James Ralph became the thirteenth man to join the select group of players to have appeared in 100 Minor Counties Championship matches for Shropshire when he completed his century in 2016.
Having made his debut for the county in 1998, the right-hand top order batsman and leg spinner held down a regular place in the side, also enjoying two spells as Shropshire captain.
James played 103 Championship matches, scoring 4,891 runs at an average of 31.97, with a highest score of 140. He took 42 wickets at 20.55 apiece and held on to 93 catches.
Also a consistent performer for Shropshire in one-day cricket, he clocked up a further 65 matches, scoring 1,099 runs at an average of 22.90, memorably winning the man of the match award for making an unbeaten century against Somerset in the NatWest Trophy when Shropshire were beaten by 27 runs at St Georges in 2000.
James remains involved with Shropshire CCC as part of the county’s selection committee.
He had a spell at Worcestershire at the start of his career and, after playing Birmingham League cricket for Kidderminster, James has since played for Shropshire clubs Ludlow, St Georges, Bridgnorth (twice), Shifnal and Broseley, continuing to play in the top division of the Shropshire County Cricket League for Quatt.
When and where did you start playing cricket? I was playing cricket in the lounge at home with my dad, Alan, from the age of two. I don’t think we had ornaments in the house! My dad played every Saturday for clubs like Kidderminster and Stourport, so I would go with him to cricket. He was a retired policeman and also played for the West Mercia Police Force cricket team. It helped that my brother, Stephen, also played cricket and he probably played as many if not more games for Kidderminster’s first team than I did. I played for Kidderminster, my home town club, from under-10s and all the Worcestershire age group teams from under-11s.
What’s your earliest cricketing memory? It would be my first-ever representative game for Worcestershire’s under-11s against Avon under-11s at Millfield School. We got something like 120, and I was quite pleased as I got 41 not out, but Marcus Trescothick made 176 not out for Avon in the same game. When you’re aged 10 or 11, you can struggle to get the ball off the square most of the time, but he was hitting sixes.
Biggest influence on your career? After my dad, I had some great coaches in Dave Collins, Rob Wood and Keith Wilkinson from under-16 to under-19, but the coach that supported me to get a contract was Mark Scott. His advice was invaluable in helping me get on the staff at Worcestershire and having him around at the time encouraged me to motivate myself properly. I remember playing about five games for Worcestershire under-19 Schools and getting three hundreds and an 80 against a strong Lancashire under-19 side.
Most memorable match you played in? I had a lot of good times with Shropshire and played in two Lord’s finals against Devon and Cambridgeshire in the MCCA Trophy. I was also 12th man for the final against Berkshire at Wormsley in 2013, but for me the best memory has to be scoring 102 not out in the NatWest Trophy match against Somerset at St Georges in 2000. Getting a hundred not out in a first-class game against a first-class county takes some beating and it must be the highlight of my career.
I was fairly lucky that I didn’t face too many balls from Andy Caddick that day. I literally probably faced five balls off him, running them down to third man as he bowled at the start and then right at the very end of our innings. I think if he hadn’t been in the Somerset side we probably would have beaten them to be honest as he bowled his 10 overs for not very many.
Playing a first-team game for Worcestershire in front of a big crowd against South Africa A was another massive achievement for me, but getting a pair in that game means it doesn’t stand out as a great memory.
I got a couple of hundreds for Worcestershire’s second team against good sides and when I look back at the scorecards from those days it’s interesting. At the time you don’t realise who you are playing against, but then you see a few years later that you’ve played against the likes of Paul Collingwood and Steve Harmison. Andrew Flintoff was in the team when we played Lancashire and I got a good 80 against Yorkshire’s second team when Matthew Hoggard opened the bowling. That’s one of the reasons I got called up to play for Worcestershire’s first team in the tour match as I batted quite well in that game.
Highlights of your playing days? Playing more than 100 Minor Counties Championship games for Shropshire is something that I’m proud of. You don’t realise how the games are mounting up. It’s a commitment and if you want to get to 100 games – it was six Championship matches a season when I was playing for the county – you would had to have played for 17 years to reach that many.
