No other county can match this tale of success, 1955

The story of Yorkshire

J.M. Milburn

The history of cricket, its records and its honours are bound up with the deeds of Yorkshire and Yorkshire players. Founded in 1863, Yorkshire were one of the original nine counties considered first-class when the Championship was formed in 1873. They took twenty years to win the title for the first time, since when they have been almost regular contenders. Twenty-two summers have ended with the White Rose at the top. No other county can match this tale of success. Here is a tribute to men who have put Yorkshire in the forefront of the cricket world.

Yorkshire County cricket is not to be identified with any one Yorkshire centre. The administrative offices are in Leeds and only Headingley of the Yorkshire grounds is now granted a Test match, but there would be prompt and fierce protest from every Riding were any individual claims put forward for distinction as the home of Yorkshire cricket. The county club owns no ground, though it has financial interest in several. Home fixtures are spread as widely as circumstances and accommodation allow; playing resources are discovered and developed everywhere.

Sheffield Influence

This distribution of favour has its origins in the early history of the county"s cricket when a narrow conception of resources and interests found little favour. The Kent secretary of 1864 remarked that it was difficult to know who were the proper parties to get up Yorkshire county matches, and some years passed after the formal foundation of the county club before its authority was accepted with much grace, or indeed accepted at all, outside the Sheffield area. Perhaps the difference of outlook was more an illustration of characteristic wariness than of protest against local leadership, because the original Sheffield resolution of formation did envisage an unlimited membership with subscriptions to provide funds for the playing of first-class matches in Sheffield and other centres. Moreover, when the first side was chosen it contained cricketers from Huddersfield, Bradford, Ripon and the North Riding as well as from Sheffield.

Storms soon blew into the life of the young Yorkshire club and in 1865 there was a secession by five of the leading players, less through any quarrel with their own management than because of personal ill-feeling between players of the North and the South. Yorkshire, governed wholly from Sheffield, resolved to play and lose rather than abandon their venture, and determination preserved existence. Prodigals returned, new talent came forward and Yorkshire established themselves as a force in the cricketing land. In 1867 seven engagements were undertaken and in these matches fifty-one wickets went to George Freeman and thirty to Tom Emmett. The highest total of any opposing innings was Lancashire"s 159. George Freeman was accounted the finest fast bowler of the day by his contemporaries, who included W. G. Grace and Richard Daft, and though his career was short he left an imperishable name.

Tom Emmett lasted longer, playing from 1866 to 1888, carrying Yorkshire through the period of establishment of the County Championship and holding a principal part in a company that included Alan Hill as Freeman"s successor in fast bowling; George Pinder, the wicket-keeper who was beyond compare in his time; Ephraim Lockwood, sturdiest of batsmen whose bucolic appearance belied his talent; George Ulyett, a bowler who fell in love with batting and was indulged in his fancy; and Peate and Peel, leaders of that long line of left-arm slow bowlers giving cause for so much Yorkshire gratitude.


The Disciplined Yorkshire

The potentialities in such a collection of players was beyond doubting. The results were wholly unworthy. The side remained a collection of individuals without common purpose or spur. In 1893 endurance reached its limit, and a complete reorganisation of the committee was accepted. The change was wise and profitable, though its justice at the particular moment might be questioned. The new Yorkshire, the disciplined Yorkshire, began to satisfy themselves.

There can be no doubt that much of the spirit inculcated into the Yorkshire side during the 1890"s came directly from the leadership of Lord Hawke. It was his declared ambition to win for Yorkshire cricket not only admiration but respect, and he took some drastic steps to ensure that his teams became acceptable everywhere for their conduct both on the field and off. Lord Hawke could never be classed as an outstanding player. Experience gave him usefulness as a batsmen in the lower half of the order and in his younger days he was certainly not a handicap to his team in the field, but other qualities than playing ability were needed to raise him to the eminence he attained on the fields and in the councils of cricket.

