Arguably there is no greater sporting institution than the one which represents all of us; Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Throughout its long history there have been plenty of great players produced, who have shown plenty of other cricketers from outside the boundaries a thing or two about the gentlemen’s game. Notably there has been plenty of colourful characters, incidents both on and off the field and silverware to cherish as the sound of leather on willow has become ingrained into Yorkshire culture.
In The Beginning
A form of cricket had been played in England since Medieval Times and originated as a game played by children and then taken on by adults in around the 17th Century. It was based mainly in the South of England, centered on the counties of Surrey and Kent. Cricket in the north of England was less frequent and slower to take off than in the South. .
One of the first recorded cricket matches to be played on Yorkshire soil was at Stanwick near Richmond in 1751 between a Duke of Cleveland XI and the Earl of Northumberland XI, with a return match played in Durham.
The main concentration of early cricketing development came in both the sports pioneering city of Sheffield and in the Leeds area. Matches between the two cities were recorded in both 1861 and 1865 and played on “Chapeltown Moor” in East Leeds. In 1771, every so often, cricket matches were played between Sheffield and Nottingham .This led to the first recognised cricket club being formed in the steel city around this time, which became the forerunner of Yorkshire County Cricket Club
The first Yorkshire contribution to English cricket as a whole was when Thirsk born cricketer, Thomas Lord’s established Lords Cricket ground in St John’s Wood, London in 1814.
“Single wicket” matches were also played against two individuals against each other with a permanent team of fielders. They took turns to bat or bowl, until they were both out and whoever had scored the most runs won a wager as agreed by the two competitors.
In the early 19th Century, cricket was beginning to gain in popularity. The first purpose built cricket ground was constructed in Darnall, Sheffiled in 1824 and the matches staged there attracted crowds of 30,000 people. A “test match” series was held on this ground between a Sussex XI and England. This exhibition was played, not only to spread the game from its Southern heartlands,, but also to test a new innovation invented by two of Sussex’s players named Lillywhite and Broadbridge, which was called round armed bowling.
As a result of this new style of bowling being adopted into the laws of the game, the Yorkshire crowd, from all parts of the county left the ground inspired to form their own cricket clubs in their own towns and villages. Suddenly, throughout the next few decades cricket clubs sprouted up notably in the West Riding in places such as Leeds, Knaresborough, Halifax, Wakefield and Dewsbury. Places such as Rotherham and Mexborough were setting aside land to play cricket on, along with the tiny Dales settlement of Bedale, which would become an early hotbed of Yorkshire cricketing talent. A real sporting revolution had taken place, accelerated further by the development of the railway networks during this time, which could transport both players and fans around the county. Competitive matches and leagues were set up and cricket became a popular recreational sport in Victorian Yorkshire.
The balance of power still lay in Sheffield and indeed, any team which represented the county were largely drawn from the city. By now several clubs had formed here; Sheffield Cricket Club, “The Wednesday CC,” part of which would later switch sports altogether to football. Sheffield United Cricket Club, formed in 1854 were another notable early cricket club who played at Bramall Lane.
Across England county teams had been forming. Southern counties such as Sussex, Kent and Surrey already had regional representation since the 1830s and 40s. Until 1863, any Yorkshire county representation had been taken on by teams solely made up of players from the Sheffield clubs. This did not seem fair on talented players who were emerging from across the county, and felt they were good enough to play for a representative county team. A Yorkshire County Club was needed to be formed in order to address this problem.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club is born
The scene was set on January 8th 1863 at the Adelphi Hotel in Sheffield. A new club was formed and its constitution was agreed. The rules drawn up included Yorkshire matches to be played at venues around the county, a non-interference policy in the direct running of local clubs, to promote the game generally and importantly, encourage local clubs to recommend young players to be selected for the county team. This original 1863 set of laws are still at the foundation of the club today, especially with the emergence of young players from local clubs, who are invited to come for a net with Yorkshire. This system has produced so many great exponents of the game and colourful characters throughout its history. Of great importance was another rule, one which would make it stand out from the rest of the counties. Only those born within the historical borders of Yorkshire could play for the county team, something which stood until as recently as 1992.
