Philip Sharpe

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PHILIP Sharpe, who was the finest slip fielder ever to play cricket for Yorkshire and England, and one of the best in the world, has died aged 77.

He had the rare distinction of being picked for England against the West Indies, in 1963, specifically for his slip catching after the team had dropped so many. He was also an accomplished middle-order batsman.

He had the safest pair of hands in any team through a combination of lightning reflexes, relaxed hands and, being short in stature, a low centre of gravity.

His confidence in his catching ability from any position was such that on at least one memorable occasion, in the 1969 Headingley Test against the West Indies, he called for the catch when others would have left it to the wicketkeeper.

Vanburn Holder skied the ball and three fielders, including Sharpe from first slip and wicketkeeper Alan Knott, ran back to catch it. Instead of leaving it to the man with the gloves, Sharpe confidently called “mine”, and held it with ease in front of the Main Stand.

But for all that confidence in his ability he was modest and unassuming, genial, with a wonderfully dry wit, excellent company and a very contented man.

Yorkshire have never played cricket for fun, but they had fun off the field with Sharpe leading the singing in the dressing room or when they were travelling.

His county career spanned nearly 20 years and he was part of the team in the 1960s that won seven County Championships, and the Gillette Cup twice.

Philip John Sharpe was born in Shipley, the only son of Bert and Winifred Sharpe. His father was in the wool trade and passionate about cricket, which meant that when someone offered to sponsor his naturally talented sporting son to play either tennis or cricket, he guided him towards the bat rather than the racquet.

He played hockey for Ben Rhydding, represented the North of England, and had Olympic trials. He also competed annually at Folkestone Hockey Festival with a team of celebrities and professionals called The Ladykillers.

As an accomplished tennis player he once won at the annual Ilkley tournament, although being modest he did not tell his parents and it only emerged later. In later years he was a member of Ilkley Golf Club with a handicap of nine.

The family lived at Bolton Old Hall at Wrose, near Shipley, which they bought from a wealthy author, but she so loved the house she eventually wanted to buy it back. They moved to Pudsey, and the sale paid for their son to be educated at Worksop College where he excelled at sport. In 1955 he made 240 not out against Wrekin, a batting record which still stands.

As well as his sporting ability he had a passion for music and a wonderful singing voice. At school as a boy treble he was chosen to sing on the opening of O for the Wings of a Dove on a recording. Having sung it with perfect clarity at the first attempt he was told that was the rehearsal and he would have to sing again for the recording. He was so overcome with nerves, his voice was too sharp and another boy was chosen to take his place.

He joined Yorkshire in 1958 staying until 1974, then played for Derbyshire for two years. In 493 first class matches he took 618 catches and scored 22,530 runs at an average of 30.73.

In 1962 he had a particularly successful season for Yorkshire making 2,252 runs and six centuries at an average of over 40 in all his 64 first class innings. His 71 catches beat the previous record of 70 by John Tunnicliffe in 1901, and it remains unbeaten.

Between 1963 and 1969 he played 12 Test Matches, averaging 46.23 with the bat. Having been dropped he almost returned in 1968 when called to Headingley for England’s match against Australia, only to be left out on the day.

Essex’s Keith Fletcher fielded in the slips instead, dropped four catches and Yorkshire supporters never allowed him to forget it.

He did return in 1969, again picked primarily for his slip fielding, holding 17 catches and making his maiden Test century against New Zealand, at Trent Bridge. He scored 111 in his eleventh Test Match, on August 11, and was dismissed by number 11.

From Derbyshire he spent a year playing Minor Counties cricket for Norfolk, and he ended his playing career as professional for Manningham Mills in the Bradford League. He later served as an England Test Selector and a pitch inspector.

In retirement he worked as an oil company representative, was twice made redundant then became a tour organiser, initially taking over from his wife, Susan, who organised reunion clubs for British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) later British Airways. That eventually led to his own company, Travel Friends, arranging pre-season cricket tours for Yorkshire supporters then broadening it to following cricket anywhere overseas, the last one being earlier this year.

Retirement from cricket allowed him time to pursue his other passion, music, and he sang for about 45 years with the York Light Opera Society, later York Light Opera Company, of which he was president for two years from 2010.

He was married for 44 years to his wife Susan having met at the wedding of fellow Yorkshire cricketer Don Wilson, for whom he was best man.

He was a proud Yorkshire cricketer to the end, one of his last questions being: “What’s the Yorkshire score?”

Mr Sharpe is survived by his wife Susan, daughter Catherine and grandson Sam.

A requiem mass will be held at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Wetherby, next Friday (May 30), at 1.15pm.