Thursday, February 17, 2011

The English Game: Yorkshire & Surrey

by Ben Roberts


There would be few souls remaining with us today who, with the benefit of eye-witness, could explain the the great irony that these two counties have been paired together in this series. In the 1920s for English cricket fans it was a pairing of opening bats, one from Surrey and the other from Yorkshire, that brought the national team great success and the fans much joy. Jack Hobbs of Surrey and Herbert Sutcliffe of Yorkshire, remain to this day unarguably the greatest opening batting pair in the game’s history.

The famed television presenter, and Yorkshireman, Michael Parkinson once recounted the final moments he spent with his dying father. Parkinson senior expressed great pride at his sons achievements in life, but tempered this by noting that he had never played cricket for Yorkshire. To him, and to many residents of Yorkshire through history, to wear the white rose was something bordering on being deified.

Any proud Yorkshireman will gladly and strongly boast that their county has produced the greatest cricketers in England always. Truth be told, anyone would have a hard time arguing. The aforementioned Sutcliffe plus Wilfred Rhodes, Norman Yardley, Sir Leonard Hutton, Fred Trueman, Geoffrey Boycott and Darren Gough are just a brief list of the county’s fine history of cricketers.

With such a history of players, Yorkshire has won the county championship on 31 occasions; this is by far the greatest number of any county in the history of the championship. Not only is it the greatest number, but it is 12 more than the second most successful county Surrey. 30 of these championships were won by the conclusion of the 1968 season, the first 69 seasons of the championship producing a regular return of success. But from 1969 onwards Yorkshire endured a championship drought of 33 years.

Why did this consistently successful and proud county endure such a drought? While most other counties had been willing to widen their nets in order to attract talent, both within England and internationally, the fiercely staunch Yorkshire always refused not only to accept international talent, but anyone not born within the county itself. Such a strong and ultimately self-defeating stance was not altered until 1992. The, at that stage, exceptionally promising Sachin Tendulker became the first international player in the county’s history.

Given the county’s history, Australian player involvement is limited to more recent times. But in the past 18 years, eight Australians with international experience have played for Yorkshire: Greg Blewett, Michael Bevan, Matthew Elliott, Jason Gillespie, Ian Harvey, Simon Katich, Damien Martyn, and the unstoppable Darren Lehmann.

The South Australian Lehmann scored over 8,000 runs for Yorkshire in his career and his average of 68 is the highest in the county’s history. Lehmann also has the second highest score in Yorkshire history, 339. Lehmann was a key member of the drought-breaking team that won the county’s 31st championship in 2001. Probably the only negative was that Lehmann captained Yorkshire in 2002, the county being relegated to division 2 just 12 months after championship glory.


Surrey are joint tenants of London with Middlesex. Surrey’s home, famously, is in the shade of the imposing gasometer at The Oval. The county with the second highest number of county championships was also home to England’s finest batsman Jack Hobbs. Hobbs scored over 61,000 runs in his first class career and scored 199 centuries. Hobbs was named in Wisden almanac’s five cricketers of 20th century, and holds numerous batting records that are unlikely to be ever bettered.

Hobbs totalled a then record 626 runs in the 1911-12 tour to Australia. Included in his feats was a 323-run partnership with Wilfred Rhodes at Melbourne. Rhodes was another Yorkshireman to partner Hobbs, forming potentially the second greatest opening pair behind Hobbs and Sutcliffe. In a continued theme, reviewing what Surrey and its cricketers have achieved on the field reads rather bleakly for Australians.

Potentially cricket’s greatest bowler, George Lohmann, was from Surrey. In the 19th century Lohmann collected his test wickets at a cost of under 9 runs each. As well, cricket history’s most ruthless captain, Douglas Jardine, was a Surrey cricketer. Sir Alec Bedser, the great fast bowler and a gentleman of the game, played out his career for Surrey. His 236 career test wickets included many against Australians, and helped lead the nation’s cricket team out of the ravages of war into a period of sustained success.

Part also of this successful England team during the 1950s were Surrey finger spinners, Jim Laker and Tony Lock. Laker and Lock worked in tandem for both county and country in bamboozling batsmen. Lock later moved to Western Australia and continued his first-class career there while Laker is most famous for his match haul of 19 wickets against the Australians at Old Trafford in 1956. Only Anil Kumble of India has ever been able to match Laker’s remarkable feat of collecting all 10 wickets in a test match innings. What makes this feat even more astonishing is that it was the second time that season that Laker had completely bowled the Australians out. In May of 1956 Australia faced Laker’s Surrey whereupon they were bowled out in their entirety by the spinner.

The unofficial antipathy toward Australian teams and its cricketers also extends to there being few Australian players who have turned out for Surrey. Matthew Nicholson, who played one test for Australia in 1998, finished his first class career with the county; Andrew Symonds played his favoured form of the game, T20, for the county in 2010; and in 2011 Surrey will hope South Australian Shaun Tait remains fit and can deliver his thunderbolts also in the T20 competition.

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