Former Leeds City Council cricket development officer Ralph Middlebrook’s memories of new England head coach Chris Silverwood, whom he took under his wing when he was a teenager starting out on his cricketing journey in the early Nineties, endure to this day.
Plenty has happened since Silverwood, a teenager with sporting dreams from the pit village of Kippax, wrote a letter to Middlebrook applying for a place on a Youth Training Scheme run in conjunction with Yorkshire CCC.
His ambitions were all realised with Yorkshire and England and his reputation as a coach of some repute has now seen him handed the top coaching job in English cricket – a proud moment for all those who have been part of his story, including Middlebrook.
Middlebrook – whose son James is on the first-class umpiring circuit after a successful career in county cricket representing Yorkshire, Essex and Northants – said: “Chris played for Leeds Schools and at Kippax Cricket Club and I remember taking up a team to play in the north-east and he took seven for less than 20. He bowled quick.
“I asked Chris if he would like to come on the YTS scheme for two years and he said that he would. So I told him to write a letter, so I could present it to the people on why I should give him a place and he said: ‘Right-o.’
“Two or three days later, I received a letter: ‘Dear Ralph, will you please give me a job, yours Chris Silverwood.’
“He was a model trainee at the cricket school and hard-working. He has always been a genuine lad with a smile on his face who takes the ups and downs pretty evenly.
“He will do anybody a good turn and he has exceeded all my expectations, which is brilliant.
“He was a fresh-faced young strapping lad with big shoulders and a smile almost as broad as his shoulders.”
It was a grounding in cricket and aspects of life that was to clearly serve Silverwood, 44, well.
A host of former Yorkshire players came through the YTS scheme, including Tykes and England legend Darren Gough and current batting coach Paul Grayson.
Others include Tykes’ strength and conditioning coach Ian Fisher, reigning PCA Umpire of the Year Alex Wharf, Manchester City groundsman Craig Knight and Institute of Groundsmanship national manager Jason Booth, formerly head groundsman for Leeds Rhinos among many others.
Middlebrook recalls: “It was £27.50 for the first year and you got a tracksuit, lodgings and your travel paid and it was £35 in the second year. They got the grounding in groundsmanship, working in the office with David Ryder and coaching and playing obviously.
“They also did life- saving swimming and Chris was good at that, along with first-aid and a coaching award.
“By being on it, you put yourself in the shop window. If you had a fast bowler trudging away at Hull, Huddersfield or Halifax, you might get noticed or not. But if you were in the YTS scheme, you bowled and we had a probably serious ‘net’ every week.
“Steve Oldham, Doug Padgett and Arnie Sidebottom could see the potential of anybody there and Chris was obviously one of them.
“Chris hit the seam and also went to play for Castleford and Pudsey Congs.
“One day he played for Congs at Hartshead Moor. He sat down in the changing room and I introduced him and he said: ‘Would anyone lend me a sweater as I’d rather not play in my Yorkshire one. I want to play in a Congs sweater.’
“It was a wet day, but he ran and steamed in as if his life depended on it. He played two or three games for us and was a joy.”
Middlebrook assisted in Silverwood’s benefit year and has taken great pride in witnessing his second highly successful career as a coach develop after initially specialising in bowling.
His first year as head coach at Essex saw them promoted back to the top-flight of the County Championship, with his second seeing them lift the big prize in 2017 – before he joined England as their full-time bowling coach in early 2018.
Now the Yorkshireman is assigned with coaching the national team and Middlebrook is confident that England have landed a winner.
“I do not think he will tolerate fools. He will work hard and have a good work ethic and I think he will be honest with people,” added Middlebrook .
“I helped him with his benefit year and he has grown in confidence. He was not keen on speaking (initially), but we had question and answers and I never told him what I was going to ask him.
“He always had a good, sensible, cheerful and honest answer and he did not fudge it. He would answer anything.
“I know he has his mates still in Kippax and gets them a ticket or two for the Test match and he has a lovely family.
“He is a grafter with a bit of class with no edge at all. He puts it all in.”