Sunday, July 27, 1969. A 40-over John Player League match was underway at Johnson Park, Yeovil, between Somerset and Essex. Essex were taking first strike. The Somerset skipper, the off-spinner Brian Langford, was bowling his quota of 8 overs. Keith Boyce, having faced only a few deliveries from Langford, tried a mighty heave at one but missed the ball. The batsmen ran a leg-bye (although there were those who had thought at the time that Boyce had got a touch on the ball). Langford seemed to have something on his mind and seemed a little preoccupied. After he had completed his 7th over, one of the umpires for the game, John Langridge, dropped the gentle hint to Langford that he had just finished bowling his 7th consecutive maiden in a row and was in line for an extraordinary record.
Fully alert now, Langford began his final over with opener Brian Ward facing him. Despite the fact that this was a limited-overs game, Ward seemed intent on survival, and made no attempt to score — perhaps under the impression that Langford was the ‘danger’ bowler for Somerset. The 8th over also turned out to be a maiden, with the Somerset skipper’s final figures reading 8-8-0-0. This exemplary exercise in parsimony has never yet been equalled in any limited overs format of cricket, and has remained an unattainable beacon for generations of bowlers since.
Brian Anthony Langford was born December 17, 1935 at Birmingham. When he was barely four, the family had moved to the Somerset market town and civil parish of Bridgwater, where the youngster attended Dr Morgan’s School and moulded himself into an opening batsman and seam bowler, doing fairly well in both disciplines for his school and for Bridgwater Cricket Club.
In his evocative obituary of Brian Langford published in the Independent, Stephen Chalke describes how the young Langford would take the bus to Taunton regularly to watch Somerset at play, autograph book in hand, and of how he would occupy himself during the lunch interval by playing cricket in the outfield with a tennis ball and a glass bottle for a wicket.
His father having passed away when he was barely 15, the young Langford was compelled to leave Grammar School and to seek employment as an errand boy in the Accounts Department at the local British Cellophane factory. Cricket, however, was never far from his mind. Around this time, he had been making a name for himself as an opening batsman and medium-paced bowler for Bridgwater CC. In the following year, he was accepted as a member of the ground-staff at Taunton, where he learnt the subtle art of off-spin under the guidance of club coach Harry Parks.
The story of his First-Class debut is an interesting one. On June 6, 1953 the youngster was told to report to Bath with a game against Lancashire in the offing. He was a little overawed by the prospect of hobnobbing with the players whose autographs he had been in the habit of collecting. Langford was under the impression that he would be required to carry out 12th-man duties. As it turned out, he was about to make his First-Class debut and to participate in one of Somerset’s most remarkable matches.
Lancashire won by an innings and 24 runs, the game being over by the evening of the first day. It was reported that the newly laid wicket had not yet ‘settled down’. Batting first, Somerset, under Harold Stephenson, were dismissed for a pathetic 55 with Roy Tattersall running riot with a bag of 7 for 25. There were no double-digit scores in the entire innings, the highest being 9. The debutant batted at No. 11 and remained not out on 7, a fairly good performance under the circumstances.
Lancashire themselves were dismissed for 158, Langford picking up the wicket of Brian Statham. Alas, things did not improve for the home team in their second innings either, and Somerset were dismissed for 79, Tattersall (6 for 44) proving to be the main tormentor again. The ninth wicket fell at 44; from there, Jim Redman (27*) and Langford (8) shared a 10th-wicket stand of 35, easily the highest of the innings.
In many ways, this debut match turned out to be an eye-opener for Langford, and impressed upon him the value of having an experienced off-spinner in the bowling attack on a helpful wicket. He also learnt that senior cricket requires one to develop holistic skills, and that, even as a finger spinner, it is wise to develop one’s batting potential to the extent possible.
Langford’s debut happened to be the benefit game for long-serving Somerset player Bertie Buse (304 First-Class games for the County from 1929 to 1953). As a benefit game it was a financial disaster, having been completed in a single day, but the debutant was retained in the side for the remaining two games of the Bath Festival, against Kent and Leicestershire. Chalke states that while the curator was putting in the final touches on the wicket by rolling bull’s blood from a nearby abattoir into the surface, the young Langford was given a few shillings by Air Vice-Marshall Taylor, the Somerset Secretary, with the advice that he should by a new pair of boots.
Well, the new, lighter boots did wonders for the newcomer and he was able to repay the trust reposed in him by capturing 8 for 96 and 6 for 60 against Kent later on in June, and 6 for 53 and 5 for 81 against Leicestershire in his next game. By taking 14 wickets in the game against Kent at 17 years 175 days, Langford became the youngest bowler to take 10 wickets in a Championship game, a record that remained intact till James Harris (Glamorgan) broke it by taking 12 against Gloucestershire in 2007.
This was too good to last long, of course, and the tyro, having taken 26 wickets in first 3 games at 11.85, and climbing to the top of the national averages temporarily, managed only another 25 wickets in the remaining 14 games in the season, cricket being a great leveller. But the die had been cast to usher in a remarkable career.
