Leadbetter Bats on in Face of Triple Tragedy; CRICKET SPECIAL

Article excerpt

Byline: ALAN FRASER

WASIM AKRAM may have envied Mike Atherton his winter blues but the new Lancashire captain could learn a thing or two about perspective from an old Yorkshire Tyke like Barrie Leadbetter.

The start of the County Championship has been a time of painful emotion for the umpire beyond anything experienced throughout the shires and the metropolitan cities of England. Ed Giddins had lost 18 months of his career by contravening regulations on drug-taking; Dominic Cork, now captain of Derbyshire, had lost a season through injury. Yet, their first appeals of the campaign paled in terms of poignancy compared to the first raised finger of Leadbetter: A McGrath lbw b Rose 0.

He had lost his wife.

The simple act of donning his white jacket in the umpires' room at Headingley brought memories of the tragedy flooding back into his mind. He had been preparing to officiate at Lord's one Sunday last September when contacted with the news that there had been an accident. He had not umpired since.

His first walk to the wicket as Yorkshire entertained Somerset may prove the bravest act of the cricketing year.

'It was a strange sensation,' said Leadbetter. 'But my love of cricket has given me strength.

And the people in the game have been fantastic with letters and calls.

Jackie would have wanted me to carry on and, in any case, it is how I earn my living.' Without wishing in any way to be flippant, Leadbetter has found himself in the middle of some ghastly country and western lyric. His wife died in a car crash while driving their son, Michael, to hospital to receive kidney dialysis treatment. Michael survived but spent six weeks in traction.

He makes three visits a week to hospital in Leeds to undergo a total of 12 hours dialysis therapy.

Leadbetter, who gave up a winter HGV driving job to look after his three sons, then learned of the suicide of his great friend and former Yorkshire player David Bairstow. He was a pall bearer at the funeral.

'I had telephoned Jackie on the Saturday night to tell her I would take her out on Sunday after the one-day match.

The Middlesex-Notts championship game had finished early,' he recalled.

'I remember getting to Lord's early so that I could go for a run. I took my running gear out of the car but something came over me. A strange feeling.

Suddenly, I did not feel like running. …