Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demned elusive Pimpernel
Baroness Emma Orczy’s famous creation was literary fiction’s master of disguise.
He was Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy English baronet who rescued those sentenced to death by guillotine in the years of the French Revolution.
With every rescue, the Pimpernel taunted his pursuers by leaving behind a card showing a small flower – a scarlet pimpernel.
He was the subject of widespread popular interest and an international manhunt by the French authorities.
There are echoes of the Scarlet Pimpernel in the curious case of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club snipper, a similarly elusive figure who, over the years, has been snipping his team-mate’s clothes in a crazy, hell-hath-no-fury-like-a woman-scorned kind of way.
Every Yorkshire cricketer of modern vintage – from the likes of Michael Vaughan down to the humblest junior pro – is weaned on the legend of the snipper (or Jack the Snipper, as he is sometimes called).
They are told that he exists and that no-one knows his identity.
The only certainty is that, every now and then, often when the side have had a bad day and spirits need lifting, he will take a pair of scissors to someone’s clothes and leave them with half of what they had before, with socks a favourite target.
The snipper is immortalised in a new book by Sir Ian Botham entitled Beefy’s Cricket Tales: My Favourite Stories From On and Off The Field.
Among the many rib-tickling anecdotes, which feature first-person contributions from those with whom Botham has played and rubbed shoulders, is one from Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan.
The England pace bowler has had first-hand experience of cricket’s answer to the Scarlet Pimpernel and says that the secret is to take it all in good fun and keep your head down.
Others, however, have risen to the bait more than most and consequently been snipped more than most – among them the former Yorkshire batsman and current Australia coach Darren Lehmann.
“Boof”, as he is affectionately known, was a hugely popular figure at Headingley and, because of his often outspoken reaction to the snipper’s activities, a frequent target.
After one snipping, Bresnan tells how Lehmann “really lost it” and demanded to know who the snipper was.
He accused Anthony McGrath because he was laughing so much but no-one came forward and admitted guilt.
After a spot of detective work, Lehmann heard that fast bowler Steve Kirby was a likely suspect, and his suspicions grew the next time he was snipped.
Convinced of Kirby’s culpability, Lehmann decided to take matters into his own hands and pay him back with a taste of his own medicine.
Bresnan takes up the tale: “Steve used to drive a black luxury car and was pretty pleased with it. One morning, Boof was being driven into the ground and was hanging out of the passenger window looking for Steve.
“He spotted him on the balcony, and at that point pulled out a car aerial and started cleaning his teeth as though it were a toothpick.
“‘Recognise this, snipper?’ said Boof, looking pleased as punch with his new flossing tool.
“‘What do you mean?’ replied Steve.
“‘Don’t you recognise your car aerial, snipper? I picked it up this morning outside the hotel. Without the radio, it will give you a chance to think about what you’ve done’,’”said Boof with a satisfied smile.
“‘Dunno what you’re talking about, mate, my car’s been in the ground car park overnight!’
“Boof’s face dropped as he realised what he’d done – stolen a random car aerial from somebody else’s car.
“Naturally, the dressing room enjoyed the fact that our Aussie player had just done the sort of thing that would have seen him transported to Australia not all that long ago.”
Bresnan concludes: “If the owner of that car is reading this, Boof is very sorry and he is currently the coach of Australia!”
Notwithstanding Lehmann’s frustrations, even he was forced to admit that the snipper had a positive effect on team spirit.
The snippings invariably caused great hilarity to everyone but the victim – a bit like when a batsman is hit in the unmentionables by a cricket ball and everyone else but him sees the funny side.
“Despite being a prime victim, I do think the snipper has helped create an amazing team-building exercise,” wrote Lehmann in his 2004 autobiography Worth the Wait.
“When we have a really bad day on the field and moods are low, to discover someone had been ‘snipped’ always brings the house down.”
None of which answers the all-important question.
Who is the snipper?
And, given his longevity and the fact that he has apparently escaped detection, is there more than one individual at work?
Has someone, perhaps, acted as a look-out while the snipper has gone about his whimsical work, or has he operated in glorious isolation?
Over the years, suspicion has fallen on a number of players.
Richard Blakey, Ryan Sidebottom… such great men and more have been cited as suspects.
Former England pace bowler Matthew Hoggard has told the story of the time when ex-Yorkshire captain David Byas made the players sit in a circle in the centre of the field until someone owned up to being the snipper.
They did not and the snipper carried on snipping away.
Much suspicion has fallen on McGrath, who was a renowned practical joker during his distinguished career.
Earlier this year, when that career came to a end, Vaughan tweeted: “Congrats on a great career Anthony McGrath… You can now admit to everyone you were the Yorkshire Snipper… #mags”
McGrath did no such thing when he recently popped into The Yorkshire Post towers to take part in an Ashes podcast, and the miscreant’s identity remains a mystery.
Indeed, cricket’s Scarlet Pimpernel may never be found.
They seek him here, they seek him there, those Yorkies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demned elusive Snipper
Beefy’s Cricket Tales by Ian Botham is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £18.99.