Northamptonshire County Cricket Club is sad to learn of the death of former County pace bowler – and, later, a legend of the local league scene – Mike ‘Tex’ Dilley at the age of 84.

Born in Rushden, ‘Tex’ managed a feat so far unparalleled in the club’s history by claiming two Championship hat-tricks in the space of six weeks during the 1961 season. On July 1, at Trent Bridge, he dismissed Nottinghamshire’s Hugh Winfield, Cyril Poole and ‘Bomber’ Wells – but because the feat was spread across two overs he only discovered that it was a hat-trick when congratulated by scorer Roy Smith on the coach journey home!

Then on August 10 he repeated the dose by removing Les Lenham and Ted Dexter, both caught behind by Keith Andrew, with Ken Suttle sandwiched in between – clean bowled – against Sussex at Hove, finishing with career-best figures of six for 74. His achievements brightened an otherwise disappointing campaign which saw the County finish just one place off the bottom of the Championship table.

He had joined Northamptonshire’s professional staff in 1956, aged 17, and made his first-class debut on July 31, 1957, against Lancashire at Blackpool. He shared the new ball with Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson but failed to take a wicket.

First-team opportunities were few and far between until Tyson’s retirement at the end of 1960. Dilley made 15 of his 33 first-class appearances for the County during that memorable 1961 season, taking 43 wickets at just under 30 runs apiece and partnering the tall newcomer, David Larter.

Unfortunately, injuries then restricted his cricket, and at the end of 1963 he failed to agree fresh terms with Northamptonshire and left the club. The annual report noted that he had been ‘unable to do himself justice’ over the previous two seasons. Much to his disappointment, the County subsequently refused him permission to turn out for Leicestershire in limited-overs matches.

His final first-class career figures showed 80 wickets at 30.88, and 232 runs with a highest score of 31 not out (batting at number eleven) against Sussex at Worthing in 1959. He was also a member of the Northamptonshire side that won the Midlands Knockout Competition in 1962 – a ‘dry-run’ for the Gillette Cup launched the following summer.

Dilley’s departure from the County Ground in 1963 coincided with the final Championship fixture played at Rushden – but the ground at Short Stocks was to see plenty of ‘Tex’ in the next few summers, as he cemented his status as the outstanding all-round cricketer in the old Northamptonshire County League.

Taking over the captaincy of Rushden Town in 1966, he led them to the top division title in three consecutive seasons – passing 500 league wickets during 1967 – and then moved to Irthlingborough, skippering them to the trophy in both 1970 and 1971. In the first of those years at Windmill Road, he shared 108 wickets with an up-and-coming fast bowler who would soon follow him into the Northamptonshire side – Jim Griffiths.

As the late Harry Johnson, Dilley’s predecessor as Irthlingborough captain, observed – ‘Mike was a fortunate skipper in that he always had the best batsman and the best bowler in the league in his side – in both cases, Mike himself.’ The County League handbook, which detailed so many of his batting and bowling feats, also featured for years an advert for Mike’s business on the back cover: ‘Lavender’s Blue, Dilley Dilley, Lavender’s Green – everything’s colourful at Mike Dilley’s Garden Centre.’

He continued playing in the league for many seasons and then found a new lease of cricketing life in the Northamptonshire Over-50s side – known then as ‘The Bullseyes.’

On former players’ day at Wantage Road in 2022, Mike joined up with two other Northamptonshire cricketers from the 1950s – John Wild and Laurie Johnson – to reminisce about old times.

Northamptonshire CCC offers sincere condolences to the family and friends of a hugely popular cricketer.

Words from Club Archivist Andrew Radd.