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Obituary: David Bairstow

David Leslie Bairstow, cricketer: born Horton, West Yorkshire 1 September 1951; twice married (two sons, one daughter); died Marton- cum-Grafton, North Yorkshire 5 January 1998.

David Bairstow was possibly a born victim who spent most of his 46 years fighting to prove otherwise. He had to follow, in his chosen career as wicket-keeper batsman, three great players with England and Yorkshire in Alan Knott, Bob Taylor and Jimmy Binks, and for much of his 10-year service had to accept the comparisons.

As a county captain, a distinction he wore with enormous pride, he took over a Yorkshire dressing-room riven with the shot and shell of the Boycott years. One Championship, even a one-day trophy, would have won the day for him but with a weakened team and at a time when Yorkshire still adhered fiercely to the birth qualification he could never quite muster sufficient strength at a vital time, although he came desperately close with a semi-final in 1984, lost to Warwickshire by three runs.

As a character he was ebullience personified. Once trying to find a phrase to describe his role I defined him as "Yorkshire's fire brigade" and that summed up his game. When "Bluey" (a nickname coined by John Hampshire after his blue eyes and red hair) was at the crease there was always a sense of alarm, of bells ringing, the smell of smoke and danger. He played football - trials with Bradford City - and his life with much the same zest.

He was 17, a stocky schoolboy, when Yorkshire first called him to play against Gloucestershire at his home ground at Park Avenue. To do so he had to take his A level examinations at Hanson Grammar at 6am, thus starting a career that, in cricketing terms, had much more sunshine than gloom. He may well have been Yorkshire's best but the title will be denied him because his career and the advent of covered pitches coincided and he was rarely given the chance to prove how good he could be when taking top-class spinners on a turning surface.

Only David Hunter of his county predecessors has more first-class victims. On only 18 occasions has a Yorkshire wicket-keeper taken six or more victims in a match and Bairstow was present on six; he is one of only six keepers in history to have taken 11 or more victims in a match and he is the only Yorkshire wicket-keeper to have passed 1,600 runs three times.

He could hit and he could defend and his ability was worth far more than the four Test matches granted him. He went to the West Indies in 1981 as the first England choice but lost his place through injury. I had the good fortune to write a book with him in 1984 and whatever dark cloud descended upon him recently I shall treasure a few memories of a rumbustious sense of humour.

Early in his Yorkshire career he was told by the reigning warlord Brian Sellers to get his Seventies-style hair cut. Streetwise, "Bluey" thought Sellers would forget. He didn't and Bairstow was ordered again, this time directed to a specific barber: "I came out looking like a ginger billiard ball" was his rueful comment.

He delighted in run-chases. On one occasion when Yorkshire were so engaged one third-day afternoon things were going so well the wicket-keeper, batting number seven, fell asleep in a deckchair and thus missed a rapid clatter of wickets and new instructions from the captain: "We can't win now. Block it out."

Woken to take his turn, "Bluey" went in swinging the bat, to the consternation of his partner, who thought he was saving the game. "Coom on, run, run, RUN," yelled Bairstow while his partner, astonished, was shouting back, "Nay, wait on, wait on." When he became the county captain his leadership was remembered, as I wrote at the time, "as a series of uphill cavalry charges".

For England he blossomed under Mike Brearley's captaincy, delighting on one occasion in Australia when Brearley, for the last over, posted the wicket-keeper on the boundary in front of the sightscreen, infuriating the crowd, who suspected some cunning Pommie plot, Bairstow grinning hugely at the barrage of curses and insults.

Then there was a famous occasion under floodlights at Sydney where the Australia fast bowlers had been running rampant and Bairstow was joined by Graham Stevenson, another fearsome hitter, for the pair to silence the Hill by hitting the bowling straight for sixes.

He retired 18 years ago and appeared to be succeeding in business ventures and as a radio commentator on cricket. His first marriage, to Gail, whom he nicknamed "Stormy", a word that described their later relationship, ended in divorce but he remarried and when I last saw him, last summer, he was still the breezy, engaging companion I remembered. He had faults, but many virtues, too.

He scored almost 14,000 runs and hit 10 centuries, catching 961 victims and stumping 138.

- Derek Hodgson