Great Sports clubs of Yorkshire. Volume 4 Part 2- Yorkshire County Cricket Club

The early history of Yorkshire had seen the sport become ingrained in the culture of the county. Pre-war gentlemen who played the game would be replaced by new, colourful outspoken ones, who would help achieve more on-field success and create controversy off it. Then the county had to re-shape itself for the modern era as other counties overtook them in their quest for glory. 

Celebration and Characters  1945-1970

Fiery Fred Trueman was one of the most colourful characters to play for Yorkshire. Picture credit: Immanuel Giel. wikipedia Creative commons.
Fiery Fred Trueman was one of the most colourful characters to play for Yorkshire. Picture credit: Immanuel Giel. wikipedia Creative commons.

The post-war period would once again see Yorkshire dominate the world of cricket once again and produce some of the county’s best loved characters. Like most sports teams after the war years, the 1940s was a period of re-building. Len Hutton returned to open the batting when not on England captaincy duty, while Norman Yardley, a pre-war player was installed as captain. Johnny Wardle replaced Verity and a young, tearaway fast bowler was being groomed for stardom called Frederick Sewards Trueman. The legend of Trueman is very much a part of Yorkshire’s cricketing history.


The fast bowler, known for his mind-games and antics on the field of play took 1,745 wickets for the White Rose in a career spanning from 1949 to 1968. With this team in place Yorkshire started to compete once more, winning the 1946 title and sharing the trophy with Middlesex three years later when both counties were locked on a total of 192 points. The introduction of Fiery Fred to the team in this season, plus the emergence of other young talents such as Brian Close and a young spinner named Raymond Illingworth, who made his Yorkshire debut in the summer of ’51, were sowing the seeds for another era of domination.

The opposing natures of the laid back, genial Brian Close with the stern intensity of Illingworth made them an irresistible force on the field. The 1950s were a frustrating time for Yorkshire, as they were often the bridesmaids to the great Surrey side of that era, which included Alex Bedser, Kenny Barrington and Jim Laker. Finally in 1959, after a ten year gap Yorkshire won the title once again and a bright new era dawned, with several great cricketers representing the county.

One of Yorkshire's most famous son's Dickie Bird went on to become a world famous umpire. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
One of Yorkshire’s most famous son’s Dickie Bird went on to become a world famous umpire. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

Boycott, as belligerent in nature as he was in his batting, became the centrepiece of the great Yorkshire team of the 1960s, now captained by Brian Close. He debuted against Northants in ’62 and soon made a name for himself as a sturdy opener, who sold his wicket at a very high price. Some might say Boycott was the final piece of a jigsaw which had been developing since the emergence of Trueman, Illingworth, and Close, coupled with other talented players, such as Doug Padgett, Phil Sharpe, and John Hampshire. The Yorkshire team of the 1960s was truly a golden era and they won yet another hat-trick of consecutive titles from 1966-68. Their enigmatic skipper, Brian Close led the way and in some ways seemed to be captain ahead of his time. His knack of unorthadox fielding positions, flamboyant left-handed batting and more than useful bowling made him one of the best all round cricketers that Yorkshire has produced. He was also never five minutes away from controversy. Close had also been appointed England captain in 1967 and led them successfully to six wins and one draw, the best record of any skipper who had lead the national side for more than two matches. Fate was to strike when in a rain affected three day match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, the hosts were set a target of 142 to win in the remaining 100 minutes of play. To try and prevent them from reaching this target and winning the game, Close chose to slow down the over rate and generally waste time. In those days this tactic (commonplace in the modern game) was met with a dim view by the English cricketing authorities who  stripped him of the captaincy and was replaced by Colin Cowdrey.

Three years later and Close landed himself in hot water once more, this time with the unforgiving Yorkshire committee.  His crime was that he took a rather indifferent attitude to the newly created “John Player Sunday League,” which was a one day competition consisting of 40 overs per side. One day cricket, much like 20/20 does today, divided opinion among players and spectators of the sport in the late 60s. Close, despite his innovations as a captain subscribed to the view that one day cricket was a detrimental influence on the game and could breed bad habits amongst his players. What made things worse was that the first two John Player titles had been won by Lancashire, with Yorkshire finishing well down the league on both occasions. Close was summoned to a meeting in November 1970, where he was told that he should resign or be sacked by the head of Yorkshire’s committee, Brian Sellars for his poor attitude to one day cricket, faliure to encourage young players in the team and to cap it all off, the accusation that he was becoming more injury prone. With a tear in his eye, Close resigned and left the county he loved. After offers from several leading county he opted to move well away from Yorkshire to Somerset, where he enjoyed a successful career throughout the 1970s.

