Harry Latchman played in 40 first-class matches for Nottinghamshire between 1974 and 1976, after a decade in county cricket with Middlesex, and is still as passionate about the game today as he ever was.
Born Amritt Harrichand Latchman, in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1943, he came to England when he was around eleven years of age and spent a couple of years at Wandsworth Grammar School and then went to the Christopher Wren School at White City.
“It was at school in England that cricket first became a big part of my life”, he said. “But it was all down to my elder brother Penroy that I got a chance to make a career out of the game.
“We would go to some nets in an indoor school at the back of a pub that was run by Archie Fowler, a coach who had recommended Denis Compton to Middlesex. He arranged for Penroy to have a trial at Lord’s and I went along with him. I took my gear and plimsolls and was given a chance to bowl.
One of the other coaches there was Bill Morris, who’d played for Essex. “I bowled quickish off-spinners at the time but Bill obviously saw something that he wanted to change. ‘How big is your mum?’ he asked me. ‘Not much bigger than me’, I replied – as I was only 14 or 15 at the time.
“He said that he didn’t think I’d be getting much bigger and that I was the right height to bowl leg-spin. From then on he taught me how to grip the ball and how to become a leggie.
“Eventually a letter came, offering my brother a place on the Lord’s groundstaff, but he’d had other thoughts and declined the invitation, saying he wanted to study medicine instead. They replied back, asking if they could have me instead!”
Harry honed his trade through the junior ranks at Middlesex and then had to bide his time in the second team until an opportunity arose.
“One day in 1965 I was playing at Harrow Town when I got a call to say that I would be involved with the first team the following day. I made my debut against Glamorgan at Lord’s and picked up a couple of wickets, Jim Presdee and Don Shepherd.
“I was quite pleased with how it had gone and even more delighted when I was selected for the next match, also at Lord’s against Yorkshire. We were in the field straight away and after about half an hour Fred Titmus lobbed me the ball and told me to have a bowl.
“Ken Taylor was on strike and he hit me for 16 in my first over. Titmus took me off and I was pretty down about things at lunch. I didn’t eat anything and sat contemplating about what had happened. As we walked back out I was given the ball again and proceeded to take wickets at regular intervals to finish with 6 for 52 – not a bad recovery after the mauling I’d received earlier.”
Over the next nine years Harry played in a total of 170 first-class matches for Middlesex, taking exactly 400 wickets at an average of 27.58 apiece.
He achieved most things in the game – yet tossed away the opportunity of being able to raise his bat to celebrate a first-class century. Against Worcestershire at Kidderminster he had gone in as a nightwatchman and advanced the next day to 96. “It was well-known in county cricket that if Sam Cook was umpiring then it was pretty foolish trying to sweep against a left-arm spinner because he would give you out if you missed it.
“Norman Gifford went over the wicket to me, trying to find a bit of rough. I was going so well and thought the risk was worth it. I swept and missed but even though the ball struck me high on the knee Sam sent me on my way.”
Harry, meanwhile, wonders if an international call-up would have presented itself if he’d answered a letter from the West Indies Board differently.
“In 1969 the West Indies were about to tour England and before the tour I received a letter asking if I would be available and what my fee would be. The timing couldn’t have been worse because I’d just got married and we were in the process of buying a house. I wanted to clarify my situation with regards to carrying on playing for Middlesex.
“They seemed to miss the point and just replied wishing me luck in qualifying to play for England – the point had been lost totally and clearly my chance had gone.”
In 1974 it was time for Harry to move on. “Mike Brearley was the captain and he came to me and pointed out that once Phil Edmonds was free of his university commitments he would be using him. John Emburey was also coming through the ranks and the county still had Fred Titmus available. ‘Brears’ pointed out that my chances of playing a role for the side were slim.”
Harry soon found new employers, with a move to Trent Bridge. “Jack Bond had just come out of retirement to join Notts. He’d always liked a spinner and after a few ‘phone calls I made the move.
“Notts were in a transitional period at the time and I think some people raised an eyebrow that another outside player had been brought in from Middlesex. I was the third, following Mike Harris and ‘Knocker’ White.
“It was enjoyable to spend some time playing with Garry Sobers. It was great to talk to him about the game but he was coming to the end of his career and hadn’t done the necessary rehabilitation after his knee operation. Consequently he was hobbling for most of the time, although it didn’t stop him scoring an unbeaten 132 in his final match, against Lancashire at Old Trafford.”
During his time as a Notts player Harry achieved his career-best figures of 7 for 65 against Essex at Ilford, a match in which Robin Hobbs played for the opposition.
“For a while we were the only two leg-spinners in the county game”, added Harry. “Slow left-armers were all the rage but it’s been good to see more and more leggies come into the game over the years. I love how the spinners have all of their variations and how the batsmen try to score at a quicker tempo. In my day batsmen would happily try and bat for two days if they could and we had to be patient and stick to a routine of bowling more stock deliveries.”
Harry works as Head of Cricket at Merchant Taylor’s School in Northwood, Middlesex, a position he’s held for the past 24 years, and a lifetime in the game is now being used for the benefit of the school’s 12 to 18-year-olds – and you sense they couldn’t be in better hands.