In 1863, there were only a handful of other counties with representative teams. These were mainly 200 miles away in the south and still no formal “County Championship” had been established yet. The title of “best county” out of the ad-hoc matches played between them was decided by a panel or by the number of matches won. Roses rivals Lancashire would follow in 1864, providing Yorkshire with at least some local rivalry. Some arrangements had been made for Yorkshire’s first match against Surrey, which ended in a rain affected draw. The team was captained by Bedale’s Roger Iddison and the first person to have the honour of doing so.
Despite the official formation of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the team still consisted of a rag-tag bunch of good club cricketers who formed a team every so often to represent their county against others. They had no loyalty to the county and had to make their own travel arrangements. This was highlighted in 1865 when five of the players refused to turn out for a match against Surrey. A controversial umpiring decision in a match involving Yorkshire players, who were turning out” for an England XI against the county back in 1862 suddenly rose to the surface again. One of their England team mates, Edgar Willsher was repeatedly no-balled for bowling over arm. Roger Iddison came around but batsman, George Anderson would never turn out for Yorkshire again and retired in 1869. The strike and fall out from the “Willsher” affair,” meant Yorkshire lost all their games in 1865 and played no fixtures during 1866. The club was in danger of finishing before it had even started..
Progression towards 1900
The dispute was finally resolved by 1867. Over arm bowling was now legal and the world was a happier place. They won all six of their matches that year and were declared the “Champion County” for the first time. They repeated this feat again in 1870 when they won five out of six games.
Yorkshire were, as promised in the constitution, developing some more than useful players of their own. A feared bowling partnership of Tom Emmott and George Freeman impressed even the great W.G Grace, after they gave him a working over on an unpredictable pitch in 1870. The great man got his revenge six years later when he whacked a world record 318 not out but his respect for the Yorkshire seam attack was profound. In the 1870s, county games were ad-hoc affairs with different participants proclaiming themselves as champions, often backed by their regional newspapers.
In 1881 one of Yorkshire Cricket’s first characters made his debut; the unmistakable figure of Lord Hawke. The ex-naval Admiral and Etonian amateur lived at Wighill, nowadays just off the A64 near Tadcaster He soon took over the captaincy from the aging Tom Emmett and set about doing it his way. One part of Hawke’s unique style of captaincy was to award players “points” for achieving certain things on the field, for example, making runs on a tough batting wicket, running an opposition batsman out, or taking a catch during a dismissal. These points were then turned into pounds, shillings and pence, which were then distributed at a huge annual end of season party on his estate at Wighill. This system seemed to motivate his players to strive on the field and so the first successful Yorkshire team was born. Hawke’s leadership and discipline enabled a recognisable and consistent representative Yorkshire team to be formed, which finally took the power away from the clubs.
By 1890 the County Championship was finally established, of which Yorkshire took part in its first ever match, against Gloucestershire. The inaugural competition consisted of eight counties, many of which like Yorkshire had been formed many decades before.
Yorkshire’s first ever County Championship title came in 1893 and ended Surrey’s opening dominance of the competition. By now under Hawke’s disciplined captaincy the team were shaping up to dominate the game themselves. A further win in 1896, which was pockmarked with some impressive batting performances saw the advent of a professional county team. Hawke, who was to become club president started to pay his players £2 over the winter months, along with his annual bonus system. The only “controversial” thing with Lord Hawke was that he was indeed only an ‘honourary’ Yorkshireman, having been born outside the borders in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. It still made him the first in a long line of great Yorkshire characters and captains.
A Golden Age 1900-1939
The start of the new century began with structual changes at the club. Yorkshire moved from their headquaters in Sheffield, up to the more central location of Leeds, although the county side would continue to play at Bramall Lane right up until 1973. Another emerging talent in the team came in the shape of Wilfred Rhodes. The young left arm spinner had seized his opportunity, when his predecessor, Bobby Peel had been sacked by the club for “drunkedness on the field of play” by Hawke and the Yorkshire committee. He made an immediate impact on the team either side of the century, as the young man bagged 179 wickets in the 1899 season and became an important factor in the county’s dominance through the Edwardian period. Rhodes would go on to become Yorkshire’s all time leading wicket taker with 3,598 wickets throughout a 32 year career. He was also Yorkshire’s first genuine cricketing legend. During his long time in the game he had also developed into a good opening batsman and went on to play 58 tests for England. A hat-trick of County Championships were won in the first three years of the 20th Century, with players such as Rhodes, all-rounder George Hirst and fast bowler, Schofield Haigh; all from Huddersfield and collectively known as “the triumverate” leading the way.
