Saturday, 20 January 2018

Brian Sellers: Yorkshire Tyrant by Mark Rowe

I have long since been a fan of the literary output of the Association of Cricket Statisticians (ACS), way before they agreed to publish my book on Edwin Smith a few years back. Their titles are generally on players whose careers have not necessarily seen them playing at the highest level, but whose lives and exploits are worthy of recognition for all that.

So it is with Brian Sellers, a man who was not in the top rank of cricketers, ending his career with a batting average of 23 after eleven seasons, with just four centuries. Yet, like Arthur Richardson, his Derbyshire counterpart in the 1930's, his contribution to the county's history should be measured in more than runs in the scorebook.

He generally got those runs when the side's need was greatest, though in an eleven that was usually packed with players of international quality, that wasn't too often. He was willing to sacrifice his average for the team when a quick thirty was needed ahead of a declaration, or to get his head down and face the bowling when conditions were in favour of the opposition bowlers.

Yet it was as a captain where he ruled supreme, indeed ruled absolutely. In a Yorkshire side that was full of characters, most of them with strong opinions on the game and how it should be played, Sellers made it clear from the start that he was in charge. He knew, like they did, that he wasn't a match for them as a cricketer, but he set a standard in the field and ensured that everyone knew their place and what was expected of them. He may ask their opinion, but the final decision was his and his alone.

A side of such talents should have dominated the county game and they won the title in seven of the eleven summers in which he led them. Sellers ensured that inter-personal differences and ambitions were subsumed into a side that was formidable. Everything was geared towards them winning match after match, usually scoring high and then bowling sides out twice. That is less of an issue when you have Bill Bowes to lead the attack and the peerless Hedley Verity to bowl as the wicket started to turn. Likewise, a side with Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton and Maurice Leyland was always likely to make runs, but Sellers ensured that they did so in a way that fitted the needs of the team.

He does not come across as an especially likeable man. He was forthright, boorish even, with a need to be the centre of the attention in social settings. One is left with the impression that he was respected, rather than liked, but that probably didn't worry him too much.

In 1946 he was Yorkshire captain, then helped to select the England side to tour Australia, on which he reported for the Yorkshire Evening Post. It was a bizarre turn of events, perhaps propitious as it turned out, as he became chairman of the county club from 1959-72. Heavily involved in the departure of county legend Johnny Wardle in 1959, he was subsequently behind those of Brian Close and Ray Illingworth, his no-nonsense style at odds with changing times. Given the success of the last two at Somerset and Leicestershire respectively, he ended a long association with the club far less auspiciously than it began.

This is a worthy read of a county game long gone. The amateur captain, wealthy beyond the dreams of the professionals that he led, yet in charge of their careers and destiny. Sellers did it better than most and the author does an excellent job in this absorbing read.

Brian Sellers: Cricket Tyrant is written by Mark Rowe and published by the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians, priced £15. You can order it here or by calling 0113 278 4286

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