The Doidgy years, is not especially about the player, fine as he undoubtedly was, but about his stellar career as captain of Pudsey Congs.
Matthew Doidge’s style of captaincy was not the one of histrionics to rouse his side or unsettle the opposition. He trusted his players and they knew exactly the job in hand, and he in turn turned to his confidantes when needed. But, he was his own man and he would just nod instructions across the field with an undoubted air of professionalism.
He was a fine batsman and could have batted higher, but he preferred to hang back and survey the scene as captain, and avert any crisis if it came.
The Congs entered the Bradford Cricket League in 1987, and had signed some big name players, but success in the league was elusive. They did win the Priestley Cup in 1994, but the holy grail of the league was their big target.
Ongoing improvements on the ground led to it being worthy of Yorkshire 2ndXI matches in years to come, and they had the look of the big time as early as the nineties.
At the end of the 1998 season, Congs made their best decision in their history when signing Farsley skipper Matthew Doidge as captain for the 1999 season. He was formerly on Yorkshire’s books, but his only first class appearance came against the Indian tourists in 1990 at Headingley.
Doidge was schooled at the county principally as a left arm orthodox spin bowler, and perhaps his natural batting ability was overlooked. He had a spell with Bowling Old Lane before moving to Farsley where he led them to vioctory in the 1995 Priestley Cup final.
It was felt at the time of Doidge’s appointment as captain that this was a clear signal on the part of the Congs’ ambitions to win the Division One championship.
In 1999, Doidge felt his way through the season with a team that would finish fourth. He hadn’t really started his rebuilding as he surveyed the scene from the perspective of his first year as captain. He was the leading batsman with 666 league runs at 39.18 with a top score of 125.
The emerging James Middlebrook, above. was his lynchpin cricketer scoring 450 runs, and taking 52 wickets, as the county scene was just around the corner for him. Neil Nicholson, who was recruited from Windhill, scored a solid 648 league runs.
Nicholson played five games for Yorkshire in 1988 and 1989 which included a total of 134 first-class runs at 26.80, with a best of 56 not out, and he also took five catches. He also appeared for the Yorkshire Second XI from 1983 to 1990.
Doidge was given a free hand to build a side to realise the club’s ambition. He decided to recruit a line up of proven Bradford League players, and in the near future men like Andy Bethel, Gary Brook, Neil Gill, Babar Butt, Mark Bray, Andrew Bairstow, Glenn Roberts and David Paynter would become fixtures in a side that would also contain sundry county players and one of the best post-war overseas players seen in the league.
The pull to play in Doidgy’s team was so strong, some of the recruits reputedly ljoined for less money to enable themselves to be part of a `cricket project’.
ICongs' Fab Five: Neil Gill Gary Brook, Matthew Doidge, Andy Bethel and Babar Butt
t could be said that Doidge got his own team in 2000 and it showed in emphatic fashion. After 14 years in the league the dream came true as Pudsey Congs were crowned champions after pippng a very good Bradford & Bingley side by two points.
Doidge was again their leading batter with 514 league runs at 36.71, followed by that very efficient sheet anchor opener Andy Bethel who scored 662 runs at 34.84. Left hander Bethel, who they signed from Spen Victoria, would set his stall out to see off the new ball and play a long innings for his team.
Left arm seamer Gill was the major influence with the ball taking 47 wickets, while overseas recruit Azhar Abbas also took 47 wickets.
The title-winning 200 Pudsey Congs team
Despite the 2000 success, changes were made to strengthen the side still further. Fast bowler Naveed Rana-ul-Hassan – better known as Rana Naveed when he stepped up to Test cricket - was signed as the overseas player after impressing in a brief spell for Lidget Green, while former Derbyshire left arm spinner Roberts was recruited.
Doidge was a long-time admirer of Roberts who fit his identikit as a competitive all-round cricketer.
Glenn Roberts was cast in the same mould as skipper Matthew Doidge
Roberts played 11 First Class matches for Derbyshire during the seasons 1996-1998 with a top score of 52, and a best bowling analysis of 4-23. On release he played Minor County cricket with Herefordshire until 2002.
Rana made a huge impression taking 67 wickets as Congs retained the championship by a comfortable 14-point margin from nearest challengers Baildon and Pudsey St Lawrence in 2001.
However, Gill beat him in the League Bowling Averages, finishing second with 44 wickets, while Roberts had a steady first season with 31 wickets.
