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Cricket news - Cec Wright, who played with Sobers, Worrell, at 85 is still taking wickets

Enid has no answers for how he manages to stay so fit, considering he doesn't follow a proper diet nor does any exercise during the winter. "He's just fit and a natural athlete I guess," she says.

Cecil 'CEC' Wright often gets stopped on the road during his long walks around his hometown of Royton, some 10 miles out from Manchester, by sixty-somethings with the same lament. "I bet you don't remember me. You used to be my coach when I was 15. And that was 50 years ago. What are you doing still playing?" At 85, Wright admits to not having the best memory, and who can blame him for that. But the batsmen he's dismissed over the last six decades never forget him. A week before we meet at Wright's two-storeyed home, where he and wife Enid have stayed since 1971, he reveals to have overheard a batsman sounding rather exasperated after he'd fallen prey to the gangly Jamaican-born octogenarian pacer. "I can't believe he's still playing. He got me out when I was 17, and he was 70. And he's still getting me out." Wright breaks into a characteristically whole-hearted Jamaican laugh as he narrates the incident.

He first came to England in 1959 on the recommendation of his teammate, the late Roy Gilchrist, as a professional cricketer for a club called Crompton. It was a year after he'd appeared in his solitary first-class game for Jamaica against a Barbados team, which boasted of Collie Smith, Wes Hall and Seymour Nurse. By then he'd also bowled to the likes of the 3Ws and a young Garry Sobers, who would go on to become a close friend. Six decades on, he still remains an active cricketer representing Uppermill second XIs in the lower amateur Lancashire league, although these days according to him, he's just "making up the numbers and having fun". He might not be steaming in from 20 yards and getting English batsmen to "run for their lives" anymore like he used to in the 1960s, but the remarkable living, breathing Father Time of cricket continues to take wickets off his 10-yard amble, at times stumble, to the bowling crease. And he can get grumpy if he goes even a single Saturday without getting a game.

"Last week he sat waiting to be picked up by the guy who generally picks him up on Saturday only to realize that chap wasn't playing this particular match. So Cec took the car himself and drove around looking for the ground, went around in circles, couldn't find the ground and came back home and just sat around," says Enid as Wright shakes his head, still looking disgruntled at having missed one weekend of action.

It's when the names of the cricketers he called teammates, opponents and victims roll of his tongue that Wright's longevity is put into perspective-be it his idol worship of mentor Sir Frank Worrell, his friendship with Sir Garry Sobers or playing an exhibition match against Learie Constantine. Things didn't start off too brightly for Wright when he first came to England though. Crompton didn't sign him up for the second season, and it took when he returned in 1961, it took a word of advice from the late Worrell to turn it around for the young fast bowler. Wright had interacted with the first black captain of the West Indies previously.

"I used to work for Jamaica Transports when someone told me I'd been summoned to the Sabina Park by Franky the next day. It was a Test match and he said, 'Cecil Wright, you're the drink boy today. I said, 'oh yes that'll do'"

Though known for his sheer speed back home, Wright was struggling to make an impact on the damp early summer English pitches and recalls on one occasion at a game against Walsden, "I passed the ball before it got to the batsman". The next day Gilchrist would take Wright to meet Worrell in Bolton, where the legendary West Indian would say, 'You're not in Jamaica anymore you know. Up here, you're bowling in the mud.'

"He told me how to go about bowling when it's wet and I haven't looked back since," says Wright. As if the man even knows what looking back is.

This was the era where the Caribbean began producing hall of fame cricketers by the dozen, and Wright realized that his time was up in terms of vying for higher honours in West Indian cricket. And it was upon Gilchrist's suggestion that he decided to settle down in England. "The only aspect of English life I took getting used to was, how everybody kept smoking. Then I realized they did it to keep your fingers warm." That laughter again. Enid just rubs her forehead saying, "Haven't I heard that one thousands of times before."

Wright had been in the Oldham area for six years when the two first met. It was at an Afro-West Indian club in Manchester that'd been started by a couple of Enid's friends.

"Those days there was colour prejudice. They wouldn't allow black people in pubs. I had this friend whose husband was from Saint Helena, and they decided to start one for people of colour. I got roped in and went to a dance once where I saw Cec, and the rest is history," she says with a sheepish grin.

Enid's played an integral role in the fascinating and seemingly ceaseless Cec Wright story. She used to maintain scrapbooks with records of all of her husband's matches as a professional cricketer and also once he turned amateur and started playing in the lower divisions while in his 50s, 60s and 70s. And here, she helps him finish his stories, even plays interviewer by repeating questions that he struggles to hear and even tries in vain to calculate the actual number of years and matches Wright must have played in the last 60 years. She also reveals how English society didn't quite readily accept inter-race marriages in the 1960s.

