Foster, Vanburn Holder and Grayson Shillingford, and all-rounder John Shepherd.
There were some familiar faces too. The team was captained by the great Gary Sobers aided by veteran vice-captain Lance Gibbs, Roy Fredericks and Clive Lloyd.
There was a special welcome for Lloyd as he’d joined Lancashire from Guyana a year earlier. The powerful all-rounder ended up spending 18 years with the county.
The bespectacled Lloyd scored 7,515 runs in Test cricket, including 70 sixes – the 14th highest number of any player.
Notable absentees from the West Indian squad were batsman Rohan Kanhai, who was injured, and mercurial wicketkeeper Deryck Murray. His county, Nottinghamshire, refused to release him for the full tour.
At Old Trafford, England won the toss on the first day – Thursday June 12th 1969 – and elected to bat.
The home nation got off to a brilliant start with opening batsman Geoffrey Boycott scoring 128 runs. He shared a 112-run partnership with John Edrich (58) and a third wicket stand of 128 with Tom Graveney.
It was Graveney’s 79th and final Test at the age of 42. He scored a creditable 75 out of England’s first innings total of 413.
England’s cause was helped by unusually lax fielding by the West Indies – the visitors dropped no less than eight catches!
The West Indies were quickly in trouble in their first innings, losing two wickets with only five runs on the board.
England bowlers John Snow and David Brown took four wickets apiece as the visitors were all out for 148 off 48 overs. No West Indian batsman reached 35 runs!
England captain Illingworth lost no time in enforcing the follow-on. The West Indies had to bat again needing 265 runs to match the England first innings’ total.
The visitors were more steadfast the second time around. Fredericks scored 64 and Sobers and Basil Butcher both notched up 48.
But their final total of 275 took them just nine runs past England, so it was a formality for Boycott and Edrich to polish off the match.
The West Indies fared better in the Second Test at Lords, forcing a draw. So attractive was England’s performance at Old Trafford that Lords was sold out with spectators being locked out of the ground!
Another capacity crowd at Headingley saw England triumph by 30 runs in a close-fought match to take the series 2-0.
As they celebrated, little did England know it would be the last Test series they’d win against the West Indies for 31 years!
But none of that mattered to the delighted spectators at Old Trafford or Colin Milburn high up in the commentary box.
The First Test was a poignant moment for Milburn. He would probably have been playing for England himself had he not lost the sight of his left eye in a motor accident a month earlier.
A talented batsman and a clean, natural hitter of the ball, he was described as having ‘an infectious zest for the game and life.’
There was often no middle ground with Milburn. He could score a scintillating hundred or get out for a duck. But everyone loved his huge personality.
One cricket writer commented: ‘He hit the ball with the strength of a lumberjack and had the courage of a lion, but he was no Neanderthal clubber.’
It was a great loss to the game that he played only nine Test matches for his country.