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Lord Hawke - The father of Yorkshire Cricket

Martin Bladen Hawke, Seventh Baron Hawke of Towton, was the father of Yorkshire County Cricket club as we know it. Was he always a model parent? Or did he rule his children with a rod of iron too long for their own good?

He captained Yorkshire for 28 years. Only Brian Sellers came close — with half that number if you include the lost Championship seasons of the Second World War. Lord Hawke led Yorkshire to eight Championship titles — Sellers managed six either side of the war, and Brian Close four.

Hawke played in five Test matches on tours to South Africa, captaining England four times — always to victory. He was President of MCC; he served on its Cricket Committee, and he was MCC Treasurer. He was chairman of the Test selectors: he became architect of the selection of truly national teams when he condemned the practice of each separate authority at the Test venues picking the sides according to local prejudice. He led the field in what churchmen would call mission and outreach: he preached the gospel of cricket on eight privately organised tours of India and Ceylon, Canada and the United States, South Africa, the West Indies and, finally, New Zealand.

  • A portrait of Lord Hawke, wearing the blazer and Club colours he created, which are synonymous with Yorkshire County Cricket Club

    Hawke was born on August 16, 1860, at Willingham Rectory, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, the sixth child and eldest surviving son of Edward Henry Julius Hawke, the Sixth Baron, and Baroness Hawke, née Jane Dowker. His father, who was Rector from 1854 to 1875, imbued his son with his own passion for cricket. Hawke made his first appearance at Lord’s in July 1878 for Eton against Harrow, but it was through the York-based Yorkshire Gentlemen’s Cricket Club that he met the mentor whose influence would steer him to the captaincy of Yorkshire.

    The Rev. Edmund Sardinson Carter was a leading light with the Gentlemen, and he organised the Scarborough festivals with Lord Londesborough. In September 1881 Carter invited Hawke to Scarborough, where he made his first-class debut for Yorkshire against MCC two weeks after his 21st birthday: he was bowled for 4 and 0, but a few days later in another Festival match he made a top score of 32. His third first-class appearance was his debut for Cambridge University on June 12 and 13, 1882, when he played against Lancashire at Old Trafford.

    Hawke made 18 first-class appearances in 1882, 13 of them for Yorkshire, and the team’s professional captain, Tom Emmett, offered to stand down. Hawke said he would “pick up a few wrinkles first”, but he assumed the captaincy for the two Scarborough Festival matches, and at the end of that season was appointed Club captain: he was 22, the first amateur to hold the position, and he still had three years to do at Cambridge.

  • Lord Hawke showing his batting skills and the Yorkshire team from 1905

    Hawke had taken on what one writer called “a band of rogues and vagabonds” and another “10 drunks and a parson” — that parson being Louis Hall, a Nonconformist lay preacher and dogged opener who was to carry his bat for the county an all-time record of 14 times. We should not mock: the professional cricketers of the time were not well paid, and orderly retreats to the sanctuary of the pavilion at meal times were some years hence. They were left to find their own refreshment on the ground, where well-heeled groupies would not hesitate to lure them into the beer tent. Such instant “friends” were the very devils.

    An early picture of Wilfred Rhodes at Lord’s shows him during one such interval, smartly blazered and standing on the boundary, obliged to humour some toff but presumably resisting his alcoholic advances. Wilfred’s adulation of Hawke was not undiluted, but he was to remember years later: “We never had lunches before Lord Hawke.”

    Meanwhile, a terrible toll was exacted by the demon drink and its disciples, the worst cases ending in the sanatorium and the workhouse. Hawke gave his players some semblance of security, and he expected self-control and self-discipline in return: “The more the players are respected, the more they will respect themselves.” Otherwise, he swung the axe.

    Edmund Peate, the greatest all-rounder of his time, went this way, but the most oft-told account of summary dismissal centres on Peate’s successor as slow left-arm bowler, Bobbie Peel. Depending on which version you prefer and how lurid, what seems beyond doubt is that Peel reported for play in what George Hirst later called “a proper condition” after Hirst had told Hawke that his friend “had been taken very queer in the night” and was staying in the hotel .

  • Yorkshire team of 1896. Back row (left-right): Mr J Wostinholm (secretary), unknown, David Hunter, Edward Wainwright, Schofield Haigh, Bobby Peel, unknown. Seated: John Tunnicliffe, FS Jackson, Lord Hawke, E Smith, Arthur Bairstow. On ground: George Hirst, R Moorhouse, David Denton, Jack Brown.

