Scotland's Greatest Cricketers 4: Brian Hardie
This article first appeared in the book Saltire & Flannels by Fraser Simm. This title, and Echoes of a Summer Game, also by Fraser Simm, are available for online purchase in the Cricket Scotland Shop.
Brian Hardie learnt his cricket with Stenhousemuir and played 14 times for Scotland before going on to Essex and making the grade there. He can look back on an average of 54 for Scotland and in making 18,103 first-class runs in his time with Essex at an average of 34, he clearly made his mark. His career with Essex stretched from 1973 to 1990, closely matching the county's "glory years", which might be said to have been from 1979 to 1993.
After 85 years without winning, or even coming close to any trophy, these 15 seasons brought the county six championships, one NatWest Trophy, one Benson & Hedges Cup and three Sunday League Trophies (as well as four further appearances in losing Lord's finals). Year after year, Essex were in the frame for awards. Hardie was not one of the glamorous names who led Essex to this pinnacle of achievement, but his sturdy and consistent part in the side's success was nevertheless a crucial foil to the contributions of a galaxy on international stars - Gooch, Fletcher, McEwan, Phillip, Mark Waugh, Pringle, Lever, Border, Foster, and not least fellow Scot Mike Denness. It might be thought that, with such talent Essex could hardly fail, but spread over the many seasons, Brian Hardie's contribution at county level would match most of the team's glittering stars.
From his earliest days with the county, his "style" was apparent; in 1974, spectators were treated to an innings of 4 runs against Hampshire which lasted for 2 hours and 20 minutes. (Wisden does not state whether that score came all in a rush, or was gradually accumulated over the length of his stay at the wicket!). Yet, in that very same year, Hardie topped the Essex batting with 1062 runs. Concentration and graft led him to improve on this in 1975 with a total of 1522 runs. Although never a batsman to excite, he gradually developed into a dependable and successful player -whilst never losing his perceived "Scottish" character.
The stalwart nature of Hardie's game came frequently to the fore. Among the garlands awarded in Essex's first season of success, in 1979, Wisden said that "he proved a formidable foe last season, and also provided his value as a fielder in the specialist bat-pad position, picking up some superb catches to keep Essex in control or turn the tide of a match. In 1973, he soon earned the reputation as a dour batsman designed to test the patience of the most fanatical of followers. All that is now behind the likeable Scot". In the very match in which Essex clinched the Championship in 1979, it was Hardie's unbeaten 103 that took the county to the victory target of 229 in a low-scoring game with Northamptonshire.
Even before Mike Denness left the county in 1980, Hardie found himself being asked to perform the duty of opening batsman, and in this role he frequently played the straightman and foil to the powerful batting of Graham Gooch. The so-called "limited" Hardie helped Gooch to a stand of 180 against Yorkshire when Essex achieved their first Sunday League success in 1981, and the pair also reached 184 against Hertfordshire in the same year. 1983 saw stands of 147 against Kent in the Nat West Cup and 239 off a Notts attack of Rice, Hadlee, Cooper & Hemmings which still stands as a Sunday league record today.
Hardie's fielding has already been mentioned - in his prime, he regularly achieved the second or third highest number of catches per season. When he retired, mention was made of "the Scot whose ready quip and style were features of the county circuit for almost two decades. Although his style often defied coaching manuals, there was never any doubt as to the success of his methods, or to his fierce determination and tremendous value to the side". Brian Hardie - a rock to lean on in adversity.