1951 - Improvement continues

There was a new captain for Greenock this season, Duncan Drummond. Having come into the 1st XI towards the end of 1946 season, he had gradually built up a reputation as a fine all-rounder and 1950 had been his best season to date. There would be no newcomers to the 1st XI squad this season but something that would be new was the introduction of a new midweek competition, the West League Cup. Two sections of 5 teams would play fixtures on a home and away basis with the top two teams in each group qualifying for the knock-out stage. The duration of each game would be a minimum of 18 eight-ball overs.

A disappointing start

After a facile victory in the annual pre-season friendly with Cartha, with Jim Agnew and Laurence Proverbs gaining confidence from knocks of 91 and 72 respectively, Greenock came down to earth with a bump in the opening league fixture when they were heavily defeated by Ferguslie by 9 wickets. The batting struggled to make any headway against the Ferguslie attack and were dismissed for just 103. The Paisley team had little difficulty in knocking off the runs, losing just one wicket in the process.

And there was little improvement next week when the first league match at Glenpark saw Drumpellier run out victors by 35 runs. This time Greenock's attack were on their mettle and dismissed their opponents for 108 but the batting failed again, a lack of aggression being particularly disappointing. It took them 55 overs to accumulate their total of 73 and the fact that there were 24 maidens emphasises the timidity of the batting.

After that dismal start, hopes would not have been high when the team travelled to Kilmarnock to take on the previous year's champions. But those forecasting an easy win for Kilmarnock were confounded as Greenock won convincingly by 52 runs. Batting first, they made a steady start due mainly to Laurence Proverbs who stroked a fine 51. There followed a small collapse but the tail wagged and an eventual score of 156 was thought reasonable. Perhaps not so when Kilmarnock reached 80 for 1 in reply but once wickets started to fall they did so in a rush, so much so that the champions were bowled out for 104. Duncan Drummond with 5 for 33 and Ernie Armstrong with 4 for 29 were the men who did the damage.

Start of the West League Cup

The following Tuesday the first West League Cup game was played at Whitehaugh but it did not end successfully for Greenock as Kelburne won by 12 runs. The home side scored 138 for 3 off 20 8-ball overs and Greenock fell just short of that target in reply with the top order all making a start but being unable to push on. Ex-Greenock professional Bert Tobin, who had been doing some part-time coaching at Glenpark, was the man of the match with 39 not out and 5 for 48.

The first-round Rowan Cup tie with Glasgow University resulted in a win for Greenock but the victory was not without its alarms until Ian 'Bunter' Campbell, the 2nd XI skipper, took 4 wickets in the final over. It was then Clydesdale's turn to visit Glenpark on league business. Their challenge was brushed aside by Greenock who won by 67 runs. Batting first, the locals gained control of the visitors' attack and the game thanks to fine knocks from Agnew (52), McLeod (49) and Duncan Drummond (47) which led to a score of 214 for 7 which Clydesdale never really threatened. The relatively inexperienced Melrose with 5 for 36 and Rooke 3 for 30 were the principal wicket-takers.

The first West League Cup match to be played at Glenpark resulted in a comprehensive win for Ferguslie by 7 wickets. Greenock had put up a reasonable performance with the bat with McLeod and Proverbs both scoring half-centuries but their bowlers could do nothing to stem the flow of runs from the Ferguslie bats. The next visitors to Glenpark, West of Scotland, were easily overcome, fine bowling performances from the skipper, Armstrong and Simpson seeing them dismissed for 92 and Greenock overtook that score with little difficulty to win by 6 wickets, their innings being closed on 117 for 4.

A weakened team then travelled to Kilmarnock in the League Cup but they maintained the Club's recent good run of results at Kirkstyle by overcoming a much stronger home team by 9 runs, despite only scoring 90 for 7 in their innings. A partnership of 59 between John Hanson (41*) and Hugh Leighton (25) was responsible for that score and then Ernie Armstrong tore through the strong Kilmarnock batting line-up, taking 8 for 37.