The early days with Kidderminster in club cricket were tough and exciting. Every team had two or three contracted players plus an overseas. The Birmingham League was a very tough league back in the 1990s, but I enjoyed every match. I was excited to get up and go and play because in those days I wanted to make cricket my career. I knew I had to be up for it every week.
We had a great few years at Shifnal, getting into the Birmingham League premier division where I topped the batting averages that year, after earlier winning both division two and division one. We also had a good time and a great run at Bridgnorth, winning division three when I also managed to top the division’s batting averages. I then captained the team in division two when I think we lost only one game all season to be promoted again. I enjoyed my time at Bridgnorth and it’s great to see the club continues to do well.
I’ve also enjoyed the last few years in the Shropshire League with Broseley and now Quatt. I was very lucky up until the age of 40 as I didn’t really have any injuries. I played 20 years for Shropshire and would sometimes be playing four days a week and hardly had an injury, but since turning 40 I’ve had a bad hip and back, and everything seems to be going wrong. I’m trying to sort that out so I can carry on playing for a few more years.
Best player you played alongside? Asif Din as an all-round cricketer was one of the best I’ve played with. He was a fantastic, highly-skilled cricketer and there was nothing he couldn’t do. He had a great career with Warwickshire before doing well for Shropshire for four or five years. We had a good side at the time with Bryan Jones, Jon Anders, Mark Davies, Adam Shimmons, Adam and Gavin Byram. We had some other very good professionals like Andy Gray, Kevin Evans, Neil Smith. The list could go on really, but I would put Asif at the top of it.
I played a lot with Vikram Solanki as we were at Worcestershire at the same time. It goes to show how strong Worcester were then as when Vikram was 21 he wasn’t really in the first team. He was in the second team with me. He never played a Test match whereas I think now he would have played 50 Test matches. Vikram was a very switched on cricketer who always had a lot of ability and a great knowledge of the game. I shared a house with him for a little while. I’ve also played under some very good captains like Bryan Jones, Guy Home and Keith Wilkinson.
Best player you played against? I think back to my early days in the Birmingham League and playing against people like Jonathan Wright, David Banks, Steve Dean, Phil Oliver, Nick Archer and Keith Arnold. They were fantastic cricketers week in, week out.
Favourite ground where you have played? Kidderminster is not just my home town ground but it’s also my favourite ground. It’s probably one of the best grounds in the country. As a batsman, it’s a place you really want to go and play.
I’ve played at places like Lord’s and Old Trafford while it was also special to play at the WACA in Perth three times in finals. You see it on TV when you’re in England, so to have the chance to play three games there, it’s a pretty amazing place to play. I spent six winters in Australia. I first went over in 1994 and played in Albany. David Banks was the first professional they had in Albany and he had 13 years there. Andy Gray, who was later a Shropshire team mate, is from Albany and we were in the same team for one of the finals I played at the WACA.
Team mate which made you laugh the most? We had lots of fun times in my Bridgnorth days with people like Tom Weaver, Dave Exall, Sam Whitney and Jono Whitney. We had good fun on and off the field, going into town after games. We were a pretty tight unit for a few years.
What did you enjoy most about playing for Shropshire? It was the camaraderie. When you turn up on a Saturday morning to play club cricket and you know you then have a Championship match, whether at home or away, you’ve basically got four days with your mates and you will have a good time. You knew you had to turn up and get runs and wickets. You weren’t going to get picked for 20 years if you didn’t do that.
Representing Shropshire was a big commitment as you would head down to Devon or Cornwall after completing a Saturday club match, not usually arriving until 1am or 2am on Sunday morning. Then you would also get back late on the Tuesday before being back at work on the Wednesday morning, but it was something I enjoyed doing for a long time. You’ve got to want to turn up and play as it is a great honour to play for Shropshire.
Pictured: James Ralph, fifth from the right, with his Shropshire team mates, and Bill Bromley and Bryan Jones, at a presentation to mark his 100th Minor Counties Championship appearance for the county before the match against Cheshire at Nantwich in 2016.