Strong Yorkshire, Strong Australia?

The folk from Yorkshire and Australia have shared cricketing links for over a century.

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Watching England play Australia in the recent ODI at Headingley really got me thinking. Why as an Englishman do I have such a soft spot for the Australian’s and their never say die attitude?

As Glenn Maxwell pulled off two miraculous catches – one a full length grab at point to get rid of the dangerous Eoin Morgan, the other a seemingly impossible piece of work in front of the Western Terrace boundary to take down Liam Plunkett – It finally came to me.  We’re pretty alike us Yorkshiremen and those Australians.

Even though some from “God’s Own County” might be too proud or stubborn to admit it, there are plenty of similarities between themselves and their compatriots from Down Under. Maybe it’s the shared shear bloody-mindedness to win at any cost, or perhaps the nature of the personalities. Both are assumed to be brash and uncomplicated people at times – certainly on the cricket field. But make no mistake about it, win or lose, there will always remain a sense of pride and respect between them.

Many of the same values are shared between t’Yorkshire folk and those ‘Stralian’s, and not just on the cricket field. Rugby League has shared strong links between Yorkshire and Australia for generations with players and coaches regularly moving between the Super League (of which six teams are based in Yorkshire) and Australia’s NRL. Furthermore in football, Australian-born pair Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka were paramount to Leeds United’s success at the turn of the century.

Australian's Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka both enjoyed stints at Yorkshire club Leeds United.
Australian’s Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka both enjoyed stints at Yorkshire club Leeds United.

The association with Yorkshire and Australian cricket goes back afar. Look through the Wisden archives and you will find many a tough battle between an unshakable and assured Yorkshireman and his Aussie counterpart. Think Hedley Verity against Sir Donald Bradman or Ray Illingworth against Ian Chappell or even Geoffrey Boycott verses Dennis Lillee – there is a world of history between England’s biggest county and the former British colony and to this day the pair continue to have strong links.

Certainly for this Yorkshireman, many of my early cricketing memories are intertwined with my first vague cognizance of the land Down Under. Be it the soothing and easily recognisable voice of Richie Benaud or stories from my grandmother – who watched on as Bradman led his invincibles side against an HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI at Scarborough in 1948.

Bradman of course had his own special connection with Yorkshire. It was at Headingley, in which he scored his highest Test score of 334 on the Ashes tour of 1930. Three hundred and nine of those runs were made on the opening day as t’Yorkshiremen flocked in from all around to witness the beginning of the greatest career of them all. The Don would go on to average 192 at the famous Leeds ground.

When Yorkshire CCC announced in 1991 that they were to abandon their unwritten policy of only allowing those born within the borders of the county to represent them, they originally turned to an Australian.

Before Sachin Tendulkar, then just 18, famously became the first non-Yorkshireman to play for the county, Australian seamer Craig McDermott was initially lined up for the role, however when injury ruled him out Yorkshire instead went down a different route.

McDermott would have become the first of a long list of Australians to represent the White Rose but instead that mantle went to Michael Bevan. The Pyjama Picasso signed in 1995 and played for two summers. Whilst he scored nine centuries and averaged 58 in his first-class assignments, typically with Bevan, it was the limited overs stuff in which he really excelled. In fact no Yorkshire cricketer – who has appeared in at least ten List-A matches, has bettered his average of 61.82.

Once Bevan was selected for Australia’s 1997 Ashes campaign, opener Michael Slater was originally intended as an overseas replacement, but when he was surprisingly involved on that same tour, Yorkshire were led to the services of a 27-year-old South Australian going by the name of Darren Lehmann. The rest, as they say is history.

For seven summers between 1997 and 2006, ‘Boof’ dominated the shires, scoring over 14,000 runs across his 88 first-class matches in the process. Yorkshiremen don’t easily accept outsiders but boy did they respected this one. Lehmann’s first-class average of 68.76 is higher than anyone else with at least 500 runs for the Tykes.

Darren Lehmann sweeps fellow countryman Shane Warne during a county match for Yorkshire.
Darren Lehmann sweeps his fellow countryman Shane Warne during a county match for Yorkshire.

His 1,416 Championship runs in 2001 marshalled Yorkshire towards their first title in 33 painfully barren years. For this inspiring deed, Lehmann’s name will be forever sketched into Yorkshire folklore. The ideal overseas player, he was also the original Australian flag bearer for Yorkshire cricket. He famously went on to sign off with an innings of 339 against Durham at Headingley in 2006, helping his adopted county save face and starve off relegation in the process.

Of the 30 overseas players employed by the county since 1992, 14 have been Australians. After the early successes of Bevan and Lehmann the county had a substantial pulling power when it came to attracting the Aussies and prominent names arrived in the following summers: Greg Blewett (1999), Matthew Elliott and Simon Katich (2002), Damien Martyn (2003), Phil Jaques (2004-05/2012-13), Ian Harvey (2004-05), Mark Cleary (2005), Jason Gillespie (2006-08), Clint McKay (2010), Mitchell Starc (2012), Aaron Finch (2014-15) and Glenn Maxwell (2015) have all served Yorkies cricket with varying degrees of success since.

For Gillespie, a late career flourish was never really in the offering as his two summer’s mustered just 59 wickets at 34; howbeit his appointment as first team coach in 2012 has led the county to new highs not seen in these pastures since the late 1960’s. It appears no coincidence that the three and only times Yorkshire have won the County Championship since the teams of Brian Close five decades ago, they have been under the keen watch of an Australian. Wayne Clark led the way in 2001, before Gillespie emerged with consecutive honours in 2014-15 to reinstate Yorkshire as the powerhouse of old.

After being overlooked for the England coaching position earlier in the summer, it’s not out of the question that Gillespie will one day follow Lehmann into leading his country – Is it too early to suggest that Yorkshire is now a breeding ground for Australian cricket?

Maxwell has certainly benefitted from his short stint at Headingley this summer, originally just signed for the NatWest Blast; ensuing injuries sustained to compatriot Finch opened the door for his involvement in red ball cricket and a solid showing has subsequently led to a Test recall for next month’s tour of Bangladesh.

Maybe the old saying should now read “A strong Yorkshire, strong Australia.”

After all, we’re pretty alike us Yorkshiremen and those Australians.

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