Butt who had played many seasons in the Yorkshire League with both Rotherham and Doncaster impressed with the bat scoring 594 runs at 39.60. He was a flamboyant batsman who could effortlessly pull a ball one-handed for six. Other top run-getters were Bethel (903), Middlebrook (615), Nicholson (445) and Doidge (403)
By virtue of being title winners of 2000 they could enter the Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy
for 2001, and they duly won it after a thrilling one-run victory in the final at Liversedge against Hanging Heaton. Congs had scored 228 largely thanks to Middlebrook’s innings of 63, but struggled in the field against their opponents. Gill came back to dismiss the dangerous Stephen Foster for 91 and altered the course of the game.
Congs enjoyed an easy passage up to the semi-finals when they faced Huddersfield League Scholes away. The home team posted a challenging 288-5, but this proved to be well in the compass of the Congs as Middlebrook played a brilliant innings of 154*.
In 2002 Pudsey Congs were favourites in every trophy they entered. The fact that they won them all epitomised the heights they had reached in senior cricket.
Doidge had sniffed success and wanted the full set of honours, and so did this special team he had carefully assembled.
To add spice to the achievement was the fact that their local rivals St Lawrence were the runners-up in both the domestic competitions. The Congs prevailed by nine points in the league, and was equally decisive in the cup when they beat them by eight wickets. It was an unprecedented feat winning the domestic double and the Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy in the same season.
The stand-out individual performance was from Rana who won the Learie Constantine All Rounders Trophy, and also the League Bowling Averages with 79 wickets, coupled with 399 runs with the bat. Other outstanding performers were Bethel (739 runs), Doidge (425), Butt (523), Roberts (357) and Gill (47 wkts). Gareth Clough also played when county duties allowed.
Rana made such a big stir in the Bradford League that Ray Illingworth thought that Yorkshire should snap him up. They didn’t – until much later when the fire went out of his bowling. Sussex was the beneficiaries of his talent as he helped them win county titles in 2006 and 2007. The impact he made at Sussex was such that a Test career with Pakistan beckoned. In all First Class matches he has taken 626 wickets with a best analysis of 7-49, and also scored five centuries with a top score of 139.
In the Priestley Cup final, Yorkshire contacted Vic Craven was awarded the Man of the Match Award when putting his team well on the way to their target. A left-handed top order batsman and occasional right arm medium pace bowler, he played in 33 first-class matches, and scoring 1,206 runs at 24.61, with a top score of 81 not out.
Craven only had a short time at the Congs before having successful spells at Methley and Harrogate.
Congs retained the Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy in 2002 playing virtuoso cricket. In the First Round at Copley they broke the completion record for the highest score when recording a massive 413-7 with Rana top scoring with 101.
Mark Bray was a dependable bowler and key member of the team
They then defeated Bilton and Townville (Mark Bray 6-40) with some comfort before facing Sheffield Collegiate in the final at Streethouse. The Yorkshire League team were more difficult opponents but failed to pass the Congs score of 231-9 to lose by 59 runs.
Mark Bray was something of an unsung hero in the team with Rana and Gill getting most of the plaudits. However, Bray would bowl long spells of containing bowling, and was always capable of breaking a difficult stand.
He would bowl medium-fast from a longish run and invariably bowl it on the spot, like he did with Craig Hitchenor when Baildon won the Heavy Woollen Cup
For the historians, the regular team for 2002 was: Bethel, Craven, Nicholson, Butt, Clough, Doidge, Rana, Roberts, Gill, Brook, Bray. is was probably the Congs finest team of all time.
Skipper Doidge had exceeded all expectations, but clearly he thirsted for more success.
In 2003 he would have to settle for the title. They were clear leaders from the start and their ultimate 27 points lead on the second placed club Spen Victoria epitomised the gulf in class. The remarkable Butt led the way in the batting with 700 runs at 50.00 per innings, followed by Doidge on 376 runs at 47.00.
Rana was again their top wicket-taker with 81, while Roberts had a fine season, taking 30 wickets at little cost
Disappointment came in the Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy when they were caught on a sticky wicket in the final at Adel and could only make 167-7. Harrogate struggled all the way on a wicket that had dried out considerably but sneaked home by two wickets.
Before the match the Adel groundsman apologised for the water leaking on the wicket but stated it would dry out later. No consolation to the Congs who were striving for a hat-trick of Black Sheep trophies.
In 2004, the Congs were back to their `invincible’ ways when they replicated the treble feat of 2002 taking all before them. They won the league by 23 points thanks largely to Bethel who scored 933 runs.
Ironically, Roberts did not make the league bowling averages but managed to finish second in the league batting averages with 59.43 courtesy of 11 not outs.
Doidge had to manage without the injury stricken Rana, but had confidence in inviting Bray to open the bowling which he did with relish taking 45 league wickets. Gill took 60..
