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Ray Illingworth

December 12 2006

Ray Illingworth thanks Corridor of Uncertainty readers for his election to The Hall of Fame and answers your questions from his Yorkshire home.

Ray spoke to me from his Yorkshire home to answer your questions about cricket, his life and opinions and to thank Corridor readers on his election to The Yorkshire Cricket Hall of Fame Ė I began with that.

The readers of The Corridor of Uncertainty website have elected you as the fourth person to enter the Yorkshire Cricket Hall of Fame. Have you anything to say to the people who voted for you?

Iím obviously very proud of that, because the most important thing in my life was when I received my Yorkshire cap back in í55. As we always said - Fred, myself, Close and people like that - getting your Yorkshire cap probably meant more to you at that time than getting your England cap. So therefore getting voted for like that is very important to me and I feel very, very privileged.

Over the years, many of Yorkshire's very best players have ended up playing for somebody else towards the end of their careers - Wardle, Trueman, Close, Sidebottom, Gough, Silverwood, Lumb, and now probably McGrath as well as yourself. Why do you think that is? Is there a reason for that?

I think there is, very much so, particularly in our day we always said that we won the Championship in spite of the Committee and not with the help of them. I think that the Yorkshire Committee were very badly run for a very long time. The reason I left was because we didnít even have contracts and when you get into your thirties to have no security whatsoeverÖ I mean they say weíll tell you in August if we want you Ė a gentlemanís agreement Ė yeah, a gentlemanís agreement one way.

In later years I think there have been problems but not anywhere near the problems that we had through the forties, fifties and into the sixties. Now they get very good contracts and things like that. I just think its dissatisfaction with things that are happening around them from a cricket point of view. I donít think thereís much to argue about off the field now. They get their sponsored cars and lifeís much more comfortable than it was in the forties, fifties and sixties.

Whatís your view on the current situation at YCCC?

Well theyíve got themselves now into a real mess unfortunately. I thought at the time that Adams coming wouldnít be a bad idea, but heís really let them down and left them Ė well I donít know where theyíre going to go now because theyíve more or less said that Dave Byas wasnít the man to do the job and moved him sideways. So can you put Dave Byas back in charge or do you go looking for somebody else?

Iíve spoken to Stewart Regan this morning and heís said that David Byas is not an option. Heís basically been offered the other job and theyíre waiting for his answer on that.

I think thatís fair. If they felt he wasnít good enough when Adams was coming and wasnít the right man then to go back would be a mistake.

If you were in charge at Yorkshire now who would you appoint as captain?

(laughs) Itís difficult from the staff theyíve got. Possibly the man theyíre trying to get to do it is McGrath but he doesnít seem to be happy taking the job. Iím not inside enough to know exactly whatís happening, but they havenít really got a lot of options at the moment. A lot of people thought at one time that Richard Dawson would be a good captain, but he hasnít proved good enough to hold his place consistently and heís left now. At the moment without bringing in another overseas player, which would be difficult to give him the captaincy as he doesnít know the players and the tradition there is at Yorkshire. Theyíre really in a bit of a situation both financially and player-wise at the moment. I really donít know where theyíre going to go. Someoneís got to pull a rabbit out of the hat to may be do a job for a year or two.

As a Spinner himself, what do you make of the emergence of Adil Rashid and Mark Lawson?

Mark Lawson Iíve known for a long time. He went through our juniors at Farsley and was getting into the first team for a year or so and then unfortunately Dave Byas said they couldnít play in the Bradford League and made them move into the Yorkshire League. I felt very upset about that seeing as theyíd come through our juniors from fourteen years of age. I felt that was another bad mistake that Yorkshire made, which was Dave Byasí decision.

Theyíre both very good cricketers. Lawson should have played a bit more than he has done. Theyíre both outstanding prospects and Rashid can bat. By playing them both towards the end of the season they won them a couple of matches.

They pretty much saved Yorkshire from relegation.

Yeah. Iím not saying that they should both play together at the start of the season in April and May when thereís a lot of damp about and the seam bowlers are having a field day, but I think thereís always a place for one of them. On the covered pitches they play on at the start of the season you do need to have something different. The ball skids on a bit and if they donít read them properly you can still get wickets. People think spinners can only get wickets on an absolutely turning pitch and thatís not true. There are many ways you can get them, with an arm ball and things like that. If the spinners a good bowler heíll always get wickets. He wonít get 6-20 but he might come out with 2 for 30 or 40 in about twenty overs if heís a good bowler and they could be two vital wickets. What people forget is that some batsmen donít play spin well whatever the conditions are and you can work on that, but if youíve got no spinners in the side you canít.

