Norman Yardley

The appointment of NORMAN WALTER DRANSFIELD NORMAN YARDLEY to the captaincy of England in 1947 set a crown upon a cricket career that promised distinction from very early days. Born at Barnsley on March 19, 1915, Norman Yardley had no family background of talent for cricket, but his own skill quickly became evident at St. Peter's School, York, where he was in the eleven for five years, and captain for the last two. The first season of his school captaincy, 1933, brought him extraordinary personal success, for he made 973 runs with an average of 88.45, three successive innings producing 127, 171, and 167 not out. He was also top of the bowling averages, taking 40 wickets with an average of 11.90. This remarkable form was responsible for an invitation to play for the Young Amateurs against the Young Professionals at Lord's, and Yardley introduced himself to representative cricket with an innings of 189. In this match, incidentally, he first met the companion of many cricketing occasions at home and abroad. Denis Compton, then aged 15, was playing for the Young Professionals. In addition to coaching at St. Peter's from S. M. Toyne, the headmaster, and from F. Roberts, the professional, Yardley also came under instruction from George Hirst at the Yorkshire nets, and in 1933 he had his first matches with the Yorkshire Colts. 1934 brought him another good season as school captain and selection for the Public Schools v. The Army at Lord's. Here he confirmed his capacity to rise to the important occasion with innings of 117 and 63, his century being the first ever recorded by a schoolboy against The Army.

From St. Peter's he went up to Cambridge University and won his Blue in his first season of 1935, though his performances were useful rather than exceptional. It was in 1936 that he became a power in University cricket, heading the Cambridge averages and playing a beautiful innings of 90 against Oxford. After seeing this display Sir Stanley Jackson urged Yardley upon the Yorkshire selection committee, and in August Yardley played ten innings for the county, making 309 runs, with 89 against Hampshire as his highest score. 1937 brought the expected development, with centuries against Sussex and Oxford for Cambridge, and 101 against Surrey in his vacation appearances for Yorkshire. In 1938 Yardley was Cambridge captain, though he would probably prefer to forget that his side did not win a single match throughout the season; but his personal performances were comforting enough and he was chosen for The Rest in the Test Trial. He had already played in unofficial Test match cricket during a tour of India with Lord Tennyson's team in 1937-38, and in 1938-39 he went to South Africa with the M. C. C. side under W. R. Hammond.

By the outbreak of war Yardley was established as one of the leading amateurs of the day, but his cricket had to give way to more vital engagements when he joined, in company with Hedley Verity, the 1st Battalion the Green Howards, with whom he served in India, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Sicily, Italy and Iraq. He was in the landings in Sicily, where Verity was mortally wounded, and he continued in the Italian campaign until January 1944, when he became a casualty. After discharge from hospital he rejoined the 1st Battalion, then in Iraq, and was posted to instructional duties until demobilisation.

1946 saw him back again in first-class cricket with a full season for Yorkshire, and he was appointed vice-captain to Hammond on the 1946-47 tour of Australia. There he became one of the notable successes, playing in every Test match and leading the side at Sydney when Hammond was unfit. In the home season of 1947 the England captaincy fell naturally upon him, and his own batting contributed a good deal towards winning the rubber against South Africa.

Yardley has now reached full stature as a cricketer, his quality as an international player proven both in technique and temperament. He has always brought to the game an attitude of enjoyment, but dilettante days are now behind him, and experience in the highest company has developed the concentration that means the difference between a care-free 50 and a match-winning 100. He is now a strength as well as an attraction in any batting side, and a cause is not likely to be counted lost with his innings still to be played. His batsmanship is an admirable mingling of business and pleasure. He watches the ball carefully and hits it hard, and is therefore as welcome in a Festival as in a Test match. Much of his run-getting is to the on, where no contemporary plays the forcing stroke more neatly or convincingly. He has the natural sense of balance of the good games player; and it is not without significance that he has found distinction in squash racquets and in hockey. As a cricketer his usefulness is not all with the bat, for he is a quick and reliable fielder in all positions and his bowling has the cardinal virtues of length and direction.

In captaincy he is of sanguine temperament and modest assurance. He has ideas without being opinionated, and he is as prepared to receive advice as to give it. He is himself in all circumstances and consequently enjoys the respect and confidence of his fellow-players. As the business appointment he has recently taken up will give him opportunity to play regular first-class cricket, he has only to maintain form to be an important England figure for some time to come. - J.M.K.

© John Wisden & Co