A fine and popular allrounder who, after playing, helped to raise the successful New Zealand sides of the 1970s and ‘80s writes Stephen Chalke
MARTIN HORTON was an outstanding county cricketer, the only opening batsman since the war to complete the season’s double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets. He started at Worcester in 1949, in the month of his 15th birthday, a groundstaff boy fetching tea from the local café and selling scorecards, and he finished in 1966, the proud owner of two Championship medals.
His punchy batting brought him 2,468 runs in 1959, the fifth-highest aggregate of the summer, and his intelligent offspin had many a good day, none better than in May 1955 when on a damp pitch he took nine South African wickets for 56 runs. He was a competitor, always in the game, and he had an excellent temperament: calm and cheerful. His wife, Margaret, always said that, when he came home, she could not tell if he had scored 0 or 100.
He was, by his own admission, a little short of true Test class but in 1959, after a 4-0 defeat in Australia, the selectors turned to him. He scored a fifty at Trent Bridge, took wickets at Lord’s but against a weak Indian side the selectors shuffled the pack. “I thought I was very lucky to play,” Horton said in later life, “but perhaps unlucky not to play a little longer.”
At Worcester he became an opening batsman. By now he knew the game through and through and, besides runs and wickets, he contributed greatly to the happy spirit with which the county won the Championship in 1964 and ’65.
At the end of 1966 Horton emigrated to New Zealand where as national coach he developed the game at all its levels. “In those years,” Jeremy Coney says, “New Zealand cricket was run out of a garage, and he just got on with the job, calm and relaxed, with no ego. Everybody liked him.” His grass-roots work was little noticed but in due course the Cinderellas of world cricket turned into a team that went 12 years without losing a home Test series.
Horton returned to Worcester in 1993, becoming cricket professional at the Royal Grammar School. Dean Headley was his star protégé, a thin lad who could bowl with real pace. One night, on a tour of Zimbabwe, the locals in the bar asked Horton about the boy’s prospects. “He’s going to be a really good bowler,” he replied. “All he needs is plenty of beef, plenty of beer and a good woman.” Across the room the barman’s voice boomed out: “My Christ, you’re the manager for me.”
Horton joined the county committee and became chairman of cricket. While others tutted about modern youth he would sit with a smile, recalling his own playing days – like the time they persuaded the club to let them travel to away matches by car. One team-mate had a drink too many and demolished bollards in London’s Oxford Street. “County cricketer spends night in jail,” screamed the newspaper placards when they arrived at Lord’s. As Horton put it, “It was back to the coach for a few years after that”.
He had the best of marriages. He loved his Wagner and his skittles and he stayed at the heart of Worcester cricket, running the Old Players’ Association. In summer he was a regular at New Road and in winter he attended the local cricket societies. At his funeral, a mostly humanist service, the reading was from Alan Bennett: “You can shed tears because he is gone or you can smile because he has lived.” He was a lovely man – English cricket at its best.
Martin John Horton was born on April 21, 1934 and died on April 3, 2011, aged 76.
Stephen Chalke is a publisher and author of cricket books