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One man's legacy to Yorkshire and the game he loved beyond measure

Professional educator Peter Sutcliffe cleared a coaching path successors at the ECB have since smoothed and modified

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
A portrait of Peter Sutcliffe

Peter Sutcliffe represented Yorkshire's second team from 1951-54  •  Simon Sutcliffe

Yorkshire 240 for 5 (Ballance 91*, Brook 59) trail Kent 305 (Crawley 90, Coad 3-53) by 65 runs; No play Saturday
There is more chance of Priti Patel appearing on Mastermind than us seeing any cricket today. Yorkshire may be God's own county but He has shown no favouritism towards His chosen people this morning regardless of how much brass they have in their building society accounts. (Suspicions are growing in Harrogate that the Almighty might be a bloody leftie.) The rain set in early and has displayed an adherence of which Emmott Robinson would have been proud. The umpires have announced an inspection for 11.00 and the only thing they can possibly be considering is whether the day's play should be abandoned.
If so, Messrs. Kettleborough and Hartley could spend their afternoon reading Yorkshire's 2021 Yearbook. After all, they are both in it, as is every other cricketer who has represented the White Rose in a first-class game. The 123rd edition arrived in the Roy Kilner auditorium -why not press box? - yesterday and, as usual, it occupies a smaller area than its counterparts in other counties and is also much less glossy, but it contains far more pages. In other words it is a proper book and should Yorkshire think of changing the format the consequent uprising would make the Pilgrimage of Grace look like a philatelists' outing.
As ever, the Yearbook is a fine read, as much for its articles as its extraordinary quantity of statistics. The most sombre section is the obituaries which, this year, include my tribute to a Yorkshireman who never played a first-class game yet whose contribution to the game should be better known, particularly in a summer when "engagement" is a buzz-word and women's cricket becomes stronger by the week. What follows is an edited and also augmented version of that obituary and another moment of quiet fame for Peter Sutcliffe:
To play cricket for any of Yorkshire's senior teams in the 20th century required a degree of dedication and self-denial roughly comparable to that normally demanded from a Jesuit priest. The vast majority of players were excluded, of course. Until 1992 only those cricketers born within the county boundaries were eligible for selection. But that requirement was easily satisfied by Peter Sutcliffe who was born in Halifax in 1932 and died in January, aged 88, after a life largely devoted to playing cricket, coaching the game and watching it as closely as anyone in the land.
Sutcliffe represented Yorkshire's second team from 1951 to 1954, taking 67 wickets with his off-spinners at a cost of 19 runs apiece. They were summers in which the White Rose's reserves would have given at least half the first-class counties a good match, and while he never played for Yorkshire's first team it is easy to see how those years fostered a love for the sport which was complemented by a serious, very occasionally gruff, exterior. Cricket mattered a great deal to Peter. It was plainly one of the best things God had given to the world and dilettantes who thought it only a game were beyond salvation.
He also played a great deal of league cricket at a high level but after national service in Cyprus he went to Loughborough and trained as a PE teacher. Newly qualified, he taught in Watford and played minor counties cricket for Hertfordshire. Sutcliffe then moved into further education, training young teachers in Birmingham and Southport, and playing as often his career allowed. For much of this period he had been closely involved with the English Schools Cricket Association and in 1971 he was appointed the first director of coaching at the National Cricket Association.
By that time Sutcliffe had joined the Staffordshire club, Bignall End, where his good friend, Jack Ikin, the former Lancashire and England all-rounder, was playing. Recognising his coaching ability, Ikin had encouraged his team-mate to apply for the NCA job, which was originally based at Lord's. What followed was the most productive and important stage of Sutcliffe's career.
Rather than appointing an ex-county player who was keen to stay in the game, the NCA had given their most important coaching post to a professional educator, someone prepared to innovate with the aim of broadening cricket's appeal. Sutcliffe set up the proficiency award scheme and insisted on equal opportunities being given to girls in primary school cricket. He wrote coaching books and devised courses for the various awards that aspiring coaches might earn. He cleared a path which his successors at the England and Wales Cricket Board have smoothed and modified; it is his most significant legacy to the game he loved beyond measure.
And, of course, he continued to play cricket as often as he could. There were six seasons at Formby in the mid-70s and minor counties appearances for Cumberland and Cheshire. In 1966 Sutcliffe even played two games for Lancashire's second team, the last of them against Yorkshire at Old Trafford. On the first morning of the match he ran into his old coach, the redoubtable Arthur "Ticker" Mitchell, one of Headingley's Superior Generals. Mitchell was still in charge at Yorkshire and so he enquired, in somewhat unparliamentary language, what exactly his former charge thought he was doing by "playing for this lot". Undaunted, Sutcliffe took six for 43 against a team containing three future Test cricketers.
But his dealings with Mitchell were not quite over. In the early 1970s Peter was watching his son, Simon, playing at Scarborough against a Yorkshire team. Mitchell was also present at the game and asked Peter if Simon might consider going to Headingley for a trial. Sutcliffe replied that his son was ineligible for such an opportunity; Simon had been born in Watford because Peter's wife, Pat, had not been enamoured of the suggestion that she should travel some 150 miles in the latter stages of her pregnancy simply to satisfy the possible requirements of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. To most men it would have seemed a reasonable explanation but Ticker had no truck with such negligence. "Nay, lad," he mourned, "I'd have thought better o'thee than that."
And that is where Peter Sutcliffe's story ends and also where it continues. For unlike his father, Simon Sutcliffe became a professional county cricketer who represented Warwickshire for three years before moving into teaching while also coaching and playing the recreational game to a high level. In recent seasons, as Master-in-Charge of cricket at Merchant Taylors' School, Crosby, he has played an important role in the development of Tom Hartley and George Lavelle, both of whom made their first-class debuts for Lancashire last summer.
"Pass it on, boys. That's the game I wanted you to learn," says Hector in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys If one was not on the verge of tears by that stage of the play, one would be inclined to cheer. Hector's words are a reminder that inheritance is about more than blood and money; it concerns choice, responsibility, guardianship. Peter Sutcliffe could never see the full results of his coaching or his initiatives, much less will he be able to follow the careers of Lavelle and Hartley. But if we value what we see, it is plainly right that we should preserve it for others to love as well. This is not the worst thing to remember on a wet May morning in Leeds as we prepare for a summer of change and, some might say, threat.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications