Ee by gum yon SachinMartin Chandler |
It wasn’t a tradition I ever liked, as it gave the Yorkies something to crow about. Growing up in the 1970s whenever the buggers beat us they always used it as a reason to make their wins all the more impressive, and on those few occasions when they lost as a Lancastrian you were made to feel like it was only because of Clive Lloyd and Farokh Engineer that we had succeeded. I am referring, of course, to the time honoured requirement that to be eligible to play cricket for Yorkshire a man had to have been born within the county’s boundaries.
Prior to 1991 only 29 men born outside the Broadacres had ever played for Yorkshire. Two were England captains. Ironically enough the first of those was the man who is remembered as the father of Yorkshire cricket, Martin Bladen Hawke, who eventually became the 7th Baron Hawke of Towton. The maintenance of the county’s traditions was of enormous importance to Hawke. He himself was born in Lincolnshire whilst his parents were temporarily absent from the family seat in Tadcaster, but there was never any question of his not being permitted to play for Yorkshire.
Rony Stanyforth, like Hawke an Old Etonian and a captain of England in South Africa, was born in London, but again like Hawke his family were irrefutably Yorkshire to the core. Yet another Old Etonian was William Harbord who played briefly in the early 1930s. He was born in Rutland but had strong Yorkshire connections and in later life was on the county committee for many years. Everard Radcliffe was born in Devon but his family had lived near Knaresborough for generations. In 1911 he was Yorkshire captain.
A pattern becomes apparent that the tradition was not quite so strict where amateurs were concerned, and indeed the only post war member of the band of 29 was from a similar background, although when Geoffrey Keighley made his debut in 1947 the club were apparently unaware that he had been born in the south of France. Another Old Etonian from an established Yorkshire family when the truth came out Keighley’s birthplace did not prove to be an issue.
That professionals did not get the same latitude is best illustrated by the case of Lancashire and England medium pace bowler Ciss Parkin. Parkin made his County Championship debut for Yorkshire in 1906. But then it was discovered he had been born twenty yards away from the Durham border, and that was that. Parkin went on to be a key member of the Lancashire side that won the 1926 County Championship.
Over the years Yorkshire’s primacy against the counties never suffered as a result of their insistence on only using home grown talent. The Championship as an organised competition is now regarded as having begun in 1890, the beginning of what soon became known as the game’s ‘Golden Age’. Surrey won five of the first six titles but by the time the Great War brought down the curtain on the First Class game for four years Yorkshire had won nine times and were the most successful of the counties in that era. Between the wars there were twelve titles for the White Rose, three more than their rivals managed between them. In the 1950s Surrey won an unprecedented seven consecutive titles, but that didn’t alter the fact that between 1946 and 1968 Yorkshire won more titles than anyone else, taking eight championships against Surrey’s seven, with both counties on one other occasion sharing the title.
The 1960s was a vintage period for Yorkshire. In that 1968 season they could call upon the services of as many as 14 past, current or future England players. But it was the end of an era. At the end of the summer Fred Trueman retired, and Ray Illingworth was allowed to leave when the county refused to break with another of their great traditions, that being never to give any player a contract for longer than twelve months. 1968 was also the first season when counties could register overseas players who had not lived within the county for a period of at least two years. That was of no direct interest to Yorkshire of course, but indirectly it did mean that their sides had to deal with the likes of Garry Sobers, Mike Procter, Barry Richards and Rohan Kanhai as well as the best of the rest of the English players.
If truth be told the supporters of all the other counties were envious of Yorkshire and their rule about only playing men who were born within the county’s boundaries. Lancashire did do better than most, but come the arrival of Wisden every April, and that convenient list of birthplaces in the County Championship averages, even though you could generally find eleven men born in Lancashire they wouldn’t amount to a particularly strong side. To make it worse the incomers generally contained a few Yorkshiremen, Barry Wood and Glen Chapple being the most notable, but there have been plenty of others.
No doubt in part as a result of this jealousy every other county played harder against Yorkshire. They were seldom given anything, and runs and wickets against the White Rose were valued above those earned against the other counties. Public interest in seeing the Yorkshiremen humbled was high, and in the days when the cornerstone of a beneficiary’s fund was the gate money from his chosen fixture, it was frequently the match against Yorkshire that was chosen.
In 1969 Yorkshire won the Gillette Cup, but that masked a remarkable decline. In the real competition, the County Championship, they slipped to 13th, their lowest ever finish, and it was to be years before they recovered. In 1983 they finished last, a source of much gloating to the west of the Pennines. In 1970 Brian Close, who had led the county to four titles and two Gillette Cups in eight years, was deposed. Close went off to transform the fortunes of Somerset. Back in Yorkshire things changed with his departure, the late writer and Test Match Special commentator Don Mosey observing afterwards the pride disappeared, disintegrated. As the last few members of the 1960s team drifted away into retirement or to other counties, sickened by the new regime, Yorkshire became a company of bit part extras supporting the starring role of one individual.
‘The Alderman’ as he was known to all his listeners, was of course referring to Geoffrey Boycott. In time a degree of internal peace was restored and Boycott’s retirement as a player in 1986 took the single most divisive element out of the dressing room. The players started to look forward and suggested to the committee that it was time to employ an overseas player. The reaction from the rank and file was predictable. Mosey spoke for most when he thundered no one could doubt any longer that the last vestige of Yorkshire cricket pride had gone.