In his later years, the amiable and ever-modest Langford would make it a point to express his appreciation and gratitude to two senior Somerset professional colleagues for his magical initiation into First-Class cricket in that week: opening batsman Harold Gimblett, who had set the fields for him for each individual incoming batsman, and fast-medium bowler Maurice Tremlett, who had advised him on what speed he should bowl at.
In a First-Class career spanning 1953 to 1974, Brian Langford played a total of 510 matches, scoring 7,588 runs at 13.59 with 14 fifties. His longer suite was his bowling, and he took 1,410 wickets at 24.24. He had 83 five-wicket hauls and 16 hauls of 10 wickets in a match.
1958 proved to be his most productive season as a bowler, and he captured 116 wickets at 18.28. He topped the 100-wicket mark in 4 other seasons: 1960 (106 wickets at 27), 1961 (115 wickets at 27), 1964 (105 wickets at 20), and 1966 (112 wickets at 18).
Langford played 504 First-Class games for Somerset, the most for the county by a distance (the next highest being 427 matches by Harold Stephenson, his first County skipper). He captured 1,390 wickets for his County, being third in the order of merit for Somerset after Jack White (2,165) and Wellard (1,517 wickets). His best bowling figures of 9 for 26 is the third-best for Somerset after 10 for 49 by Teddy Tyler and 10 for 76 by Jack White.
Somerset awarded Langford his county cap in 1957, and he led the team from 1969 through to 1971. Brian Langford proved to be a valuable jewel in the crown for Somerset over the years, as a player, as a captain, and, later, as an able administrator.
It was 1955 and time for National Service. The 20-year old opted for the RAF and played some cricket against teams from the Navy and the Army. At the end of his compulsory two-year National Service, Langford was a bit unsure of his fate with Somerset, as they were offering only 14 shillings a week to reinstate him in their service. Northamptonshire, through their captain Dennis Brookes, made abortive attempts to entice him away before Somerset finally did the sensible thing and agreed to increase his emoluments.
While his wonderful cricketing feats are too numerous to enumerate here, mention must be made of the back-to-back games at Weston-super-Mare in 1958, where he captured 4 for 59 and 8 for 53 against Glamorgan, followed, in the very next game, by 9 for 26 (his best ever analysis) and 6 for 28 against Lancashire. Those lessons learnt five years ago from senior professional Tremlett about subtle variations in pace were standing him in very good stead.
Langford reached a critical juncture in his cricket career in 1969 when he was made the captain of a Somerset side clearly in the doldrums, and performing very poorly in the County Championship. The top brass of the Somerset administration were aware of the enormity of the task they were assigning to the incumbent skipper: “We don’t expect you to win a game. Just go and try your best.”
Well, Somerset finished at the bottom of the table that season, with only 96 points from their 24 games, winning only 1 game, losing 9 and drawing 14. They rose to 13th spot (out of 17) in 1970, with 176 points from their 24 games, winning 5 games and losing 10. Under the steady guidance of Langford and following the arrivals of Brian Close from Yorkshire and Tom Cartwright from Warwickshire, Somerset reached 7th place in 1971, with 209 points from their 24 games, winning 7 and losing 4 games. Langford relinquished the captaincy to Close at the conclusion of the 1971 season, although he remained an active player.
Somerset gave Langford a Testimonial in 1966 that raised £4,250 and another in 1971 that raised £2,250. Being a purveyor of slow off-breaks for an ‘unfashionable’ team proved to be a handicap for Langford in the long run, plus the fact that he had some illustrious contemporaries in the same genre of bowling in the likes of Jim Laker (until 1964), Ray Illingworth, Fred Titmus, John Mortimore, and David Allen. Langford, never a great turner of the ball, never known to give it a genuine rip, on the other hand, always relying on his impeccable line and length, and concentrating on steadiness instead of variety, was never selected for any Test for England. He accepted the situation with equanimity, being an easy-going and amiable character.
After 1972, we see him turning out in only 2 games for the 1973 season, capturing 5 wickets. He appeared to be in semi-retirement mode. All that changed in 1974 when Close persuaded Langford to take a more active interest in Championship games for Somerset. Langford ended up playing 12 games for Somerset in 1974.
Having retired from active cricket at the end of 1974, Langford began working for and indulged in his second sporting love, golf, becoming a member of the Taunton and Pickeridge Golf Club. He was also an avid supporter of Aston Villa Football club.
Brian Langford fulfilled the duties of Chairman of the Somerset Committee in 1986. It was a turbulent year for Somerset. Joel Garner, Viv Richards, and Ian Botham left the County under acrimonious circumstances. Richards’ 10-year contract with Somerset ended when he and Garner were informed that their contracts would not be renewed. Botham resigned as a gesture of support for his two teammates.
The whole sorry business had caused an unholy uproar in the media at the time, even the mild-mannered Langford being moved to state categorically that “Botham is not as popular at Somerset as he is nationwide. He’s not a club man. He’s interested in one man only — Ian Botham.”
It seems that both Richards and Botham had become extremely intolerant of the younger players in the team of late, adopting an overly supercilious attitude towards them, and this was disrupting team harmony. There was, perhaps, a collective sigh of relief in the Somerset Committee Room when the three Test stalwarts left the county in 1986.
Brian Langford, the gentle giant of Somerset cricket, passed away on February 12, 2013 at Birmingham, aged about 77.