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Thank God for Yorkshire CCC - Bishop

— 28 June 2013

Thank God for cricket in general and Yorkshire County Cricket Club in particular – this was the message of the Bishop of Hull, the Right Reverend Richard Frith, in his sermon at York Minster yesterday in a Service of Thanksgiving to mark the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Club in 1863.

The address, also reported in this webpage, was given by MCC President Mike Griffith.

The Bishop told a congregation of 650 including civic dignitaries from across the county, chief officials from the England and Wales Cricket Board, YCCC Board members and Club officials, ex-Yorkshire players, members and supporters that he had been a lifelong cricket addict – albeit a Southerner who still admitted being a Somerset supporter.

He said that David Warner had reminded us in his 150th-anniversary book, The Sweetest Rose, that records of cricket in Yorkshire dated back as far as 1750, but this year we celebrated the formation of Yorkshire CCC itself in 1863.

This day was not the first link between Yorkshire cricket and the Minster.  There was the Yorkshire player who introduced Lord Hawke to the county – the Reverend Edmund Sardinson Carter, a distinguished musician at York Minster who “retained his sense of humour even when serving on the committee of Yorkshire CCC.”

Many clergy had had a love of Yorkshire cricket.  The Vicar of Riddlesden, the Reverend Hugh Hunter, wrote to The Times on August 26, 1938: “Sir, I called out to a very small boy in the village here this evening as he was slogging a ball up the street, ‘Hello Bradman.’ He replied, ‘I’m not Bradman. I’m Utton.’ I apologised immediately.”

Sir Don Bradman had held the Test batting record of 334 until the previous day, when Sir Leonard Hutton scored 364 against Australia at the Oval.

The Bishop joked that he had asked himself whether he should reflect on a history of rows, personality clashes, controversy, times when performances had been blown off course by jealousy, intrigue and personal rivalry…but he had decided that this was not the time to go on about the Church of England…Yet the Church and Yorkshire CCC had much in common  – in the words of the old strapline of the News of the World  “All human life is here”.

The arguments: women bishops or overseas players; finance, buildings, leadership, patterns of play – 20/20 or Test matches on the one hand, happy-clappy or matins on the other.

Even a quick glance at the Club’s history gave plenty of reminders of the remarkable mixture which made up human nature.  On the one hand, made in the image of God, what the Bible called (Psalm 8) “little less than God and crowned with glory and honour. It’s not blasphemous to talk of God-like cricketers, divine attributes, glimpses of heaven; we’re talking God-given gifts here.

“On the other hand there are indications with every match of the fallibility of human beings, in the mistakes we make in relationships with each other as much as in the use of our gifts.

“Cricket lends itself to all sorts of analogies about life, some of them pretty feeble, but dropped catches, faulty calling and wrong shot selection are evident not just in the sports pages of the newspaper.”

For much of Yorkshire’s history there had been the backdrop of the relationship between amateurs and professionals, gentlemen and players: “I love the story of Major Arthur Lupton, whose playing record was, shall we say, modest – 700 runs in 104 matches – but was appointed captain in 1927 at the age of 44, and is credited with restoring discipline.

“It was harmless enough that the amateur had initials before and professionals after their surnames written on the scorecard, so that the announcer at Lord’s could issue a correction to the scorecard…that for FJ Titmus, please read Titmus FJ.”

Or even that Lord Hawke had said: “Pray God that no professional will ever captain England.”

The Bishop said he did not want to over-romanticise gentlemen and players.  Episodes like the way Harold Larwood was treated by the establishment after the bodyline series in Australia, as opposed to how his captain, the amateur Douglas Jardine was, were far from glorious.

And in Yorkshire much tension had been focused at times on issues of class. Yet at its best the interaction between amateur and professional, gentlemen and players, had brought to cricket something quite special.  Michael Marshall in his book, Gentlemen and Players, had written of “the chemistry involving the carefree amateur and the dedicated professional.”

