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.