The decision by the Yorkshire board to relieve Close of his duties was one of the most controversial decisions ever made by them to date and it would breed more disharmony, discontent and a dramatic fall from grace which would dog the county for a whole generation.

 Controversy, Division and disharmony 1970-2000

The departure of Brian Close, arguably the most successful ever Yorkshire captain sent shock waves around the national game. In their search for a new captain there seemed only one natural choice, Geoffrey Boycott- and so he took the reigns in 1971. The paradox of having your best player in terms of runs, statistics and ability was completely the opposite of the old amateur captain days where the skipper was judged on their ability to lead their men and make the right decisions, rather than their abilities on the field, which in some cases were distinctly lacking. Boycott would have walked all over every other player in that dressing room in terms of statistics, but could he lead the team in the post-Close era?

Boycott had been part of the Yorkshire team since 1962, but over time did not always see eye-to eye with his team mates. Furthermore, the great team of the 60s was breaking up, Trueman had retired, Ray Illingworth answered a call to captain Leicestershire and of course Close was no longer there either. This equated to around 155 test caps of experience lost from the team in a stroke.

Despite this Boycott had still scored bucket loads of runs and remained the rock at the top of the batting order. In his first season as captain he scored 2,503 runs, so his ability to lead from the front with the bat was never in doubt. The fall-out from the sacking of Close had divided the dressing room, which was awash with plans to depose their leader as soon as they could and re-instate their former captain, who by this time had moved to Somerset.

As results suffered on the pitch and as Yorkshire sank further down the table, the confidence in Captain Boycott began to wane. One of his closest allies was batsman, turned umpire, John Hampshire, who early on supported him  slowly became impatient with his “friend’s” style of leadership. Things came to a head in 1978, at a game in Northampton when Hampshire and Boycott came together at the crease. The captain had taken three hours to accumulate 53 runs, which even in those days is a snail’s pace. Hampshire came to the crease and allegedly “took the mickey,” blocking even half volleys and long hops back to the fielders on purpose, without even attempting to score a run. It was said that he was making a point, in front of his captain that they were tired of the regime and wanted a change. This innings against what was a mediocre Northants attack opened the floodgates to revolution. Hampshire’s actions raised the attention of the Yorkshire committee, who deposed Boycott and installed him as captain. There was of course opposition to this move and soon two camps emerged in Yorkshire cricket- those in favour of Boycott and those who were firmly against their opening batsman.

Hampshire had ascended the throne, but like his predecessor the captaincy became a poisoned chalice in a divided dressing room. Ray Illingworth came back home to manage the county and deal with his old team mate, Boycott, who was still in the side.  Hampshire resigned as captain in 1980, citing the pressures exerted on him by the pro-Boycott faction of the committee, which he claimed affected his family too. Bowler, Chris Old took on the poisoned chalice. He managed to escape to Warwickshire amid the confusion and left Yorkshire without a captain for the following season. Step forward a 50 year old Illingworth to take over as captain the side in 1982. He’d made his Yorkshire debut in 1951! How times had changed. They finished bottom of the Championship, but actually won the John Player limited overs competition.

The following year, Boycott’s contract was up for renewal. At first the committee refused to give him a new contract, despite this being his testimonial year, which further deepened the factions in the club. Finally, after a vote he was reinstated, prompting many resignations from the board, including notably Freddie Trueman. This led to Boycott being elected onto the board and ironically Brian Close returning to chair it. David Bairstow was appointed their new captain. Boycott finally retired from cricket in September 1986, after a glittering 24 year career. In this time, however, the game had moved on considerably from the early 60s where he had learnt his trade. The advent of one day cricket and falling attendances at County matches called for a faster, more exciting approach to cricket, where a result and entertainment to the public was becoming increasingly more important.

