Barrie Leadbeater: a profile
by John Ward

Player:B Leadbeater

DateLine: 26th September 2005


Barrie Leadbeater, currently one of English cricket's longest-standing umpires, also had quite a long career for Yorkshire without, by his own admission, really fulfilling his potential. As a batsman who considers himself a more natural opener but spent much of his career down the order, he just fell short of a career average of 30, which in his generation was considered the hallmark of a good county batsman, and scored just one century.


Barrie grew up in the Harehills district of Leeds and is probably one of the last cricketers to have learned the game playing on the streets. He does not feel he had a strong cricketing background in his family, although his father played for his works team and taught him the basics of the game. He only discovered late in his playing career that the former Yorkshire, Warwickshire and England bowler Eddie Leadbeater is actually a distant relative.


His only sibling was a sister 11 years younger than himself, so most of his practical cricket as a boy was playing on the street with a dustbin for a wicket. When not playing with friends he devised a game at home using a 12-inch ruler and a marble; he would throw the marble up above the door in the terrace house where his mother still lives and play it with the ruler as it bounced down, thus improving his hand-eye co-ordination.


Barrie did not play much cricket at school, though, as football was his major sport. He played as goalkeeper with much success, and until his late teens cricket was very much a secondary sport that he did not take seriously.


Ironically it was through football that he came to cricket. He left school at 16, but an old football friend of his from school joined the Hunslet-Nelson club in Leeds, playing for their Under-17 team, which was short of a wicketkeeper. He persuaded Barrie that, as a goalkeeper, he should also be a capable wicketkeeper, and so Barrie joined the club. He enjoyed keeping wicket and did a good job standing back, but found himself, though able to take spin, unable to stand up to the stumps effectively for medium-pacers, as he was expected to do.


He had been bitten by the cricket bug by now, though, and decided to look at bowling little swingers in order to stay in the game. He played in the Under-18 team as a bowler who could also kept wicket when the team was short, but did not consider himself a batsman. He soon realized, though, that he did not have the skill to make it much further as a bowler.


"There was only one thing left to do, and that was to bat!" he said. Now he began to make progress as he worked hard at his batting skills, progressing up the ranks to the club first team. He was taken to the nets at Leeds, as a trial for the Leeds Cricket Club rather than for Yorkshire. He began to attract more attention for himself with his consistent scoring, and the next step was the Yorkshire nets.


Barrie feels that this was the critical step for him. For the first time he was receiving proper coaching. "I realized from them that I had the chance to play the game at a higher level," he says. "After that everything went very quickly for me."


As Barrie himself says, he was a very late developer. He played for Batley and then joined Leeds, but Arthur Mitchell, his coach at the Yorkshire nets along with Maurice Leyland, insisted that he leave Leeds because the pitches were too flat. "If I was going to be a county cricketer, I would have to get my feet apart, as he put it, and learn how to play the ball that was moving about a bit more. He made me join Bradford, in the Bradford League. That was a brilliant piece of advice that stood me in good stead, and eventually I progressed into the Yorkshire seconds. They were interesting formative years and a very short space of time; I suppose from not playing cricket at all until the Yorkshire side was about four years."


Between leaving school in 1959 and being offered professional terms by Yorkshire in 1966 or 1967, Barrie had a job as office boy at the Leeds and Holbeck Building Society. As he began to play regularly for the Yorkshire second team, though, and needed more time off, he had to leave that job and take up a variety of jobs that allowed him more time off.


Eventually he had to make a decision as to whether to pursue cricket or take a regular job. His father advised him to take the chance with cricket, as if he did not he would regret it for the rest of his life, wondering if he would have made the grade. He has never regretted taking that wise advice.


Barrie says that when he first played for the Yorkshire second team in 1964, the policy was to give players a couple of games, and no matter how well they did, they then made way to give somebody else a chance. That began to change, though, and if a player performed well, as Barrie did, he stayed in the side. He scored several centuries, with a highest of 149 not out at Bradford. He cannot remember which county they were playing, but does remember pace bowler Allan Jones among the opposition.


These big scores put Barrie in line for a place in the full Yorkshire team when vacancies arose, as they often did due to Test calls. He made his debut at Scarborough in 1966 against Glamorgan. "It was a nerve-racking experience because I was playing in a great Yorkshire side," he says. He made few runs and, fielding at third man, let a ball from Fred Trueman go through his legs for four.


