The Hard Yards

Published: 2016
Pages: 287
Author: Yardy, Michael
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
Rating: 4 stars

My earliest memories of watching cricket are of sitting with my father and watching Test matches on television in the 1960s. I’ve always loved the game, but in those days was a bit too young to fully appreciate all the nuances of the longest form of the game. So when limited overs cricket started to appear regularly I thoroughly enjoyed it, and always have, even if as I have matured my preference has been the First Class game. As for T20 I did struggle with that when it began, but over time the shortest form of the game has won me over as well.

Despite the enjoyment I get from List A and T20 cricket I have never found that the matches I watch linger long in the memory. I still have vivid memories of some of the cricket in the 1975 World Cup, and a couple of Lord’s finals from the early 1970s, but that apart the details are readily forgotten. The First Class game is different. I am one of those avid followers of the County Championship, constantly wanting score updates and reading all the reports I can find at the close of play, even in respect of games where the outcome matters little to me.

From my years of following the Championship I know Mike Yardy was a top order batsman from Sussex. I have perhaps noticed him more than some because he has a fine record against Lancashire, not something that would normally endear him to me, but the fact he has an even better record against Yorkshire is substantial mitigation. There are no numbers in The Hard Yards to confirm my memory, but a few clicks on cricketarchive was all it took. The career stats also tell me that an average of not even two First Class wickets for each of his sixteen summers make him nothing more than an occasional bowler.

Yardy never made the England Test side, although I do recall his name being thrown around occasionally. Despite that he did enjoy a decent England career, being selected for 28 ODIs and 14 T20 Internationals. The point he makes several times in his book, and is rightly immensely proud of, is that he is one of just eleven English cricketers to have been part of a world title winning side, the T20 World Cup in 2010. Six years ago I had not yet fully embraced the T20 age, so until I read The Hard Yards I had singularly failed to take on board the fact that the man who I thought of as a specialist batsman was, at international level, more appropriately described as a bowling all-rounder.

The Hard Yards is a cricketing autobiography, but one that travels a rather different road to the standard example of the genre, partly for the reason I have identified above, but mainly because it dwells at great length on Yardy’s mental health issues. As with Marcus Trescothick in 2008 and Graeme Fowler a few weeks ago Yardy has given a frank and compelling account of the manner in which his problems have affected his career and, at times, dominated it and dictated its course.

It is a long time since I read Trescothick’s book, but only a matter of days since Fowler’s arrived on my doorstep. It is striking how dissimilar Yardy’s and Fowler’s stories are, and without going back to Tres’ book my immediate recollection is that his was a subtly different pattern of symptoms as well. I find myself wondering whether depression is a single condition that manifests itself in a variety of ways, or whether it is just a catch all expression for a number of different conditions. Certainly Yardy’s struck me as the more severe in some ways. His paranoia when in Perth in 2008/09 that his rented home would be a target for burglars must have been disturbing, and a later battle with the illusion he had assaulted someone even more so. The book opens and ends with those issues and, in an excellent final chapter contributed by  Yardy’s wife Karin, she gives her account of the difficulties of living with depression. Her account makes it clear the battle has yet to be won.

As far as his cricket is concerned Yardy has a tendency to be self-deprecating throughout the book. The reality is he was a good batsman, and one of those who was probably at his best in the face of adversity. As for his successful limited overs career he wasn’t the man who put the bums on the seats, but as a bowler his economy rate is up with the very best, and there were runs from time to time as well.

One interesting, and possibly illuminating comment that Yardy makes relates to his ODI debut, against Pakistan in 2006. Wisden weren’t too complimentary about my action reports Yardy, but I have to say I am not so sure. The good book said he bowled flat and quick left arm spin reminiscent of a darts player peppering the treble 20. I have read the sentence several times but it still strikes me as being a testament to Yardy’s accuracy rather than any criticism of his bowling.

Most of The Hard Yards, as it should be, is taken up with its author’s life, but there are one or two interesting sidelights, not least of which is Yardy’s take on the match fixing scandal perpetrated at Sussex by Lou Vincent and Naved Arif. Rather more tantalising are the references to Monty Panesar’s travails, and the problems over his action that dogged Yardy’s great friend James Kirtley. Both subjects could very easily have been given much more attention, but Mike Yardy is far too decent a bloke to tell other people’s stories for them.

Having retired from the game at the end of last summer Yardy, who left school at 16, is now studying for a degree in Sports Psychology. As he acknowledges whatever practical expertise he may have in his subject it is not easy to embark on something as academic as a degree course from a standing start, but if anyone deserves to succeed he does and I wish him well. In the meantime we have this autobiography, which is an excellent read, and highly recommended.

A curious aspect of the book is that it contains what is the most glaring and, in all the circumstances, inexplicable factual error I have seen. In fact I suspect it must be deliberate, so I’m not going to disclose the detail other than to say it appears at the top of page 56 – to find out more you will need to buy The Hard Yards.

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