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The offie who coped

Cope's biography provides an intriguing window into a Yorkshire side approaching the end of its dominance Getty Images

Fairfield Books has claimed a valuable niche in the world of cricket publishing. In its pages lie the neglected voices of the game's past, valuable and award-winning stories about the likes of Bob Appleyard and Tom Cartwright, players who never achieved the greatest or longest-lasting fame but about whom there were valuable insights to be gained and stories to tell.

Much in that vein comes In Sunshine and in Shadow, the authorised biography of the former Yorkshire and England offspinner Geoff Cope, by Stephen Chalke. In the wrong hands, Cope's story might have become a little maudlin: only three caps for England, a Test hat-trick that wasn't, a career disrupted by three bans for throwing, and the diagnosis in middle age that he was gradually going blind.

Chalke, though, has proved himself to be a skilful author, with the game at his heart, and whatever challenges Cope has had to surmount have been met philosophically. There have been few more easy-going Yorkshire cricketers than "Todge", nor many with a greater fund of gently amusing stories designed to convey an abiding love for the game. The result is a delightful rendition of a life that will add further lustre to Fairfield's reputation.

Many books have been written about the characters who made up the great Yorkshire side of the '60s - Fred Trueman, Ray Illingworth, Brian Close and all - and it might be fairly wondered what more can be said, but Cope's emergence in county cricket came when the side was in decline, and they are seen in a softer light. As much as he regards them as heroes, they are vulnerable figures approaching the end - or the end at Yorkshire at least.

Close is an inspirational and heroic captain, but one whose faith in his senior players is so absolute that on one occasion, when Cope hand-delivers a note from the committee requesting that he plays, Close shoves it in his pocket and tells Cope to say that he did not see it till lunchtime. Trueman's rapid spell to bowl out Sussex at Eastbourne is dredged up as if from memory, but he is depicted as a strikingly caring and knowledgeable leader, responsive to the next generation. There is even a recollection of Len Hutton, in Cope's childhood, unable to bend for the ball on the boundary's edge because of lumbago. The passage of time is never far away.

"There have been few more easy-going Yorkshire cricketers than "Todge", nor many with a greater fund of gently amusing stories designed to convey an abiding love for the game"

Of Illingworth, there is less obvious praise. Cope, as a fellow offspinner, was his potential replacement, and as such, as much rival as team-mate. Cope is not a malicious man, and this never reads like a book aimed at settling old scores, which makes his understated reference to the autobiography of another England offspinner, Pat Pocock, all the more intriguing.

In his autobiography, Pat Pocock recalled a Surrey-Yorkshire game in which Cope was bowling. "Illy approached me in our dressing room. 'How can you let him get away with that?' he said. 'He's chucking every ball. It's terrible, that is. You'll have to report him.'"
Ian Chappell, captain of the 1972 Australians, is also presumed to have lodged a complaint, and shortly after Yorkshire play Australia at Park Avenue, Cope is suspended from bowling in first-class cricket. On Trueman's advice, salvaging his career is entrusted to Johnny Wardle, another Yorkshire legend with a cantankerous reputation, who Cope finds "warm and caring". They work daily, a bacon buttie followed by several hours' tuition in Wardle's rudimentary coaching shed in his back garden. Their relationship becomes so strong that Cope nicknames him "Dad". Wardle promises him he will play for England.

That England career came on the 1977-78 tour of Pakistan for an England party weakened by an exodus of players to Kerry Packer's rival World Series. Cope had toured India the previous winter, forever hopeful of a debut which never came, his tour blighted by the death of his father from carbon monoxide poisoning. The debut finally comes in Lahore. England concede the slowest century in first-class cricket, by Mudassar Nazar. Cope then thinks he has become only the second England player to take a hat-trick on debut, only for his captain, Mike Brearley, to withdraw the appeal because he is unsure he has caught Iqbal Qasim at slip.

"I think I'm going to bring him back for the future of the series," says Brearley. Cope no longer holds the first hat-trick by an England player in Test cricket for 20 years. In the third Test he plays with a digestive disorder and loses two stone. The following summer he is suspended for chucking for a second time. "You play for England - and then wallop," he says. A final suspension follows, at the end of 1980, by which time Illingworth has returned to Yorkshire as a none-too-sympathetic team manager.

In Cope's story, incompetent administrators stalk every corridor. The Yorkshire hierarchy are caricatures of opinionated and unyielding men, who issue no contracts to the Yorkshire greats beyond a verbal take-it-or-leave it offer and a handshake. In later years, Cope is elected to the committee and recognises that the county is sleepwalking into bankruptcy, which it avoids at the last minute when he enlists the financial help of Colin Graves, now ECB chairman, and the club is restructured on a more professional footing. As he greets guests in the Lord Hawke Suite, 70 now, guide dog at his side and his sight narrowing by the year, Cope can take tremendous pride in the good he has done during a life lived in the face of adversity.

Much worse, though, than Yorkshire's administrators are those who sit in judgment on Cope's career. The make-up of the panel studying his action is kept secret, as is the identity of the captains or umpires who have reported him, and those in charge at Lord's are fearful to be seen in his company, but more staggering for those reading the story for the first time will be the realisation that nobody discussed the findings with Cope or offered him an analysis of exactly what was wrong.

Perhaps Peter Parfitt, the former Middlesex and England batsman, sums up Cope's career. "You should have been banned for life or you should have played 50 Test matches for England because you were the best spinner." Instead, he briefly fulfilled his dream and that has always sustained him.

In Sunshine and in Shadow: Geoff Cope and Yorkshire cricket
By Stephen Chalke
Fairfield Books
£16, 256 pages