“I AMHe was never crude, principled or embryonic,” wrote Neville Cardus of Len Hutton’s batting following the Yorkshire and England legend’s retirement in 1955. Cardus went on to describe the Pudsey-born right-hander as “a versatile player. and beautiful”, but someone who always played with “a map in mind”.
“Every artist or master of art is an organism in an environment,” he concluded. “It has a lot to do with weather conditions.” The “situation and atmosphere” of Yorkshire has helped make the county one of the game’s breeding grounds. “God’s Own State” has produced 103 Test Cricketers, 87 of whom have represented England. The five England sides who took the field for the first Test match at the MCG in 1877 hailed from Yorkshire; four of the 12 named in this summer’s first Test squad were born within 50 miles of Keighley to Sheffield.
That quartet – Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Alex Lees (born in Halifax but now playing for Durham) and the unstoppable Harry Brook – continue a proud batting tradition that has developed many of England’s all-time greats, from Sutcliffe to Hutton to Boycott. Root yourself. Of the 14 England batsmen with the highest Test average, five were born in Yorkshire. So what has allowed this conveyor belt of talent to stretch for more than a century?
“Historically, it was the leagues, their competitive nature and the types of pitches,” says Geoffrey Boycott, scorer of 151 first-class hundreds. “We had more clubs than anywhere else and it was always very competitive. Highly. No bloody friends, you played to win. Success was everything. If you wanted to reach the top, you graduated there.
“He made a lot of evil in the field surrounded cricketer Down south you would get a lot of shooting players, because they could trust the surfaces. You couldn’t get that much here, because we get a lot more rain than in the south. You had to learn to play the curve ball, the seam ball, the spin ball on wet and dry pitches.”
Boycott says the “erosion” of club cricket and the explosion of T20 has irrevocably changed the landscape, arguing that the technical principles that have defined Yorkshire batting for “nearly 140 years” have become less clear.
However, Michael Vaughan, who was born in Lancashire but learned his game at Sheffield Collegiate CC, the same club as Root, and spent his entire playing career in Yorkshire, believes the commonalities are still evident. “You need a bit of stubbornness and most successful Yorkshire players have that, and that point-to-prove mentality. A bit selfish – and there’s nothing wrong with that; you have to be selfish as a batsman.
“We’re in a big system where you don’t often get praise for a coach – you certainly didn’t in my time. The fans don’t often praise you either. You can get 80 and play a bad shot and they’ll abuse you. It could be hinder some people but it may help a few others.
“And coaching is still a bit more geared towards red-ball cricket. That may have changed over the last few years but in my time and the period after it was all about red-ball cricket: your upper hand, “getting in line, pitching well, getting close to the ballpark, keeping well, give yourself a chance – all those old school words that you hear many, many times. It was ingrained in us as a youth.”
Harry Brook, a 23-year-old strokemaker from Keighley, is about to become the Yorkshire-born England Cricketer Test Test No 88 – coincidentally the number in his county jersey. A former England under-19 captain who played at Sedbergh – a fee school in Cumbria (where he won a scholarship) that also produced Brook’s Yorkshire team-mates George Hill and Matthew Revis – raised his game at Sedbergh – it was his white-ball exploits that delivered. it widened his focus last summer and led to his T20I debut in January. But Martin Speight, the former Sussex cricketer who oversaw Brook’s development in his role as Sedbergh’s director of cricket, and who still acts as his personal coach, says the youngster’s set-up and technique are designed for red-ball cricket.
“He knows exactly what he wants to do and where his balance should be at the end of his swing, and so he makes really good decisions about what he plays, what he leaves, what he attacks,” he says. Speight. “And he’s been playing the ball very late. He’s always said he wants to play red-ball cricket. He’s not one of these guys who just wants to be a white-ball player.”
“For me, Test cricket is still the pinnacle,” Brook confirmed after receiving his first Test call-up in May. “I think it’s the best form of the game.” After a modest start to his first-class career, hitting four hundreds from 48 matches this season, he showed his red-ball credentials, passing 50 eight times in his first nine innings this summer, three tons made and averaged 140. during that period.
