Cricket: Loyalty its own reward for unassuming Blakey

MAN IN THE MIDDLE Richard Blakey (Yorkshire)
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LUCRATIVE benefits do not always go the way of the most worthy but if any modern cricketer deserves to be well set up by the game's anachronistic way of rewarding long service then it is Richard Blakey, unchallenged as Yorkshire's wicketkeeper for the best part of a decade.

Supporters of the twice-capped former England batsman, who made his first- class debut as an 18-year-old in 1985, would argue that he demonstrated the ultimate loyalty by placing the interests of the county before his own when he agreed to succeed the late David Bairstow, even though he had not kept wicket since representing Yorkshire schools.

He had been a prolific No 3 for the opening years of his career but never quite fulfilled that early potential, something observers of Yorkshire cricket put down to his acceptance of dual responsibilities. As far as Blakey is concerned, however, it was merely a case of helping his team out of a spot, albeit one they had created for themselves when second team 'keeper Steve Rhodes was allowed to join Worcestershire.

He takes a philosophical view of the effect it had on his career. "People say I might have played 30 or 40 Tests had I remained a specialist batsman but then again I might not have played any," he said.

"Sometimes I get frustrated about down the order, especially in one day cricket, because I'd love to have more opportunities. But I've had 10- 12 years with Yorkshire and I've played for my country, so I'm not going to complain about my lot in cricket.''

Yorkshire's young player of the year in 1989, he toured Zimbabwe and Kenya with England A the following winter, making a career-best 221 in Bulawayo. But Blakey's elevation to the senior England side that toured India and Sri Lanka in 1992-93 perhaps came too soon for him as a wicketkeeper and was not a success. He has been overlooked ever since.

"If I were to score 200 and take 10 catches in my next game I imagine people would start talking about me again but all I'm thinking about at the moment is doing well for Yorkshire.

"This is the best Yorkshire side I've played in with seven or eight players who are young enough to be together for a few years. Three or four seasons down the line they can develop into a team capable of being at the top for a good few years.''