Joe Sayers: Taking the field

Joe Sayers with Yorkshire players.
Joe Sayers with Yorkshire players.
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In a new book, Joe Sayers reveals what it’s really like to be in the dressing room at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

IN what was Yorkshire’s much-anticipated sesquicentennial year, batsman Joe Sayers was asked to chronicle the highs and lows of what turned out to be a thrilling season for the White Rose county.

Ultimately, they were to end it empty-handed but, for the most part, Jason Gillespie’s side were in the boxseat in terms of being able to mark their 150th year with the County Championship.

On a personal note for Sayers, it was something of a frustrating season with him struggling to hold down a regular place in the first team line-up for the four-day game.

Written in a diary-style format, the 30-year-old Leeds-born left-hand opener has produced a fascinating and, at times, candid piece into the workings of a county cricket during a typical season.

April

AT tea on the third day and I have just watched Spurs equalise with minutes to go against Everton, much to the relief of our jumping and screaming physio, Scot McAllister. As the son of a former Spurs physio himself, “Phys” prides himself on following the north Londoners, and takes his fair share of stick for his commitment.

Cup of tea in hand, I am walking back into the dressing room to put my spikes back on for the final session, when Dizzy directs me into the coaches’ dressing room. “Can I have a minute, Squiz?” he says. I think I know what is coming. I have been here before. An announcement of team selection for Wednesday’s game against Sussex is due.

“Squiz... We’ve selected the team for the Sussex match... and, unfortunately, you’re not in it.” A sip of tea disguises an unavoidable sinking feeling I have felt before.

The ensuing conversation remains confidential, as it should, but I took to the field digesting the news I had been given minutes earlier. At times such as this, a cricketer’s ego demands a voice and a means of expelling its anger, bruised as it is by the critical judgment. The ego talks over the voice of reason, ranting and raving about the injustice and possible conspiracy. “Why me?” it shouts. “I don’t deserve this”.

The drive home gave me a natural window to make sense of the news, both through quiet reflection and a conversation with Lisa over the phone. I could see the reasoning behind the decision – selecting Leesy on the back of his second innings hundred and the runs he scored in Barbados – but did not and could not agree with it. I was ready to play and eager to make an early statement with the bat. But as Dizzy said, I had done all I could to make the first XI of the Championship summer and my game was in excellent order. There was nothing I could do, other than accept the call and decide upon a way forward out of the disappointment.

As I walked through the front door, an excitable Sebastian ran straight to me to welcome Daddy home. Life was pretty good, after all.

April to May

IT is a sleepy Bank Holiday morning and the roads to Headingley are empty of the usual rush-hour traffic. The sounds of Norah Jones occasionally distract my thoughts, which are with my return to the first XI dressing room and the start of tomorrow’s Championship match against visitors Somerset. A year ago to the day, a call from Dizzy disrupted my chat with Lisa in our local village cafe in Harrogate. The tone of his voice and his slow, considered start to our short conversation gave it all away. “We’ve decided to give Lythy a crack,” I remember him saying. I had lost my place in the first team and a return to the second XI was the salt in my wound. But this morning, a day before the start of tomorrow’s match, I can feel the tingle of nervous excitement for which I have hungered. The text came on Friday afternoon. Pushing Sebastian and buggy around the parks of Harrogate, I was relieved by the slowness of a day free from cricket. Lisa lost my attention for a few moments. “I knew it was something important,” she admitted, later. The message from Dizz listed the 12-man squad for the fourth Championship match of the summer and there I was, second on the list. I had done it. The opportunity I so wanted had apparently come and my first significant goal of the season had been reached. I was back where I wanted to be in the first-class arena, the place where I felt at once challenged and alive.

“Where should I sit?” I thought as I walked into the Carnegie Stand dressing rooms. Siddy had been the first to arrive, sat in just his pink boxers in the corner. My internal conversation continued. “Rooty’s off with the Lions but he’s left all sorts of kit in his spot, Jonny much the same. Richy might not play but moving him from his usual corner could be a little awkward. And everyone else appears well set in their dressing room ways. Mmmm... Jonny’s spot it is. He won’t mind me cleaning up his ’keeping stuff and piles of unopened letters”. I look forward to the day when someone can say: “You can’t sit there. That’s where Squiz sits”. It is good to be back.

September

After a sobering start, our Championship season had provided consistent proof of our standing in the top flight and fallen just short of the fairytale final chapter in the minds of many. Developing players had graduated to make impressive progress, whilst familiar faces had contributed match-winning performances when it mattered most.

Meanwhile, whilst our red-ball cricket offered an increasing amount of promise, our limited-overs season continued as it had started, revealing a frustrating trend for team performances that showed encouraging signs but fell significantly short of our opposition’s mark. The 2012 season had displayed this Yorkshire squad’s ability to win one-day trophies through an effective combination of positive, carefree ambition and high levels of fitness and agility. But both were surprisingly lacking this season, perhaps partly due to our prioritising the Championship somewhat and blooding new talent, but this would be no excuse.

To see the cup half full, we could reflect upon a season of success that had at the same time revealed the lessons we must learn to fulfil our potential next time around. The County game had become increasingly competitive, with a growing number of sides worthy of ambitions of silverware. Despite strong competition, this Yorkshire crop is able to – and should – win more trophies, and once the celebrations of our season’s successes have subsided, this will be the focus of our efforts.

Rose-tinted Summer – The Dressing Room Diary by Joe Sayers is published by Great Northern Books. Readers can order this book at a special price of £14.99 (plus £2.85 postage) by calling 01748 821122.