‘There’s trouble up at t’crease !’ The dread cry went up and was taken round the little Yorkshire town of Hutton-on-t’-Moor. A beautiful little town it was, although the grimy and dreary moorland was only ten minutes walk away, and its one industry was cricket. Generations of Hutton men had gone to work on the county ground, patiently hewing runs out of the resistant pitch. It was man’s work in which women took no part, yet when a disaster was reported it was the womenfolk who crowded round the pavilion doors, weeping and waiting for the worst.

This was one of those days. The flag had gone up over the pavilion, meaning that men were trapped inside in a sudden and violent committee meeting. They could be there for days, and nobody knew who might come out alive. The crowd was silent.

‘They do say as ‘ow big Geoff Boycott has bought it,’ said an old man whose crouching stance showed him to be an ex-middle of the order batsman.

‘But there have always been Boycotts at the ground!’ exclaimed a woman.

‘It only seems that way, lass,’ said the old man. ‘It’s always been Geoff, the greatest cricketer Yorkshire ever produced.’

‘Any news of Ray Illingworth?’ someone asked. Ray Illingworth! The greatest player Yorkshire had ever produced. The man who had gone down south to seek his fortune and had come back again to Hutton-on - t’-Moor as they all did, with the possible exception of Mighty Brian Close, the greatest cricketer ever to come from those parts.

Suddenly the crowd pressed forward as the doors opened, then fell back slightly as two stretchers were carried out. The women gasped and the men went pale as the two recumbent forms proved to be those of Boycott and Illingworth.

‘Are they dead?’ asked the old man. No one answered him. In true gritty, direct Yorkshire style he went up to Boycott and bent over him. ‘Art tha dead, lad?’

There was no reply. The women moaned. Then a microphone was thrust in his face and a soft voice said: ‘BBC here, Mr Boycott. Have you ant comment to make on today’s disaster?’

The words had a magical effect. The eyelids fluttered, the lips opened and with a great effort the wounded man said: ‘I am fighting fit and raring to play for Yorkshire every day of my life and I demand to see my solicitor.’ The roar that went up from the crowd awoke the other man, and Ray Illingworth suddenly sat up from his coma.

‘I am the manager!’ he cried. ‘What I say goes! I think, therefore I am! Consider the spinners of the field! Tha shalt have no other manager!’

Exhausted, both men fell back and were carried off. Before the crowd could look grief-stricken again, the doors opened once more and out strode a spruce figure carrying a suitcase. It was the greatest cricketer Yorkshire had ever produced – John Hampshire.

‘Appen you’ll not see me round ‘utton again, lads!’ he cried. ‘I’m off to bonny Derbyshire. If you need a new manager or captain, give me a ring!’

‘I always doubted he were a true Yorkshire lad,’ growled the old man. ‘There’s got to be summat wrong wi’ a man who names hisself after a southern county.’

As Hampshire pushed his way through the crowd, a young man came the other way with all his wordly goods in a small bag. ‘ I have come to play for Yorkshire, good folk, ‘ he said loudly. ‘ Tell me to whom should I apply?’

They looked at him. They noticed that he was jet black. They smiled. Even the women laughed. ‘Th’art a gradely lad,’ said the old man to him, ‘but no one not Yorkshire born can ever dig for runs on ‘utton pitch.’

‘Know then, old man,’ said the black youth, ‘that I was born and bred in Bradford and proud of it.’ There was a short, stunned silence, ‘Lord be praised!’ shouted the old man. ‘We’ve got our own West Indian at last!’

And that is how Heathcliff, the greatest cricketer Yorkshire ever gave birth to, came to play at Hutton-on-t’-Moor.

The End
Moreover The Times 1981

 

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