Born in Newstead on 7 July 1940, John Cotton was a right-arm fast-medium bowler and a late-order right-handed batsman who played for Nottinghamshire between 1958 and 1964 – one of the least successful periods in the county’s history.
Cotton joined the Notts staff in 1956 at the age of only 15 and made his 2nd XI debut the following July – although during his first season he did act as Scorer in a Minor Counties Championship match against Warwickshire.
Having created a good impression in seven appearances for the 2nd XI in 1957, John made his debut for the senior team in May 1958 against Middlesex at Lord’s. Taking three wickets in the first innings, he became the youngest bowler to appear in a Championship match for Notts at the age of 17 years and 181 days.
Cotton finished his debut season with an impressive 44 wickets at an average of 25.50 and he enjoyed real success in late July – when he took six first-innings Warwickshire wickets for 65 runs – and in early August, when his 5 for 47 in Surrey’s first innings accounted for Micky Stewart, Peter May, Ken Barrington, Tony Lock and Jim Laker. His initial success led to a heavy workload in 1959 and 1960, when he bowled more than 700 overs each year, the second-highest number of any Nottinghamshire bowler.
Having achieved his best Notts’ bowling figures of 7 for 73 in 1959, one of Cotton’s most impressive feats came in 1960 when he took three wickets in four balls against the visiting South Africans. That year also saw him return his best seasonal figures while at Notts: 82 wickets at 24.51 apiece, while his 58 runs against Hampshire at Trent Bridge proved to be his career-best score.
Cotton was awarded his county cap in 1960 but was affected by injuries during the next four years and Notts released him at the end of the 1964 season. By that time he had taken 400 wickets in 138 First-Class matches at an average of 25.92 while claiming five wickets in an innings on 15 occasions.
Still only 23 years old, John moved to Leicestershire where he benefitted from being part of a more balanced and experienced attack. During 94 First-Class matches between 1965 and 1969 he claimed 242 wickets at an average of 24.91; he also achieved a hat-trick against Surrey in May 1965 and career-best figures of 9 for 29 against the Indian tourists in 1967.
The last of John’s 239 First-Class matches came in August 1969 against Notts at Trent Bridge, when his three wickets accounted for Gary Sobers and Mike Smedley (twice). Despite his talent and relative success, he retired at the early age of 28, ending his professional career with figures that compare favourably with some of Notts’ more famous bowlers.