Last Wednesday evening, former Glamorgan captain, Alan Butcher spoke in front of a decent-sized attendance in the latest of the series of popular winter talks in the CC4 Museum of Welsh Cricket at the Club's headquarters in Cardiff.
Below is a review of Alan's entertaining talk by Alun Rhys Chivers:
But for a twist of fate, Alan Butcher may never have played county cricket. Born in Croydon, the former Glamorgan captain’s family emigrated to Australia, where he represented Glenelg and subsequently South Australia under-15, and could have forged a career in the Aussie ranks. However, the family returned to England and it would be at Surrey that the youngster would make his name.
Born into a cricketing family – brothers Martin and Ian also playing county cricket, for Surrey and Leicestershire respectively – it was somewhat inevitable that ‘Butch’ himself would go down the same path. Remembered by followers of the ‘Daff’ as a left-handed opening batsman, it was as a left-arm fast bowler that he joined Surrey, alongside the likes of Micky Stewart, John Edrich, Robin Jackman, Geoff Arnold as well as his roommate, New Zealand international Geoff Howarth. Butcher made an instant impact, his first victim being veteran Middlesex batsman Eric Russell. It was still the era of professionals and amateurs, and he earned a modest £720 as part of his first contract.
Nicknamed ‘Budgie’ due to his likeness to singer and actor Adam Faith, Butcher joined a Surrey side for whom Welsh-born spinner Pat Pocock broke a world record in 1972, claiming seven wickets in 11 balls against Sussex.
Influenced by his “hero” Ted Dexter, Butcher had always believed in his own abilities as an aggressive batsman and it was this belief which ultimately led to him switching from a self-confessed “batting all-rounder” to an accomplished opening batsman, forging a partnership in 1975 with England batsman John Edrich. He described scoring his maiden century a year later – against Warwickshire at Edgbaston – as “getting the monkey off my back”.
However, it is his subsequent opening partnership with Grahame Clinton which cemented his place in the record books. They amassed no fewer than nineteen century stands in first-class cricket, including a partnership of 277 against Yorkshire at The Oval in 1984, Butcher contributing 118 while his partner scored 192.
The ultimate test
Despite averaging between 1,300 and 1,700 runs every season during his time at Surrey, Butcher joined the ‘one Test club’, his solitary international call-up coming at his home ground against India in 1979, where he only managed scores of 14 and 20. His opening partner was none other than Geoffrey Boycott. Of his brief international career – which also included one One-Day International, Butcher says, “I’ve played for England, but it’s difficult to think of myself as an England player.” Although he felt he’d done enough to earn a place on the winter Ashes tour, it wasn’t to be. Although an alleged case of mistaken identity meant that it was (the West Indian) Roland – and not Alan – Butcher who got the nod for the tour!
As well as his many on-field achievements at Surrey, ‘Butch’ also spoke of his friendship with the Bajan fast bowler, Sylvester Clarke, whom he first encountered at the latter’s trial for Surrey. It was for a net session prior to the start of the day’s play between Surrey and Lancashire that Butcher was asked to face the youngster. Lloyd, knowing of his fellow West Indian’s lightning pace, had assembled his Lancashire teammates on the balcony to watch. Butcher, having faced a number of unhittable deliveries, had seen enough. Clarke’s services were enlisted, and it was the start of a lifelong friendship.
Butcher had become disillusioned with life at The Oval by the time of his release at the end of the 1986, and he still had ambitions of being a county captain. It had been some years since the retirement of stalwart Alan Jones and John Hopkins’ recent retirement had left a gap in the Glamorgan top-order and Butcher was seen as the ideal man to come in.
A welcome in the hillside…
Having had 15 years at Surrey, life couldn’t have been much more different for Butcher in south Wales. He had swapped The Oval for Sophia Gardens, St. Helen’s, Abergavenny and Ebbw Vale. He says of the latter’s hillside location, “There’s not many grounds like that in Surrey!”
He joined a Glamorgan team which included a crop of youngsters who would go on to form one of the most successful sides in the county’s history during the 1990s – Hugh Morris, Steve James, Adrian Dale, Tony Cottey, Steve Watkin, Colin Metson and Steve Barwick amongst them. By 1989, he would be skipper of this side after Morris had stood down to concentrate on his batting and his ambitions of earning an England call-up.
Of being offered the captaincy, Butcher said, “It was something I had always wanted to do. I felt I should have been captain at Surrey.” It was ahead of the 1990 season that Glamorgan made the most significant signing of the early 1990s era, with the arrival of West Indies great Viv Richards. Of playing alongside him, Butcher said, “It was obviously a great privilege. I obviously respected him and I was pretty sure he respected me.”
Although he added that he was “at pains to point out to the team that I didn’t want us to become a one-man show as a team.” Richards would bat at five, a decision which, according to Butcher, “may have cost us games” but he argues that it contributed to the team’s success which would later culminate – a few years after Richards’ departure – in the 1997 County Championship win, by which time the top-order of Morris, James, Dale and Maynard was one of the most recognisable in county cricket.
Having earlier forged opening partnerships with Edrich and Clinton, Butcher would find another successful partner in Glamorgan’s Hugh Morris. The left-handers’ partnership would yield over 4,000 runs, including eleven century stands, in first-class cricket in 1990, a performance which led to Butcher being named Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1991. Butcher said, “I think probably Hugh and I were more similar in style than Clint and I were. Hugh was a more aggressive player than Clint. I guess we both hit a rich vein of form and we complimented each other pretty well. I think having two left handers is a good combination because not so many bowlers are good at bowling at left-handed batsmen.”
Keeping it in the family
A knee injury meant that Butcher would only play for another two seasons, by which time his eldest son Mark was establishing himself in the Surrey ranks, and his youngest Gary had followed his father to Glamorgan. The younger Butcher generation also includes to cricket-playing daughters, Bryony and Ceri.
Following retirement, a career in coaching would follow, and he was appointed by Essex in 1993. He later returned to Surrey, initially as assistant coach and was appointed head coach in 2005. His most recent appointment came in 2010 as head coach of Zimbabwe at a time when they were looking to be reinstated to international cricket. That dream was recognised a year into his tenure. But he admits that his time was tainted by the Board’s financial struggles, which “eats away at the morale and motivation of the players”. The Zimbabwe years have since been recorded in his award-nominated book The Good Murungu, which he says was dreamt up in the early hours one morning back home in England. Its name was derived from the nickname given to him by his impoverished housekeeper whose bed was “a couple of blankets on a concrete floor”.
‘Butch’, ‘Budgie’ or ‘The Good Murungu’ has had a colourful life and career which has taken him from Croydon to South Australia, The Oval, south Wales and Zimbabwe. From captaining Viv Richards to helping nurture the talents of one of the most successful generations ever of Glamorgan cricketers, Alan Butcher’s contribution to Glamorgan cricket cannot and should not be underestimated.