“The formal distinction between gentlemen and players may have gone – thankfully, I’d say – but the attitudes, characteristics and strengths indicated by each of them remain…in both cricket and, I would claim, for life, lived as God would have us live.

“In the cultures of both cricket and the Church a caricature of both the professional and the amateur can give us the worst of both worlds.  Amateur can mean incompetent, as in a bunch of amateurs.  And similarly, professional can have negative overtones, about money or professional fouls.” But what if we saw both amateur and professional positively?  After all, amateur actually meant “for the love of it.”  And professional “taking seriously, developing skills, maximising ability.”

Watching Yorkshire’s Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow batting together at the Headingley Test last month had shown in both of them a sense of the skill and dedication of the professional and the enjoyment, smiles, and delight in each other’s success of an amateur.

Both the amateur and the professional emphasis had been there in the Bible reading: after telling us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience St Paul said, “Over all these virtues put on love.” 

“In other words, be an amateur.  And then he goes on to say, ‘…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ In other words, according to your profession, be it of faith or of cricket.

“I unashamedly want to pass on a love of cricket and of faith from generation to generation.  Thank God for those who introduced us to both cricket and faith.  We give thanks today, as we take a fresh guard, setting our sights on not simply a double-century but on whatever kind of innings is demanded by the circumstances, in the interests of the team.

“Thank God for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.”

The address was given by MCC President Mike Griffith, the former Sussex captain, who said he felt very privileged that his term as MCC President should coincide withYorkshire’s 150th-anniversary celebrations and the opportunity to speak in this wonderful building.

He said that like most county cricketers in the 1960s his career bore an imprint from Yorkshire: either you played for Yorkshire and were phenomenally successful – and possibly prone to having the odd disagreement – or you played against them, and you cursed your luck that you were of the same era as so many outstanding players.

Playing  against Yorkshire was the closest many of them came to replicating the experience and demands of Test cricket because of the tough, uncompromising and intensely skilful nature of the opposition: “Runs or wickets against Yorkshire were special. Caught Sharpe bowled Trueman was a dismissal to remember.”

Yorkshire and MCC had been very closely linked over the years.  Both MCC and cricket had benefited so much from Yorkshire…indeed, if it had not been for a certain Yorkshireman MCC might not exist.

In 1787 Thomas Lord, who was born in Thirsk, barely 20 miles from the Minster, was commissioned by the White Conduit Club to find and manage a venue for their fixtures.  He bought his first ground in what is now Dorset Square, and it was there that MCC was formed.

Lord later moved the Club to another ground before settling in 1814 at the present site of Lord’s Cricket Ground in St John’s Wood. The rest, as they say, was history…except that it could easily have been so different.

Lord was an entrepreneur first, and cricketer second. His new ground struggled financially, and his head turned to property development; bricks and mortar, he thought, would be more profitable than leather and willow. Thankfully, he was persuaded to sell the ground to a prominent member and Bank of England director, William Ward, and everyone was happy. Lord got his money and his place in cricketing history, and MCC safeguarded its ground.

This all happened in 1825, the same year that MCC played its first match in Yorkshire – on Sheffield Wednesday’s ground at Darnall. A further 38 years passed before the Yorkshire County Cricket Club was founded in1863…but it was well worth the wait.

Mike said he had been intrigued to discover that, unlike any other county cricket club, its Sheffield founders had officially designated it THE Yorkshire County Cricket Club with the intention  of warding off competition from other towns and cities who had their own ideas about forming a county club and selecting teams to play under the name of Yorkshire.

How dare they? This Club was to be the definitive article, the real deal.

“Since then, Yorkshire has bestrode the cricketing world – it has even provided four MCC Presidents, and many people think it should have been more. The first of these was Lord Hawke, who exceptionally held the post for five years while the Great War was raging. He was followed by Sir Stanley Jackson in 1921 and Sir William Worsley in 1963.

