McGrath: youngest Yorkshire captain for 70 years

The success of Anthony McGrath causes the Channel 4 commentators to debate the pronunciation of his name endlessly.


Anthony McGrath's name is given full value, in Irish style, ending in the "th" sound. — Pic. TOM SHAW/ GETTY IMAGES-

MAY 26: The success of Anthony McGrath causes the Channel 4 commentators to debate the pronunciation of his name endlessly. Just in case you don't get the full picture yet McGrath's name is given full value, ending in the "th'' sound — the Irish way — unlike the shortened version used by the Australian fast bowler and bad mouth expert Glenn McGrath, who has Scottish ancestors. Eventually, even the former Australian opening batsman Michael Slater gets his tongue round the Yorkshire sounds. McGrath is the youngest captain of that county for 70 years; but only the sixth youngest of all time. The all-time youngest Lord Hawke, who begins all the Yorkshire traditions of only playing men born in the county which starts cricket to draw gamblers away from the sport — if that is the right word — of cock fighting. Hence the expression: "It beat cock fighting." The most charismatic captain is Brian Sellers, who takes charge of one of the toughest, most talented, most applauded Yorkshire sides at the age of 26 in 1933. He gets the job mainly because — in the custom of the times — he is just down from university, the son of rich parents and an amateur. The old pros in the team reckon they will carry on in the manner which makes them the favourites for the title every year. They will captain the side and leave the amateur who cannot bat or bowl or field very well to such arduous tasks as greeting the opposing side, making the toss and going on to the balcony to call in his batsmen when it was time for a declaration. They misjudge Mr. Sellers; captains are always ''Mister'' in the 1930s. In his first match he makes several unusual but well-timed bowling changes and when Bill Bowes, an England fast bowler approaches him before the second innings he gets a shock. "Don't bother with the quicker bowlers, Mr. Sellers," he says. "Hedley Verity will bowl 'em out." Sellers glowered in a way that Yorkshire players learned to know well in the next 40 years when he was captain and later chairman of the club. ''No, Bill,'' he replies. ''You'll bowl 'em out from the top end.'' And so it came to pass. Sellers loses none of his acerbic touch when he finishes as county captain in 1947. In 1959 Dickie Bird, later the most famous of all umpires, hit 181. I know. I watch every ball. He is dropped no fewer than 10 times — three times in as many overs in front of the sightscreen by the Test off-spinner Jim McConnon — by a Glamorgan side once famous for its fielding. It is, I promise you, a wretched innings. When he is out he is greeted at the bottom of the Bradford pavilion steps by Sellers. "All right," says Sellers. "I suppose you think you do well. I don't. We'll try to find you another county." Bird plays only one more time for Yorkshire and then spends five, largely unprofitable years, at Leicester. "When I was a kid, starting out, our dressing rooms were like a menagerie," one famous Yorkshire captain tells me. "Sellers set the tone with bad language and the rest pick it up.

"Rules us with a rod of iron — but we win one championship after another." Bowes calls him the best captain in the world. "He makes fewer mistakes than most and he always listens to advice," says Bowes. McGrath needs those words to run through his head if he is to emulate the feats of the remarkable Mr. Sellers.

May 27: Scotland rate alongside Nepal and Malaysia in the minds of English cricketers; but this summer the Scottish Saltires make everyone sit up and take notice in their first summer in the National League Division Two. (The Saltire is their treasured flag; the blue background and the white diagonal cross of St. Andrew). They win three of their four matches — against Durham, Middlesex and Lancashire — and sit comfortably close to the top of the League, a 45-over competition that replaces the Sunday League, except that it has matches spread across the whole week. They are a progressive organisation and recently persuade Ian Botham to act as their patron. His previous experience of Scotland is as a keen angler, an enthusiastic shot and a man known to enjoy a stimulating glass of their whisky. No doubt inspired by Botham's arrival, their main backer, a businessman Jim Lepik, hands over 10,000 pounds sterling so that the organisers can pay out-of-pocket expenses.

The players receive no other payment. "I'm an amateur too," says Rahul Dravid, now their pro, although he admits than when an Indian players reaches the Test side "rewards do get better'' and I guess he is being well paid for his services in the next three months. Despite this apparent lack of incentive the Scots beat Lancashire by 45 runs even though they drop three catches. It is a particularly tough two days for their 6 ft 6 in wicket-keeper Colin Smith. He is a postman which means early starts around dawn. On the day before he drives 130 miles from Aberdeen to Edinburgh for a club match after which he drives another 220 miles to Manchester. It is 3 a.m. before he gets to bed. After the victory he drives all the way home, gets to bed at 2.45 a.m. and is forced to rise again two hours later to deliver the post. Now that is an amateur.

May 28: Dennis Lillee and Geoff Boycott both turn up at Lord's; Lillee as part of a tour planned to advertise his new book and Boycott showing that his health is gradually improving. Good luck with the book DK; and even better luck to Boycs in his bid to resume a normal working life after as tough a battle with illness as anyone had had to face.

May 29: Graham Thorpe! What is the solution to the problems surrounding this most excellent of batsmen? I watch as Surrey beat Somerset in a 50-over Cheltenham and Gloucester cup-tie knowing that if Thorpe scores a double hundred he will not be in the England one-day squad or the Test team; and seeing evidence that he is probably the best middle order limited overs batsman in the world. Imagine Darren Lehmann at his best, dabbing the ball into the gaps; Sachin Tendulkar carving yet another century; Javed Miandad scooping the ball to unusual parts of the field; Michael Bevan planning each shot. Thorpe in this form can rival any of them. Yet his failure to keep his word about his availability means that the selectors cannot pick him. More's the pity. The Thorpe dilemma is certainly too much to hand to Michael Vaughan in his first few weeks as captain. Yet the side is inferior without him.

May 30: James Troughton is the grandson of Patrick Troughton, one of the actors who plays Dr. Who, in the sci-fi series that runs for years on BBC TV, but you can tell he is getting tired of all the references to his ancestor. "I'd like to be known as a cricketer,'' he says wistfully. There is a chance of that; only Graham Thorpe and David Gower in recent years are such a well-publicised left-handed bats ahead of their international debut. In the narrower world of cricket Troughton stirs hopes beyond anything his grandad achieves.

May 31: Rahul Dravid, who will not be playing as an amateur, joins Scotland on the day their most famous sports team Rangers complete a football treble by beating Dundee United in the final of the Scottish Cup. Speaking of football it appears that our cricketers rarely pass a day without thinking about the beautiful game, that Michael Vaughan is good enough to play somewhere in the Football League and that — as you will have no difficulty in visualising — Andrew Flintoff uses his height and bulk to play centre half in his early days. Now, he says, "most of the lads like a kick-about before training and a game to wind down after play.'' How many footballers bowl a few balls or try a big hit or two at the end of their high-profile, well-paid matches I wonder?

June 1: It's 50 years since we celebrate the first ascent of Everest by Edmond Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing. That summer of 1953 sees the return of the Ashes, the emergence of Peter May as a great batsman and produces whispers that there is a young schoolboy named Colin Cowdrey who may one day play for England.

Fifty years on, it's time we had more cause for joy. Maybe the arrival of James Troughton as a Test batsman and more hints that Bilal Shafayat will one day stand in Cowdrey's shoes.