Richard Cox declares after an innings to remember
It has spanned five decades, more than 850 matches, included countless silverware and involved some of the most famous names in cricket.
Now, 44 years after making his debut at the age of 12, Richard Cox has decided to declare his Birmingham League playing career finished.
Cox, who was the league’s longest-serving player, took to the field for the final time last Saturday for a second XI match between Halesowen and West Bromwich Dartmouth, the two clubs with whom he hoisted a host of trophies.
“It felt like now is the right time. You can’t go on forever,” said Cox.
“There are a number of factors. I had a pretty nasty car accident last winter and 50 overs in the field was already becoming quite a strain.
“I’d noted when this fixture was scheduled when I’d made up my mind. I didn’t say anything about it. I guess I just wanted to go out on my own terms.”
Cricket has been a 24-7 existence for Cox, both as a player and in the many roles he has held as an administrator.
But the sport has been less a hobby, or even a job – and more a religion.
The passion he holds for the game still burns as brightly as it did when he first set foot inside Edgbaston cricket ground as a seven-year-old boy.
Cox’s father Trevor, who both played and umpired, was a major influence.
“It was dad who got me into it, he just loved the game,” he said.
“I’ve often asked why I’ve played for so long. I’m guessing most people, having worked in the sport from Monday to Friday, would want their weekends off.
“But it’s because my father ingrained in me this deep love for the game, which will be with me until I’m no longer here.
“The Birmingham League has and always will be part of my world.
“When I was a young boy I lived for it. I couldn’t wait to get the Express & Star on a Monday night to read the reports and scorecards – and then the Friday edition for all the previews. It was a religion to me.”
Cox made his first forays as a youth player with south Birmingham club Old Edwardians, before making the move to Dartmouth, where he made his league bow in a second XI clash with Warwickshire Colts.
“It was a case of being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Someone dropped out and I was called up.”
Cox would go on to spend the next 25 years at Sandwell Park, 10 as captain of the first XI.
After a season at Harborne, he then began an 18-year stint at Halesowen, where he captained the team to the 2002 Premier Division title in remarkable circumstances.
“I remember being called up on the Friday by David Manning, the club’s head of cricket,” recalls Cox.
“He said: ‘We are 18 points off the relegation zone and sinking fast. I need you to take over the captaincy and try and keep us up.’
“Five weeks and six games later we’d won the league!”
Cox had already tasted league glory at Dartmouth nine years previously, while he was part of the team which won the knockout cup six years on the spin and reached the National Knockout final at Lord’s in 1993, where they lost to league rivals Old Hill.
What sticks out above the trophies, however, are the endless anecdotes and memories.
In 1999, Cox was part of the Dartmouth team which played Smethwick when Wasim Akram, then Pakistan captain, made his debut in front of 3,000 spectators.
He was at the non-striker’s end when Akram delivered the ball which left team-mate Robert Fenton with a broken jaw.
“I spent a week with the bowling machine at Edgbaston cranked up to 90mph to give myself a chance,” Cox recalls. “But nothing compared to facing him in real life – he came round the wicket from behind the umpire often with the ball covered up by his right hand in the run up so you couldn’t detect which way it would swing. It was a guessing game.
“He then resorted to bouncing people. Robert had his jaw broken and I think his toe as well. It was an honour to be out there.”
Cox counts his match-saving 44 not out, compiled over more than 40 overs in the middle, as among his most memorable innings, along with an unbeaten 55 for the league select XI against a Warwickshire attack featuring Allan Donald, Gladstone Small and Tim Munton.
He’s had some illustrious team-mates too. Cox regards former Zimbabwe Test stars Dave Houghton and Andy Flower as the best two he ever played alongside.
Flower, Dartmouth’s overseas player in 1994 and 1995, went on to manage and coach England.
“Andy was one of the great innovators,” says Cox. “I have never known a player prepared to be so hard on themselves. He was relentless in his pursuit of success.
“I’ve been lucky to have played alongside some fantastic cricketers. There are simply too many to mention, so many unsung heroes.
“The late 1980s and early 1990s, in particular, was a glorious time to be involved in Birmingham League cricket.
“The competition was fierce but played in the right manner. You had so many good overseas players and county players.”
It isn’t merely on the field Cox has left an impression. His career off the field would make a decent book in itself.
Currently the head of West Midlands region for the ECB, a role in which he oversees five county boards, his previous jobs have included academy manager at Warwickshire, general manager of Shropshire, while he even had a stint as chief executive of the Netherlands cricket.
“There’s an old saying if you can find a job which is your hobby, you’ll never work a day in your life,” adds Cox. “I guess that sums it up for me.
“My current job with the ECB is based at Edgbaston. I still drive in through the gates every morning with the same enthusiasm I had as a seven-year-old boy, walking through them for the first time. I’m still in awe of the place.”
Though he might no longer be directly influencing outcomes on the pitch in the Birmingham League, Cox will still have a big say off it, sitting on the league’s management board.
Cox helped develop the blueprint for the major reorganisation due to take place this winter, which will see the league halved in size.
“I guess you would say I’ve seen it from both sides of the fence,” he says. “It’s still a great competition, still hugely respected throughout the country.
“Tell anyone who knows their cricket you’ve played in the Birmingham League and you get that same look. They know what it means.”