Philip Sharpe, 1936-2014

Yorkshire mourns slipper Sharpe

David Hopps

May 20, 2014

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Phil Sharpe slip catching
Philip Sharpe's slip catching was revered throughout Yorkshire
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Philip Sharpe, who has died at 77 after a short illness, played 12 Tests for England but, upon his passing, in Yorkshire they will talk only off his slip catching. On the subject of great slippers, Fred Trueman and Raymond Illingworth were just two Yorkshire bowlers who would opine that Sharpe had no better, not just in Yorkshire, but probably in the world in whatever era anybody cared to mention.

England's omission of Sharpe for the 1968 Test against Australia at Headingley still lives on in cricket folklore nearly half a century later. England preferred to give a Test debut to Keith Fletcher and the somewhat self-effacing Essex batsman had a traumatic debut as slip catches went astray, leaving the Headingley crowd in no doubt that Sharpe would have caught them blindfolded.

When the Headingley Test pitch was vandalised seven years later as part of the "Free George Davis" campaign, Trueman's after-dinner speeches quickly included the line that, if he had his way, they would be thrown off the pavilion roof at Headingley. "But I'm not a cruel man," he would say knowingly. "I'd have Keith Fletcher underneath to try to catch 'em." Loyalties to Sharpe ran deep.

Sharpe's Test record was an impressive one - he averaged 46.23, compared to 30.73 overall after a county career that brought 22,530 first-class runs. That discrepancy was partly the result of demanding Yorkshire pitches, perhaps also of a more carefree attitude to the county circuit, although he was always a respected player of quick bowling.

His finest county season was 1962, when he made 2,201 first-class runs, held 67 catches and helped Vic Wilson, Yorkshire's first professional captain, bring the Championship pennant back to Headingley. It was not enough to get him to Australia that winter, his Test debut coming against West Indies the following year.

In all, he took 618 first-class catches, often taking the catch as late as possible so that it seemed the ball was already behind him, and diving only when it was absolutely necessary. Yorkshire historians ranked him alongside "Long John" Tunnicliffe as Yorkshire's finest slipper. In the era he played, Australia's Bobby Simpson was of comparable quality.

As Don Mosey wrote in We Don't Play It For Fun: "He raised slip catching not only to an art form but a geometrical science by working out the optimum place to stand after taking into account the pace of the pitch, the type of bowling, the positioning of the wicketkeeper and the known technique of the batsman." All that done, he was then reliant upon his ability to judge the pace of the ball and razor-sharp reflexes.

He enjoyed his cricket and he enjoyed his post-match singalongs, too, needing little encouragement to team up with Don Wilson, an England left-arm spinner and Yorkshire colleague, for a rendition of songs from Gilbert and Sullivan or the Black and White Minstrels, a repertoire which in its entirety could last more than an hour. Not for Sharpe were the intense post-match Yorkshire inquests conducted by the likes of Illingworth and Brian Close after an unrewarding day. There were few more relaxed Yorkshire cricketers in that era, prepared to wash away the bad memories with a few pints and a song or two.

Sharpe's early forays in cricket were at Bradford Grammar School and Worksop School and he was capped by Yorkshire in 1960 as a new young side began to be built: the side of Trueman, Wilson, Close, Illingworth, Jimmy Binks and Jackie Hampshire.

During his 20-year career, Yorkshire won seven Championship titles and he had spells later on with Derbyshire and in the Minor Counties with Norfolk. He also played hockey for Yorkshire and the North. He served as a Yorkshire committee member for York and sided with the committee in the Boycott Wars in the 1980s, although he did so urbanely and his mild, easy-going nature meant that he showed little relish for the fight.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by pa99 on (May 22, 2014, 5:41 GMT)

brilliant slipper - only Bobby Simpson was his equal

Posted by DesPlatt on (May 21, 2014, 22:08 GMT)

My first ever day at a cricket catch was the Saturday of the Old Trafford Test v West Indies in 1969. Phil Sharpe made an astonishing slip catch to dismiss Joey Carew that I can still see today and which featured in the Lancashire yearbook the following year. The ball seemed to have gone when he dived and took it.

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (May 21, 2014, 10:22 GMT)

@Nicholas Hughes He played 6 Tests in 1963/64 against West Indies, India and Australia (3x50) and then played the last 6 in 1969, again against the West Indies and against New Zealand. I think that, in the early part of his career he was unlucky to coincide with a particularly strong batting side (players such as Dexter, Barrington, Edrich, Stewart, Cowdrey, Bolus, Barber, Close, Parks, ...) It was not easy to force your way into that line-up, particularly in the middle order.

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (May 21, 2014, 10:06 GMT)

Possibly his finest hour was in the 1963 series v the West Indies when England were utterly destroyed but, through luck and guts, only lost 3-1. Phil Shape's 85 was the top score for England in the entire series (the only other scores of note in the whole series were an 80 by Ken Barrington and an attacking 70 by Ted Dexter). If his career average in Tests was not so great, that series had a fair bit to do with it and, even then, he showed plenty of guts and fight.

Posted by   on (May 20, 2014, 18:36 GMT)

Years ago, when I first heard about Phil Sharpe, I noticed that he had this test batting average of 46 but only played 12 tests and wasn't considered a good enough batsman by the selectors. I was baffled by this assessment but then test selection seemed to have its oddities back then. Anyway, I never watched Sharpe play but it seems his name will live on in Yorkshire cricket.

Posted by   on (May 20, 2014, 16:19 GMT)

He still liked his pints in later life. He was also an excellent hockey player, and used to prop up the bar after matches with a crowd around him. He will be missed.

Posted by GeoffreysMother on (May 20, 2014, 15:41 GMT)

A very nice , fond, memoriam for a good cricketer and a lovely bloke. Well done Hoppsy.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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