The personification of Yorkshire cricket, 1970

Emmott Robinson

Sir Neville Cardus

Emmott Robinson, who was born on November 16, 1883 and died on November 17, 1969, played for Yorkshire from 1919 to 1931 and afterwards became a first-class umpire.

Emmott Robinson was as Yorkshire as Ilkley Moor or Pudsey. He was the personification of Yorkshire cricket in one of its greatest periods, the 1920s, when the county appeared to look forward towards winning the Championship by a sort of divine right. He came to first-class cricket in his late thirties -- and thrive he did, though bandy.

Statistics tell us little of his essential self; in twelve seasons he scored 9,444 runs and took 892 wickets. Many cricketers have surpassed these figures; few have absorbed the game, the Yorkshire game, into their systems, their minds, nerves and bloodstreams, as Emmott did. Yorkshire cricket was, for him, a way of living, as important as stocks and shares.

With Rhodes he established the unwritten Constitution of Yorkshire cricket, the skipper content to serve in a consultative capacity. Nowadays we hear much of the supposition to the effect that first-class cricket in recent years has become more scientific than of yore. To speak the truth, there are few players of our latest modern times who would not seem to be as innocent as babes talking tactics and know-how in the company of Rhodes and Emmott.

It was these two shrewd men who evolved -- with rival competition from Makepeace and Co. in Lancashire -- the protective philosophy: how to close a game up, how to open it out, how to stifle the spin on a sticky wicket with the dead bat. "Loose grip on top of 'andle," said Emmott.

The shrewdness, humour, and uninhibited character of North of England life was marvellously revealed and fulfilled in Yorkshire v. Lancashire matches of the 1920s. Gates closed at noon; 30,000, even 40,000, partisan spectators watching. Watching for what? Bright cricket? Not on your life.

"We've won the toss," Harry Makepeace would announce in the Lancashire professionals' dressing-room. "Now lads, no fours before lunch." And Emmott Robinson was already polishing the new ball, holding it up to the light of day, as though investigating an egg. He bowled outswingers; for in his heyday the lbw rule rendered inswing more or less harmless. He swung the ball from middle and leg, compelling a stroke of some sort.

He was shocked if anybody wasted the new ball. After he had bowled the first over, he would personally carry the new ball, in cupped hands, to the bowler at the other end.

At Bradford in 1920, he took nine wickets in an innings against Lancashire. At a crisis for Yorkshire too! Lancashire needed only 52 to win, six wickets in hand. Then Emmott turned the game round violently. For some reason or other, I did not, in my report of the match, praise Emmott in generous enough language. I was not a convert to seam bowling in those days; and am not a bigoted convert yet. When Emmott next met me he said, "Ah suppose if Ah'd tekken all ten Lanky's wickets, tha'd have noticed me."

As a batsman he exploited pad-play to perfection. Remember that the lbw law of Emmott's halcyon years permitted a batsman to defend with his pads a ball pitching outside the off stump. If any young greenhorn, batting for Yorkshire or Lancashire, were to be bowled by an off break, he received severe verbal chastisement. "What dos't think thi pads are for?" was Emmott's outraged inquiry.

Emmott was one of the pioneer students of the green wicket and its habits. One day, at Headingley, rain soaked the field, then the sun shone formidably. After lunch Emmott and Rhodes walked out to inspect the pitch. Arrived there, Rhodes pressed the turf with a forefinger and said, "It'll be sticky at four o'clock, Emmott." Whereat Emmott bent down and also pressed the turf with a forefinger. "No, Wilfred," he said, "half-past".

These grand Yorkshiremen in general, and Robinson in particular, never were consciously humorous. Emmott was a terribly serious man. He could not, as Freddie Trueman did, play for a laugh. One summer at Lord's, Yorkshire got into dire trouble against Middlesex. During a tea interval I ran into Emmott. "Hey dear," he growled, "fancy, just fancy Yorkshire getting beat by Middlesex. And wheer is Middlesex? Is it in Lundin?" A far reaching question; because London swamps county boundaries and identities. We know what county means in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Emmott merged his ability as a cricketer into the Yorkshire XI entirely; by sheer power of will he added a technical stature which, elsewhere, might not have amounted to much. A celebrated Indian batsman, introduced to Rhodes in Rhodes's wonderfully blind old age, said he was honoured to meet so great a cricketer. "Nay," said Wilfred, "Ah never considered myself a Star. I were just a good utility man."

Thus might Emmott have spoken; no part, no individual, was greater than the part of any Yorkshire team. "Aye," Emmott once reminded me, "and we are all born and bred Yorksheer. And in thy county, tha's tekken in Ted McDonald. A TASMANIAN, mind you," as though a Tasmanian was beyond the pale.

He maintained an average of round about 24 while compiling more than 9,000 runs in his years of active service. The point about his use of the bat, aided and abetted by the broadest pads procurable, is that every stroke he ventured to make was part of a plan, designed to win the match for Yorkshire or save it.

I imagine that in all his days in the sun and rain, his keen eyes were as constantly on the clock as on the score-board. But, in the field, crouching close to the bat, he missed nothing. A lordly batsman who could hit, asked Emmott to move away a little, for the sake of self-preservation. "Thee get on with thi laikin', and Ah'll get on with mine," retorted Emmott--and for the benefit of the uninitiated I herewith translate: laikin' means playing; get on with thy playing.

As I write this tribute to Emmott Robinson, with as much affection as admiration, I am bound in fairness to memory of him, to recount an incident at Old Trafford in 1927. The wicket prepared in those days, for the Lancashire and Yorkshire match, was a batsman's sleeping bed stuffed with runs. Match after match was unfinished -- none the less, a grim fight for first-innings points (78,617 rabid Lancastrians and Yorkshiremen paid to watch the Lancashire v. Yorkshire match at Old Trafford in 1926, fours before lunch or no fours).

Over after over did Emmott resist on this occasion in time and space, when he was, with Rhodes, salvaging his county. Suddenly, for no reason, in fact, as he later admitted, against all reason, he indulged in a most elegant late-cut towards third man. So transfixed was he by this stroke that he stood there contemplating it. And when he emerged from the realm of aesthetic contemplation to the world of unescapable reality, Wilfred Rhodes was on his doorstep and was run out. Consequently Yorkshire lost. "Fancy," he said sorrowfully to me (years after), "fancy. What could Ah'ave been thinkin' about? Me and mi cuts! But, mind you, Wilfred should never'ave come runnin' down the pitch. Runs didn't matter with game in that sta-ate. They counted for nowt." He was an economist. "Must not waste new ball."

One Saturday Yorkshire batted all day at Lord's, scoring 350 or thereabouts. Sunday morning was drenching, a thunderstorm cleared up by noon, followed by dazzling sun. In Hyde Park near four o'clock I came upon Robinson and Rhodes. "A lovely afternoon," I said to them, in greeting. "Aye," snapped Emmott, "and a sticky wicket wa-astin' at Lord's."

He was richly endowed by native qualities of character, and gave himself, heart and soul and with shrewd intelligence, to Yorkshire cricket. That's why he is remembered yet; that's why no statistics can get to the value of him. The score-board cannot reflect human nature, Yorkshire human nature, in action. He was not named Emmott Robinson for nothing.

© John Wisden & Co