What’s the fuss?

The signing of West Indian captain Richie Richardson, as a replacement for Sachin Tendulkar, has stirred a controversy.

Published : Sep 20, 2017 15:57 IST

Richie Richardson announced that he would try his best to produce the goods for Yorkshire as he fulfilled his long-time dream to play county cricket.
Richie Richardson announced that he would try his best to produce the goods for Yorkshire as he fulfilled his long-time dream to play county cricket.

Richie Richardson announced that he would try his best to produce the goods for Yorkshire as he fulfilled his long-time dream to play county cricket.

I have asked dozens of players and officials at Headingley what they made of Sachin Tendulkar; somehow I never found the time to ask what he thought of Yorkshire or Yorkshiremen generally.

The truth is that they are odd. I know. I was brought up among them, although I will never be like them, understand them or be accepted by them. 

I was born in Birmingham and, as the world knows no man can be a Yorkshireman unless he is born within what they love to call The County of Broad Acres.

Once I used to report Yorkshire’s matches for the Daily Mirror  and during a match at Taunton I was summoned to help the county play a traditional Somerset skittles match. Imagine nine-pin bowling in a stone passageway 12 yards long, with a bowl that weighs a ton and skittles that rock but rarely fall.

The player who recruited me explained Yorkshire were short of a man. “You go on last and don’t forget, lad, we’re depending on you,” he said with the same intensity that George (”We’ll get ’em in singles”) Hirst must have used to impress young Wilfred Rhodes at the Oval in 1902 as they made 15 for the last wicket and so beat the Australians.

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To cut the story short, 1 threw the last bowl and won the match. “Well done, lad,” said my mentor. “That’ll give thee summat to tell thee grandchildren. Winning a match for Yorkshire. Well done — a true Yorkshireman if ever I saw one.” I protested: “I’m not a Yorkshireman really. I was born in Birmingham, not far from Edg...” But the sentence trailed away as his face grew angry. He did not say much, except that he would rather have sacrificed the match, his new-born child or his last drop of blood rather than allow an alien to masquerade as a Yorkshireman. He has not spoken to me since; but then 20 years is not a long time in a young man’s life and perhaps he will forgive me one day. Frankly I doubt it.

The television commentator Jack Bannister recalls a similar example. He walked out to bat as No. 10 in Warwickshire’s second innings. It was before lunch on the second day of a three-day championship game and only the highest, longest innings of Bannister’s life could save his side.

“I got to the wicket and I had to ask the umpire for leg stump three times because of the noise. There was a fight going on because a catch had been dropped that morning, the field settings were all wrong, the wrong bowlers were on at the wrong ends and why wasn’t the match over yet? And they were about to win by an innings!” The noise has been just as loud last week. Those same people who disturbed Bannister’s concentration 30 years ago have been fighting once again and I guess the rest of the world barely understood what the shouting was all about. Yorkshire had just signed the West Indies captain Richie Richardson to take the place of young Sachin despite an interest from Durham and even though, at 30 Richardson had played no county cricket until he was sure he could do himself justice.

For most counties it would have been a triumph. For Yorkshiremen — who call themselves Tykes, a synonym for rascals, imps or mischief-makers — it was simply the cue for a stand-up, knock-down, boots and all rough and tumble. On the one side Fred Trueman, Ray Illingworth, a minority of the Yorkshire cricket committee and approximately half the county. They argued that Yorkshire’s main priority should have been a fast bowler even though there is no one in the Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan, Joel Garner class around, particularly since Craig McDermott let Yorkshire down at the start of last summer.

On the other side, backing the belief that Richardson was the right man, were the Yorkshire president Sir Lawrence Byford, once chief constable of the county, Geoff Boycott and Yorkshire Television who were again to foot the £30,000 bill, a majority of the Yorkshire cricket committee and the other half of the county. The announcement was made as the old timers gathered at the studios of Yorkshire TV to pay tribute to their former teammate Dickie Bird, now England’s most revered umpire. (If you want to discuss the further odd behaviour of Yorkshiremen you could do worse than have five minutes with Mr. Bird, who was sacked by Yorkshire a few days after he made the highest score of his career, keeps peacocks, survived the World Cup in India and Pakistan on a diet of Mars bars and lives on his own. Apart from the peacocks, that is).

With such a gathering outside their doors, the TV reporters were bound to ask what each man thought of this new signing. Illingworth demanded the resignation of the entire committee and Trueman growled that he blamed “bloody Boycott who seems to bloody get what bloody Boycott wants.”

Brian Close, chairman of the committee that authorised the signing of Richardson even though Close voted against the proposal, threatened to resign only to think better of his decision the following day when Trueman, now no longer a committee man, announced he would “work 24 hours a day for the club I love” if that would restore it to glory.

Sachin Tendulkar at Yorkshire.

This last remark was seen as a clear invitation to vote Trueman into the presidency which will shortly fall vacant if both sides combine — as they sometimes promise — to get rid of Sir Lawrence who, so they say, exhibits too many of the characteristics of his former profession to be popular.

It occurs to me that if Yorkshire elect Trueman president, he might follow the thoughts of former U.S. President Harry Truman and command those who can’t stand the heat to get out of the kitchen. But no true Yorkshireman could stand such a slight and the kitchen would rapidly become overcrowded.

Richardson, wise man, contrived to stay well above the storm. He announced that he was indifferent to the controversy, that he would try his best to produce the goods for Yorkshire as he fulfilled his long-time dream to play county cricket just like Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Des Haynes and that when his one-year contract was done he hoped to sign a longer deal.

Richardson will receive around £38,000 for his summer’s work in a package that rivals Chris Lewis £50,000 from Nottinghamshire and Waqar Younis’ performance-related £70,000 from Surrey. I have no doubt that the Yorkshiremen will find that this determined man is worth every penny. So what’s all the fuss about? A desperate desire to get back to the top of the championship table, a place they might occupy now if they had had the strength in bowling to knock over the tail of four counties who were beaten but refused to collapse. Perhaps it is Yorkshire pride; or feeling sick listening to the old guys saying that no modern cricketer is any good; or frustration that once the county was so great. Now it is cricket dead.

Once you could sit anywhere on a Yorkshire ground and be sure that the man — or woman — next to you would know his/her cricket lore and laws, go to any village green and see a cunning slow left-arm bowler or ask someone on the bus from Leeds railway station to Headingley “what’s the score” and know he would tell you how Yorkshire were faring.

Now the club that once had 12,000 members struggles on 8,000, the bus no longer runs from City Square to Headingley every five minutes on match days and the team are all good pals.

Richardson won’t prove he is worth more than a bowler unless he can only get them fighting and even then they will only remember that he was not born in the county.

This article was published in The Sportstar of September 26, 1992.

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