When Yorkshire played against Lancashire in the Bob Willis Trophy back in August, it was noted that the team included only four capped players and the question was asked – had this happened before?

Unfortunately there are no records kept on this subject but, in response to the inquiry from historian Ron Deaton, guest columnist Peter Horne has found not only many similar instances but also six games since 1945 with only three capped players in Yorkshire’s team.

Not only were there only four capped players in 2020’s first-class match against Lancashire, the incidence was repeated again a few weeks later when Yorkshire lined up against Leicestershire.

In compiling the research for this topic a few criteria had to be set out. It was decided to restrict the research to County Championship matches only and concentrate only on the years 1946-2019 during which period the White Rose county played in a total of 1,603 such matches, this figure not including the 12 games which were completely abandoned. Also, the ongoing research by the Archives Committee, led by Chris Hardy, has managed to confirm actual awarding dates for virtually every player capped since World War II but not before.

From 1946 until the 1980s it was usual for Yorkshire to cap players towards the end of the season or in September after the season had finished and the number of capped players at any one time was usually around 9-12. There were one or two exceptions to this, for example in April 1962 the season actually started with no fewer than 14 capped players to choose from.

In more recent years, caps have been awarded at various times during the season and in the last ten years, with an influx of overseas players, some of whom were with the county for a short time, keeping track of who has and who hasn’t been awarded a cap has become a complicated business. There has also been a lack of consistency regarding the capping of overseas players, for example Ian Harvey played in 20 first class matches, 28 List A matches and 10 T20s in 2004-05 and was never capped, yet Ajaz Patel played in just two Championship matches in 2019 and received his cap on debut. Some overseas players have not been officially capped but have been given a first-eleven cap to wear on the field of play!

So, how unusual is it for Yorkshire to take the field with only four capped players? Between 1946 and 2019 (omitting 1947 for the moment), there has been found 45 occasions when four or fewer capped players were included but six of these occurred when only three capped players were in the team! The reason for omitting 1947 from these figures is that Alec Coxon and Willie Watson were regulars during that season but the official records (for now) give only ‘1947’ as the year of their capping and no actual date. There is therefore the possibility that there were five further matches when only four capped players were in the side and three more occasions with only three.

The six matches when only three capped players were in the side are:

1976 v. Northamptonshire at Scarborough, Sept 8-10 – DL Bairstow, G Boycott, GA Cope;
2002 v. Lancashire at Old Trafford, August 14-17 – RJ Blakey, A McGrath, CEW Silverwood;
v. Leicestershire at Scarborough, Sept 4-7 – RJ Blakey, RJ Sidebottom, C White;
2004 v. Leicestershire at Leicester, August 19-22 – SP Kirby, A McGrath, MJ Wood;
v. Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay, August 24-27 – SP Kirby, A McGrath, MJ Wood;
2006 v. Nottinghamshire at Headingley, Sept 13-16 – DS Lehmann, MJ Lumb, C White.

In the last-named match there should have been five capped players but Matthew Hoggard and Anthony McGrath were both were injured in the pre-match warm-up! It cannot helped but be noticed that all six matches came towards the ends of their respective seasons – time to blood new players, perhaps, but Yorkshire were fighting against the real prospect of relegation in both 2002 (when it was not avoided) and 2006 (when it was).

The three 1947 matches which had only three confirmed capped players but may have had more, depending on research into Coxon and Watson, are:

v. Somerset at Headingley, June 7, 9-10 – WE Bowes, EP Robinson, AB Sellers:
v. Surrey at Bradford, July 6, 8-9 – WE Bowes, EP Robinson, F.Smailes;
v. Leicestershire at Huddersfield, July 16-18 – WE Bowes, EP Robinson, AB Sellers.

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