Bizarre game at Meikleriggs

The bowling triumvirate of Drummond, Armstrong and Simpson was again on the mark when Drumpellier were defeated at Langloan with the Coatbridge eleven bowled out for 99. Greenock made a bit of a meal of chasing down that total but eventually came through by 3 wickets to make it four league wins in a row. The next League Cup game with Ayr at Glenpark produced a feast of runs, Ayr hitting up 154 for 2 and Greenock replying with 160 for 4, John Drummond (59) and Robin Duthie (37) with a match-winning, unbeaten partnership. There was no league match on the following Saturday but the annual friendly with Grange was won in grand style in Edinburgh, Greenock chasing down their opponent's total of 167 to win by 3 wickets with the Drummond brothers and Mac Galbreath all in the runs.

The following week saw three midweek fixtures. The first was a bizarre League Cup match at Meikleriggs when Ferguslie could only score 53 for 7 off 21 eight-ball overs, with their professional, Gerry Dawson carrying his bat for 40 of those runs. Armstrong took 3 for 21 in 11 overs and Duncan Drummond 3 for 29 in 10. Greenock did not find the same demons in the pitch when they batted and won by 5 wickets, only taking 14 overs for those runs! Somehow it seemed that the players had not quite the hang of limited-overs cricket. The next night, the League Cup tie with Kelburne at Glenpark was abandoned with Greenock going well when rain intervened.

Finally, the second round Rowan Cup tie with West of Scotland was played at Hamilton Crescent and Greenock threw away a golden chance to progress in the competition, losing by just 3 runs after restricting West to 100 in their innings. At one point in their reply, Greenock were struggling at 59 for 6 but recovered to need just 4 runs to win off the last over with 2 wickets in hand. However, those wickets fell without addition to the score and West squeezed into the semi-finals.

No qualification from the League Cup

Worse was to come as the team's winning run in the league was brought to a close by the leaders, Kelburne at Whitehaugh in a match which Greenock really should have won. Kelburne had scored 163 for 5 in their innings to which Greenock made a fine start in reply, McLeod and Galbreath putting on 85 for the first wicket. But Donnie McNair was introduced into the attack and the batsmen could not cope with his wiles. Nonetheless at 154 for 7 and just 10 runs needed for the win, the match appeared to be Greenock's but the last three wickets fell for just one run and Kelburne were winners by 8 runs. McNair finished with 9 for 30 with the last wicket falling to Tobin, whose benefit this match was.

Two more League Cup games followed. In the first, Kelburne came to Glenpark and recorded their third win of the season over Greenock when they took advantage of some poor bowling and fielding. The second game, at Cambusdoon, was abandoned due to rain with Greenock in a strong position, despite Ayr having all ten wickets in hand as they needed 12 an over to win. Better fortune befell Greenock in their next league game when Poloc were rather easily beaten by 5 wickets in what was a lacklustre encounter. The Glasgow side could only muster 112, a total which Greenock eventually overtook without ever looking in complete command.

The League Cup sectional games were concluded in the next week, the final two matches both being lost which meant that Greenock failed to qualify for the semi-finals. Ayr won the rearranged fixture at Cambusdoon after the Greenock batting had failed to fire and then Kilmarnock won a high-scoring match at Glenpark when Greenock fell short by just 7 runs when chasing a total of 166, Jack Thomson starring with a hard-hitting 74.

There was one more league game left before the mid-season break, a visit to Bothwell Policies to play Uddingston, a fixture which had caused Greenock plenty of problems in recent years. And so it was to prove again, as Greenock suffered a heavy defeat, bowled out for just 95, a total easily overcome by their opponents for the loss of just 3 wickets. In fairness, Greenock were not at full strength due to holidays while their captain, Duncan Drummond, was playing in his first international for Scotland against Worcestershire.

Inconsistent league form continues

During the mid-season break, Greenock undertook a successful tour of Dublin, winning 3 of the five matches played, losing one with the other game abandoned. The tourists had the services of three guest players, including their ex-professional Bert Tobin who had a most successful time, scoring 224 runs and taking 22 wickets, figures far in excess of anyone else.

With no more midweek games to worry about, Greenock could concentrate on improving their league position. They made the worst possible start to this period of games when they were comprehensively beaten by Ayr at Glenpark. The latter amassed 186 for 8 in their innings and bowled out Greenock for just 101, as the home team were beaten in all facets of the game. The next week at Titwood did not bring a much better performance, the last pair hanging on for a draw but there were no points gained for that. Clydesdale reached 172 for 7 and Greenock never looked like reaching that target, finishing on 146 for 9.

