He never gave in easily

Bob Appleyard, who passed away recently, began his career late due to World War II, and became the only bowler ever to take 200 wickets in his first full season. By Ted Corbett.

When Bob Appleyard died aged 90 recently he was, typical of the man, planning his second wedding, drawing up ideas for his next 10 years and, if all accounts are correct, wearing a frown.

He had plenty to frown about. His life was troubled from his childhood, his cricket career was brief and almost destroyed by illness, he had to fight a long battle in court against that unpleasant newspaper tycoon and politician Robert Maxwell after being sacked and — to be frank — he may have had admirers among his former team-mates but none of them wanted to call him friend.

One of them said when Appleyard died: “I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but bloody hell he was a difficult man.”

I am told that his arrival cleared the lounge at his golf club because no one wanted to play with him. The members included some of the greatest cricketers who have ever lived but none of them could find any joy in a few hours on the golf course with this tall, rangy, ornery man.

You could excuse him because one day his father sent him to see his grandfather. When Bob returned — it was just before World War II — he found his dad and his siblings dead. His father had suffered in World War I and did not want to inflict that same suffering on his offspring.

Imagine the traumatic effect on a teenager.

For all that, Appleyard must be regarded as a great England and Yorkshire cricket hero. He began his career late due to World War II, and became the only bowler ever to take 200 wickets in his first full season. Soon afterwards he contracted pleurisy and then TB which kept him out of the game for three years and in a Swiss hospital — paid for by Yorkshire — for six months.

That illness wasted his muscles even though he took a cricket ball to Switzerland and squeezed it repeatedly to keep up his strength but when he recovered Appleyard was bowling well enough to be chosen for the 1954-5 tour of Australia. It helped that Len Hutton, a Yorkshireman, led that tour.

Appleyard soon saw the conditions Down Under did not suit his swing and seam at fast medium so, behind Hutton’s back, he developed dip and cut and was able to play a major part in the series backing up the fast bowlers Frank Tyson and Brian Statham.

Of course he ought to have gone on to have a long, prosperous county and Test career, but by 1958 Yorkshire — who never kept a player they had doubts about — did not offer him terms and his career was finished.

Never one to give in easily — “we Appleyards never give in, it’s like our family motto” he told a daughter who has just proved herself as intractable as her father — he retrained in the printing trade where Maxwell sacked him on a pretext but had to give Appleyard best just before the start of a court case. Appleyard won the case while Maxwell paid the costs of both sides.

This stubborn man — even Maxwell grudgingly admired his Yorkshire stamina — wrote a book in which he outlined all the ill-fortune that had haunted his childhood and his cricket. To say he was a difficult man was to put it mildly but the Yorkshire side, used to men ranging from the bloody-minded to the hostile, coped because he was such a great bowler.

He defied captains, he refused to surrender the ball when he thought he ought to be bowling and as a young bowler Ray Illingworth found himself sent to field in the deep. “I’m bowling here,” Appleyard told the man who would later become England captain. “Now you run off and do some fielding.”

I know most of the men in this tale and, believe me, they can all be obstreperous. Listen to Geoff Boycott on the radio now and you may understand what I mean. Put politely they are strong minded. I also met Johnny Wardle, the slow left-arm genius who was eventually sacked by Yorkshire, who was just as disruptive, although I found him charming and courteous and even kindly.

Which brings me to a new question.

Now that Kevin Pietersen is clearly available for any side that cares to sign him, why have Yorkshire not invited him to join them? It cannot be because he has had difficulties in the recent past. I don’t believe that would stop them. They might even relish the idea.

Perhaps the champion county feel there is no place for him. Perhaps the knowledge that he will spend most of his time with England has put them off. Perhaps, typical of Yorkshiremen, they are waiting for the perfect moment before they strike. Perhaps they don’t think he should win back his place.

They are a race apart, looked on with amazement by the rest of English cricket, capable at their best of beating a strong Australian tour side, sure their aggressive way of playing is the only way and astonished that other counties try to be different.

“That Colin Cowdrey,” Fred Trueman once said to me, “he would have been a much greater batsman if only he had played for a proper county.” Then he paused. “I mean Yorkshire.”

KP would add a dimension to the side — just as Appleyard and Wardle did — because he is a great player but he may have upset too many people.

I would still like to see him back for England — and maybe for Yorkshire, a nature park for the oddball cricketer.