Somerset mourn the loss of Graham Atkinson
Somerset County Cricket Club are mourning the loss of former player Graham Atkinson who has passed away at the age of 77.
Although born in Yorkshire, the right-handed opening batsman found his way to Taunton courtesy of Johnny Lawrence who had coached Atkinson from the age of 12.
The young man from the North first played for the county in 1954 at the age of 16 against Pakistan and within a few days he made his Championship debut.
National Service in the Royal Air Force prevented him from playing much cricket for Somerset in 1957 and 1958, but in the latter Atkinson scored his maiden century when he hit 168 against Warwickshire at the County Ground, Taunton.
Atkinson’s first full season was in 1959 when he quickly established himself at the top of the order and hit 1717 runs in the Championship. From then on the runs kept flowing from his bat – the following season he hit almost 1900 runs, which included a career best of 190 against Glamorgan at Bath.
In 1961 Atkinson became the youngest Somerset batsmen ever to top 2000 runs in a Championship season. He repeated the feat the following season and remained the leading run scorer for the club until 1966.
However at the age of 28 and after topping 1000 runs in a season on eight occasions he was overlooked for the captaincy and offered a one year contract by the Somerset committee so he left and joined Lancashire where he played for a further three seasons.
Atkinson was one of the best opening batsmen to have played for Somerset and can count himself unlucky not to have been called up for the England team. Between 1954 and 1966 Atkinson played in 271 first class matches for Somerset in which he scored 14,468 runs at an average of 32.08, including 21 centuries.
Ken Palmer who played alongside Atkinson for Somerset for many years said: “We were about the same age, but he came to Taunton before I did and I used to watch him batting in the nets and thought how good a player he was. Brian Langford was his big pal but he would always talk to me about batting which meant a lot to me when I was younger.
“Graham was one of the best and I always got on well with him. I have always said that if I wanted someone to bat to save my skin on a rough pitch then he would be the one I’d want to do it. He had a very good technique and on a difficult pitch when they were still uncovered he could still score runs.”
In later years Atkinson returned from the North West to live near Bath and regularly attended the former player functions at the County Ground.