“After a gap of 50 years the untitled Phillip Hodson assumed the throne, and while he may not have achieved similar feats at first-class level to his illustrious predecessors he holds the distinction in having played in more than 300 out matches for MCC – and could still be found bowling his inimitable medium-pacers during his Presidency last year.”

Yorkshire had set itself apart from other counties with its policy of playing only cricketers born within the county boundary, although this unwritten regulation had often been breached in the early years – probably from a lack of information about where people were born and, in the case of amateurs, was often disregarded. In any event the county had so many available players that there was little need to get them from anywhere else! 

It took the county 30 years to win its first County Championship, but in the subsequent 75 years 29 more were won. It would have been more but for Surrey’s dominance in the 1950s, in which Yorkshire had to make do with being runners-up for half of that time. Nevertheless, Yorkshire had its own halcyon periods, notably the early 1900s, the 1920s and 1930s, and the 1960s.

“These achievements would not have been possible without a system that has produced some of the game’s greatest cricketers. Time is too short to mention them all, but I would mention two, who typified the ethos of the Hawke era – Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst , whose respective feats of over 4,000 first-class wickets and the double of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets in a season will never be surpassed.”

Yorkshire cricket extended beyond the affairs of the county Club. The number playing at recreational level continued to grow, which made one wonder what it was that gave Yorkshire people such an affinity with and the aptitude for the game. Yorkshire people were not slow to express their individuality, but at the same time had an innate desire to contribute to a team effort and be accepted by one’s fellowmen.

“One explanation I have seen for the historical aptitude for cricket ascribes it to the occupation of handloom-weaving of a large part of the population prior to the Industrial Revolution. Apparently, the practice of catching and throwing a shuttle back and across the loom developed an extraordinary hand-to-eye coordination that befitted the catching and hitting of a cricket ball.”

The county’s contribution to the game had been inestimable.  Over 80 Yorkshire players had represented the country. It had often been said that when Yorkshire were strong England were strong. Yorkshire had produced many successful England captains. The county’s extensive League  and Club system had also played its part, and the Bradford League became the virtual centre of the game during the two world wars, attracting players from all over the country.

The England team that inflicted the heaviest defeat ever on an opponent – Australia at The Oval in 1938 – contained five Yorkshire players, one of whom, Sir Leonard Hutton, scored 364, “and I’m sure I was not alone watching the exploits of two young Yorkshire batsmen at Headingley last month and being touched by the pride and affection in which they were held by their home crowd.”

Mike paid tribute to all the work that had gone into securing the future of Headingley for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, led tirelessly by Chairman Colin Graves, who had been recently appointed Deputy Chairman of ECB and was able, therefore, to influence the wider first-class game more. 

MCC would continue to forge close associations with Yorkshire cricket at all levels: “This year we have a Root in our MCC Young Cricketers group, and father Matt Root plays in our recreational out-match programme. Even Grandad was at Lord’s to watch the action when England beat New Zealand.

“For many years the county opened and closed its season with first-class matches against MCC – the first at Lord’s in early May and the second as a feature of the Scarborough Festival in early September. More Yorkshire players than I can possibly mention wore the MCC club colours with distinction while representing England overseas.

“But, most of all, if it wasn’t for one Yorkshireman who had the foresight to buy land for the men of the White Conduit Club to play their cricket in privacy cricket would be all the poorer.

“ MCC salutes Yorkshire.  Yorkshire has already provided an inestimable legacy to all cricket in its first 150 years. The links between our two clubs are as  strong as ever. Above all, countless cricketers have derived hours of enjoyment  from Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s  unfailing support for all levels of the game. Thank you.”

BYE-THE-BYE: As the Minister service was drawing to a close a horse named Yorkshire Relish was winning on the Knavesmire about a mile away.  Trained up the road on top of Sutton Bank it went in at the rewarding odds of 4-1. 

We are grateful to GARY LONGBOTTOM, of the Yorkshire Post, for making his picture file available  to the YCCC website and Yearbook


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