The year 1987  saw the beginning of a new dawn when the team won the Benson & Hedges Cup, cricket’s principal knockout tournament. A new team with young talent, such as Martyn Moxon, Ashley Metcalfe, wicketkeeper, Richard Blakey and fastbowler,  Paul Jarvis were beginning to gel as a unit and once again the future looked more promising for Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Despite this there was a feeling growing among some that there was one rule, which had been part of the club from its outset, that was starting to hold them back in the modern game. This was the fact that all players had to be born within the historical boundaries of Yorkshire.

The county game was evolving. Other counties, which were not restricted by such rules had embraced and been enhanced by the arrival of great world cricketing stars, such as  West Indians, Viv Richards, Joel Garner and Richard Hadlee among others. Yorkshire had not won the county championship since 1968 and along with the internal disputes of the Seventies, some observers blamed it on the famous Yorkshire-born rule too.

Scouts also had a problem. The increased in mobility of players to move in and out of the county made life more difficult for those whose job it was to spot potential talent. One such case was a young kid, called Michael Vaughan, who was scouted by Doug Padgett while playing cricket with his friends at a County game in Sheffield. The then head coach of Yorkshire saw lots of potential in him, but could not offer him a trial at Headingley because of the fact that Vaughan was born on the wrong side of the Pennines in Eccles, Manchester. He had moved to Sheffield aged nine, albeit the part which is actually in Derbyshire, just to confuse things even further. He did however attend school in Yorkshire and so, on this occasion, the rules were bent to allow Vaughan to join the club as a youngster, as somebody, “educated in the county.”

yorkshire Michael_Vaughan
The talents of Michael Vaughan helped bring Yorkshire cricket into the modern era. Picture credit: Paddy Briggs wikipedia creative commons.

The Vaughan case, plus Yorkshire’s continual poor performance in the County Championship against sides with overseas players in them paved the way for this rule to be finally lifted in 1992. Their first overseas signing was the young Indian batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, who was famously pictured drinking a Yorkshire pint of bitter after being unveiled to the press. This was indeed a historic moment for Yorkshire and English cricket in general.

The 1990s though proved to be another barren decade for Yorkshire as they tried desperately to relive past glories and forget about the turmoil which had beset them during the 70s and early 80s. A nucleus of talent was emerging, including Vaughan, Darren Gough, Ryan Sidebottom, Craig White and David Byas. It would be these players who would lead Yorkshire County Cricket Club into the next century and seek to make the White Rose county successful once again.

Yorkshire Pride Restored 2000-2016

The Yorkshire team entered the new Millennium still with the burden of not winning the County Championship since Freddie Trueman was steaming in from the Kirkstall Lane End- 1968 to be precise. In the County Championship promotion and relegation was introduced to create two divisions.

Once again they benefitted from the lifting of the “foreigner” rule by employing the services of hard-hitting Aussie left hander, Darren Lehman as the club’s overseas player. Captain, David Byas, the promising Matthew Wood and young fast bowler Steve Kirby formed the fulcrum of the championship winning side of 2001. The drought was finally over! A change in the contract system meant that players selected for England seldom played for their counties any more, meaning that the likes of Michael Vaughan, Darren Gough and Matthew Hoggard were rarely seen wearing the White Rose colours. The advent of 20/20 cricket during this decade brought the county to a whole new audience, which in the age of commercialism saw the emergence of the Yorkshire Phoenix, nowadays known as the Yorkshire Vikings.

Wiki Joe_Root_on_Yorkshire_debut
One of the best players to come from Yorkshire’s academy is Joe Root, who made his debut in 2009. Source: Matt Root, wikipedia creative commons.

A disappointing 2011 campaign saw Yorkshire relegated to the second division. The club appointed former Aussie fast bowler, Jason Gillespie as their new head coach. This has proved to be a revelation, as he assembled a talented young side, many who have been recognised by England in recent years, including Joe Root, Johnny Bairstow, Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Liam Plunkett and new signing David Willey. They were promoted immediately from the Second Division in 2012 and have not looked back since. They won their 32nd County Championship title in 2014 and then defended their title once again in 2015, meaning that the greatest cricketing county in t’land has restored its position back at the very top of the English game.

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