Speight says Brook’s rare talent was immediately apparent but admits it took a lot of work in other areas to prepare him for the rigors of professional sports. “If they can play with their feet and they’re good against the short ball, you know they’re a good player, but Harry was a big, fat kid who couldn’t run. He’ll be the first to admit that, although technically He was very good, but he didn’t have any other resources around him that would allow him to get to where he wanted to be.
“He was probably about 16 when the coin finally dropped. The manager called him when he started at number six and said: ‘We know you’re a good player, but you have to work hard and push yourself in everything. ‘ He started doing more academic work – not that he would admit it – and he started. He practiced five mornings a week, got out of bed at half past six to train for two hours, and two hours a week with an athletic trainer. was teaching him to run. Maybe it all came from that point, when he realized there was more to it than just batting and bowling.”
Speight was so impressed with Brook’s progress that he told Sedbergh’s head of hockey that the youngster was destined to play for England. “He put £100 on him at 100/1 and collected his winnings last winter. Sometimes you can tell with players they’re just different to somebody else. Others are good and you can tell they’ve got a chance, but with “Harry, you knew he was going to be close. And if you ask anyone who knows him, they’ll tell you the same thing.”
It is a sign of the times that Michael Vaughan cites the century that Brook made for the Lahore Qalandars in the Pakistan Super League in February as a defining moment in his fledgling career – a 48-ball hundred in the T20 format that paradoxically provided a platform provided for his elevation. to set up the Test.
“I thought it might have gone a bit quicker because he’s always had a good game,” says the former England captain. “Sometimes it takes a little longer for a player to find the confidence and the confidence, and the awareness of the way you need to play, and obviously he found that method. It brought him consistency.
“In the last couple of years he’s become a white-ball cricketer, which I didn’t see coming. I thought he was more of a red-ball player but he’s had a really good game in white-ball cricket, which obviously helped him. get the confidence to go out and do it in red ball cricket. That hundred he scored in the PSL was a huge moment for him. On a big stage with a big crowd, to do that against some quality make it real – you always need that moment in your career to find faith.”
Vaughan is surprised, however, that Brook usually bats at No.5 for Yorkshire, rather than taking the plunge to crack the Test side for the first time – the most obvious slot available at the start of the summer.
“I’ve always believed that if you’re in the top three in county cricket, that equates to being a top five player in international cricket. Why is he hiding from that No 3 position? If I was a young player , I would look at the England side coming out of winter and go: ‘We have the No. 3 spot.’ “With the engine room of Root, Bairstow and Stokes at four, five, six, it’s very difficult to get one of those three experienced players out. I would cry to my county coach and say I want to bat three.”
With Ollie Pope making a sensational start at No 3, Brook has to bide his time a bit longer, but a Test debut is within reach. His form demands it. As he arrives, Boycott has a word of caution with the Yorkshire spirit that runs through its core.
“A lot of people said to me when they first saw Ollie Pope: ‘You’ve got to see this kid, he’s fantastic.’ He’s got lovely legs, he’s technically sound, but hasn’t he done it at Test level? Look at Zak Crawley. He’s just done it with pace. They play shots but can’t stay in them. He’s learned that from a young age. are playing like that, which is not the best way to succeed in Test cricket. Brook has played red ball county cricket. We don’t know yet whether he will be successful in Test match cricket. It’s not just how many shots you can play. , can you imagine? Do you have a good brain?”
The game may look and feel very different from the eras of Sutcliffe, Hutton and Boycott, but the challenge facing Brook as he prepares to begin his Test career remains the same as his famous predecessors: can he find a way that allows him to stay on the wave as long as he lets his talent shine.
This article was first published in Wisden Cricket Monthly. Guardian readers can get three digital issues of the magazine for just £2.49 or three print issues for just £5.99.