"I was expecting a real telling-off in the changing rooms – or even on the field, actually," he says. "But Freddie was wonderful – he didn’t make a fuss at all, though I’m sure he was seething. He didn’t tear me off a strip and I admired that. He gave me a lot of encouragement in my early games for Yorkshire, because I was in awe of these fine players."


Barrie pays tribute to how all the experienced Yorkshire players were 'very good, very helpful'. Besides Barrie, there were two other promising young players pushing for places in the side, Geoff Cope and Chris Old, but none of the three could find a place unless senior players were unavailable, usually through Test calls to the likes of Brian Close, Ray Illingworth and Geoff Boycott. "It was just a wonderful experience to be part of that side," he says.


This situation continued until 1969, when several top players had retired or, in the case of Illingworth, moved on to Leicestershire. Barrie now played more regularly, and at the end of the season he really came to the notice of the public for the first time with a fine innings in Yorkshire's Gillette Cup final victory over Derbyshire.


Barrie hadn't expected to be playing in that match, as in the championship match the day before, against Sussex, he had broken a finger in catching out Tony Greig. But Boycott had suffered a worse injury in having a bone in his hand broken when batting against John Snow. Barrie turned up at Lord's on the Saturday with his finger in a makeshift splint, only to have the captain Brian Close ask if he could hold a bat. A couple of throw-downs in the changing room established that he could, and he was told he was playing.


Barrie opened with John Woodford, two uncapped players together. Close's instructions to Barrie were simply to stay in as long as he could and see the shine off the new ball. "As it turned out I hung around longer than intended initially and got so involved in the game I almost forgot about the fact that I had a broken finger. Then when it came to lunchtime, I was changing my clothing because of perspiration, and ate my lunch in a jockstrap and left batting glove! I couldn’t get the glove off because my finger had swollen."


After lunch Close told him to start playing a few shots and get as many runs as he could, or else get out. He swung the bat and hit a few fours before being dismissed for 76.


"The side performed around me. I was still at the crease when Brian Close came in and he spent most of his innings charging down the wicket at Harold Rhodes and Alan Ward. It was quite a sight to see!"


This innings caused quite a few critics to name Barrie as a possible future Test player, including Colin Cowdrey, still a Test player then but injured and tasked with adjudicating the Man of the Match in that Gillette final. He gave the award to Barrie and also selected him to go on a brief tour to West Indies that winter with the Duke of Norfolk's XI, which he himself captained.


On that tour Cowdrey told Barrie that if he scored 1500 runs during the coming English summer, he would be on the MCC tour to Australia the following winter, so he took that tour very seriously and did well. He was looking for a good season in 1970, but unfortunately he fractured his shin early on and missed most of the season.


As Barrie himself admits, he never achieved the heights predicted for him. He admits he should have scored more runs than he did during his career and does not excuse himself from responsibility, but also names several other reasons that made progress more difficult for him.


Although he had a regular place in the Yorkshire team now, it was not easy to play during the break-up of that great side, especially as other counties were employing overseas players to strengthen their teams. "It was difficult to establish yourself and the rules of the game were different. There were 100-over compulsory declarations so the first innings didn’t last more than 100 overs, and in the middle order, where I was batting at the time, you might only be batting for 30 or 40 overs.


"You subsequently struggled to build an innings of any length and had to play shots for the benefit of the side to get runs quickly. I do recall spending a lot of time getting twenties, thirties, forties and fifties and being unable to go on. It certainly restricted me personally because I was an opening batsman rather than a middle-order one, and it took me a bit more time to settle down before playing any aggressive shots. We were playing at times on uncovered pitches as well, which wasn’t a help."


Barrie did not open the Yorkshire innings regularly at that time because there were several opening batsmen in the side. John Woodford was a promising opener, but the experienced Phil Sharpe more usually went in first with Boycott. Later came Richard Lumb, who became Boycott's preferred partner.


Had Barrie been demoted through running out Boycott? Possibly! "Ted Lester, the Yorkshire scorer at that time, came to me and said, 'Do you know, Barrie, you’ve been involved in 13 run-outs (with Boycott) and you’re losing ten-three!' But Richard Lumb was involved in 11 run-outs with Boycs, and he lost eleven-nil! So I was quite proud of my three! I did open for quite a time with Geoffrey, but I think our styles clashed, shall we say, and Geoff when he was captain moved me down the order."


