Danny Hall Column: Remember the past.. but get excited for the Yorkshire League of the future

Barnsley's Darren Gough on duty with Yorkshire at Headingley
Barnsley's Darren Gough on duty with Yorkshire at Headingley
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It survived 80 years and the Second World War, featured just 22 clubs and spawned a number of England international cricketers.

The Yorkshire League, as we know it, is dead. Long live the Yorkshire League.

It began with Hull’s dominance in the early years, and ended with York securing eight titles in nine years.

Next year, it’s all change – the existing 13 team division split into two 12-club leagues, with promotion and relegation to and from feeder leagues.

So, gone are the days when Collegiate faced a Saturday jaunt to Scarborough, or Doncaster Town travelled to York or Driffield. Instead, we have mouthwatering local clashes of the titans, with leading sides from the South Yorkshire League - this season Treeton, Whitley Hall, Aston Hall and Wickersley - given their shot at the big boys.

The 55-overs-a-side format has been scrapped, in favour of 50 overs each - with the Duckworth-Lewis method introduced for rain-affected games, and the addition of leg-side wides.

Joe Root in action for Collegiate

Joe Root in action for Collegiate

Gone, too, are Sheffield United – in name, anyway. They’re replaced with Sheffield and Phoenix United for 2016, following a merger between United and Rotherham Phoenix CC.

Both sides have struggled in their respective leagues in recent times, but hope the merger – coupled with the changes to the Yorkshire and South Yorkshire Leagues – can inspire a change of fortunes.

“The hard work begins now and there will be much more to report as the close season passes,” a joint statement from Richard Tong and Dave Bingley, United chairman, said.

“There have been many changes around the local cricket scene in recent times and we hope that this merger will help these changes to blossom in what looks like an exciting period for local cricket.

Back at Collegiate: Michael Vaughan

Back at Collegiate: Michael Vaughan

“The times they are a-changing.”

Certainly, it seems a long way from the first ever championship in 1936, won by Hull. They continued their dominance until 1953, winning every title apart from 1939 (Sheffield United) and 1950 (Rawmarsh), save for a break between 1941 and 1947.

United have remained since their title win, with clubs including Huddersfield, Halifax, Leeds, Whitwood Colleries and Kings Cross coming and going over the years.

Bill Croft, the Collegiate stalwart and former Yorkshire League president, told this column that only four founder members from the league remain – Hull, York, Rotherham Town and Doncaster Town.

“The original idea,” says Bill, who also played in the Yorkshire League for Collegiate before moving to Devon, “was a league, with one team representing each town or city in the county to play each other home and away.

“Any spare dates in the calendar would be taken up with Yorkshire Council Freelance Section Fixtures, the result of which counted in the team’s “average” for Yorkshire Council play-offs.”

The Yorkshire League left the Yorkshire Council in the early 1960s, affiliated to the Yorkshire Cricket Board.

York’s title win last season was their 14th overall, putting them clear of Scarborough (13) and Hull (10), who finished bottom in 2015.

Collegiate and United both won seven each, with Rotherham winning four and Barnsley lifting one trophy.

Leed’s Billy Sutcliffe was the first player to score 1000 runs in a season, in 1959 (1,005 at an average of 67) and his record stood until 1970, when Peter Kippax scored 1001.

In total, 60 players have achieved the feat – Driffield’s Aamer Sajjad’s 1,570 (average 71.36) standing alone as the highest aggregate.

Collegiate’s Richard Kettleborough, now one of the world’s leading umpires, scored 1,000 runs for three seasons in a row in the early 2000s while Doncaster Town’s Duncan Martindale, formerly of Notts, achieved the landmark in 1992, 1994 and 1995.

Six players – including Bill himself – have taken ten wickets in a game, but a run down of professional players to have played in the league gives a true reflection of both its standing and its standard.

Geoff Boycott and Dickie Bird both started at Barnsley – Boycott later featuring for Castleford in the 1980s – and New Zealand legend Martin Crowe, a future Wisden Cricketer of the Year, played for Bradford.

West Indian pace duo Kenny Benjamin and Ian Bishop both played for Collegiate – although, thankfully for the league’s batsmen, not in the same season, while Bishop later turned out for Doncaster.

Post-war, professionals Graham Stephenson, Arnie Sidebottom, Steve Oldham and David Adams all played in the same Barnsley side, while Collegiate produced two Ashes winners and world No.1 batsmen, Michael Vaughan and Joe Root.

Two more Ashes winners, Gary balance and Adam Lyth, turned out for Barnsley and Scarborough respectively.

Quite a roll-call of cricketing greats.

“The Yorkshire League has supplied its fair share of players for Yorkshire and beyond under its original format,” Bill added.

“What the future holds in its new format, we shall have to wait and see. In some ways it is going back to the format of play-offs, as the Yorkshire Cricket Council still do, and in some ways it goes forward in its regionalisation of the cricket in the county.

“Watch this space!”