Chris Waters

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - SPORT - ■ Email: ■ Twit­ter: @CWater­sYPS­port

WHEN Moeen Ali took a hat­trick against South Africa at The Oval in July, he be­came the first Eng­land spin­ner to achieve the feat since Tom God­dard in 1938.

But there could – and per­haps should – have been another hat­trick by an Eng­land spin­ner at La­hore in 1977.

Ge­off Cope, the for­mer York­shire off-break bowler, was de­nied three wick­ets in three balls on Test de­but.

He had leg-spin­ner Ab­dul Qadir lbw and then bowled pace bowler Sar­fraz Nawaz first ball, bring­ing left-arm spin­ner Iqbal Qasim to the crease.

“We had five, six men around the bat: Brear­ley at slip, Roopy at sec­ond slip, Willis in the gully, some­body round the cor­ner,” re­calls Cope in a new book about his life writ­ten with ac­claimed au­thor Stephen Chalke.

“I can remember, clear as day, lit­tle Iqi took guard. A left­hander. It was a hat-trick ball, and we were all a bit tense.

“For that day, that mo­ment, that pitch, I bowled the ideal ball. I flighted it a bit more, gave it more of a loop. I’m not say­ing it turned, but it held. Just suf­fi­cient. Iqi pushed at it as you do; your first ball you’re al­ways a bit ten­ta­tive.

“There was a lit­tle bit of bounce, it moved, and he nicked it. Brears dived to his left and caught it. We all went up. The ex­cite­ment. It was bril­liant. The um­pire gave it out. He’d never seen a hat-trick be­fore. ‘Well bowled,’ he said. And Iqi nod­ded at me and set off. Ev­ery­body was run­ning about. And I was right up there. A hat-trick on de­but.

“Then sud­denly Brear­ley said: ‘I’m not sure that I caught it.’”

Hav­ing been “jump­ing in the air in the style of a boxer who had just won the world ti­tle”, ac­cord­ing to one cor­re­spon­dent, Cope re­ceived th­ese words of his cap­tain, Brear­ley, with some­thing less than en­thu­si­asm.

“Well, I can as­sure you you did,” he replied. “You caught it inches above the ground… And he said: ‘I think I’m go­ing to bring him back for the fu­ture of the se­ries.’”

“What are you on about?” said Cope. “The um­pire’s happy, Iqi’s happy, ev­ery­body’s happy.

“I don’t think I’ve caught it,” replied Brear­ley, and the bats­man was re­called.

To rub salt into Cope’s wounds, the home um­pires gave a num­ber of du­bi­ous de­ci­sions in Pak­istan’s favour dur­ing that se­ries, with Cope’s three Test and two one­day in­ter­na­tional ap­pear­ances all con­fined to that tour.

Within months, he had been sus­pended by the au­thor­i­ties for a sec­ond time over con­cerns re­gard­ing his bowl­ing ac­tion, which dogged him through­out his first-class ca­reer.

It was a ca­reer that brought 686 wick­ets in 246 games at an av­er­age of 24.70, a ca­reer in which he rep­re­sented York­shire from 1966 to 1980.

A spin­ner who liked to push the ball through, and a de­ter­mined tail-en­der good enough to make five first-class half-cen­turies, Cope served York­shire with dis­tinc­tion be­fore rep­re­sent­ing Lin­colnshire in the Mi­nor Coun­ties Cham­pi­onship.

Now 70, and with his pas­sion for the game still strong, Cope re­mains a reg­u­lar visi­tor to his beloved Head­in­g­ley, where he en­ter­tains guests and for­mer play­ers in the Hawke Suite.

Al­ways at his side is guide dog Lester, on whom he re­lies fol­low­ing a di­ag­no­sis of re­tini­tis pig­men­tosa at the age of 37, which could one day leave him to­tally blind.

Such a con­di­tion would shat­ter the spir­its of most, and Cope has had his mo­ments, but per­haps the most re­mark­able thing about him is that his good hu­mour and en­thu­si­asm for life re­mains undimmed.

As the late John Hamp­shire, his for­mer York­shire team-mate, put it: “There has prob­a­bly never been a more ge­nial or bet­ter­liked player ever to come into the dress­ing room than Ge­off Cope,” a trib­ute worth more than any num­ber of wick­ets or runs.

Cope – who has raised over £200,000 for the Guide Dogs for the Blind As­so­ci­a­tion – talks mov­ingly about his fail­ing eye­sight in the new book.

There are echoes here of the Bob Appleyard story, another of Chalke’s col­lab­o­ra­tions, in terms of health-re­lated dif­fi­cul­ties and strug­gle against the odds, an in­spir­ing un­der­cur­rent that el­e­vates the ma­te­rial be­yond the usual sport­ing mem­oir.

Sub­ject and writer are the per­fect match: Cope is a pol­ished racon­teur with a prodi­gious gift of re­call; Chalke is richly tal­ented and highly adept at draw­ing out rec­ol­lec­tions and mould­ing them into stylish prose.

It is a warm book very much in keep­ing with Chalke’s pre­vi­ous works with for­mer play­ers, a book that does not shirk dif­fi­cult sub­jects but, above all, suc­cess­fully cap­tures the joy of sport, its char­ac­ters and its friend­ships.

For those per­haps un­aware of it, the book also de­tails Cope’s wide-rang­ing in­flu­ence on York­shire cricket.

It is not quite the case that he has done every­thing bar drive the team bus (although he might have done that for all I know), but he has held such po­si­tions as di­rec­tor of cricket, served as chair­man for a brief pe­riod, and was part of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’ that saved York­shire from bank­ruptcy in 2002.

Cope’s friend­ship with Colin Graves was key to the now Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board chair­man join­ing the board and res­cu­ing the club with his per­sonal for­tune, while Cope has also helped with ground im­prove­ments at Scar­bor­ough.

Cope’s in­volve­ment with York­shire cricket now spans more than half-a-cen­tury – he has come across ev­ery­one from Wil­fred Rhodes to Will Rhodes – and the book pro­vides a com­pelling and of­ten com­i­cal in­sight into the York­shire side of his play­ing days.

A per­sonal favourite is the rev­e­la­tion that bats­man Doug Pad­gett liked to spend time dur­ing rainy days on away trips by at­tend­ing lo­cal law courts.

“He took me once or twice,” says Cope. “You’d hear two or three cases. Padge would be sit­ting there, watch­ing the de­fen­dant in­tently, then he’d turn to me: ‘He’s ly­ing through his teeth, this chap.’”

Cope was par­tic­u­larly close to for­mer York­shire left-arm spin­ner Johnny War­dle, who helped to re­model his ac­tion when Cope was banned and, in­cred­i­bly, given no clear guid­ance as to where the fault lay by the crick­et­ing au­thor­i­ties.

“You’ll get through this,” War­dle told him af­ter the first ban in 1972. “And when I fin­ish with you, you’ll play for Eng­land.”

As Chalke ob­serves in the book’s in­tro­duc­tion: “Ge­off Cope may not be a house­hold name in the same league as Fred True­man and Ge­of­frey Boy­cott, but he has a story worth telling – and he tells it well.”

In re­al­ity, they tell it well to­gether.

It is un­doubt­edly the cricket book of 2017.

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