Norman Yardley

YARDLEY, NORMAN WALTER DRANSFIELD, who died on October 4, 1989, aged 74, appeared in his first Test match for England at Johannesburg under W. R. Hammond, whom he was to succeed as captain after the Second World War. As a boy, Yardley enjoyed none of the advantages of coming from a cricketing family, but his great all-round promise was spotted as soon as he went to St Peter's, York. He was five years in the school XI, being captain in 1933 and 1934 and in the former year making more than 900 runs for an average of 88.43, including successive innings of 127, 171 and 167 not out.

He was also top of the bowling averages, his medium-pace in-swingers bringing him 40 wickets at just under 12 apiece. Such remarkable form brought selection for the Young Amateurs against the Young Professionals at Lord's, where he demonstrated his liking for the big occasion by hitting up 189. Denis Compton was on the fielding side.

By the time Yardley established himself in Yorkshire's Championship-winning side in 1939, he had developed a fluent and attractive style as a batsman. He was on the tall side and strongly built, able to get out to the pitch of the ball and drive handsomely on both sides of the wicket. He was especially skilful at forcing the ball away off his legs in the arc wide of mid-on with shots demanding strength and flexibility of wrist. At school he had benefited from the coaching of the headmaster, S. M. Toyne, and Fred Roberts, the professional; as a Yorkshire Colt he came under the instruction of George Hirst at the county nets.

In 1934 he further enhanced his reputation by innings of 117 and 63 for the Public Schools against the Army at Lord's, Wisden describing him as "the great batsman of the match". He won his Blue as a Freshman at Cambridge in 1935; class rather than performance guaranteed his place. But the following year he showed himself to be fully attuned to the demands of the first-class game and topped the averages. In the University Match he played a fine innings of 90; and in 1937 he went one better with a high-class century.

As captain in 1938, he made 61 in his customary elegant style. He played for The Rest in the Test Trial that season and spent the winter of 1938-39 with MCC in South Africa under W. R. Hammond. He was full of runs on this tour, but such was the strength of the England batting that he played in only one Test, making 7. This was not his first experience of touring, for he had been a member of Lionel Tennyson's team in India in 1937-38, when three unofficial Test matches were played. In 1939 he had his first full season with Yorkshire under A. B. Seller's dominating and forceful captaincy.

Within two days of demobilization in 1946, after service with the 1st Battalion of the Green Howards, Yardley found himself at practice in the Yorkshire nets. The Yorkshire side had an unfamiliar look, with no fewer than six members of the 1939 team missing, yet they won the Championship in 1946 on the strength of their bowling. In 1947 it was a different story: a drop to eighth in the table was the lowest position Yorkshire had occupied since 1910, hardly an encouraging state of affairs for Yardley, who took over the captaincy from Sellers in 1948. However, he had earned the players' confidence and respect by making 1,906 runs in 1947 with five centuries to his name.

This was his highest aggregate in the eight seasons in which he passed 1,000 runs. Yardley's captaincy was shrewd and enterprising, but he allowed a much more relaxed dressing-room atmosphere than Sellers. The new players such as Trueman, Close, and Wardle, especially Trueman, would have thrived under a sterner régime, and yet Yardley led them to a Championship shared with Middlesex in 1949 and to the runners-up position in four seasons.

All this time Yardley had other important commitments. Chosen as Hammond's vice-captain on the 1946-47 MCC tour of Australia, he was a distinct success, making useful middle-order runs and breaking partnerships. He claimed Bradman's wicket three times. When Hammond was laid low with fibrositis before the final Test at Sydney, Yardley led England courageously. In the best match of the series Australia squeezed home by five wickets. Hammond's retirement meant that Yardley was the automatic choice to captain England in the home series against South Africa in 1947.

At Trent Bridge in the First Test, when England were 170 for four in their second-innings and needed a further 155 to make South Africa bat again, he and Compton put on 237 for the fifth wicket, a record in England at the time, and averted seeming defeat. Yardley's 99 was his highest in Tests, and in the remaining matches he batted admirably in support of Compton and Edrich, who dominated the series. He took a rest that winter to be ready for the Australian challenge in 1948, which proved to be stronger than anyone could have imagined. Losing 4-0, Yardley would prefer to recall the memorable scene at The Oval when he called for three cheers as Bradman arrived at the crease, rather than the failure to prevent Australia from running away with the Fourth Test at Leeds.

In 1950 he led England against West Indies in the first three Tests, winning at Old Trafford but losing at Lord's and Trent Bridge. He then stood aside for F. R. Brown, as he could not be available for another tour of Australia. Yardley played in twenty Tests, in which he made 812 runs at 25.37 and took 21 wickets for an average of 33.66. In the fourteen in which he was captain, he won four and lost seven, not a bad record considering the strength of the opposition. In 446 first-class matches he made 18,173 runs at 31.17 and took 279 wickets at 30.48. Of his 27 centuries, the highest was an unbeaten 183 against Hampshire at Headingley in 1951. Six for 29 for MCC against Cambridge at Lord's in 1946 represented his best bowling.

Norman Yardley was a fine all-round athlete, winning Blues for hockey and squash as well as cricket. Indeed, he won the North of England Squash Championship in six consecutive years before the war. He served on the Test Selection Committee from 1951 to 1954 and was chairman in 1952. As Yorkshire's president from 1981 to 1984 he deplored the strife and bitterness of the Boycott affair, alike degrading and humiliating to his county, but could do little to heal the wounds. It was a far cry from the great days when he appeared on the scene, the finest Yorkshire amateur since F. S. Jackson.

© John Wisden & Co