The all-conquering Yorkshire team of the Edwardian period won the title five times in ten years, the latest coming in 1908. Another title in 1912 added to this great period of Yorkshire dominance. The First World War ended one era and ushered in another. Haigh retired in 1913 breaking up the triumverate for good, but enabled some young talent to come into the team. Post-war, Yorkshire had to draw upon all of its resources to field a decent team and attempt to carry on their pre-1914 success. Herbert Sutcliffe and Maurice Leyland made their Yorkshire debuts in 1919 and 1920 respectively. Together they were to form one of the most feared batting lineups in English cricketing history so far. Emmott Robinson, a passionate fast bowler from Keighley also made his debut aged thirty-five after spending most of his career trawling around the Bradford League.
Sutcliffe was a dogged opening batsman, renowned for his knack of making runs on bad wickets. He scored 50,670 first class runs for the White Rose in a 26-year career which fitted exactly between the two world wars. He helped Yorkshire to further success in the 1920s when they scooped the title four times in a row between 1923-26 and a further hat-trick of titles between 1931-33. Sutcliffe spent much of his latter years in the game as a player nurturing another new batting talent, one which would become one of the biggest stars of the county- Sir Len Hutton.
Hutton,was introduced to his neighbour, Sutcliffe who agreed to tutor young Len in his garden. It was not long before the two of them were opening the batting together for Yorkshire and then England. Len was invited to the Yorkshire nets by his mentor in 1930 and made his county debut in 1934, becoming the youngest ever player to score a century for the White Rose aged just seventeen.
One of the biggest issues which dogged the Yorkshire team of the 1920s was the captaincy.A cricketing tradition was upheld by all counties which was that the team was always led by an amateur captain, usually from the priviliged classes, while the rest of the team would be made up of those from the working classes and paid for their efforts. Lord Hawke, who had successfully captained Yorkshire from 1883 to 1910 was a prime example of this system, which in the more pre-war conservative society was more readily accepted as the way to do things. However, the rumblings in the camp by 1927 were that the captain should be professional too, as often the amateur’s cricketing abilities were not up to the standard of an ever more competitive domestic league. Herbert Sutcliffe was approached to take on the role of which he accepted, but traditionalists on the Yorkshire committee objected on the grounds that he was a professional and that if a paid member of the squad was to be their leader it should be their longest serving player, Wilfred Rhodes. Eventually the captaincy was given to William Worsley and then Brian Sellars. For the time being the captain’s amateur status was retained.
The veteran Wilfred Rhodes finally bowed out in his fifties to finally let the talents of Hedley Verity bear fruit. The left arm spinner of the Rhodes mould would become one of the most successful and tragic figures of the era. He had the advantage of being born on Yorkshire cricket’s doorstep, Headingley and aspired to play for the White Rose since childhood. While waiting for the Victorian, Rhodes to retire, Verity played for several local cricket clubs to gain recognition. He finally got his chance in 1931 after Rhodes finally hung up his whites. Verity is famous for twice taking all ten wickets in an innings against Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire, the latter while only conceding ten runs. Unfortunately his military service during the Second World War put an end to what had so far been a promising start to his career.
Yorkshire closed in on the outbreak of World War II with another hat-trick of league titles.Hutton, fresh from his Ashes exploits came to the fore with 2,167 runs in 1939. The inter-war period ended with a thunder storm in Yorkshire’s final Championship match at Headingley and forced the match to be abandoned. They wouldn’t return for another seven years as Yorkshire’s history would be put on hold while many associated with the club went off to fight in the Second World War. What would happen in the decades after their return to conflict on the cricket field would change the county’s cricket team forever.
Click here for Part 2
Don Mosey: “We Don’t play it for fun, A story of Yorkshire cricket”; Methuen, London (1988)
Don Mosey: “Boycott” (1985) Methuen books, London.