As he says, the 100-over limitation on first innings worked against him in the middle order and once, without a first-class century to his name, he got stranded on 99 not out at Scarborough. "We were in a bit of trouble with three or four down for not many, and it was my job to get the innings back on an even keel. I spent quite a lot of time doing that, and it wasn’t until I actually got into the nineties that I realized how many I’d got. Not having scored a first-class hundred, was this the time to get it?


"I was still trying to build an innings for the side, and it wasn’t until the last over that I decided I was going to go for this hundred." As he remembers it, John Shepherd was bowling and he was on 92 at the time. He had 'a bit of a dart' and got Shepherd away for three twos, taking him to 98 by the final ball. He got an inside edge down to fine leg and took a single, "and everybody was expecting me to come back for the second. I realized when I got to the pavilion end that the ball was in the fielder's hand that I had no chance of getting back ... I decided for the first time in my career that I was playing for myself and would rather be 99 not out than 99 run out. I decided that was enough for me and just ran off the field."


Just one century was to come in his career, 140 not out at Portsmouth against Hampshire. "That was a strange situation as well. That game was being televised for some reason, and Colin Cowdrey was one of the commentators. I came in to bat on the second evening, I think, and I was looking forward to trying to impress him, as he had picked me to tour the West Indies with him after that Gillette Cup match.


"We went off when I was not out with about 40, and that night the pitch was dug up by somebody for some political welfare reason, so we had to have another pitch cut to finish the game. I went out to continue my innings, and when I came off with 140 I remember saying, 'I'm sure Colin will be impressed with that.' They said, 'Don’t you realize that when the pitch was changed the cameras were no longer in line, and everybody just packed up and went home?!' I hadn't noticed that, and of course Colin Cowdrey wasn't there to see it!"


On several other occasions Barrie got close to a century. He recalls early in his career being not out in the nineties against Cambridge University when Brian Close declared "because he wanted to win the game. That's the way we played the game in those days, even though we were playing against Cambridge. He was quite right to want to win the game. But I should have got more. Probably it was a fault in my technique or mental attitude at that time that prevented me from doing what I should have done."


Barrie feels disappointed about the way his career with Yorkshire ended. He felt he was playing well and still fit at 36 when Ray Illingworth, who had taken over as manager at that time, came to him early in the season and said that Yorkshire were looking to move on; would Barrie be interested in taking on the second team captaincy? Barrie had always got on well with Doug Padgett, then coach of the second team, and he willingly agreed.


According to Barrie, the decision was changed later in the season, probably for financial reasons, as he was then a senior capped player on a full salary, and instead the captaincy was given to Colin Johnson. Barrie found himself pushed to one side and released at the end of the season. He was most unhappy to receive that news from a complete stranger at a golf club, instead of Illingworth or another official from the club. He had recently agreed to share a benefit with Geoff Cope, neither player being allowed a benefit for himself, and as it happened he was released the year before it took place. He found it difficult to run a benefit when he no longer had a contract or even an income.


He was very grateful to John Hampshire, the Yorkshire captain at that time, and the Yorkshire club, who gave him a good reference to Lord's for the first-class umpires' list. So in 1981 he began a new career as a first-class umpire, grateful to have got on the list so quickly. He has umpired ever since then, and also served a four-year term as chairman of the umpires' association. He also umpired in five one-day internationals and did numerous 'stand-bys' in Test matches.


As a batsman, Barrie feels his main strength was his ability to see off the new-ball attack. He was technically correct with a tight defence, but was not a fluent attacking batsman. Cowdrey once said he felt his technique was as good as Boycott's, but that it was easy to set a field for him, because he was so correct he often hit the ball straight to the fielder instead of finding the gaps. He scored most of his runs from drives, straight or off, but could also pull, hook and cut.


Barrie has been fortunate to enjoy a full adult lifetime of cricket. "If I had my time over again, I’d do exactly the same thing – and play for the same county," he concludes. When he finally retires from umpiring at the age of 65, he looks forward to spending much more time on the golf course.


(Article: Copyright © 2005 John Ward)