Being a legspinner in the Yorkshire team of the 1950s was an unusual, tricky and sometimes lonely business but Eddie Leadbeater managed it successfully writes Stephen Chalke
BEFORE the emergence of Adil Rashid Eddie Leadbeater stood alone in the history of Yorkshire cricket – a specialist legspinner who played two full summers for the county. There were several attempts to film a conversation between them but it did not happen. Now it never will.
In January 2000 I visited Leadbeater at his home south of Huddersfield. He met me at the door, a short man with a cheerful face. “Did you watch it?” he asked, bursting to talk about the previous day’s television. Hansie Cronje had made his infamous declaration at Centurion Park and I had heard the thrilling climax on the car radio. “It was so exciting,” he bubbled as he ushered me into the front room. But it was not England’s victory that had got him going. “You know what the million pound question was, don’t you? It was, ‘Which county plays cricket at Chester-le-Street?’”
He was 72 years old and had retired only four years earlier from playing at Almondbury, the club where in 1940 he had made his debut at the age of 12, the youngest of six in a working-class family. Despite two years in the RAF and several as a county cricketer he had taken 1,812 first-team wickets for them, a total that was for a while the record for the Huddersfield and District League.
In his last years he captained the second team, helping the lads. “If you want to spin the ball,” he told one young legspinner, repeating the advice the great George Hirst had given him, “you’ve got to have the seam round here. Let me have a look at your finger. You should have a big blister there.” The boy did as he was told and I felt with a shiver the magic of this advice passing down the generations. After a few balls a blister formed and burst. “Oh no,” the lad said. “I’m not going to bowl that way no more.”
In 2008 the 20-year-old Rashid bowled more first-class overs than anybody in England, his bad balls quickly forgotten – unlike Leadbeater’s in 1950. “Yorkshire always said legspinners were expensive. In the back of your mind, when you ran in to bowl, you were thinking, ‘I hope this isn’t a full-toss… I hope this isn’t a short one.’” One time he slipped in an offbreak, bowling Geoff Edrich in a Roses match, and all he got was a bollocking from the captain: “I’ve set your field for legspin.”
It was the same for the batsmen, especially those coached by the dour Arthur Mitchell. “Where’s tha’ come from, lad?” he would bark down the net. “Huddersfield? Well, leave that shot there then.” “Freddie Jakeman were a good left-hand bat,” said Leadbeater. “He used to say, ‘I had all the shots till I went in t’nets. When I came out, all I had were a forward push.’”
Leadbeater’s best bowling figures were at Worcester, 8 for 83 in the first innings, but second time round the slow left-armer Johnny Wardle, ever conscious of his tally of wickets, demanded to bowl at his end. Worse, Wardle offered him advice that, he later suspected, was intended to stop him taking further wickets.
Leadbeater took 87 wickets in 1950, 81 in 1951, and the following winter MCC flew him out to India as a late replacement. He was a good tourist, full of fun, but his two Test appearances yielded only two wickets. Then, with the return of Brian Close from National Service, he lost his place in the Yorkshire side, becoming that rarest of creatures – a Test cricketer who never won a county cap. His regret, he said, was that he had not accepted an offer to go down to Hampshire after the first summer.
He stayed on the fringes till 1958, when he played a full season for Warwickshire, but he gave up the county game in an unsuccessful attempt to save his first marriage. Twenty years later he was still topping the Huddersfield League averages.
That afternoon we spent three hours talking: how he rated Abdul Qadir higher than Shane Warne, how he fielded a cover drive from the powerful Clyde Walcott and was nearly spun round full-circle, how Len Hutton was the finest he played with. His great mate had been the young Fred Trueman, as raw and insecure in the hardened Yorkshire side as he was. He spoke of the evening in a London hotel when, after a bad day, “Freddie was almost crying. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever make it as a cricketer,’ he said.”
It was a harsh environment, intended to separate the weak from the strong, and perhaps it did not suit Eddie Leadbeater’s genial personality. Maybe he would have thrived better on the South Coast – or in the Yorkshire side that has nurtured Rashid. “I wish I were playing now,” he said cheerfully. “The batsmen today can’t pick ’em.”
Edric Leadbeater was born on August 15, 1927 and died on April 17, 2011, aged 83.
Stephen Chalke is a publisher and author of cricket books