Phil Sharpe, who in his teens represented his college in cricket, hockey, rugby, squash and tennis, was a key member of Yorkshire’s invincible side of the Sixties. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1963.
To the casual observer, Philip Sharpe, the Yorkshire number three batsman, could be anything except a professional sportsman. He has one of those skins which does not redden or tan in the summer sun and there is more of a suggestion of the bowler hat and rolled umbrella than a cricket bat or hockey stick.
He is only five feet seven inches, but he has a pair of broad shoulders. He is stocky and compact, but he gives the impression of being dumpy because he wears trousers with plenty of room in the beam. He is probably the best slip fieldsman in the country today and he says: “I like room to move and bend in comfort.”
Last season, suddenly fulfilling the promise he showed as a schoolboy, he scored 2,352 runs, average 40.94. He finished top of the Yorkshire averages, established a new County fielding record with 71 catches – beating John Tunnicliffe’s 70 – and became third to WR Hammond and MJ Stewart for the most catches taken in a season. The Cricket Writers’ Club voted him the Best Cricketer of 1962.
At Hockey, which is his winter game, he plays for the Ben Rhydding Sports Club; he has appeared regularly for Yorkshire since 1958 and in 1960, as a left-half, he was chosen for two England trials. He is a sportsman far above average ability.
Philip John Sharpe was born on December 27, 1936, at Shipley in Yorkshire. He went to Bradford Grammar School and at twelve to Worksop College. His father, Mr FG Sharpe, a Bradford mill executive, had a deep love of cricket although he did not play himself. During the school holidays he sent the boy for coaching under the former Yorkshire cricketers, Arthur Mitchell and Wilfred Barber. Says Phil: “They taught me to stop the ball reasonably correctly. I was less than 5 feet tall then and I could not hit it. While the other boys batted I bowled very high and very slow off-spinners.”
This ability to bowl got him a place in the Colts XI when he was 14, and then, playing against St. Peter’s, York, for the first XI he played a long not-out innings of 20 as a number eight batsman. The school captain was most impressed and gave his opinion that Sharpe might make a batsman. The headmaster, Canon Maloney, gave his opinion: “The boy will never play cricket, he is too small.”
Young Sharpe, however, began to grow. In the next year or so, as he puts it, “I shot up to five feet seven.” He played for his College at Cricket, Hockey, Rugby, Squash and Tennis.
At 17, he scored 499 runs in the season with 90 against Old Worksopians and 91 not out against Craven Gentlemen.
He was made School captain at 18 and, with success which brought him mention in almost every newspaper in the country, totalled 1,251 runs for an average of 113. He made 240 against Wrekin, 216 against Cryptics, and, chosen to play for the Yorkshire Cricket Federation XI against Notts he scored 200. “I thought Cricket was an easy game and an ideal way of earning a living. I talked over the idea of being a professional cricketer with my father, and after a time, he agreed I should have a try.”
He left school in September 1955, but as Craftsman Sharpe he had to do two years of National Service in REME Playing for the Combined Services he scored half-centuries against Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Surrey, and in one game for the Yorkshire Colts made 67 against Lancashire Second XI.
His father gave him a job learning wool sorting, alongside another Yorkshire batsman, DEV Padgett, to occupy his time in the winter and then in 1958 came the serious effort of trying to prove himself a cricketer.
With the Yorkshire Colts he began with six or seven consecutive scores of over 40 and he was chosen for a four-match trial with the County XI. He was twelfth man for the first game against Surrey, scored 7 and 56 not out against Sussex at Worthing, failed against Kent at Maidstone but scored 141 against Somerset at Sheffield. He kept with the side to the end of the season.
Sharpe’s main weakness in those early days was a tendency to turn chest on to the bowler when playing defensively. It caused the bat to travel across the line of flight of the ball instead of moving like a pendulum down the line of flight.
In twelve innings at the start of the 1959 season he made only 90 runs and a score of 202 against the touring India side for the Minor Counties did not change his luck. He finished the season deputising for the Yorkshire scorer who had been taken ill.
The fault in technique persisted. He scored a double century for Yorkshire against Cambridge University at the start of the 1960 season but this failed to impress. Sharpe was more often twelfth man than player and he had just over 1,000 runs to his credit at the end of the season. Yorkshire, nevertheless, encouraged him by giving him his county cap.
In 43 innings for the county in 1961, he scored only 1,000 runs with a highest score of 87 and an average of 27.02. Although Yorkshire had 14 capped players to choose from, they persisted with Sharpe because the bowlers liked to have him at slip. He was alert and had a good pair of hands. He had a subtle, almost impish sense of humour, and he was good to have about the dressing-room.
Says Sharpe: “On the experience gained I suddenly realised that my real mistake was that I had been playing at cricket rather than playing cricket. I needed to concentrate … and a funny thing, in coming to this conclusion I found a confidence I had only experienced in my last year at Worksop.”
Almost immediately his cricket took on a new character. He contributed over 50 runs in six out of the first seven games. He scored centuries against Lancashire, Pakistan, Surrey, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Lancashire again. The tendency to turn chest on went. Batting or fielding he had a contribution to make to every game and in 64 innings during the season he averaged over 40.
He became a strong candidate for a place in Dexter’s MCC side for Australia and probably only missed because the selectors wanted all-rounders, batsmen who could bowl off-spin.
Yorkshire’s faith in him has been fully justified and he is confidently expected to join the county’s long list of successful Test players.
Phil Sharpe earned his maiden Test cap in the 1963 home summer and went on to score 786 runs from 13 Tests at a healthy average of 46.23. In 493 first-class games, he aggregated 22,530 runs and took 618 catches.