Below Average

28th May 2018

Since the introduction of the Gillette Cup in 1963, English cricket’s abbreviated form has been contested by the First Class counties in various formats: 65 overs per side, 60 overs, 55 overs, 40 overs…

Under the present arrangements, there are two competitions: the T20 tournament (currently also known as the Vitality Blast), which has been running since 2003 and the 50-over Royal London One-Day Cup, which dates from 2014. In both cases, the 18 counties are divided into two groups (North and South) in order to decide which teams (8 in the T20 and 6 in the One-Day Cup) qualify for the knock-out stages.

Yorkshire CCC’s record over the 55 years of one-day competitions can charitably be described as “below average”. Of the 142 tournaments played to 2017, they have won just five: the 60-over Gillette Cup in 1965 and 1969, the 40-over John Player League in 1983 (when they were captained by the 51-year old Ray Illingworth), the 55-over Benson and Hedges Trophy in 1987 and the 50-over C&G Trophy in 2002. Of the other counties, only Derbyshire, Durham and Glamorgan have a lower haul, whilst, most painfully, the honours board at Lancashire registers no fewer than 17 one-day successes.

In many seasons, Yorkshire have promised much to start with, only to falter at a later stage, including the quarter- or semi-final. Last year, there was some controversy when, after success in the initial fixtures, it was announced that Yorkshire would not be able to host a home quarter-final in the NatWest T20 competition because Headingley was being prepared for a test match and Scarborough could not accommodate the required television cameras. In the event, Yorkshire solved the problem by winning only two of the last seven group matches and failing to qualify for the knock-out stage.

And so to another season, with hopes raised and optimism afresh. Last Friday, with a friend from Strathblane – George Farrow – I went along to Yorkshire’s One-Day Cup group match with Nottinghamshire at Headingley. Prior to the game, Yorkshire had won one match out of three in this year’s competition.

It was the first time that George – a life-long Essex supporter – had been to Headingley. We took up our position in the East Stand Long Room with its honours board and second-hand bookstall and cricketing memorabilia and enticing bacon rolls. From our perspective out on to the ground, George will have got a sense of the vastness of the arena and – I hope – of its history: Don Bradman’s two test match triple centuries, Hedley Verity’s 10 for 10 against Nottinghamshire in 1932, Geoff Boycott’s hundredth 100 in the 1977 test against Australia… We both got a good impression of the progress being made on the construction of the new Football Stand and the excellent views that will eventually be available behind the bowler’s arm.

What we didn’t get was any cricket. The drizzle intensified as we entered the ground and then came and went with unfortunate regularity until the umpires admitted defeat just after half past three and abandoned play for the day. As we left the ground, we bade our farewell to the wet and bedraggled lady in the hi-viz jacket who was supervising the exits from the car park. “You do look rather cold”, suggested George, sympathetically. “Yes”, she agreed ruefully, before taking a more optimistic line, “But I’ll be warm soon”.

Later, after a rather good fish and chip supper in one of the local restaurants, the route to our hotel took us past the extensive – and impressive – University of Leeds playing fields on Otley Road. A cricket match was under way behind the trees – a University 2nd XI match, we surmised – and so, just after nine o’clock, we sauntered up to the boundary edge to watch its conclusion.

Literally so, as it turned out. The first delivery we saw was swept behind square for four runs, at which point the players began shaking hands and walking off the ground towards the pavilion. The side batting second had successfully chased down their target of 164 with nearly 7 of their 20 overs to spare. All in all, therefore, it can be said that George and I did not see a great deal of cricketing action during this particular visit to Leeds. On the other hand, every delivery that we did see was struck to the boundary.

Friday’s wash-out was not helpful to Yorkshire’s bid to be placed in the top 3 of the North Group of this year’s Royal London One-Day Cup and thereby qualify for the knock-out stages. However, their cause has been aided by yesterday’s emphatic nine wicket win over Leicestershire in the same competition. There are only three more group matches left. Yorkshire will probably need to win all of them in order to reach the quarter-final.

Even if Yorkshire were to win both the T20 and 50-over competitions in 2018, their long-term mark would still be “below average”, such has been the general paucity of their one-day results over half a century. It would make for an interesting season though and for most supporters – who somehow sustain an unlikely combination of optimism and fatalism – that would be good enough.

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