    Hirst’s cover-up had been accepted and the 12th man deployed when it was realised that Peel was pacing out his run — to bowl not to the stumps, but to the sightscreen. What followed may have been inconvenient, but Hawke took Peel by the arm and led him out of Yorkshire cricket for ever. Peel believed he would be called back…but the call went to Rhodes, who was to be Yorkshire’s greatest all-rounder of all time — with Hirst runner-up.

    Hawke instituted winter pay after the 1896 season, initially £2 a week, and established a merit system to award bonuses at the annual dinner he gave for the players at Wighill Park, his home for 50 years. What we now call a “five-for” or a “ton” might not earn the same marks in his meticulously kept notebook as 3-100 on a flat pitch or 38 on a “sticky”.

    He persuaded the Committee to invest two-thirds of the player’s benefit money instead of handing him it to blow. This was not always appreciated. Hirst and Rhodes were two members of a Kirkheaton triumvirate that was completed by Schofield Haigh. The son of Haigh condemned the retention, which had not made possible the improvment in his widowed mother’s lifestyle he would have wished.

    “When she died, the fund came to us,” he explained years later, “ and I bought my wife a beautiful diamond ring, but what good did it do?” The answer may be given by beneficiaries of much more recent times who have lost or blown it.

    WG Grace said Hawke’s legacy was a general improvement in the finances and status of professional players everywhere as other counties followed his lead, and added: “Hawke succeeded in introducing an esprit de corps and a standard of discipline, from the absence of which the county had been suffering. Hawke is a splendid captain, inspiring his men by the example he gives them of pluck and resource.”

  • Hawke lies ninth in the list of most First Class appearances for Yorkshire with 510. His 13,133 runs for the county at 20. 26 look handy rather than top-drawer, but his 10 centuries are topped by his 166 in Yorkshire’s 887 at Edgbaston against Warwickshire in 1896 – the record total for any First Class match in England until Leonard Hutton’s 364 against Australia at The Oval in 1938 out of 903-7 declared. That 887 would not happen now – but there were no declarations in those days.

    Hawke was a hard driver of the ball who was always prepared to sacrifice his own innings for his side – living up to the family motto, “Strike”, which was coined for his illustrious forebear, Admiral Lord Hawke, who led the British triumph against the French in 1759 at Quiberon Bay. Hawke was prepared to chop those who played for themselves or did not go all out for their catches. He made himself into a safe field.

    He could not be replaced. Yorkshire wanted amateur captains, but they wanted one who would stick it like he did. All had other lives to lead, and none did. By the end of 1927 Yorkshire were ready to turn to a professional with years ahead of him – Herbert Sutcliffe. Rhodes, who three seasons yet to run, was hurt. Hawke promised Rhodes a meeting which did not happen. Sutcliffe, sensing political hostility on two fronts, tactfully declined – it was his first act to five peak years as a batsman.

    Hawke is famously remembered for his misjudgment in 1925, which stemmed partly from an antipathy to Jack Hobbs dating from the Great War. Hobbs did not begin military service until the closing stages, whereas Yorkshire marched promptly to war, and Major Booth was killed on the Somme. It was a red rag to the White Rose bull when Hobbs instead played for Idle in the Bradford League.

    The sting was delivered by Yorkshire exile Cecil Parkin, who wrote that Hobbs should succeed Arthur Gilligan as England captain. Hawke exploded: “Pray God, no professional will ever captain England. I love and admire them all, but we have always had an amateur skipper, and when the day comes when we shall have no more amateurs captaining England it will be a thousand pities.”

    Hawke had cleaned up Yorkshire’s act. He was able to do it because he was a sometimes sole amateur among the professionals he inherited. A sentiment that might have seemed sound 20 years before showed him in 1925 as going past his sell-by date. The professionals and public were outraged.

    He lived to see his friend, Sir Pelham Warner, manipulate both Walter Hammond and the system to secure Wally’s switch from “player” to “gentleman” to lead England against the Aussies in 1938. The point was not lost on Sir Leonard Hutton, who captained England to victory against Australia in 1953 and 1954-5 without the switch, but as “the first professional captain of England in modern times”. Len said as Godfrey Evans made the winning hit in Adelaide: “I wish that booger ‘awke were ‘ere.”

    Yet the Yorkshire County Cricket Club of today IS his legacy. Lord Hawke left behind an aura such that Yorkshire is still the most talked about county club, both in good times and bad. Are there bad times? Even when we mourn the modern phenomenon of Championship relegation the fact is that Yorkshire year in, year out, continues to provide more players for the national side than any other county. Off the field the lads are as smart and well mannered as Hawke would have expected. Yorkshire is still the greatest cricket stable in the world.

  • Headingley Cricket Ground, one of Lord Hawke’s major legacies