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Milburn, Colinfree

(1941–1990)
  • Mark Peel

Colin Milburn (1941–1990)

by unknown photographer, 1962

© Empics

Milburn, Colin (1941–1990), cricketer, was born on 23 October 1941 in the Richard Murray Hospital, Consett, co. Durham, the only child of Jack Milburn (1910–1985), an electrician, and his wife, Bertha Clarke (b. 1918). He was raised in the neighbouring pit village of Burnopfield, where his father was a revered professional in the local Tyneside senior league. He attended Burnopfield primary school, Annfield Plain secondary modern school, and Stanley grammar school. Introduced to cricket at an early age, his enthusiasm and ability were such that by the age of thirteen he was playing in the Burnopfield first eleven. Inheriting his father's vast physique and dynamic approach to the game, he believed that it was important to dominate from the first ball and many a seasoned professional fell victim to his natural instincts. But for all his extraordinary power, he was not simply a compulsive hitter equipped with a razor-sharp eye. He had a superb technique, a perfect sense of timing, and a full range of shots in addition to his talents as a medium-pace seamer and a fearless short leg.

After some spectacular performances for Chester-le-Street, Milburn made his début for Durham in 1959, while still at Stanley grammar school, against the Indians at Sunderland. A typically pugnacious century won him wider notice. In 1960 Northamptonshire duly signed him, after offering him 10s. a week more than Warwickshire. He soon became something of a national hero as his audacious strokeplay, beaming features, bulky figure, and charismatic personality brought a whiff of glamour to this unfashionable club. A scintillating start to the 1963 season took him to the brink of the test team, but two low scores for MCC against the West Indians dented his prospects. In keeping with his flamboyant style Milburn's county form remained inconsistent, although on his day he was the most feared batsman in England. In 1965 he helped Northamptonshire to second place in the county championship and then in 1966, his annus mirabilis, he scored nearly 2000 runs with six centuries, two of them before lunch, hit thirty-one sixes, and finished second in the national batting averages.

Chosen in 1966 for the first test against West Indies at Old Trafford, Milburn was ignominiously run out in the first innings without scoring but made amends in the second with a typically defiant 94 as England were trounced. In the next test at Lord's, he rode to his country's rescue with a thrilling 126 not out to secure them a draw. He had become 'one of the few personalities the public craved to see' (Wisden, 1967, 81). After a gutsy performance at Headingley, when he batted with a badly bruised arm, he was unfortunate to be dropped for the final test, allegedly because his size impeded his fielding. He responded with a whirlwind 203 against Essex at Clacton, putting on 293 with Roger Prideaux for the first wicket.

Milburn wintered in Australia (1966–7), playing for Western Australia in the Sheffield shield, and briefly returned to the test fold in 1967 for one match each against India and Pakistan. Selected for the winter tour to West Indies, he won many new friends by his ebullience, but indifferent form kept him on the sidelines. After his return to favour against Australia at Lord's in 1968 was marked by a memorable 83, injury prevented him from playing in the next two tests. He was controversially omitted from the tour to South Africa, which ironically never took place because of the furore surrounding the late inclusion of Basil D'Oliveira.

After repairing once again to Perth in 1968–9, Milburn enjoyed a prodigious season for Western Australia, the apogee of which was an awesome 243, his highest score ever, against Queensland in Brisbane, made in just under four hours. No sooner had he finished in Australia than he was flown to Pakistan in an emergency to strengthen the ill-fated MCC tour and made an imperious 139 in the Karachi test before it was abandoned because of political unrest. It proved to be his last test innings.

Back in England, Milburn started the 1969 season auspiciously, suggesting that his batting had acquired a new maturity. Then tragedy struck. Returning to Northampton from a night out, on 23 May, he was involved in a serious car accident which cost him the sight of his left eye (the leading one for a right-hand batsman) and seriously impaired the other one. He accepted his lot uncomplainingly but for all his great fortitude it was a crushing blow from which he never recovered. In 1973–4 an attempted comeback proved too taxing and he retreated briefly to cricket in the local leagues. Thereafter, he did a variety of jobs within cricket but although his genial humour continued to win him friends wherever he went, his life lacked direction. On 28 February 1990 he collapsed in Newton Aycliffe, co. Durham, and died of a heart attack in an ambulance, on the way to hospital in Darlington. He was forty-eight and unmarried. He was buried at Burnopfield on 6 March. 'He was nearing his peak when his injury removed him from the scene he had illuminated during a period of depressing mediocrity', declared Wisden (1991, 1273). His statistics were unusual for, in his nine tests, he averaged 46.71 with the bat, comfortably exceeding his first-class average of 33.07 from 13,262 runs and 23 centuries. He also took 99 first-class wickets with his medium-pace bowling at 33.03 and held 224 catches.

Sources

  • M. Peel, Cricketing Falstaff: a biography of Colin Milburn (1998)
  • C. Milburn, Largely cricket (1968)
  • C. Martin-Jenkins, World cricketers: a biographical dictionary (1996)
  • Wisden (1991)
  • The Times (1 March 1990)
  • M. Engel, The Guardian (1 March 1990)

Likenesses

  • photograph, 1962, Empic Sports Photo Agency, Nottingham [see illus.]
  • photograph, 1966, Sport and General, London
  • photograph, 1966, repro. in Wisden (1967)
  • photographs, 1968–70, Hult. Arch.

Wealth at Death

under £100,000: administration, 6 June 1990, CGPLA Eng. & Wales