Those qualities were an abiding affection for his cause, which was Yorkshire cricket, and a happy understanding of the men who played under his captaincy. As a captain Lord Hawke was a martinet; in course of time firmness could have been seen as obstinacy, depending upon the viewpoint, and his major interest tended to become paramount. Ye there can be no denying that in developing Yorkshire cricket Lord Hawke did rare service to cricket in its widest sphere. He set standards that have survived him and he took cricket to Australia, India, Canada, United States, South Africa, West Indies and the Argentine. He was captain of Yorkshire from 1883 to 1910 and President of the club from 1898 until his death in 1938.

By his influence alone Lord Hawke could have changed the character of the Yorkshire team, but he could not have achieved the historic results for ever to be associated with his name without help from players of unimpeachable quality. Lord Hawke"s time was the time of George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes; of Tunnicliffe and Brown and David Denton; of Wainwright and Peel; of F. S. Jackson and T. L. Taylor and Ernest Smith; of Haigh and Hunter. He who gave such memorable service was himself well served.


Triple Champions

The peak of Yorkshire playing success under the captaincy of Lord Hawke came in the seasons of 1900-01-02 when the championship was won so comprehensively that the wonder of the time was not a Yorkshire victory but a Yorkshire failure to complete victory. In those three years only two championship matches were lost, both of them to Somerset, and some of the victories provided staggering figures. Nottinghamshire were dismissed for 13; against Worcestershire, Yorkshire were all out for 99 and still had margin to win by an innings. There seemed no end to the triumphs, and a new conception of cricketing power was created. Yorkshire have had benefit ever since. They have believed in themselves, and they have undoubtedly impressed that belief upon their opponents.

However great a part the determination to win and the strong team-spirit may have played in Yorkshire"s establishment as one of the most successful of all cricketing counties, the essential basis of rare technical quality must not be overlooked. Yorkshire have enjoyed the service of a succession of players to be ranked among the very highest, players as familiar by repute in Sydney as in Sheffield. There was never a more dominating cricketer than F. S. Jackson; never a cricketer more respected for his wisdom and skill than Wilfred Rhodes; never a cricketer to capture the heart and the imagination and the affections more firmly than George Herbert Hirst.

Jackson was a player by the light of nature, gifted in the rhythm of movement, scarcely needing practice to attain perfection of form. He bowled with economy of effort and batted with graceful efficiency. He knew his own abilities and was suprised at personal failure because he counted it unreasonable. The more demanding the occasion the more likely his success, and his Test match record against Australia is incomparable.


Genius of Rhodes

Wilfred Rhodes has no parallel in cricket, in either the county or the international story. In his first season he established himself as one of the world"s leading bowlers; twelve years later he was opening the innings for England; at the age of 48 he was playing again for England, an invaluable all-rounder. He was a cricketing genius; as a bowler with the genius that comes as a gift from the gods, and as a batsman with the genius that is the infinite capacity for taking pains. He was born wise in cricketing ways. In more that thirty years on the first-class fields his principles of the game were never outmoded. Whilst Wilfred Rhodes was playing nobody ever ventured the opinion that Rhodes"s type of bowling would not take wickets in current conditions. Results spoke only too clearly for themselves throughout a career that linked the batsmanship of Grace with that of Bradman.


Hirst the Warrior

George Hirst became the epitome of Yorkshire cricket, the happy warrior that every Yorkshire cricketing knight-at-arms would wish to be. It was part of Hirst"s nature that the greater the need of the occasion the greater the response to be called from him. Often enough his innings was brief or his bowling comparatively unsuccessful when no particular demand was laid upon him, but in time of crisis he was the most trustworthy of all his contemporaries as either batsmen or bowler. He seldom failed when a failure would have been fatal to his side, and this fighting spirit, presented always with the broad, bold facets of a noble character, brought him the affection and admiration of the whole county, and, indeed, of all the cricketing world. Yorkshire cricket will always accept George Hirst as its representative, anywhere in any age. His public esteem was reflected in his benefit match which brought him, in 1904, the then enormous return of £3,700. His playing stature rests on the performances of perhaps the most amazing individual feat in cricket history; in 1906 he scored over 2,000 runs and took over 200 wickets in the first-class season. His batting average was 45.86 and his bowling average 16.50.

