Cricket: Bluey and Arnie: the everlasting bond

Stephen Brenkley recaptures the day a Yorkshire legend caught the limelight
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DAVID BAIRSTOW was born in Bradford but he was made for Scarborough. He was robust and entertaining, ebullient but not brash and he graced its grand old cricket festival for two decades. It was there one September afternoon in 1982 that he made his bit of cricketing history by taking his 11th catch in Yorkshire's match against Derbyshire and thus equalling a world record which still stands.

"He wasn't one for statistics and records and he probably didn't know a thing about it," said Arnie Sidebottom, Bairstow's long-time Yorkshire colleague, after the wicketkeeper's death last week at the age of 46. Seven of Bairstow's huge haul in the match were taken off Sidebottom's bowling, merely confirming that it was one of those combinations which tested the supplies of ditto marks manufacturers.

"He always seemed to be taking catches off my bowling," said Sidebottom. "It was a bonding. For 18 years we virtually lived together. Seven that match, was it? Well, Bluey took something like 300 off me in my career. They were all a delight. He would always encourage. As we were going out sometimes he'd say 'Well, I've looked at the wicket Arnie and there's five or six in it for you today'."

The unique atmosphere generated at Scarborough, of cricket played entertainingly but competitively, made it Bairstow's sort of arena. He registered his highest innings there, 145 against Middlesex in 1980. He made his final appearance there for a World XI in 1990, raising his tally of victims to 1,099 and putting him 14th on the all-time list.

"We were there one year and batting to save the match," said Sidebottom. "Bluey was having a nap in the changing-room when a couple of wickets fell quickly. We woke him up and out he went. He hadn't got a clue what was going on. In half an hour he hit 80 odd in one of the most fierce bits of batting you ever saw."

Bluey, as he was known by one and all in cricket for his red hair, had minimal opportunity for England, operating as he did for so long in the era of Alan Knott and Bob Taylor. And when the big chance arrived he could not quite grasp it. He made his debut against India in 1979 and the following summer was selected both in the final Test against the formidable West Indies side and for the Centenary Test against Australia. When the touring party for the Caribbean that winter was announced Bairstow was named as first wicketkeeper.

"He got something innocuous like athlete's foot which prevented him from playing so I was in the side for the First Test," recalled Paul Downton, who had gone as second keeper. "The second one in Guyana was cancelled when their government objected to Robin Jackman joining our squad because he had played in South Africa. The tour eventually went ahead and Bluey played in the next match.

"During it our manager, Kenny Barrington, died. It was a pretty terrible time. Bluey had one of those matches. He dropped a catch, missed a stumping and in both cases the batsmen went on to make a few. It's the sort of thing keepers don't want. They recalled me for the last two Tests. He got on with it but I think he felt he'd been let down a bit."

The following summer Downton was playing for Middlesex against Yorkshire in a Sunday League match at Bradford when England's one-day squad was announced. "I didn't expect to be in but the selectors picked Geoff Humpage of Warwickshire as the keeper. Bluey was devastated and pretty furious. He knew then his England days were up."

He went on to captain Yorkshire with typical enthusiasm, to give his all in places such as Scarborough and to offer loud encouragement as the ball passed the bat and thudded into his gloves. For years the best-known phrase in English cricket was: "Bowling, Arnie."