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January 23, 2014
Graham Stevenson, the former Yorkshire and England allrounder, who has died aged 58, was recognised by many good judges as a cricketer of enormous natural talent. "As good as Botham," Yorkshire observers were particularly inclined to claim. But while Botham enjoyed a hugely successful England career, Stevenson's international experience amounted to two Tests and four one-day internationals.
If his international career was brief, his England debut in an ODI in Sydney in 1980 provided a wonderful story. Stevenson was 25, eager to build on a fine season in county cricket. He returned bowling figures of 4 for 33 - Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Len Pascoe making up a famous quartet - as Australia were dismissed for 163.
England were struggling at 129 for 8 when Stevenson joined his old Yorkshire mucker, David Bairstow, at the crease. "Evening lad - we can piss this," Bairstow greeted him. They did, too, winning by two wickets with more than an over to spare, Stevenson ending unbeaten on 28 from 18 balls, and they sprinted from the field like a couple of jubilant schoolfellows.
Stevenson made a Test debut the following month in Mumbai against India in a match to commemorate the golden jubilee of the BCCI. But he only made one more Test appearance after that, against West Indies in Antigua the following winter. Even so, he could count Dilip Vengsarkar, Gordon Greenidge and Clive Lloyd among his five Test victims.
That Stevenson's talent never entirely flowered owed much to injury, but it was also due in some manner to his easy-going disposition and maddening lapses of concentration. His nickname of Moonbeam told its own story. He played in a deeply disunited era in Yorkshire cricket, but he was an affable, easy-going character who never had any time for politics, much preferring instead to pass his leisure time with a few pints and a frame or two of snooker. When his back hurt, he probably preferred the snooker a bit more than the cricket.
Graham Barry Stevenson was born at Ackworth and played in 177 first class matches for Yorkshire between 1973 to 1986, taking 464 wickets at 28.56, scoring 3856 runs with two centuries and holding on to 73 catches. He was a fine seam bowler who could move the ball both ways at challenging pace, a late-order batsman of great insouciance who loved nothing better than to launch good-length deliveries high and hard over extra cover and a brilliant fielder with one of the most powerful arms in the country.
He had all the qualities necessary to entertain on a grand scale and he played in 217 limited-overs games for Yorkshire, capturing 290 wickets and scoring 1699 runs. He would have been a quite wonderful Twenty20 cricketer, although one wonders what he would have made of IPL and what IPL would have made of him.
But it was his laid-back nature, and dry, understated sense of humour, that endeared him to Yorkshire followers and led many of them to forgive his off days more easily than most. He always encouraged great hopes, even if increasinglly he failed to meet them. Geoffrey Boycott was an early mentor and arranged nets for him at Headingley when he was a youth. Boycott loved to tell all and sundry that Stevenson was one of his favourite cricketers.
Stevenson's most important contributions for Yorkshire were generally with the ball. Against Northamptonshire at Headingley in 1980 he grabbed the first eight wickets at a cost of 57. Only Tim Lamb, who was to become the chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board, and Jim Griffiths, a notorious rabbit, were to come and he could well have gone on to bag all ten but much to the disbelief of his team manager Raymond Illingworth, he left the field to change his sweat-soaked shirt. By the time he returned, his chance was gone. In 1978 he was the scourge of Lancashire, destroying them in their first innings at Headingley with figures of 8 for 65, Yorkshire going on to win by an innings and 32 runs on the second day.
But perhaps one of most headline-grabbing acts was with the bat when he shared a Yorkshire record-breaking last wicket stand of 149 with Boycott against Warwickshire at Edgbaston in May 1982. Coming in as last man, Stevenson thrashed 115 not out, at the time the highest unbeaten score ever recorded by a No. 11 batsman. "It was my brains and experience and Graham's skill that saw us through," Boycott said, adding later: "I coaxed him every ball and told him to get his head down and play sensibly until the fast bowlers tired." Some felt he had taken too much of the credit, but it was a fair assessment.
Stevenson was surely a candidate on that day as the finest batsman ever to stroll out for Yorkshire at No. 11. The 1980s was a lean period for Yorkshire, but they could boast depth in batting and on several occasions fielded an entire side with first-class centuries to their credit.
Yorkshire were 143 for 9 on an uneven pitch when they joined forces. Stevenson began by responsibly blocking the leg-spin of Asif Din in extravagant fashion, much to the liking of Boycott at the non-striker's end before, boring of his defensive role, he launched into the seamers, striking 15 fours and three sixes. Bairstow, dashed out with a message that the record was near. Boycott claimed not to know; Stevenson certainly had no idea. The innings came to an end when Asif defeated Boycott's extravagant sweep.
Stevenson had battled cancer in recent years and died in hospital after suffering a severe stroke over three months ago.
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