The emerging Woodlands were expected to extend the Congs in the Priestley Cup final, but it turned out to be an easy eight-wicket victory by the men from Pudsey.
The Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy returned to the Congs in 2004 after a very impressive showing in the tournament. After defeating Fishlake, Wrenthorpe and Copley with some style they were matched with Cleethorpes in the final at Streethouse. The Yorkshire League champions were simply no match for the Congs on the day.
On a very good wicket Cleethorpes struggled to 192-6 in front of a big crowd. From the start of the Congs reply they were untroubled with the opening batsmen not being parted when they passed the winning post.
Paul Carroll carried his bat for 119, while Bethel accompanied him in his characteristic dogged style scoring 63. Carroll who was often relatively unsung at Congs amongst the star players was the deserved recipient of the Man of the Match Award.
The regular team for 2004 was: Bethel, Carroll, Paynter, Middlebrook or Clough, Butt, Bairstow, Doidge, Roberts, Gill, Brook, Bray.
In 2005 Congs’ five-season domination of the league came to an end. Woodlands had invested in their team considerably and on a dramatic final day, Congs lost at Baildon while Woodlands edged home by one wicket at Bankfoot to take the title by three points.
Former Yorkshire batsman Bradley Parker scored 488 runs, assisted by Doidge (435), Butt (598) and Bethel (564), while Bray with 39 wickets was the top man in the bowling averages.
In the Priestley Cup final the Congs held sway over Woodlands, again winning by six wickets and Butt picking up the Man of the Match Award.
Another trophy was won in 2005 when the Congs lifted the Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions Trophy for the fourth time. After easing past Elland, Wickersley and Barrowford they faced a powerful York side in the final at Wagon Lane. Shorn of Chris Silverwood and Scott Cunningham, they turned out with a stricken Gill who wasn’t able to bowl.
This was a crisis, and Doidge had to improvise with his bowling, making a total of ten changes, and on a perfect batting wicket somehow restricted York to 265-7 with Simon Mason blasting 69. This was a fantastic juggling job by Doidge, cajoling his part-time bowlers to rise to the occasion, and keeping back his few regular bowlers for critical junctures of the innings.`
Ever confident Congs started well with Bethel (41), Parker (60) and Bairstow (57) making rapid inroads to the score, and well up with the rate. After a few careless wickets were lost, and in particular Parker run out needlessly, Butt carefully saw his team home with 52 not out after 47.5 overs.
It could be said that Pudsey Congs were definitely on the wane in 2006 when they had no trophy to put in their cabinet. They again ran Woodlands close with only a nine point deficit at the end.
Andrew Bairstow was an attacking batsman who had a growing influence.
Bairstow’s influence was growing in the team as he topped the batting with 701 runs at 41.24. Other batsmen to top 500 runs were Scott Cunningham, Doidge and Bethel. Gill was the leading bowler with 47 wickets followed by overseas bowler Mohammad Ullah who took 45 wickets.
The fabled Congs team was splitting up with Gill and Paynter following Carroll to big spending Wrenthorpe, while Parker went to Gomersal, and Bethel to Whitley Hall. Brook decided to retire, but played the odd game for Wrenthorpe.
Reinforcements were sought from the Yorkshire League in the form of Alexis Twigg (Harrogate), Tom Glover (Harrogate) and Andrew Bourke (Castleford). They also signed Elliott Wilson and Nathan Bromby.
The last trophy Doidge won as captain was the Priestley Cup in 2008 when a brilliant 121 from Bairstow saw them beat Woodlands, uwho under Tim Orrell, became the major power and more or less duplicated their great rivals’ success.
After the five titles in a row, the Congs were runners-up to Woodlands for four successive seasons, but beat them twice in Priestley Cup finals during the same period. This illustrates the closeness in ability, and indeed successes, of these two fine sides circa 2000-2008.
The Doidge dynasty will go down in the league’s folklore, and many neutrals at the time regarded his team as the best they had seen in league cricket.
As a left handed batsman, one of his greatest innings was at Rotherham in 1997 playing for the Bradford League Representative League side in the John Smith’s Yorkshire Leagues Knockout against the Yorkshire League.
The Bradford League were off the pace chasing 282-6, but Doidgy came together with Richard Robinson, to dominate an unbroken stand of 136 in 12.2 overs, scoring 90, including four sixes and nine fours. The innings would live in the memory of all that witnessed it.
Doidgy’s Roll of Honour
First Division Title: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003. 2004
Priestley Cup Winners: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007*, 2008
Black Sheep Yorkshire Champions: 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005
*Doidge played but the side was captained by Babar Butt.