A small ‘In Memoriam’ in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner last month may have gone unnoticed by many.
It read simply: “Billy and English cricket RIP. 8th January.”
January 8 was the day England’s cricketers lost the final Ashes Test to Australia in Sydney.
And the significance of the date with the reference to ‘Billy’ was not lost on cricket enthusiast Stuart Haynes from Lepton.
It refers to Huddersfield cricketer Billy Bates who learned the game with Lascelles Hall and who was one of the heroes of England’s first ever Ashes series success against Australia.
Billy even has his name on the precious Ashes urn.
That’s thanks to an ode printed in the Melbourne Punch newspaper commemorating the second Test win in January 1883 in which Billy was the undoubted hero.
The previous year Australia had scored a famous first Test win on English soil at The Oval, prompting a satirical obituary in The Sporting Times which stated English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”
The mythical ashes immediately became associated with the 1882-83 series played in Australia before which the English captain, Ivo Bligh, had vowed “to regain those ashes.”
England lost the first Test in Melbourne by nine wickets but, with the outstanding help of Billy, won the second at the same MCG venue by an innings and 27 runs.
Billy – one of a crop of fantastic Yorkshire cricketers produced by Lascelles Hall at the time – took 14 wickets in the match, including the first hat trick for England and hit a half century for good measure for which he was presented with an emu’s egg.
Billy and his team-mates then headed to Sydney and completed a 2-1 series success with a win by 69 runs.
Billy’s story, however, is often referred to as magic and tragic.
Born in 1855 Billy, who joined Lascelles Hall in 1873 and made his Yorkshire debut four years later, played in 15 Tests – coincidentally all of them in Australia – before his top-level career was ended by an eye injury suffered during practice in 1887.
The accident happened in Melbourne where Billy had hit the headlines just five years earlier.
He was bowling his off-spinners in the nets when a straight drive hit him in the face.
He never played first-class cricket again and, despite continuing to turn out for Lascelles Hall and helping them to win the Heavy Woollen Cup in 1891, he suffered depression and even attempted suicide.
Billy eventually died aged just 44 in 1900 after contracting pneumonia.
He is buried at Kirkheaton Cemetery and Stuart Haynes – a former Lascelles Hall player himself – places a white rose on Billy’s grave each Yorkshire day.