WHEN England announced their squad last week to tour the West Indies it was easy to imagine Bob Appleyard looking down from above and smiling contentedly.
Five of the six Yorkshire players chosen in the 16-man party came up through the Yorkshire Academy, an institution which Appleyard near single-handedly established in 1989.
The squad was named just over 24 hours after Appleyard died at home in Harrogate, aged 90, and it emphasised his enduring legacy to Yorkshire cricket.
It is a legacy that lives on in the success of such as Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Adil Rashid, Adam Lyth and Jonny Bairstow, all of whom came up through the Academy, with only Liam Plunkett – Yorkshire’s other West Indies-bound player – having learned his trade elsewhere.
The creation of the Academy was arguably Appleyard’s greatest cricketing achievement, which is saying something considering that he was one of the finest bowlers the game has seen.
If anyone doubts that they should consult the record books, which show that in a career that lasted just five full seasons, the Bradford-born seam and spin bowler captured 708 first-class wickets at an average of just 15.48.
Only the Yorkshire and England left-arm spinner Hedley Verity, whom Appleyard admired greatly and actually saw play as a schoolboy, had a superior average among regular bowlers since the First World War.
Indeed, as Appleyard’s close friend Sidney Fielden, the former Yorkshire CCC public relations chairman, confided: “There was no finer compliment you could pay Bob than to describe him as the right-handed Verity.”
Appleyard was rightly proud of his cricketing achievements: 200 wickets in his first full season in 1951; 154 wickets in his comeback campaign in 1954, after he had bravely fought back from life-threatening tuberculosis that saw him lose part of a lung; a haul of 44 wickets on the triumphant 1954-55 Australasian tour, and so on.
But he was even more proud, one always sensed, of his part in helping set up a facility that nurtures young Yorkshire cricketers, many of whom perhaps do not realise the huge debt they owe one of the county’s finest sons.
Appleyard’s great pride in the Academy was brought home to this correspondent when he telephoned last October to suggest that we did a piece to mark its 25th anniversary.
He had just attended Yorkshire’s County Championship celebration dinner at Elland Road and heard how 10 of the 11 Yorkshire players who played in the title-winning game against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge had come up through the Academy, and he sensed an opportunity to give the scheme the publicity it deserved.
His own role in the Academy was not of concern; “don’t make a big thing of my involvement”, he said. His interest was championing a system that is still working, still thriving, still producing talented young players in a manner that is the envy of every other cricketing county – and he wanted to remind people of its success.
Appleyard’s telephone call also emphasised something that always resonated during personal dealings with him.
His energy and enthusiasm, which never left him, were enough to show up men half his age and he was remarkably proactive – not least when he used all his business skill to raise funds to get the Academy off the ground and when he served as Yorkshire president from 2006-2008, a role which he never felt to be that of a figurehead but one in which he saw it as his business – nay, his duty – to try to make a difference.
The unintended drawback to Yorkshire’s preference for fixed terms for the president, in a commendable attempt to share the honour around, was never more emphasised than when Appleyard was forced to stand down at the end of his term of office.
What a pity that one so obviously committed to the post could not have continued for a little bit longer.
Appleyard mined a rich seam of ideas and opinions – not just about cricket – and a journalist rarely found himself conducting brief interviews with him.
In the nicest possible way, one could ask a question and then listen as he went off at a long tangent that invariably incorporated the technicalities of spin bowling and the intricacies of a game that fascinated him until his dying day.
In such moments of cricketing reflection he could be riveting, and it was easy to forget why you had actually rung him in the first place.
Nor did he disparage modern cricket like some contemporaries; he could see the good in it as well as the bad.
No appreciation of Bob Appleyard would be complete, of course, without some appreciation of his backstory, which the film critic Barry Norman once said was touched by “almost Dickensian tragedy and hardship”.
For as well as having to cope with life-threatening tuberculosis, Appleyard had to deal with events in his personal life that would have broken most.
At seven, his mother walked out on the family; at 13, his youngest sister died of diphtheria; and, at 15, he returned home from his grandmother’s one day to find his father, stepmother and two other sisters gassed to death in the bathroom of the family home in Bradford.
His father, unhinged by the Great War and now by the outbreak of World War Two, had decided that they were better off out of it.
One can only speculate how much this affected the young Bob – and to what extent it shaped his character.
He was, by his own admission, a challenging man at times. He bowed to no-one nor appeared fazed by anything – perhaps because of those dreadful early experiences – and he was independently-minded.
Yes, he could be stubborn, awkward, obstinate and contrary – not least in the Yorkshire dressing room of the 1950s, which was a veritable viper’s nest of strong and conflicting personalities.
He made enemies as well as friends – and he made no apology for it.
But his friends knew his innate kindness, his fierce loyalty and his easy affection – all underpinned by a Christian faith that helped him through his darkest moments – and he was unfailingly helpful to this correspondent, who, for what it is worth, admired him immensely.
He entitled his autobiography No Coward Soul, among the last, moving words written by Emily Bronte before her death from tuberculosis in 1848, and it is impossible to imagine a more fitting epitaph.
Rashid’s big chance to make a mark
YORKSHIRE’s ‘super six’, as they should rightly be called, head to the West Indies next month for the three-match Test series.
Messrs Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Adam Lyth and Jonny Bairstow will be flying the flag for the White Rose, with Yorkshire having contributed a staggering 37.5 per cent of the 16-man squad.
Although we wish all the players well, perhaps the most intriguing selection is that of Rashid, the 27-year-old leg-spinning all-rounder.
It is the right call by the selectors to give him a go – there are some who say he should already have had one – and with Moeen Ali missing with a side strain, Rashid seems likely to take the spinner’s berth ahead of James Tredwell.
England need to find out what Rashid can do in Test cricket, particularly with the Ashes just around the corner.
Rashid could provide a new dimension as he moves towards the peak of his career.
If given the chance to impress in the Caribbean, do not be surprised for one moment if he grabs it with both hands.
In the meantime, let us savour Yorkshire’s contribution to the national cause, which reflects well not only on the players themselves but on all at Headingley.