West of Scotland at Hamilton Crescent was next up and this proved to be a most dramatic match. Batsmen struggled to get on top of the bowling with much of the cricket stodgy but this was compensated for by the exciting finish. Greenock's usual attack of Armstrong, Drummond and Simpson got well on top of West and only a dogged half-century from Jack Harris enabled the home team to reach 131 for 9 in their allotted time. However, Greenock's batsmen fared no better when it was their turn at the crease. After a reasonable start from McLeod and Agnew, only Mac Galbreath made any impact on the bowling and while wickets fell at the other end, he stood firm. When the last over started, he and number eleven Simpson required 4 runs for the win but could only get 3 of them as the scores finished exactly level and the game was tied, Galbreath being undefeated on 57.

Whitfield passes his trial

The annual friendly against Gala was lost due as much as anything to an uneven batting performance. Next up was the visit of the runaway league leaders, Kelburne, who came to Glenpark with an 100% record to defend. Kelburne batted first and were soon in trouble and at one point had stumbled to 70 for 6. There was a brief recovery to 105 before the last four wickets all fell at that score. This was the first time that Kelburne's number 9 batsman had been to the crease all season! The wickets were shared around with 3 for Armstrong, 2 each for Drummond and Simpson and 1 for Melrose with 2 run outs. Greenock knocked off the runs without too much difficulty with John Drummond in particular in imperious form, hitting a brisk 40 not out as Greenock ran out winners by 5 wickets.

Greenock were now up to 4th place in the league table but were unable to build on this as their next 2 games, against Ayr and Kilmarnock, were both victims to the weather, a carbon copy of what had happened the previous season. Before the next league game could be played there was a friendly match with Perthshire. The main interest in the game lay with the performance of Greenock's trialist professional, Ted Whitfield, an ex-county player with Northants and Surrey. Greenock had not employed a professional since 1939 but it was recognised that they were putting themselves at a disadvantage if they did not employ one now as the other clubs in the league were doing. The result of the match was immaterial, Greenock winning by 1 wicket in a low-scoring match, but Whitfield caught the eye with 4 for 19 and 20 runs. The good impression that he made in the game led to terms being offered and early in September, the Telegraph was able to report that he had signed for the 1952 season.

Two league games were left to play with the first of these being at Shawholm against Poloc. The rain had the final say in this game with the match abandoned with the result very much in the balance, Poloc on 144 with 4 wickets in hand as they chased Greenock's score of 172 for 8. The final match against Uddingston at Glenpark resulted in a win for the home side by 5 wickets but it was a drab and uninspiring end of season affair. Uddingston only made 101 with the skipper taking 4 for 21 and Greenock's reply while ultimately successful was not exactly inspiring.

Kelburne were comfortable winners of the league, losing just 2 of their 14 games with Kilmarnock runners-up. Greenock finished in third place, a long way behind the top two but this was a big improvement on previous seasons.

Runs and wickets aplenty

Jim Agnew was the leading run-scorer with 565 runs and both Andrew McLeod (517) and Mac Galbreath (514) broke the 500 run barrier. Duncan Drummond with 412 runs and Robin Duthie and John Drummond scored over 300 runs which showed that there was some depth to the batting. However, these totals were in part achieved as a result of the additional West League Cup games, there were 8 more games played than in the previous season. Run-scoring was not as heavy in the league with McLeod (294) and Agnew (248) the only ones to score more than 200 runs although 6 other batsmen did reach treble figures.

The bowling was dominated by the trio of Duncan Drummond, Ernie Armstrong and Johnny Simpson, who did the bulk of the work. Armstrong took the most wickets (61) with Simpson (54) and Drummond (49) not far behind. Between them they bowled over 900 overs in the season. The only other bowler to reach double figures was Willie Melrose who managed 22 in just over 100 overs.

The same 4 bowlers did virtually all the work in the league. Armstrong took 34 wickets, Drummond 31 with the best average of 13.06 and Simpson 28 with Melrose chipping in with 13.

Real hope for the future

1951 was a big improvement on previous seasons. Duncan Drummond proved to be an excellent captain and the hope was that the acquisition of Ted Whitfield as professional would provide the catalyst for success in the league. Third place this season, albeit well behind Kelburne and Kilmarnock, was the best performance for some time and there was certainly some optimism for the following season.