Yorkshire Over 50s are targeting a period of domination in county cricket after this year’s thrilling title success.
That is the aim for the next few summers, says Steve Wales, who has tasted success as a captain and now team manager.
Yorkshire beat Bedfordshire by 146 runs in September’s rain-reduced final, bowling their opponents out for just 62 as they replied to a commanding 40-over score of 222-3.
That was a landslide success, as many of their 10 victories were. They lost one and had another cancelled in the group stage.
But the thrilling part of it was undoubtedly the semi-final success over Cambridgeshire away at Fitzwilliam College in late August when captain Steve Foster – a superstar at this level – and his team won via fewer wickets lost following a tie as both teams finished on 174.
Cambridgeshire made 174-9 from their 45 overs before Yorkshire replied with 174-5, gaining 11 of the 12 runs needed off the last over, including two off the last ball.
What was it Ian Smith said about the 2019 World Cup final? “By the barest of margins”. That fits!
There was also an emotional sense of deja vu about that particular fixture too.
“It was a game where it could have been, ‘Oh no, what have we done – we’ve got to the semi-final and thrown it away’,” said Wales, a former Yorkshire and England captain. “Fortunately, we scraped home.
“Then, the final against Bedfordshire at Wormsley, we were just too dominant.
“Talking about the tied semi-final…..We played against Essex in 2017 at the same stage at Elland and tied that and won on fewer wickets lost.
“The gentleman who bowled the last over was Dave Burden, and he bowled it at Mel Hussain – Nasser’s brother. They wanted five to win off the last over with four wickets in hand. They got four runs but lost three wickets in doing it.
“Dave, unfortunately, died a couple of years ago following a brain tumour, and it’s been a bit like Seve Ballesteros on your shoulder just as the Ryder Cup guys have had in golf.
“Everyone has a unique Yorkshire number, and we put his on our shirt this year. That win was dedicated to him.
“I would say that semi-final that he starred in was one of the greatest games I’ve played in for any side. It was like, ‘How the hell did we win that?’
“I still get goosebumps thinking about it, and it was very similar this year against Cambridgeshire.”
Should Yorkshire build on this success in 2024, they would repeat the feat achieved in 2017 and 2018 when they claimed back-to-back Over 50s triumphs under the captaincy of Wales, who played the majority of his career for North Leeds in the Aire Wharfe League.
In all, he won three national titles with Yorkshire and also captained England sporadically between 2016 and 2018.
“I’m chuffed to bits to have captained my county and my country,” he said. “I wasn’t good enough to do it at open age, but it just shows what opportunities are about if you look after yourself.
“I initially hung around to play some league cricket with my son.
“But then, at this stage in your life, when you think you’ve had your best days, to be able to go again and play in this Yorkshire team, it was up there amongst by proudest moments.
“I’ve played and now I’m managing, and it’s a bit addictive.
“It’s so much fun with these guys because they’re turning up and wanting to win. It’s fantastic.
“It was Peter Graham (former Northern Diamonds bowler Phoebe’s late father) who initially told me I should think about putting my name forward to play, and it was the best bit of advice I’ve ever been given.”
Wales says there will be some turnover in Yorkshire’s squad – they use around 15 or 16 players – for next summer, but nothing too drastic.
“Generally our players are 50-55, but we do have a couple of guys who are older,” said Wales.
“We have Nick Gaywood, who opens the batting and has just turned 60. He used to open the batting with Joe Root at Sheffield Collegiate and has played for Devon and is now playing for England 60s. He’s a very good, tall, strong, left-handed batter who has just kept going.
“He’s huge for us. He got 70-odd in the final and a couple of hundreds through the year.
“If they’re still playing at 55-60, these guys are serious competitors.
“We’ve got two or three ex-Pakistani first-class players. Babar Butt bats and kept wicket in the final for us and is one of the legends of the Bradford League.
“Our captain is Steve Foster who captained England 50s when they won the World Cup in South Africa earlier this year. He is ranked as the best over 50s player in the world.
“We’re constantly looking to evolve and not sit back just because we’ve won.
“Because we’ve done well, people hear about it and want to join us.
“We’ll be blooding some new lads next year, and there will be a few who step aside. But that’s just normal progression. There will be good, healthy competition for places as many are definitely still good enough to go again.
“It’s a bit like junior cricket in that you will get a good group coming through and will do well but then it goes quiet for a while. Thankfully, we’ve managed to maintain a group who have been up there for a long time.
“The idea now is to go for a bit of domination. We were the best side this year, but it won’t be easy next year. We can’t be complacent because there are some good sides out there.”
Wales continued: “This is proper competitive environment. It’s certainly not for a faint-hearted 50-something-year-old.
“A lot of counties are bringing in ex-England players. We’ve played against Kim Barnett in the past and Mark Alleyne, Nasser Hussain’s brother as well.”
Talking of Nasser’s brother, Mel, that brings us onto the fact that Essex are one of Yorkshire’s main rivals. The two counties have probably been the two most consistent teams over the last 10 years.
Essex beat Yorkshire in the 2019 final, but Yorkshire gained some revenge this year by beating them in the quarter-finals at Colchester and East Essex CC.
“We got 291-5 and played really well in that game, and we felt like that was the big scalp,” said Wales, a national sales manager in construction. “Nick Gaywood got a hundred and Steve Foster 50. Then we bowled them for 201.
“But then we played Cambridgeshire and nearly undid all that good work. Thankfully we just got through and won the final.”
Wales describes the competition as “tough”, not just because of the quality of cricket but also because of the logistical side of things.
“You’re dealing with guys who are still working,” he said.
“With the group stages, we play every Wednesday over a 12-week period with a few gaps in between. Then the knockout stages are played through the holiday season when you have to try and keep your strongest side together.
“I must pay tribute to Robin Benyon, who has played a massive part in the organisation and administration for the team. He’s made things a lot easier.”
Wales added: “The idea of the group stage is to finish top of the group, and Yorkshire have always finished first or second in the time I’ve been involved. But seconds means your first knockout tie – the last 16 – is at home. Then the next two could be away, as happened this year.
“Every county and national county is represented. We had Cornwall playing us in a quarter-final at Malton, so it gives you an idea of the travelling involved.
“If you’re in the top two in the country, you tend to get home draws through to the final.
“We lost to Lancashire in the first game of the season and were pretty poor, but we won every game after that. It was absolutely fantastic.”