Cricket: The Yorkshire tough guy who wore his heart on his sleeve

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Yorkshire cricket supporters will have fond memories of David Bairstow, who was found dead yesterday.

David Warner, who followed the former wicketkeeper's career from close quarters, reflects on one of the game's great enthusiasts.

David Bairstow will be remembered not only as a great Yorkshire cricketer but also as one of the game's most colourful and energetic characters. He was a blunt man through and through, as tough and as uncompromising as they come, but also a man who wore his heart on his sleeve.

"Bluey", as he was known throughout the cricketing world, had a love of the game and an infectious enthusiasm for life as a whole. Whether propping up a bar with him, fielding next to him in the slips or just talking about cricket in general, you could feel the passion oozing from a frame which could have been hewn from the side of a house.

It was this zest for living which made it almost impossible for his friends and former cricket colleagues to take in the news yesterday that he had died with a rope around his neck. Bairstow's world, it would seem, had tragically crashed in around him at the end, but Yorkshire cricket fans will have abiding memories of watching him in his pomp and of seeing him wearing his Yorkshire cap with an intensity of pride which is seldom matched nowadays.

I watched practically every game Bairstow played in for Yorkshire from 1975 right up to his retirement in 1990 and one of the most pleasurable sights in cricket in that time was to witness Bairstow taking an important catch stood back from the wicket off a fast bowler.

Crouched low, he would be on the rise as the ball thudded into his gloves and in the same uplifting movement he would throw it high into the air, straight as an arrow, waiting in loud-voiced jubilation for it to come down again.

Nobody during the two decades he strode the first-class stage epitomised more greatly the Yorkshire spirit than Bairstow, a true Yorkshire terrier, dedicated to playing and winning for his county.

As a catcher of a ball at full stretch, he was without equal among wicketkeepers of his day and as a middle-order batsman he was an unyielding and aggressive as they come. His never-say-die battling spirit was never better demonstrated than in a remarkable Benson and Hedges Cup tie at Derby in May 1981 when Chris Old was Yorkshire's captain and Ray Illingworth their manager.

Yorkshire were 64 for 5 and sinking fast when Bairstow arrived at the wicket, but it seemed that even he was fighting a lost cause as further wickets toppled and he was joined by the last man Mark Johnson with 80 still needed. Bairstow thought differently, however, and while Johnson watched on open mouthed, his sinewy partner produced one of the most astonishing displays of hitting recorded. When the winning run was struck with eight balls to spare, Bairstow had plundered 103 with nine sixes and three fours, his second 50 taking only 17 minutes.

Johnson contributed just four to the unbroken partnership of 80, which still stands as a Benson and Hedges 10th-wicket record. Bairstow's performance even had Illingworth swooning. "I've been in the game for 30 years and I have never seen a better innings than that," the former England captain said at the time.

Bairstow loved being the best at everything he did on the cricket field and nothing gave him greater pride than his unique distinction of being the only Yorkshire wicketkeeper-batsman to exceed 10,000 runs for the county and claim over 1,000 victims behind the stumps.

Other career highlights which brought him immense satisfaction were his 11 catches against Derbyshire at Scarborough in 1982 to equal the world record and his century before lunch against Leicestershire at Bradford three years later.

He played a big part in helping Yorkshire to win the Sunday League for the only time in 1983 under Illingworth's captaincy and was a member of Yorkshire's Benson and Hedges Cup-winning side against Northamptonshire at Lord's in 1987, the year that Phil Carrick had taken over the reins from Bairstow after three seasons in charge.

Comments