When E.C. Rhodes married my mum’s sister just before my ninth birthday in 1968, he became Uncle Cis.
Already a big friend of my dad Maurice, he was tasked with the job of honing my batting skills, spending hours bowling to me in the garden but also bamboozling me with the prodigious turn he was able to find on a Tarmaced driveway.
It was an educational partnership that bore fruit one Sunday afternoon in September 1979 when we put on more than 150 together to win a match that saved Hucknall Ramblers from relegation in the Mansfield League.
Sadly, my cricketing career also peaked that day. But judging by the magnificent century that Cis blasted to all parts of Titchfield Park, his was still blooming.
His batting was a joy to watch. He hit high, hard and handsome. His off-spin wasn’t bad either. He would have taken far more wickets for Ramblers had we possessed a wicketkeeper capable of reading him.
Cis bore his natural talent with an air of nonchalance. “Hello boys!” would be his cheery greeting as he entered the dressing rooms, already changed into his whites, bat in hand, chunky wad of notes in pocket from the day’s takings at his shop.
A man of impeccable manners and politeness, he allied his ability to a level of sportsmanship that belonged to a bygone era. In Gentlemen v Players fixtures, Cis would have been captain of the Gentlemen. On the rare occasions he was castled, it was not unusual for him to cry “Well bowled!” to the man who’d got him out and then knock the stumps back into the ground with his bat handle and return the bails before trooping back to the pavilion.
Conversely, what a shame that Cis actually hailed from the era when competitive league cricket was frowned upon. Titles, trophies, accolades, awards would surely have been his. The stats and figures that are now the barometer of achievement would surely have belonged to E.C.Rhodes. Captain of the Gentlemen maybe, but also star man for the Players. In fact, box-office material. Just imagine how frighteningly good he would have been at Twenty20 cricket.
Like so many artists with a natural gift, Cis wasn’t a natural coach. But his support and encouragement for others was unparalleled. The array of friends he accumulated on the cricketing circuit was quite phenomenal. Never mind an extension to the pavilion at the Gatehouse, they needed one at Mansfield Creamatorium for his funeral.
As a raconteur, Cis thrived on tales he’d collected on his rich journey through life. As a socialite, he was engaging company. Never more so than on his golfing holidays with big buddies such as Frank Dear, Bill Brazier, Paul Mountain, Mick Braithwaite, Mick Harvey, John Stevenson and Co.
Holidays and travel were key to his happiness and to the independence he cherished. So his deteriorating health was a hard burden to bear.
He once confided in me that his first heart-attack was so violent that it threw him out of his bed and across the room.
E.C.Rhodes’s heart finally failed him again last Thursday. But how it pumped with pride when his beloved Hucknall Cricket Club emerged from the doldrums to restore their rightful place as one of the sport’s flagship clubs in Nottinghamshire. And how it pumped with pride when he his flew out to Dubai only weeks ago to witness, at first hand, his grand-nephew, Will, lead out England at the ICC Under-19s World Cup.
Given how Will is successfully forging a career in the game, I’m sure his Uncle Cis must have bowled to him a few times in the garden.