Sporting bygones - Newport return rekindles glorious memories for Yorkshire CCC

Heroes: Len Hutton, left, who led the way in a glorious summer, and Frank Lowson, who was the match-winner at Newport.
Heroes: Len Hutton, left, who led the way in a glorious summer, and Frank Lowson, who was the match-winner at Newport.
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YOU would have to be a fairly elderly Yorkshire supporter – and quite possibly a fairly committed one given the travelling distance –- to recall the one and only time that the club played in Newport.

That was in late August, 1949 when victory in the final match of the season against Glamorgan saw Norman Yardley’s side share the County Championship title with Middlesex.

In charge: Norman Yardley. Picture: Getty Images

In charge: Norman Yardley. Picture: Getty Images

Yorkshire return to the Welsh city in 2020 when they face Glamorgan in the Royal London Cup.

It’s been a while – “mae wedi bod yn gyfnod”, as they say in The Valleys – with great interest set to surround the fixture on Friday, July 31.

The game will be played at the splendidly named Spytty Park, where first-class cricket in Newport returned last summer following an absence of 54 years.

The previous 27 first-class fixtures in the city – then classified as a town – took place at nearby Rodney Parade between 1935 and 1965.

Travelling from London on the milk and newspaper train, the team turned out on the Folkestone platform at four o’clock in the morning to face complete darkness at the station entrance. No taxis were available.

Jim Kilburn

That ground no longer exists as they plonked a school on top of it in the early 1990s, but the separate Rodney Parade stadium is very much alive and kicking, owned and operated by the Welsh Rugby Union and home to Newport RFC, the Dragons regional rugby team and Newport County Football Club.

Yorkshire, in fact, had been due to play in what would have been the final county cricket match held at Rodney Parade.

But the planned 40-over contest in the Refuge Assurance League in 1990 was abandoned without a ball bowled due to the weather.

Instead, that distinction fell to Gloucestershire, who beat Glamorgan there in a 40-over contest the previous year, with Gloucestershire also providing the opposition when first-class cricket returned to Newport last summer in a drawn game in the Championship Second Division.

Back in 1949, the title race had turned into a right humdinger as Yorkshire and Middlesex battled it out a la 2016.

According to Jim Kilburn, the Yorkshire Post correspondent, “the outcome of that season was a relief because until mid-August Yorkshire had been unimpressive, particularly in their bowling and fielding, and the chance of equality only came because Middlesex made a weak finish to their own programme”.

That “weak” finish nevertheless included four victories in Middlesex’s last six games, only for two defeats to London rivals Surrey to cost them dear.

Kilburn’s hitherto “unimpressive” Yorkshire actually won their last six matches from August 10 to finish level on points after Middlesex had ended their campaign 24 hours before the Newport fixture started on August 27.

One thing that stands out immediately is that Yorkshire thus played their last six games in less than three weeks – and, indeed, their last nine games in under a calendar month.

Granted, the 26-match Championship programme in those days consisted of three-day fixtures as opposed to four, but it was still a gruelling schedule which only made Yorkshire’s rousing finish all the more impressive.

Never more so, indeed, than when they won their third-to-last fixture against Kent at Dover, which began less than 24 hours after they had beaten Warwickshire at Scarborough – a distance of some 230 miles as the crow flies/350 miles in our motorway era.

“The match (at Scarborough) continued far enough into the third day to compel a wearisome night journey,” said Kilburn with magnificent understatement.

To compound matters for Yardley and his players, the only available hotel accommodation was around 10 miles away in Folkestone, and no-one knew where the hotel was.

As Kilburn wrote in his history of Yorkshire cricket: “Travelling from London on the milk and newspaper train, the team turned out on the Folkestone platform at four o’clock in the morning to face complete darkness at the station entrance. No taxis were available.

“The ticket-collector, asked for directions to the hotel, pointed into the blackness of the deserted station approach. ‘Turn left,’ he said, ‘and then right and left again. After about ten minutes’ walk you will come to the square and then anybody will tell you where the hotel is.’ ‘Anybody’ at 4am seemed optimistic.”

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Yorkshire made heavy weather of beating Kent before embarking on another gruelling journey to face Gloucestershire at Huddersfield the following day.

Ee by gum… Steve Patterson and his Yorkshire players today don’t know they’re born.

The decisive match at Newport was won by 278 runs thanks to fine contributions from left-arm spinner Johnny Wardle and pace bowler Alec Coxon in particular, plus opening batsman Frank Lowson.

Lowson top-scored with 72 as Yorkshire opened with 224 after Yardley won the toss, Wardle taking 4-47 and Coxon 3-42 as Glamorgan replied with 116.

Lowson struck 47 in Yorkshire’s second innings 239-8 declared, Wardle returning 5-15 and Coxon 5-17 as the hosts were bundled out for 69 in their second innings.

“By the end of the second day, the match was over,” wrote Kilburn, “and Yorkshire were joint champions – breathlessly and with an element of thankful relief in their satisfaction.”

It was a memorable finish to a glorious summer, one blessed with week after week of unbroken sunshine, and one recalled more now in this part of the world for the entry into the Yorkshire first XI of two of the county’s and country’s greatest cricketers.

Fred Trueman and Brian Close both made their debuts in 1949 – along with Lowson – in the match against Cambridge University at Fenner’s in May, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack memorably describing Trueman as “a spin bowler” – perhaps the most magnificent mistake in the history of magnificent mistakes.

Although Close played in the Newport game, Trueman had fallen injured during the season – one in which the batting of Len Hutton sustained Yorkshire’s challenge.

It was his finest season, bringing him a whopping 3,429 first-class runs, including 1,294 in June alone and another 1,050 in August. He averaged 68.58 and scored 12 hundreds.

Close, who completed the double that year of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets, as well as becoming England’s youngest Test cricketer at the age of 18, recalled: “Not the least part of my education was being at the other end while he (Hutton) scored gorgeous runs.

“His timing, his balance, the elegance and grace of his cover-driving, the way he instinctively picked the right ball to hit made me glad I wasn’t bowling, but even more delighted that I was just there to see it. And I was in the same team as that great man.”

Close, Hutton, Trueman, Yardley, Coxon, Wardle, Lowson, and so on.

Golden names from a golden summer that reached its golden climax in far-flung Newport.