Wright, who worked for Mars Chocolates for 29 years, recalls the time he and a couple of his fellow West Indians had encountered racism in Radcliffe, and how Sobers had stepped in to save the day.

"We actually had 5 West Indians in the Crompton side that played against Garry's Radcliffe that day. Once the match was done, Garry took us to his local pub there but the fellow at the door said, 'you are ok Mr Sobers but those boys can't come in'. And Garry just got mad and said, 'you know what, we are going somewhere else boys'.'"

Wright understandably rates his battles against Sobers in the Lancashire Leagues as the highlight of his incredibly lengthy cricket career. And though he insists on having got the better of his hero on a number of occasions, he also remembers getting an earful from the legend.

"We used to call him Skipper Garry. But when he got his Knighthood, I met him and said, 'Hello Sir' and he spun around and said, 'Now listen boy, you knows me as Skipper Garfield and not Sir Garfield.'"

Wright played professionally for Crompton, Walsden and Colne for nearly two-and-a-half decades, before returning for a couple of seasons for his maiden English club in the early 1990s, while he was in his late 50s. But the closest he came to playing county cricket was when Somerset approached him in the 1970s.

"Joel Garner was to sign for them but he couldn't play as he hadn't completed the quota of spending 12 months here. I was a local here by then but Walsden didn't let go of me, and that's the only regret I have," says Wright. A young Garner was driven around Lancashire by Wright, and Enid even recalls "Big Bird" visiting their home in Royton, and her kids being shocked by his gargantuan frame.

Though there's no official record of just how many wickets Wright has taken in his career, a local statistician believes the number to be around 4200. His best run came in the late 1960s when he took 603 wickets in a period of 7 years. His list of victims includes some high-profile names, including Denis Compton during an exhibition match. But ask Wright if Compton and Sobers are his most-cherished wickets and he scoffs at the question.

"I cherish every wicket the same, even the 12 year old I got out yesterday, is the same as Compton to me," he says. And does he still bounce batsmen out? "The odd one does fly accidentally past their shoulder. But I also get wickets by telling the batsman there's no chance he can hit me over a particular boundary and getting him caught there."

Wright reveals he cut down his run-up to 15 yards while he was in his mid-50s, because his legs started aching and it was only recently that he's come down to 10 steps. He also rarely moves from the slips when he isn't bowling and a few years ago, was hit on the head while standing close-up to a batsman. You ask Enid how she deals with her husband's insatiable passion for playing cricket even at this age, and she shrugs her shoulders and says, "You just have to accept it. I am always telling him to take it easy. Now when he goes, I am always telling him, 3 overs is enough. I no longer ask how many wickets he's taken. It's only how many overs he's bowled," she says. And is he always honest? "I'm sure he isn't," she responds with a wink.

Royton is quintessentially middle-class, and Wright is a local legend. And Enid too is used to walking into supermarkets and having half-a-dozen people ask, "You're not surely going to tell me you're playing again this season Cec?" But she doesn't suffer any fools either when she hears anyone question Wright's skills even at this age.

"I recently stood behind two boys in their early 20s at Walsden and heard one say, 'Oh god, is this him? Look that old fella's not going to do anything'. And I said, 'You wait and watch son'" she says. True to his wife's words, Wright continues to win matches for his team-he hit a match-winning six in the last over in 2018 and even won a man-of-the-match award the same season.

Wright is sprightly around the house, running up the stairs to bring down a pair of photo frames, and still looks as lean and athletic as he does in those pictures of yore. But Enid has no answers for how he manages to stay so fit, considering he doesn't follow a proper diet nor does any exercise during the winter. "He's just fit and a natural athlete I guess," she says.

It isn't surprising though that people are always seeking lifestyle and diet advice from Wright. Most times, they are left disappointed, he says.

"They'll ask, 'Why is your palm not as wrinkly as the top of your hand?' and I say, 'because I keep washing it'. What do you eat they ask, and I say, 'I have beings six times a week'. 'You mean beans?' they say, and I whisper, 'No human beings' and start laughing," Wright says.

So long has Wright been around that, in some cases he's played with three generations of the same family, as with the Bradburys in Uppermill. But the man who played alongside Sobers and bowled at Nurse and Hall on first-class debut has an endearing way of ensuring he never feels like the oldest member of the team. He just refers to everyone else in the team as "old man".

"Last week our team had two brothers aged 11 and 12. And when one of them said, 'Oh Cec, we'll see you at the next game won't we', I said 'of course you will old man."

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