TEN of the 11 players who played in the Yorkshire team that beat Nottinghamshire to clinch the County Championship title at Trent Bridge came up through the Yorkshire Academy.
It is a remarkable statistic, one to bring a wide smile to the face of every Yorkshire supporter and a warm glow to one man in particular – Bob Appleyard.
For it was Appleyard, the former Yorkshire and England seam and spin bowler, who set up the Academy 25 years ago.
Of his many achievements in the game, few give the 90-year-old more pleasure than the creation of a facility that has spawned many great names including former England captain Michael Vaughan and – dare we say it – future England captain Joe Root.
As with most things in Yorkshire cricket, the road from initial idea to successful realisation was not as smooth as a baby’s backside.
Although most agreed with Appleyard’s vision, designed to keep hold of and nurture the finest young talent, there were disagreements over where the facility should be sited.
Appleyard – along with former Yorkshire team-mates Brian Close and Bryan Stott – favoured refurbishing Bradford Park Avenue so it could act as the Academy’s home.
Others – chief among them former Yorkshire and England batsman Geoffrey Boycott and committee man Tony Vann – wanted it located at Headingley, so it would sit nicely alongside the other facilities at Yorkshire’s base.
Without dredging up the whys and wherefores of the argument or taking sides, it is sufficient to say that Appleyard – as with most things in a life in which he has successfully battled such adversaries as tuberculosis and Robert Maxwell – eventually got his way.
He helped persuade Bradford Metropolitan Council, which owned Park Avenue, to offer the ground on a 999-year lease at a peppercorn rent, with grants and fund-raising assisting with the set-up and running costs.
Out of the first four years’ expenditure of £260,000, when Appleyard was responsible for generating funds, Yorkshire CCC and the Bradford council each contributed £15,000 a year, with the other £140,000 coming from donations – highlighting Appleyard’s dynamism and depth of contacts.
The Academy, which started in 1989, was a truly ground-breaking scheme that saw Yorkshire become the first county to boast such a facility.
The idea had come to Appleyard the previous year, when he travelled to Australia for that country’s bicentennial celebrations.
He saw for himself the success of Australia’s national academy and talked at length to its director, Jack Potter, reasoning that with a little effort Yorkshire could create something similar.
“Having seen what was going on in Australia, I realised that this was the way forward,” said Appleyard.
“Also, at that time, I was going to America twice a year on fact-finding missions in the packaging industry, and the American system, the way they linked sport through their colleges and universities, was way ahead of ours.”
The Academy was run first by Steve Oldham, the former Yorkshire seam bowler, and the initial intake was nine players.
One of the earliest to pass through its hands was Craig White, the Morley-born all-rounder who had grown up in Australia and was a member of Potter’s Australian batch.
“I wrote to Jack to say that as our seasons ran oppositely, if they had any youngsters who wished to come over to England, we could probably find them a job and put them in our Academy,” said Appleyard.
“Craig made such an impression in a pre-season game that he went straight into the Yorkshire first team and, within a few years, he was playing for England.”
Appleyard was interested not only in producing young cricketers but also rounded young men, and he arranged manual work for them around their cricket.
“We had the youngsters doing menial jobs so they didn’t get too big-headed,” he said.
“We had them painting the railings at Park Avenue, for instance, and cutting the grass, doing jobs that we’d have had to pay labourers to do, and it was a good way of keeping their feet on the ground.
“By doing that, you could also tell who was lazy, who was hanging back, who got on with it, and so on, and it gave you an insight into their characters.”
Appleyard was involved for the first five years of the Academy’s life before leaving the Yorkshire committee.
The Academy remained in Bradford for a decade before moving to the New Rover ground in Leeds and, latterly, to nearby Weetwood.
“I was unhappy to see it leave Bradford,” said Appleyard, “particularly as, by then, we’d given the University of Bradford a lease on the ground and persuaded the England and Wales Cricket Board to use Park Avenue as one of the university centres of excellence.”
The Yorkshire Academy has lately flourished.
This year, they won the Yorkshire Premier League and the knockout cup under the astute guidance of Academy director Ian Dews and development coaches Richard Damms and Tony Pickersgill.
Yorkshire’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon is also heavily involved, while first-team coach Jason Gillespie and second-team coach Richard Dawson also work with the youngsters, with Yorkshire viewing it almost as a third team as they spread their coaching resources to help the juniors (there are usually eight-to-14 youngsters at any one time) towards first-team level.
For Appleyard, Yorkshire’s title triumph has been the culmination of a long journey.
“In many ways, it’s taken 25 years to bring everything to fruition,” he said.
“We set out with the idea of having a successful team of mostly Yorkshire-born players and, although it’s taken longer than it should have done because of politics and bad management in some areas, we’ve got that now.
“People may not realise, but it was a real battle to get the Academy off the ground, what with all the committee politics that was going on in the 1980s after the old committee was overthrown during the Geoffrey Boycott revolution, but I’m so pleased that we did.
“I’m very proud of what the Academy has done and what the club have achieved by winning the County Championship.”
Some of the stars who have progressed through the Yorkshire system ...
Michael Vaughan: England’s most successful Test captain with 26 wins from 51 matches. Presided over the historic 2005 Ashes triumph and scored 5,719 Test runs at 41.44 with 18 hundreds and 18 fifties.
Matthew Hoggard: One of the lynchpins of England’s pace attack under Michael Vaughan. Hoggard took 248 Test wickets at 30.50 and captured just under 800 wickets in all first-class cricket.
Darren Gough: England’s best strike-bowler since Bob Willis and Ian Botham, the charismatic Gough inspired team-mates and crowds with some brilliant performances. Took 467 international wickets.
Joe Root: An England captain-in-waiting and one of world cricket’s finest young batsmen. Root, 23, scored 777 runs in the seven Tests last summer against Sri Lanka and India at an average of 97.12.
Gary Ballance: Like Root, the 24-year-old Ballance – who joined the Yorkshire Academy from Derbyshire as a youngster – is one of the game’s brightest talents. Hit 704 runs in last summer’s Tests at 70.40.
Yorkshire team that won the title at Trent Bridge – Academy products: Adam Lyth, Alex Lees, Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Jack Leaning, Adil Rashid, Tim Bresnan, Steve Patterson, Ryan Sidebottom. Non-Academy product: Jack Brooks (ex-Northants).