As a former England Ashes winning captain, spinner and manager, would you have played Ashley Giles or Monty Panesar this winter?

I would have always have played Panesar without any doubt as Iíve always believed heís a fine bowler. Iíve always believe that if you lose control in the field you donít win the game. Thatís where you win the game in the field. I know you need runs on the board but if you bowl really well and control things in the field you bowl people out for 300 or something like that and youíre always in with a shout. If a side can go on and make 500 odd you are never going to win the game, or very rarely, unless you bat like England did in the last match.

Getting runs on the board isnít the bowlersí job is it really?

No. I think Duncan Fletcher is giving the wrong impression to the batsmen because what he is basically saying is you seven arenít good enough to make runs so we need someone at number 8. I always used to say to the batsmen you seven can bat, you are picked for your batting, now go on and bat! The other four are bowlers who are supposed to win us the match by taking 20 wickets.

What do you think of Duncan Fletcher in the England coaching role? Is his time up?

Itís difficult to say. I think heís done a reasonable job. They say heís improved batsmen playing spin, but Iím not so sure about that. All heís done is got everyone sweeping and how many wickets have we lost by batsmen playing the sweep shot? I think he came in at a reasonable time when he had four or five goodish quick bowlers. If heíd gone back to the middle nineties when weíd nobody then it doesnít matter how good a coach you are if you havenít got four or five quick bowlers in test cricket.

And the improvement against spin didnít really show up on the fifth day in the second test match.

No it didnít. I think Panesar would have bowled well on that particular pitch at Adelaide. It was turning off the normal part of the pitch and I think he would have certainly caused some problems.

Who was the best bowler he ever faced and who was the most difficult batsman to get out?

They are difficult ones. You go back to the fifties and sixties there were so many great batsmen. You can pick the 3 Wís from the West Indies to start with, and that wasnít so bad just to start with. Bill Lawry always took a lot of getting out Ė he was a stubborn bloke. There were so many batsmen of a certain type and standard that you couldnít say one was harder than anybody else. You could probably pick twenty batsmen so itís a difficult one.

Did you have a bunny Ė a decent batsman who you always fancied your chances against?

I think the bloke that always used to be my bunny was Alvin Kallicharran. He wasnít a bad player but I used to get him out nearly every time I bowled at him. Sometimes it works like that. I used to get out to Sony Ramadhin the same way Ė heíd either bowl a really good ball or something would happen and the ball would bounce of a length. You have people like that both for and against.

Do you think that todayís young players have the same pride in representing the County that was so obviously there when you and your contemporaries started out?

I can answer that in two letters Ė N O. It doesnít mean the same to them these days Iím sure of that. I think they are proud to play for Yorkshire, but I think at the end of the day it comes down to LSD (pounds shillings and pence) to be quite honest and I donít think they would care who they were playing for as long as they were getting that. We played through the sixties when we knew damn well that there were two or three players in every county side who were earning quite a lot more than we were. Nowadays theyíd just leave.

And after what you said earlier about your Yorkshire cap meaning more to you than an England cap, thatís the reverse now isnít it?

Without a doubt, thatís all theyíre interested in because all the kudos that goes with it and the financial rewards, you canít even begin to compare it now.

Which match of your career-player and coach-do you look back on with the fondest memories?

I think thatís got to be winning the Ashes in Sydney. I had a lot of great matches for Yorkshire, when we won the Championship for the first time in 1959 and things like that, but winning in Sydney in the 1970/1 Ashes, a six month tour with five matches in the last six weeks because of the extra test. People donít realise how hard in January and February it is to win out there Ė theyíre just realising that now.

You say that you were out there for six months Ė itís a bit different now Ė do you think the current team have had enough time to prepare?

I just think they got it completely wrong. There were only two players in the team that had played in Australia before and let them go out there and play hardly any cricket at all. You need at least four state games before you start playing the tests because youíve got to get battle hardened. We didnít come back from India as early as we could have done, we came dashing home again and then the wives were all going out a week or so later. I mean if you canít miss a week itís a poor do. When you see the Flintoffís and Vaughanís by their million pound houses in Barbados and a million pound home in Yorkshire if they arenít prepared to sacrifice a little bit then itís a shame.

Because your career doesnít last forever does it?

