As England announced their squad for their West Indies tour next month, there was pride within the Yorkshire ranks at the inclusion of six members of their championship-winning squad.
“Awesome,” was the response from coach Jason Gillespie as his side prepared for the Emirates Airline T20 tournament and the Abu Dhabi encounter against MCC as the curtain-raiser to the new county season.
But their resurgence as England’s most successful team perhaps owes much to a landmark decision 24 years ago, and subsequent arrival of the ‘Little Master’, Sachin Tendulkar, as their first-ever overseas, and non-white, player.
It was a significant season as a tradition, spanning more than 70 years, of relying exclusively on players from within the county was abandoned to allow India’s teenage hero to usher in a new era in 1992.
Amid boardroom disputes, not everyone was happy.
“It’s a bloody disgrace. Anybody not born in this great county – no matter who he is – shouldn’t be allowed to take the field for Yorkshire,” raged the legendary Fred Trueman as Geoffrey Boycott’s committee voted 18-1 in favour, and paved the way for the 19-year-old Tendulkar to make history – and not for the last time in his career.
It could have been Australian batsman Dean Jones a year earlier, but the committee voted against it on that occasion. It could also have been his compatriot Craig McDermott. But a groin injury meant the pace bowler could not fulfil his commitment and that prompted the search for a star to help save the county from despair and a worrying decline.
Yorkshire president Sir Lawrence Byford had revealed they were facing a £100,000 loss on the year and membership had declined by 3,000 since lifting the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1987. He even feared bankruptcy for a side that spawned icons like Herbert Sutcliffe and Sir Len Hutton, but had last won the title in 1968.
— Prasar Bharati (@prasarbharati) March 14, 2015
Martyn Moxon, captain back then and now Director of Cricket, knew the move was essential to compete with rivals and restore both pride and prestige.
“We were struggling,” he told Sport360°. “Playing with one arm tied behind our backs when everyone else had one, maybe two overseas players, we weren’t being successful.
“We weren’t winning cricket matches, we weren’t winning enough to compete and try to win trophies. It was going to affect us in the long term too.
“When you are not winning games, it’s harder for young players to develop or want to join. We needed to do something.”
When Moxon’s preferred choice McDermott pulled out, it was Solly Adam, well-known in the local leagues, who was instrumental in luring Tendulkar for a spell he described as “one of the greatest four-and-a-half months I have spent in my life.”
“As soon as I saw the news that McDermott couldn’t come, I approached Yorkshire and said why don’t you get somebody from Asia,” said the Karachi-born Solly, who runs a cricket suppliers’ business in Dewsbury.
“I recommended two people at the top of the tree. One was Javed Miandad and the other Sachin.
“Immediately they went for Tendulkar. He was an up-and-coming player and his potential was there. Miandad was in the final stage of his career and he would have been ideal with all his experience, but they went for Tendulkar.”
And there were no regrets.
Moxon adds: “He was only 19, a bit of a risk, but as it turned out, it was a brilliant signing for us.
“He did well for us on the field and off it as well. He was so willing to communicate with the members, the media and just a great man to have around the dressing room. Any potential problems of Yorkshire having an overseas player were quelled by Sachin’s willingness to communicate and show he was part of the club.”
— OMGSACHIN (@OmgSachin) March 29, 2014
With memorable images of a boyish Tendulkar posing in a flat cap, and settling well with Indian food at Solly’s home and trips to Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken, he won over the hardest of hearts.
Writer David Warner, who has been covering Yorkshire since 1975, said: “It wasn’t a resentment to change, but a stubbornness. If you look back to the 1930s, the 1960s Yorkshire were so strong they didn’t need players from outside of the county.
“It was a strong tradition, but ironic that the person who brought in the policy was Lord Hawke, who wasn’t even a Yorkshireman himself, but born in Lincolnshire.”
Warner advocated change, and so did another revered former captain.
“Raymond Illingworth quietly wanted to do the same himself, but dared not do it because of the traditions,” he said. “Twice he had referendums for the members to vote upon it, but they were heavily defeated.
“When Sir Lawrence took over as president he said he was going to do it without reference to the members and persuaded the committee to go down that road. So when Tendulkar came there wasn’t a great uproar or outcry.
“Everyone, without exception, took to him. He loved his time and couldn’t have been a better ambassador.
“I remember when he came, Yorkshire were playing at the Oval and he came straight in for a press conference and we all thought he would be ignorant of Yorkshire and the traditions, but he wasn’t. He had looked things up and everyone was amazed by his knowledge. I don’t think anyone else would have had the same impact.”
In 2011, Tendulkar was inducted as one of Yorkshire’s five great players – his feats for India inspiring the next generation.
“I always felt that the first overseas player must be Asian,” said Solly. “They were missing out on young players, supporters, members from the Asian community. After Tendulkar, it changed.
“Now Yorkshire have Asian-origin players like Adil Rashid playing for their teams and they have dreams of playing for Yorkshire and England.”
Tendulkar scored 1,070 runs in 16 championship games, but Moxon says his presence had a profound impact.
“Playing for Yorkshire, you are always under pressure to succeed, so as captain, it was doubly so,” he said. “But Sachin was such a great bloke to work with. Even then he looked something special.
“I remember he was playing at Middlesex and got two 50s against [John] Embury and [Phil] Tufnell when the ball was turning. His ability against that turning ball was a lesson to us all, of how to play spin. Having overseas players has elevated us. With people like Sachin, Darren Lehmann, Yuvraj Singh, it helps other players improve and gets us noticed around the world.”
This season, all eyes will be on Yorkshire with four big overseas names to help them achieve more success. Pakistan’s experienced Younus Khan will team up with Australian pair Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell, and then by New Zealand’s prolific batsman Kane Williamson.
For veteran bowler Ryan Sidebottom it is a classy quartet to provide lasting benefits.
“Those are the guys you admire and want to learn from,” he said.
Just like when Tendulkar became Headingley’s hero.
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