Mosey’s heroes, Trueman, Close and Illingworth stood four square with him on that one. Their complaint was centred around their own achievements. After all in 1963 their Yorkshire side had beaten Frank Worrell’s West Indians, and in 1968 Bill Lawry’s Australians had been beaten by an innings by a side led by Trueman. Yorkshire had also beaten the 1965 New Zealanders and 1967 Indians and the veterans of those encounters could not understand their successors’ belief that they needed the help of an overseas star to beat other counties when they themselves had regularly seen Test sides off..
Concerns at the county’s inability to compete at the highest level led to two occasions in the 1980s when the vexed question was put to the membership. On both occasions the vote against signing an overseas player was overwhelming. On the field the travails continued. Only once in the 1980s did Yorkshire finish in the top half of the Championship, and then only just. By 1991, a season in which they were destined to finish 14th out of 17, sections of the committee were becoming desperate.
In the previous close season the idea had been floated that the decision to sign an overseas player should be that of the committee alone. The rationale was that because the ‘born in Yorkshire’ principle was a tradition, as opposed to anything enshrined in the Club’s constitution, then approval of the membership was unnecessary.
The unwieldy Yorkshire committee is a little like the House of Commons. The county is divided into constituencies and each has a representative who is elected by the membership. When the idea of a committee only appointment of an overseas player appeared more than one constituency had a vote on the issue. In each and every location where that was done the vote was the same as ever. The membership did not want the rule relaxed.
The day of destiny was fixed for Wednesday 10 July 1991 and Mosey, having been made aware of the way the wind was blowing used all his contacts to break the story which, on the Sunday beforehand, was run in a couple of the national papers. Mosey urged all the club’s members to lobby their representatives in the hope that they would not disregard the wishes of those that had elected them.
On that Wednesday the committee voted to sign an overseas player. The margin was fifteen votes to six, so a comfortable mandate. The man who was signed was the Australian pace bowler Craig McDermott. The decision was mocked by those who pointed out that due to Australia’s commitments he would be unavailable for the important games at the end of the summer, and the statements so vitriolic that legal action was threatened. In the end though McDermott needed an operation on a groin injury, so that put paid to that idea.
The traditionalists were furious. Mosey wrote of the committee, not only do I despise those craven creatures who seek to blame anyone but themselves but I do not trust them. How can one trust a committee which places legal expediency before moral obligation? How can one believe in the District representative who seeks the views of his members and then supports an entirely different concept? How can one support a Yorkshire team which includes an Australian! Within the same article he announced he would not be renewing his membership.
In March 1992 a 19 year old Indian received a call from Headingley, and a few days later Chris Hassell, the county’s CEO, flew out to Mumbai to obtain Sachin Tendulkar’s signature. By now Mosey had, by way of protest, taken out a membership at the newly First Class Durham. But despite the fact of an overseas signing being deeply unpopular there was no hostility shown towards Tendulkar, who was popular with players and public alike. In fact the signing helped to stem the loss of members, so Mosey’s gesture achieved little, although success on the field remained elusive. Yorkshire were a disastrous 16th in the Championship, just one place higher in the Sunday League and their interest in the two knock out tournaments did not last very long. Their overseas star recorded only a single century in the Championship with one in the Sunday League as well. Overall however Tendulkar averaged 46, and more importantly for him learnt a great deal about batting, as well as about himself.
For 1993 Yorkshire signed Richie Richardson as a replacement for Tendulkar. The experienced West Indian was rather less successful than his predecessor but Yorkshire’s summer was an improvement, progress being made in all competitions. Perhaps more significant were the other two men to appear for the county who had not been born within its borders. One was a ready made county player, Birmingham born and former Worcestershire left arm spinner Richard Stemp. The second, who appeared in two Championship matches was a product of Yorkshire, but had been born in Manchester of all places. In time Michael Vaughan would emulate Hawke and Stanyforth and captain England, and for a while he was one of the very best.
Don Mosey spent his declining years living near Morecambe in Lancashire. Sadly he did not live long enough to see Yorkshire finally win the title again in 2001, and my best endeavours to find out whether he ever made his peace with the county have not borne fruit, but I hope that by the time of his passing in 1999 he may have done so. The successful side comprised mainly men from within the county’s boundaries, but there was an overseas player, Australian Darren Lehmann, Scot Gavin Hamilton and as many as three Lancastrians in Vaughan, Steve Kirby and Scott Richardson.
The summer of 2001 was not the start of another run of Yorkshire dominance, but 2014 might yet prove to be. Two years ago Kane Williamson and Aaron Finch helped out the Yorkshiremen as overseas players and other non-locals were Gary Ballance (Zimbabwe), Jack Brooks (Oxford), Jack Leaning (Bristol) and Andy Hodd (Chichester). In 2015 they repeated the triumph. This time Chetashwar Pujara and Glenn Maxwell shared the overseas slot with Finch and the side was joined by Will Rhodes, a name redolent of the White Rose’s greatest triumphs, who was born in Nottingham.
Does this mean the old tradition has been consigned to history? It has to be likely, but there is certainly still an appetite for it. As recently as 2010 skipper Andrew Gale told The Wisden Cricketer; We are a squad of young players who have acquired a lot of valuable experience and want to be successful. I can feel the hunger. Most of the squad have come through the Yorkshire system and I’ve grown up with most of them. We’re not just cricketers, we’re friends and we enjoy one another’s company. “We’ve been brought up in Yorkshire, we know all about the tradition and the pride, and I’d love to see the day when once again we will field eleven Yorkshiremen. I dream of leading out a team of players born and bred in the county.”
Don Mosey would certainly have approved, but I can’t see it ever happening.