The year of 1970 saw the deaths of three Yorkshire cricketers, all of whom had significant careers in one way or another, as well as two departures. Paul Dyson looks back at the quintet’s varied careers. The photo of Frank Smailes appears by courtesy of Mick Pope.

The two cricketers who played their final games for Yorkshire in 1970 were Brian Close and Rodney Smith. The highly controversial departure of Close was covered in last week’s piece on the 1970 season and he has previously been fully profiled in these columns. Smith made his debut in 1969 and so his profile was penned in with that year’s other debutants this time last year. So, on with those who passed away 50 years ago.

The most respected umpire of the 1950s and 1960s was Syd Buller who tragically collapsed and died at Edgbaston just 16 days short of his 60th birthday. He was officiating in early August, 1970 in a match between Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire and passed away during a break for rain.. He became a first-class umpire in 1947 and stood in a total of 539 first-class matches, including 33 Tests from 1956 to 1969. Never one to duck the main issue of the day – which, as far as the laws of the game was concerned, was throwing – he no-balled South African Geoff Griffin in the Lord’s Test of 1960 and, five years later, had to be given a police escort when he did the same to Harold Rhodes in front of his home supporters when playing for Derbyshire. His approach was at least vindicated by the honours system; in that same year he was awarded the MBE. But also in 1965 he reported one of the first instances of ‘joke bowling’ when Nottinghamshire allowed Leicestershire’s Clive Inman to score a world-record eight-minute half-century.

Buller was born in 1909 in Wortley, Leeds; he made his debut for Yorkshire’s 2nd XI in 1929 and was its regular wicket-keeper for six seasons. He managed to deputise for Arthur Wood on just one occasion. A non-Championship game against Sussex at Huddersfield in 1930 saw him score three and two and take two catches and that remained his only appearance for the full Yorkshire side. He moved to Worcestershire for the 1935 season and remained there until the end of the 1946 campaign, playing in 110 matches, scoring 1,732 runs and effecting 248 dimsissals. But the most significant part of his career was yet to come.

Just one month later came another sudden death of a former Yorkshire player. Gerald Smithson was only 43 and passed away in Berkshire while fulfilling his position as coach and groundsman at Abingdon School. Born in Spofforth, Harrogate, in the latter part of 1926 he first played for Yorkshire in the first season after the Second World War when aged only 19. He appeared in only one game in that year but, as an attractive left-handed batsman, had a brilliant run of form in the following season, gaining his county cap, and was chosen to take part in the Test tour of the West Indies in the succeeding winter. Unfortunately he was due, also, to fulfill his National Service by working as a ‘Bevin boy’ in the mines. The influence of the MCC saw to it that his case was raised in the House of Commons and he was released from his obligations so that he could depart for sunnier climes.

Smithson played in the first two of the four Tests and scored 70 runs in three innings with a top score of 35 at Port-of-Spain. Sadly, he injured a shoulder and this was so bad that he missed the whole of the 1948 season. He re-appeared for 20 games in the following two seasons but his form had deserted him; he never passed the half-cnetury mark and was promptly released. For Yorkshire he had scored 1,449 runs, including two centuries, in 39 matches at an average of 26.34. A move to Leicestershire, against whom he had made his career-best score of 169, paid immediate dividends and he scored at least 900 runs in each of the next four seasons, including a best of 1,351 at 27.57 in 1952.

Smithson left Leicestershire at the end of the 1956 season having scored 5,305 runs with six centuries in 154 matches for the midland county. He took up a post as coach at Caterham School and while there he had six seasons with Hertfordshire in the Minor Counties Championship. His name lives on in Abingdon. In 2009 the School instituted a T20 tournament and named it the Gerald Smithson Cricket Day.

Another Yorkshire cricketer who played very briefly for England was Frank Smailes; he passed away at the age of 60 in Harrogate, in which area he had spent most of his life. Ripley, a very few miles north of the spa town, was his birthplace in 1910 and its site, the Boar’s Head, where his father was landlord, is marked with a plaque. He appeared for Harrogate as a boy before, as was often the case with promising Yorkshire players, playing professionally in Scotland. Forfarshire was his club and he returned to the county of his birth to make his debut in 1932.

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