Obituary: Bob Appleyard 1924-2015 March 17, 2015

No coward soul

Bob Appleyard fought back from personal adversity to lay claim to one of the most remarkable stories in English cricket history

Bob Appleyard rose above personal misfortune in remarkable style © PA Photos

Bob Appleyard, the former Yorkshire and England bowler, who has died aged 90, provided one of the most remarkable stories in England cricket history. Afflicted by terrible family misfortune and fearing at the height of his career that he would never reach old age, he conquered adversity in a fashion that did him remarkable credit.

For a few glorious years, when uncovered pitches had a bit of moisture in them, Appleyard bore comparison with the finest English bowlers of his type. But he proved his versatility by succeeding in Australia, too, as part of Len Hutton's victorious 1954-55 England tourists. Thanks to illness and injury, his career only spanned from 1951 until 1958, his achievements with England limited to only nine Tests.

His dramatic entry to first-class cricket came late. He was 27 when he took 200 wickets in his first full season in 1951, an achievement that remains unique, having made his debut the previous summer. An offcutter with prehensile fingers, who bowled close to medium pace, he soon learned to add legcutters for good measure.

Many weaker men would have been broken by the childhood trauma which befell him. When he was seven his mother left home; when he was 13 he lost his younger sister Margaret to diphtheria and, at 15, he discovered the bodies of his father, stepmother and two little sisters, who had been gassed in the bathroom of their home. The young Appleyard was taken in by his stepmother's parents who were devout Christians, as he was to become himself.

Illness soon interrupted his playing career. He was treated for pleurisy and in the spring of 1952, after only one match, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, an illness which he was not expected to survive.

Media reports at the time underplayed the seriousness of his condition. Appleyard had half of his left lung removed and spent 11 months in hospital, missing two seasons of cricket before defiantly emerging in 1954 to take another 154 wickets. While in hospital, Appleyard kept a cricket ball close at hand to keep his fingers strong.

He took 5 for 51 on debut, and 31 wickets at 17.87 in his nine Tests. He earned a place on England's 1954-55 tour to Australia, topping the averages when the Ashes were won there for the first time since the Bodyline tour. To adjust from the archetypal swing and cut bowler in English conditions to be deceptive on the firmer, dryer pitches in Australia was a considerable achievement.

He told how he had never discussed his change of approach with Hutton, his captain and a fellow Yorkshiremen - and there were no layers of coaches to bother in those times, not that they would have been advised to try - but he had taken it upon himself. It led to a lifelong conviction that bowlers must be prepared to experiment.

Bill Bowes, another Yorkshire and England bowler, and a long-time cricket reporter after his retirement for the Yorkshire Evening Post rated Appleyard as one of the best three bowlers he had ever seen, the others being the Australian Bill O'Reilly and Englishman S. F. Barnes.

A change in the lbw law and a chronic shoulder injury drastically reduced his effectiveness. By 1958, he retired and began a successful business career. That even involved taking on the disgraced press baron, Robert Maxwell, over pension rights and winning a case in the High Court.

Grief was never far away. The death from leukaemia of his young son, Ian, and later the death of a grandson, John, from the same disease, also haunted him, but he continued to care deeply for his beloved Yorkshire throughout his lifetime. Only during the launch of a highly-regarded biography on his life - No Coward Soul by Stephen Chalke - did he speak about the personal trauma that had clouded his life.

After his retirement, Appleyard worked to raise considerable sums for Yorkshire cricket. He cared deeply for the county and was delighted to see them regain the Championship in 2014 with a predominantly homegrown side.

At the height of Yorkshire's internecine strife over Geoffrey Boycott in the mid-1980s he commendably sought to find solutions and largely avoided the back-biting that at that time was so prevalent: no easy task. He was also a proud Bradfordian and worked ceaselessly to keep cricket at Park Avenue against ever-increasing odds and ensuring that the Yorkshire Academy - now such a vital part of the county's success - was initially based at the ground.

Raymond Illingworth, among the most respected of Yorkshire cricketers, once said: "He was an awkward bugger, he really was." Many would agree with the fairness of such an assessment. But those qualities were also revealed in an astonishing mental strength in the face of personal hardship which allowed him to achieve so much against all the odds.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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