Hirst and Rhodes remained Yorkshire"s leading players for many years after the disintegration of the great side of the early 1900"s and they helped the county to Championship victories in 1905, 1908 and 1912. Hirst was still playing--and whenever he played he was a significant force--in the improvisation of 1919, but Rhodes went on alone into the second period of dominance which began in 1922 and persisted for four seasons. In that era Yorkshire played 122 Championship matches, won 81 of them and lost only six. In general the performances were as remarkable as the figures, for Yorkshire were ruthless conquerors crushing their enemies so thoroughly that they came to regard the five-day week as an expectation rather than a privilege. In 1923 they won 25 of their 32 championship matches, and 13 of the 25 were won with an innings to spare.

Such achievements suggest, and rightly suggest, powerful batting resources, but it was the bowling strength in all conditions that made the side so formidable. Rhodes after his period of concentration upon batsmanship returned to full honour as a bowler; Waddington blazed across the cricketing sky; Macaulay and Emmott Robinson were suprised and disappointed if they did not take 100 wickets in a season; and Roy Kilner rapidly established himself, not as a rival to Rhodes, but complementary to him in the slow left-arm attack. As often as not Kilner bowled over the wicket, where Rhodes invariably bowled round in the classical tradition.

Success did not bring Yorkshire universal popularity. They were acknowledged cricketing masters of the counties, but they were not always on the happiest of terms with some of their rivals. The very fixity of their purpose, the grim determination of their methods cost them some affection, and there were one or two occasions when the pressure in the boiler of neighbourly goodwill ran dangerously high. Naturally enough, the bowling fires were the first to fade. When Lancashire took over the Championship in the late 1920"s Yorkshire preserved their formidable batting, but awaited the arrival of new bowling of the necessary vitality. When they found it, the batting of Sutcliffe, Holmes, Oldroyd, Leyland, and their company guaranteed all the scope needed for the winning of more Championships.


Holmes and Sutcliffe

Holmes and Sutcliffe developed the most successful of all opening partnerships in county cricket. They came together experimentally and began inauspiciously, for the first time they opened the innings together the scoreboard quickly showed 0 for one, but their individual technical skill allied to the indefinable sympathy that grew between them soon made their association safe and their achievements historic. They put up a century partnership 69 times for Yorkshire and 74 times in all, and in 1932 they took the world"s record opening partnership from their distinguished predecessors. Tunnicliffe and Brown made 554 against Derbyshire in 1898; Holmes and Sutcliffe made 555 against Essex. Curiously enough both these enormous stands were contrived with one of the batsmen under physical handicap. At Chesterfield, Tunnicliffe chose to sit up all night rather than risk unsatisfactory hotel accommodation, and he batted throughout the next day with a sandwich as his only sustenance because of catering confusion at the ground. At Leyton, Holmes was suffering from lumbago and in obvious pain throughout the long innings.

Holmes played for Yorkshire from 1913 to 1933 and therefore saw the beginning but not the end of the wonders of the 1930"s. Sutcliffe"s career extended from war to war, and he was a member of the teams that won the Championship seven times in the nine seasons from 1931 to 1939. He was always an outstanding member because he scarcely ever knew a year of personal failure and because his was a personality that could never be overlooked.

Sutcliffe"s batsmanship has been accounted of limited range, but no question of its efficiency has been raised. No question could be raised while memories last and scoreboards remain to be read. Sutcliffe"s limitations were mainly self-imposed. He restricted himself because restriction best served his purpose. He batted in the light of circumstances. His problems were the problems of the moment, each to be treated as it arose and instantly dismissed upon solution. The sum of his achievements represents the adequacy of his exposition. For Yorkshire, and for England, he rendered imperishable service.

By 1930 Yorkshire had found the bowling they sought as the basis for a great team, and to Bowes and Verity, Wilfred Rhodes and Emmott Robinson hastened to pass on the legacy of accumulated wisdom and intensity of purpose. The training was invaluable, the material for instruction more than adequate. Bowes, Verity and Macaulay, with Smailes and Ellis Robinson in subsequent support, and Sutcliffe, Leyland, Mitchell, Barber and eventually Hutton, brought Yorkshire to glories as great as they had ever known. They became a living legend in all the cricketing lands. They toured Jamaica as a county side, and had Australian wish been granted they would have toured Australia, too.


