It is June 24th 1948 and on that day England were playing Australia at Lords Cricket Ground known as the ‘home of cricket’ with the game having being played there since 1814. To play cricket at Lords is special for any cricketer but it is extra special when England are playing Australia. There is strong rivalry between the England and Australia cricket teams that has continued for over one hundred years. This game between the two countries is known as the Ashes.
The Ashes name comes from a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper immediately after Australia’s 1882 victory, their first Test win on English soil. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. Since then, the two teams play for a small urn in which the ashes of a cricket bail are held. It is always a contest played with lots of passion and national pride.
Alexander ‘Alec’ Coxon was a cricketer who played for Yorkshire and England. He was a seam bowler and made his cricket debut in 1945 when he was 29, his career having been delayed by World War II. He made his England debut in 1948 in an Ashes Test match against Australia at Lords Cricket Ground, London – the home of cricket. The Australian team were all conquering and led by the legendary Don Bradman.
In 1948 Australia had mercilessly won the first Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham by eight wickets. Earlier in the Australian tour of England, a stout-hearted show for Yorkshire against the Australians had the selectors summoning Coxon to the team.
Alec described to a journalist how he had been given his first cap for England. He said the captain had taken him to a little room alongside the dressing room in the Lord’s pavilion and said ‘there it is Alec, help yourself’ So he took his prize, one of the coveted England caps with the Crown and Three Lions badge. Cricketers who play for England are numbered in chronological order with the first in 1877. Alec Coxon was number 334 of all the players ever selected for England.
Alec Coxon’s first ball for England was at 11.30 am from the Pavilion end at Lords. This was half an hour after the gates had been closed and 30,000 people roared with congratulations when with the first ball of his second over he took his first wicket for England.
Bradman had won the toss for Australia and decided to bat. Alec Bedser and Alec Coxon were the two opening bowlers. Alec Bedser’s first over was a maiden (zero runs scored).
Coxon marked out his run at the Pavilion end and John Arlott on the radio spoke of his “long, winding run-up . . . he plants his feet down very hard and looks very fierce, although his actual delivery is not as fast as the preliminaries promise”. Coxon at once had Barnes caught at backward short-leg. Sid Barnes was a legendary opening batsman for Australia and Coxon had taken his wicket.
Coxon then bowled to Bradman who almost played the first ball into his wicket and immediately afterwards survived an lbw (leg before wicket) appeal. To his dying day Coxon asserted that he had bowled Bradman out and believed that the umpire had been kind to Bradman since it was his last Test match at Lords.
Coxon’s first spell of bowling was very creditable indeed, he had bowled seven overs and conceded only ten runs and also had the wicket of Barnes to his credit.
In the Ashes game, Coxon had taken the wickets of three Australian top-order batting legends – Sid Barnes, Bill Brown and Arthur Morris. He had bowled the opening batsman Barnes for a duck (zero runs).
Overall he had bowled economically but his batting let him down and he was out for a duck when England batted. He never played for England again. Australia had beaten England by a humiliating 409 runs and Coxon finished with three for 172 in 63 perspiring overs.
He was however selected for England in August 1950 but in unusual circumstances when England were playing West Indies. With a shortage of players due to injury the selectors first called up the Yorkshire opening batsman Lawson but then immediately changed their minds after making the announcement and switched to Alec Coxon. He never played and was on the England bench with the squad and there was bad feelings in Yorkshire over the way this was handled.
Coxon was wiry and lightly built but lacked nothing in his hostility towards batsmen. His feisty character and brusqueness often upset others both on and off the cricket field. There are stories that he upset the England captain Denis Compton – legend has it that they had a fight in the dressing room when playing for England with rumours of a punch thrown – likely that is the reason he was never selected again. He retired from international cricket with umbrage when he was not selected for the next Test Match in Australia.
Alec Coxon never sought to ingratiate himself with anyone. Even Brian Close, Captain of Yorkshire and England, hardly an over-sensitive man, complained that he was “harsh and grating of manner as he was of speech, as hard and uncompromising a competitor in conversation as he was a bowler”.
Alec Coxon left Yorkshire Cricket Club again under a cloud and at the time it was said that he did nothing to get on with the hierarchy at Yorkshire. It was said that ‘his face didn’t fit’.
Typically he resigned by letter (he was coaching in Southern Rhodesia at the time) and the club made the announcement on 11 November 1950. It had come as a surprise to his wife too who had received a letter from him at the same time with the same news.
“Alec had guts, real Yorkshire guts. I have known him bowl for amazingly long periods on the hottest of days and never known the time he wasn’t trying like the devil. Because he left Yorkshire rather unexpectedly, a lot of false tales have circulated about Alec, but I’ll have none of them. Make no mistake, he was a good-hearted and generous fellow even though he was not blue-eyed with some members of the Yorkshire committee.” – Fred Trueman, England and Yorkshire Fast Bowler.
In December 1950 it was reported the he had four offers to play cricket with other teams – Northamptonshire and also three from South Africa. He decided to complete his cricket career at a lower level in the minor counties with Durham and Sunderland. For Alec, the move to the north east was a return to his family’s roots. His parents had moved from Byker, Newcastle and settled in Huddersfield some time before the young Alec was born in 1916.
He remained feisty and refused both interviews and any autograph hunters. A journalist phoned him in his later years to discuss his appearance for England and reported the phone conversation as follows:
“What’s that to do with you?” he growled down the phone. “Surely, sir, you can recall something about that notable morning? “What business is it of yours if I do?” Well, sir, I just thought . . . “I have no memories of cricket whatsoever, none at all. I don’t think about cricket at all, and haven’t for years. Will that be all? Good day to you.” Click.
Beneath this exterior was a gentler person who opened a cricket school to develop the children in the area.
Alec Coxon has an interesting link to Caribbean Reggae music in the name of ‘Sir Coxsone’ (Clement Seymour Dodd) who was a Jamaican record producer influential in the development of ska and reggae in the 1950s and 1960s. Dodd had received his nickname at school because of his teenage talent as a cricketer and his friends compared him to Alec Coxon. When journalists asked him about the name he insisted it was Coxson without the ‘e’.
Alexander ‘Alec’ Coxon: born Huddersfield, Yorkshire in 1916. Married Muriel and they had two daughters, Jocelyn and Patricia. He died 22nd January 2006 just four days after his 90th birthday.
Acknowledgements: COXON CLUB is grateful that for this life story we used information from the following: Wisden Almanac, The Cricketer International, The Telegraph, Wikipedia, Fred Trueman book ‘Fast Fury’, Shields Gazette, YouTube, Pathe News.