English cricketing eccentrics, No. 2 – Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie

‘And another forward defensive from Ingleby-Mackenzie there…’

As a relatively young cricket fan, I hadn’t heard of Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie until I saw an article saying a stand is going to be named after him at the Rose Bowl before the upcoming one-dayer there. Intrigued, I did a bit of delving and discovered a man who had an extremely modest first class record but was a unique captain, for better or worse, leading Hampshire to their first Championship in 1961. As with ‘Bomber’ Wells, the subject of my first study, so many of the stories swirling around him are part truth, part fiction, but all of them are worth reading about. For instance, he was allegedly the last man to see Lord Lucan alive. It doesn’t matter whether that’s true or not, the fact that it is entirely plausible is sufficient with such colourful characters for the tale to stick.

Very much the amateur, Ingleby-Mackenzie (also known as McCrackers) embodied the idea, so often forgotten, that cricket is a game and just that. He rejected Oxford in favour of playing for his county and working for Slazenger instead, which gives some impression of the man, although it was only in 1956 that he seriously turned his attention to playing. Although non-professional, he was not wholly unprofessional, eventually managing to fashion a fine team pretty much through sheer charisma and leadership. In his first couple of seasons as captain, though, he struggled somewhat – the pressures of the six-day county week were not easy for such a free spirit. Nevertheless, the dressing room during his tenure was usually jovial, close-knit and frequented by visitors of the fairer sex.

His ‘association’ with women in cricket continued long after his playing career. As President of MCC in 1998, in possibly his finest hour, he oversaw their admission to the club as members for the first time in its 211-year history. After the not-insubstantial achievement of persuading the ultra-conservative members to allow such a radical move (following seven years of long and ‘acrimonious’ discussion – one member described the decision as ‘appalling’) Mr President’s response was typical – ‘I am delighted and excited by the decision. Women are a fine species’. Yes, Colin – not a line that likely to pacify those who felt that MCC was a misogynist dinosaur. He was even heard to whisper as his successor Tony Lewis ceremonially handed out membership cards to the first ten women members, ‘Perhaps we should have inspected the merchandise first…’

On the field, matches featuring his captaincy were awash with sporting, if occasionally foolhardy, declarations, gung-ho final day chases (usually spearheaded by the man himself) and generally pretty amateurish cricket (in the best sense of the word). ‘We must entertain or perish’ he once said in a team talk, demonstrating a sentiment very much secondary today in a world where winning is paramount. His first class average of 24.35 from 343 matches with only 11 centuries reflected this approach. The defensive shot was a stranger to his repertoire – indeed most photos of him batting seem to feature variations on the cross-batted heave. One gets the impression that he and Geoffrey Boycott would never have quite seen eye-to-eye. This was a man who could have played for England (and perhaps captained them as well) but never took his cricket seriously enough to be bothered. He was, quite literally, one of the last of the amateurs, leading Hampshire into the new age without such a divide. It’d be hard to imagine such a player in the game today.

Whatever deficiencies he had in batting application were more than made up for by the spirit he engendered as a captain. He was notably relaxed in his attitude towards what his team got up to off the pitch but still seemed to manage to get the best out of them on it. He put his side’s success down to ‘Wine, women and song’. When asked, following the Championship-winning season in ’61, whether this philosophy would continue the following year, Colin merely replied that they would consider giving up the singing.

His late nights were legendary. When the team manager on a tour to the West Indies insisted that the team be in bed by 11 o’clock, a puzzled Ingleby-Mackenzie queried him with the response ‘Well that’s pretty silly. The game starts at half-past.’ In a similar vein is undoubtedly the most famous quip attributed to him, in response to a question about team discipline and whether there were any rules. ‘Well’, opined Colin, ‘everyone in bed in time for breakfast, I suppose’. Even if these witticisms didn’t reflect the nocturnal habits of all of the hardened pros who played under him, they certainly reflected his. He led the way unfearingly by example, occasionally being seen turning up to the ground still in his dinner jacket. Not that it necessarily affected his play – having been on an all-night bender in 1958 he turned up that morning and hit a hundred in just 61 minutes.

A not unusual dressing room scene under CI-M’s captaincy

His other great love (other than wine, women, song and cricket of course) was horseracing. As knowledgable as he was devoted, he often mysteriously acquired injuries at almost exactly the same time as some of the great race meetings, ‘forcing’ him to miss matches. This writer somehow suspects that few of the injuries were sufficiently serious to prevent him from, say, standing at a racetrack or walking to and from the Tote, but maybe that’s just me being cynical. When he wasn’t able to miss the cricket this was by no means the end of the matter, as he notably once persuaded the umpire to have a radio in his pocket so he could find out the racing results. His evident mastery of the form guide exhibited itself after he retired from the game, when, turning up a full six weeks late for his new job in insurance without so much as an indication that anything was out of the ordinary, he somehow managed to prevent himself from being fired from a job he hadn’t even started by persuading the chairman to follow his picks for the races that day at Kempton. Every single horse came in and unsurprisingly his slight tardiness was overlooked.

As with ‘Bomber’ Wells, under all of the cheek and bravado of McCrackers there was a classy cricketer. Tactically astute, he possessed an outstanding natural eye and that rare kind of leadership ability only the great dashers ever seem to have. Ingleby-Mackenzie stood for everything cricket evolved to be about – fun, flair, sportsmanship and, of course, gambling. He would sink without trace in today’s altogether different cricketing world as would a team playing under such reckless leadership, where his style would be put down to that great modern taboo – unprofessionalism. He was unprofessional, but only in the sense of being a true amateur in an age where such creatures had all but become extinct.

Bibliography

Robin Marlar – ‘Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie’ – ESPNCricinfo

Joanna Briscoe – ‘Close Encounter: Surely not a skirt in the slips?’The Guardian, 3rd October 1998

Down at Third Man – ‘The Wondrous World of Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie’ (Parts 1, 2 and 3) – downatthirdman.wordpress.com

David Foot – ObituaryThe Guardian – 16th March 2006

ObituaryThe Telegraph – 15th March 2006

ObituaryWisden – 2007

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