No it doesnít. I mean you are talking about ten years at the very top maximum probably. Out of that their wives and families are all paid for to go out now and that didnít happen when I was playing. We couldnít afford it and had to pay for our own wives to get out there.

What was it like getting out of bed after going back to top flight cricket at the age of 50?

It wasnít a problem because I always kept myself fit. I played my last season at Leicester when I was forty-six and went back to Yorkshire as manager. I did the pre-season training (more or less) with the boys, and kept having a little bowl and bat in the nets so I was pretty fit. My first game back, if I remember, was a one day match against Derbyshire. We were having such a tough time with numbers that I came back and got 3-20 odd in my eight overs, all three internationals Ė Barry Wood, John Hampshire and John Wright and that was my first bowl in a match coming back.

Devon Malcolm-still any animosity there?

Not so much animosity. I just regret that he didnít carry out the promises that heíd made to us. What people forget is that when we played our last match at The Oval I called him in and me and Peter Lever were not happy with his follow through. He wasnít following through straight, he was falling away. It was about educating him. When he got things right he bowled superbly. We said look are you prepared to work with Peter before we get out there, and when we get out there in the month before the tests on your action. If it doesnít work out we wonít force you to do anything you think is completely wrong. If you have tried it out with Peter in the nets and itís worked I can tell you now that youíll be going to South Africa Ė this was before the side was picked. He promised everything. When we got to South Africa Iím sorry to say he didnít do anything heíd promised and it was really sad. All you need to do is ask him how many matches he played once Iíd finished as manager.

What caused the falling out with Geoff Boycott and have you made up?

Yeah weíve made that up. I think possibly over Boycs career I got on with Boycs better than anybody. Yeah we fell out, but I think we both appreciated each other and I spoke to him more than anyone else when I was first captain. Sometimes before Iíd asked the question heíd given me the answer thatís how much on the same wavelength we were. It was just a personal thing, Geoff got selfish with his own game too much and that was my reason for falling out with him. The biggest problem was he had such a cult following at Yorkshire, They were the people that caused the real break up because without them I would have disciplined Boycs and we would have got on with it and been alright. He would have realised what he had to do and what I had to do as the manager and that would have been fine and I donít think there would have been any problem. Because of these two thousand members that were prepared to hold demonstrations all the time there was all the trouble. It split the county and the team down the middle.

Hard to pin down off the top of your head but could you name an all-time great Yorkshire XI?

Len Hutton was the best I ever played as a batsman and Fred Trueman was the best fast bowler I ever saw. Iíll have to pick people Iíve played with and seen from my era. The best left armer is Johnny Wardle and Boycott would get into the side as well. Closey would come into the side, probably Bob Appleyard. I donít know who Iíd have as the other opening bowler, that would be a hard one. Iíd probably pick, as I did see him a little bit, Bill Bowes. On the batting side, and I did see him play quite a bit, Maurice Leyland would probably get in as one.How many is that?

Thatís eight, you need three more. Would you put yourself in?

I think I would to be quite honest, in my time certainly. I got over 25,000 runs and took over 2,000 wickets and only nine people have ever done that in the history of the game, so I think Iíd warrant a place in the side anyway. Iíd have to go for a wicket keeper obviously Ė that would be Jimmy Binks. So we need one more and I think we need another batsman Ė itís a difficult one is that as weíve had some good batsmen Ė Iím going to go for Frank Lowson. Although I didnít play along side him I think he was a very good player. A lot of the times people said they couldnít tell the difference between Len Hutton and Frank when they were batting together. If I had more time it might be different and Iím just talking about people Iíve seen play.

1.††††† Len Hutton

2.††††† Geoffrey Boycott

3.††††† Maurice Leyland

4.††††† Brian Close

5.††††† Frank Lowson

6.††††† Ray Illingworth

7.††††† Johnny Wardle

8.††††† Fred Trueman

9.††††† Jimmy Binks

10.Bill Bowes

11.Bob Appleyard

Would any of the recent Yorkshire players be anywhere near selection Ė like Gough and Lehmann?

(Laughs) I donít pick oversees players. Yes, if Lehmann was a Yorkshireman he would have got in, of course he would. If Iím picking a Yorkshire side I want Yorkshiremen. Goughie could come in to it.

Do you still drink in The Fleece?

Occasionally, but I tend to go in the cricket club.

Okay Ray thatís the lot. Thank you!

It was a tremendous pleasure to interview Ray. Not often I have a conversation with a cricketing legend before lunch. Many thanks to Ray for his time.

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