Although the 1969 season had seen Yorkshire plummet from first to 13th in the Championship, victory in the Gillette Cup had given cause for optimism. The 1970 season saw some development from the county’s younger players but autumn brought a hammer-blow which eventually plunged the White Rose into at least 10 years of crisis. The photo of Brian Close, taken in 1970, comes by courtesy of Mick Pope.
An innings victory over Derbyshire at Bradford (Richard Hutton 104, his first century for Yorkshire, and Chris Old five for 14) in the first match of the season set Yorkshire off in a positive manner but it was the only win in the first five games, a sequence which concluded with heavy defeats by Lancashire at Headingley (by ten wickets) and Gloucestershire at Bradford (nine wickets). This match was notable for the debut of 18-year-old wicket-keeper David Bairstow who, famously, was allowed to sit one of his A Level exams early in the morning at his school in the same city, conveniently, so that he had time to get to the ground for the start of play.
The brilliant Jimmy Binks had retired after the 1969 season had concluded and Yorkshire started the campaign with Neil Smith keeping wicket but his loss of form gave Bairstow his chance and he retained his place for most of the rest of the season.
With Brian Close in his eighth season of captaining the county, Yorkshire performed much better throughout the remainder of the Championship campaign, losing only two matches from the final 19. Wins over Hampshire, by an innings, at Sheffield and Warwickshire at Edgbaston were both underpinned by the good form of Doug Padgett whose run of scores at this stage were 106, 61 & 75, 108, each being the top-score in the respective innings.
An exciting game took place at Leicester. Consistent batting by Leicestershire, after a century from John Hampshire, enabled them to declare withb a lead of 79 before former Yorkshire off-spinner Jack Birkenshaw took five for 59. This meant that the home side needed only 130 to win but the visitors’ attack, led by Old and Geoff Cope took wickets regularly and at 6.08 pm, with time fast running out, Yorkshire had won by 17 runs.
An innings of 260 not out fromn Geoff Boycott – the highest of his Yorkshire career – led to an innings victory against Essex at Colchester. The hosts were bamboozled by Cope’s second innings seven for 36 (match figures of 10 for 80) which included the hat-trick and brought him his county cap. Unfortunately during the match his actrion had been photographed and a ‘minor fault’ had been reported to Lord’s. Although no action was taken the situation dogged the off-spinner.
At that stage Yorkshire were fifth in the table and definite Championship-contenders but only one win in the final seven matches saw it finish in fourth place, the title going to Kent for the first time since 1913. Boycott, Old and Don Wilson all played in both of the last two games for England against the Rest of the World, a series which had been arragned after the South Africa tour had been cancelled, and weakened the Yorkshire side somewhat during the run-in. Although it was something of a disappointment, given the previous run of form, a rise of nine places showed a big improvement.
With 1,425 runs at 50.89 Boycott was the leading batsman in the Championship and both Hampshire and Phil Sharpe also passed the 1,000-run mark. Four bowlers – Old, Hutton, Cope and Tony Nicholson all took at least 50 wickets.
Despite having won the Gillette Cup in 1969, Yorkshire fell at the first hurdle in 1970, going out of the competition to Surrey at Harrogate by 58 runs. In a slow low-scoring match Surrey made only 134 for eight in their 60 overs; Yorkshire must have fancied their chances but Robin Jackman (seven for 33) blew them away for a mere 76.
In what was the second season of the 40-overs John Player League, played on Sundays. Yorkshire slipped from eighth to 14th. They won five and lost nine of their 16 matches. Another exciting match at Leicester saw Yorkshire win by one run, despite 79 from a certain Ray Illingworth, Old’s four for 31 swinging the game the visitors’ way.