Graham Stevenson

Graham Stevenson was a cricketer of abundant natural gifts, who nevertheless found fulfilment elusive. Not that he would have spent too long fretting: consistency came second to fun. But there was no doubting his talent

Graham Stevenson in 1979

Graham Stevenson was an England allrounder known for his quality swing bowling and clean hitting  •  PA Photos

STEVENSON, GRAHAM BARRY, who died on January 21, aged 58, was a cricketer of abundant natural gifts, who nevertheless found fulfilment elusive. Not that he would have spent too long fretting: consistency came second to fun. But there was no doubting his talent.
Whether bowling fast-medium with the ability to move the ball both ways, hitting with clean, electrifying power down the order, or catching out unwary batsmen with fast, flat throws from the boundary, Stevenson was cherished by Yorkshire supporters and team-mates alike. His uncomplicated bonhomie was a refreshing antidote to the poison that often polluted the Yorkshire dressing-rooms of the 1970s and 1980s. "There would be a rollicking being dished out to somebody," recalled Jim Love, "and suddenly Graham would say something and instantly we would all be in fits of laughter."
Stevenson grew up in the pit village of Ackworth, and found a mentor in the most famous resident of neighbouring Fitzwilliam. "I'd known him since he was a young lad and he'd bowled at me regularly in the nets at Ackworth," said Geoffrey Boycott. Later, when Stevenson had graduated to the first team, and Boycott was Yorkshire's captain, he was unstinting in his support - even to the extent of tolerating Stevenson's practical jokes.
His career contained flashes of brilliance: in 1978, he took eight for 65 in Lancashire's first innings at Headingley, and eight in the match in the return fixture. His dynamism was noted beyond Yorkshire, and he was selected for England's short post-Packer tour of Australia in 1979-80. He did not play in the three Tests, although there was a quintessential Stevenson moment when, with a well-timed nudge, he caused the collapse of the back row just as the team photograph was about to be taken.
He made his international debut in a one-dayer at Sydney, taking four for 33 (including Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh) as Australia were bowled out for 163. At 129 for eight, England were making a mess of the chase, when Stevenson joined David Bairstow under the SCG lights. "Evening lad, we can piss this," were Bairstow's words of welcome, as if channelling the spirit of Hirst and Rhodes at The Oval in 1902. It was no mere bravado: Stevenson crashed an unbeaten 28 from 18 balls to secure victory.
He played just once more in Australia, but did win a cap when the team stopped off in Bombay for the Golden Jubilee Test. That match is remembered for Ian Botham's century and 13 wickets and, next winter, with Botham now England captain, Stevenson was selected to tour the West Indies. The pair were old buddies, having spent the winter of 1976-77 together playing for the University club in Melbourne. On the field, in those early days, Stevenson had slightly more success, but both threw themselves into the social life - Stevenson was a spectator at the bar-room confrontation between Botham and Ian Chappell that began their long-running feud - and they were used as net bowlers when England arrived for the Centenary Test.
It was with Botham that Stevenson was most often compared. "They both had this great natural ability," said Chris Old. But Stevenson lacked Botham's self-belief, nor could he disguise a weakness against real pace. In the Caribbean in 1980-81, Stevenson played in the Fourth Test in Antigua - taking three for 111 in the first innings - and in the one-dayers in St Vincent and Guyana, but was never summoned for international duty again. For Yorkshire, however, there remained plenty of highlights. At Edgbaston in 1982 he and Boycott shared a last-wicket stand of 149 that remains a county record.
His contribution was 115 (at the time the highest undefeated score by a No. 11) and, to mounting glee in the dressing-room, he rapidly accelerated past his partner, who had opened. "All the time the fascinating prospect existed that when he got out, an opening batsman was going to carry his bat for an appreciably lower total than that scored by the No. 11," Jack Bannister wrote in the Birmingham Post.
Eventually, Boycott was the man out, for 79. "As a batsman Graham had wonderful timing; he could hit the ball into areas where people did not realise it could be hit," said Old. Boycott added: "He could play inside out, and do it with consummate ease." In a Sunday League game against Somerset at Middlesbrough in 1984, Stevenson blasted 81 off 29 balls, with ten sixes, and launched an aerial bombardment on the press and scorers. "You dared not look down to make a note," remembered David Warner of The Yorkshire Post.
His fielding was also a thing of wonder. "I remember him running out Kapil Dev at Worcester," said Boycott. "He was ambling back for what he thought was an easy two, and when Graham's throw came in he was comfortably out." It is easy to speculate how good he could have become with a more dedicated approach, but Warner believes greater discipline might have robbed him of his explosive spontaneity: "He was just a happy-golucky cricketer with immense talent." His relaxed approach was underlined when he told a Middlesex opponent before one Championship game that his two most crucial items of kit were in his car - his snooker cue and golf clubs.
Against Northamptonshire at Headingley in 1980 he took eight wickets but then, to the astonishment of all, left the field to change his shirt. "It genuinely would not have crossed his mind that he was on to take all ten," said Love. On away trips, Stevenson was everyone's favourite evening companion, so much so that he was never afforded the luxury of a quiet night with his feet up.
But, for all his popularity, there was bitterness at the manner of his departure: Yorkshire did not renew his contract at the end of the 1986 season, thus denying him a benefit. He played briefly for Northamptonshire, but retired in 1987 with 488 wickets at just under 29, and 3,965 runs at 20. He also took 307 one-day wickets. He tried his hand at various jobs, including scaffolder, bailiff and milkman. His later years were plagued by ill health. His local church at Ackworth was packed for his funeral, with many former players travelling from afar. Boycott was not surprised. "I have never met anyone who could lift a dressing room like Graham."