What's happened to Yorkshire? I heard on many occasions during last season. They aren't the cricketing machine that we knew before the war. I think everyone was inclined to agree, but when one stops to think for one moment and looks back two years, the answer is very clear.
In two playing seasons the county that won the Championship seven times out of nine between 1931-39, and once again in the first season after the war, has lost seven of its regular members, and of those seven members six were international players: H. Sutcliffe, H. Verity, M. Leyland, A. Mitchell, A. Wood and W. Barber. No team can stand a blow such as that in so short a time and be expected to be able to rebuild and continue to win the Championship.
Now another blow has befallen the team this year. That great match-winning bowler, Bill Bowes, has announced his retirement. It leaves a very big gap which will require a great deal of filling.
Are Yorkshire going down never to rise again? I should say NOT by a very long way. A trip behind the scenes and a talk with a very alive secretary, J. H. Nash, is well worth anyone's time. You will soon find out for yourself how Yorkshire discover and train her reserves, and as a rule the selected reserves are good enough for any county. Proof of that can be seen by the number of Yorkshire born and trained players who have played and are playing in many other county teams today. The sole reason for this is that they couldn't find a regular place in the county team. Only eleven men can do this, and rather than restrict such men the County Committee allow them to qualify for other counties who require their services.
To gain a White Rose--the ambition of everyone who plays cricket in the county--is a very hard and long struggle. It begins at an early age, round about fourteen, when perhaps the boy catches the eye of an old player or a Committee member. Don't laugh at the mention of a Committee member, because the members of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club Committee are very enthusiastic members. They represent various districts throughout the county and are elected by the county members in their own districts, who expect them to help find the young players who will eventually step into the first team.
The young boy who has been noticed is watched very carefully and during the early winter he will be asked to attend special practices, under the county coach, Arthur Mitchell. These practices begin in January and held twice a week up to the middle of April.
Everyone who attends them is paid return railway fares plus ten shillings out-of-pocket expenses. As these practices progress the youngsters gain much knowledge and experience. The better ones continue to be asked to attend right up to mid-April. At this period the regular members are called up for ten days' intensive practice. During these ten days the youngsters practice with the regular players and gain further knowledge. After these practices are over the young players go back to their clubs to begin their season. It is from these players that the second team is formed which makes the background and nursery for the first eleven.
We do not chop and change out first team about more than we can help. When we think we have the right man, in he goes to the first team and he stays there to make his name. Of course there have been misfits and mistakes, but not many. When he has settled down and made his place secure the great day arrives--the day he receives his county cap. When that day does come it is almost the end of the hard road, but not quite, because he knows that he must maintain his form to keep in the side, always remembering that other men are trying to do just what he did.
It is interesting to note that during the years 1932-39 the average number of men who represented the county during any one season was 19. Since the war the average has risen to 24-25. This requires very little explanation. We are rebuilding and looking ahead five or more years.
The second team costs the club at least £1,000 per year and has done for some time, but it is money well spent. I am delighted to see that many other counties are adopting the same principle. They will reap the benefit in later years, I know.
Building a Championship side does not only mean that all its members have to be good batsmen and bowlers. They have to be something else besides, the most important being good fieldsmen. In my opinion far too little attention is paid to this department of the game. It is fielding that wins matches; a side that can hold its catches and be in the right place to take these catches will win every time. What I have seen of the average young player today as regards fielding ability rather shakes me. He does not seem to have spent a great deal of time practising fielding, which is a thousand pities. No young player will become top-class without paying much attention to fielding.
He has to be a good mixer and have a good temperament. Cricket is a funny game, it is a glorious game, but it can become most disappointing when your luck is out. It is at times such as this that the real cricketer will come out on top.
All these points are very carefully watched in the second team, and, once again, when a new man comes into the County team for the first time. It is then that the older members of the first team look after him, always remembering that they themselves were new once and exactly how they felt.
Much cricketing temperament is gained in the Leagues in Yorkshire, where the games are keen and well conducted. The county owes everything to the Leagues, for it is there that the budding young player is found.
We have no so-called ground staff, as we have no county ground of our own. All the grounds that the county play on belong to clubs, as, of course, do all the players except those with county caps and perhaps three or four of the next best. These three or four are allocated by the county to various clubs who desire to engage them. The county club always has first call upon their services. If any other player is required by the county club, it is an unwritten rule throughout the county that the player be released, and I have never known of any player being refused permission to leave his club and go and play for the county first or second team.
It will be seen, therefore, that good, sound and well-tried methods are used by the county club in order to find the right players and to have always at hand good, sound reserves, capable of stepping into either the first or second team.
By these methods we have every hope that in four to five years time we shall have built a side that will once again go to the top of the Championship table.