The Sellers Era

It was not, of course, in the mere possession of individuals beyond the ordinary that Yorkshire found their strength. Great players do not necessarily establish great teams. Yorkshire had great players in the 1930"s and they established a great team primarily because they were prepared to devote their special talents to a common cause. The character of the side became something more than the agglomerated characters of the members. Yorkshire cricket given to be the over-riding concern of every player and the personal achievement was the common satisfaction. The origin of this outlook lay far back in history but its development, or its renaissance, at least, was the contribution of A. B. Sellers who took over the captaincy in 1933 and held office for fifteen seasons. Perhaps Lord Hawke did more than Sellers in that there was more to do, but neither Lord Hawke nor any other Yorkshire leader brought greater devotion or persistent efficiency to the task in hand.

Sellers drew loyalty because he gave loyalty. He maintained unswervingly the principle that team interests were paramount, and his principles were so clearly illustrated that they could not escape the notice of established player or newcomer. The Yorkshire of Brian Seller"s time would have been unmistakable in multi-coloured caps and disguised by beards. They carried their character on to every field they visited.


Aggressive Fielding

Much was asked. Bowling had to be justifiable in cricket strategy; mere bowling and hoping for the best was not acceptable. Fielding had to be a positive ally to bowling. It was not enough to wait in likely places for catches to come; catches had to be created where none would have existed without courage, and confidence in the ability of colleagues. Yorkshire did not invent the aggressive field in the 1930"s but they advanced its position in cricket. Their performances and their principles stood as the standard for the time and it is doubtful if the standard has ever been higher. In the nine seasons between 1931 and 1939 Yorkshire were County Champions seven times and there is no knowing how long their dominance would have continued but for the interruption of the Second World War. When cricket came again the greatness had gone. Sutcliffe and Wood passed into retirement; Bowes was no longer a fast bowler after four years in prison camps; Verity died of wounds in Italy. In 1946 the remainder of the old guard reassembled to win yet another Championship but their success contained the sunset gleam. Leyland and Turner brought their first-class careers to an end, Bowes and Smailes followed in the next season or two and Sellers himself handed on the torch of leadership in 1948, though he gave help when his appointed successor, Norman Yardley, was involved in Test match captaincy and selectorial duties.

Recent years have been spent in reconstruction; and in the inevitable experiment Yorkshire have missed both success and satisfaction. The Championship was shared with Middlesex in 1949 and second position has been attained three times in the past four seasons, but 1953 saw a humiliating descent into the bottom half of the table and the optimism of spring has rarely been matched in the reflections of autumn. Perhaps the essential lack has been a direct link between the old Yorkshire and the new. Players joining the side since 1946 could not acquire tradition by first-hand observation. They knew only their own way of playing cricket, the current way, and time was required for adjustment in a world inclined to be casual in reaction against the taut living of war.


Problems for Yardley

Yorkshire made mistakes in selectorial judgment as well as in playing technique and they had therefore to extend the period of experiment beyond the term expected. Yardley found himself with as difficult a task as any current county captain, for he had played long enough to appreciate needs and desires but could find no illustration of intentions for the newcomers.

Young Yorkshiremen did not know quite what was expected of them and were short of a yardstick for comparison. Social circumstances were a handicap to every county and a particular trial to Yorkshire who have long expected their young players to fit into a given pattern, of proven worth. Yardley"s success in captaincy has been limited by the lack of understanding and ambition in some of his players, but he has done invaluable work in keeping the good name of Yorkshire cricket at the highest level.

Another era of playing distinction comparable with those of the past still remains speculative. There are players of immense potentiality now wearing the Yorkshire cap and it is to be presumed that Appleyard, Close and Trueman among others have not yet reached the peak of their careers; but character has yet to be confirmed in the side as a whole, and there are obvious shortcomings to be eradicated before a good team can turn itself into a great one. The Yorkshire enthusiasm stands as high as ever; the Yorkshire ambition is in no way diminished. Cricket is an integral part of the Yorkshire scene and the club has never been in more flourishing financial condition. Len Hutton"s genius in batsmanship remains a beacon to guide the struggling and a vicarious pride to every compatriot. Yorkshiremen need only be true to their inheritance to find the cricketing satisfactions they desire.


© John Wisden & Co