Eddie Leadbeater: Cricketer who remained until recently the only leg-spinner to play regularly for Yorkshire
In two respects Eddie Leadbeater was a most unusual cricketer.
He was the first and – until Adil Rashid recently – the only leg-spinner to play regularly for Yorkshire. Even more remarkably, he played twice for England without ever being awarded a county cap.
The youngest of six in a working class family, he learned his cricket at the Almondbury club on the southern outskirts of Huddersfield. He was only 13 years old when he made his first-team debut in 1941, and he was still playing there, as captain of the second XI, at the age of 68. A bubbling, cheerful character, he was a short man who flighted his leg breaks, scored useful runs and was lively in the field.
Yorkshire were traditionally suspicious of wrist-spin bowlers. They took wickets, but they tended to bowl bad balls as well – and the county was too parsimonious to tolerate that. "AtYorkshire," Leadbeater said, "when you ran in to bowl, always at the back of your mind you were thinking, 'I hope this isn't a full toss ... I hope this isn't a short one'." At the end of his first full season, 1950, when he took 87 wickets, he was offered a contract by Hampshire, and in later life he came to regret that he did not head off to its more easy-going pastures.
Yorkshire provided a harsh environment for a young cricketer. His highest score came one day at Sheffield when he rebuilt the innings in a long partnership with Ted Lester. Lester completed his century, but Leadbeater fell just short of his, looking for quick runs before the declaration. "Well batted, Ted," the chairman said warmly in the changing room, but all the younger man got was, "What were tha' doing, Leadbeater, getting out for 91?" When he returned his best bowling figures, 8 for 83 at Worcester, he found his partner Johnny Wardle demanding to bowl from his end in the second innings. Worse, Wardle started to offer him advice that, he later suspected, was intended to stop him taking further wickets.
In 1951 Leadbeater took 81 wickets but lost his place for the last three matches when the off-spinner Brian Close returned from National Service. Though nobody had said it, he always knew that he was filling in while Close was absent, and he was released at the end of 1952. Over the next four years he played a handful of further games, then moved to Warwickshire where, in 1958, after the retirement of the veteran leg-spinner Eric Hollies, he played a full season. He scored a maiden century against Glamorgan and enjoyed his cricket greatly.
In his view he was bowling better than ever, but he retired in order to save his marriage. Unfortunately he lost not only his career but his wife as well, though his second marriage endured and was happy, which eased his bitterness.
In the winter of 1951-52, after his second full summer at Yorkshire, England sent a tour party to India. At that time it was a minor tour, from which the senior players were excused, and a month in the leg-spinner "Dusty" Rhodes fell ill. Several possible replacements were already committed for the winter or did not fancy four months on the subcontinent. So Leadbeater boarded the plane to Bombay. He was a welcome addition to the party, full of fun, but he did not do himself justice on the field. Pitched into the second Test he dropped two slip catches on the first morning, then pulled a thigh muscle.
With Close back in civvies, Leadbeater spent much of the following summer in the Yorkshire second XI – an England cricketer but never a capped Yorkshire one. He had begun an electrical apprenticeship, but after cricket he was a salesman for a multi-goods warehouse and he returned to Almondbury Cricket Club, where he became a legend, still topping the league averages in his fifties. His final tally of 1,812 first-team wickets was for some years the league record.
He had an infectiously happy personality, and he loved his cricket. "It's a great game," he would say. "In good weather it's the best game there is."
Edric Leadbeater, cricketer: born Lockwood, Huddersfield 15 August 1927; married firstly Betty Knott (divorced, one daughter), secondly Mary Ellis (one daughter, three sons); played for Yorkshire 1949-56, Warwickshire 1957-58, two Tests for England 1951-52; died Huddersfield 17 April 2011.
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