Saturday Interview: Pyrah set to benefit from show of loyalty

Yorkshire bowler Rich Pyrah.
Yorkshire bowler Rich Pyrah.
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#NoPyrahNoParty proclaims the hashtag on the Twitter account set up to publicise the benefit year of Yorkshire all-rounder Rich Pyrah.

That was certainly the case at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, on Friday, September 12, 2014.

On a day imprinted on the memories of all Yorkshire supporters, Pyrah took the catch that clinched the County Championship title.

Cue the sort of party for which hashtags and hangover cures were invented.

How fitting that Pyrah, the Yorkshire beneficiary for 2015, should have taken the historic catch.

Fielding as a substitute for Gary Ballance on the final day, after the England man had suffered a blow to his right hand while fielding, Pyrah pounced at point as Ryan Sidebottom seduced a loose stroke from James Taylor.

If anyone epitomises the heartbeat of the Yorkshire team, its ethos and its spirit, it is a man who might correctly be called the ultimate team player.

For Pyrah never sulks when he is left out of the side, and he never gives less than 100 per cent whenever he is in it, and it was as though the cricketing gods recognised this and had preordained his special moment.

“It pretty much summed up my career, coming on as 12th man as a fielder and taking a catch,” quipped Pyrah, a feature in Yorkshire’s one-day team but never a regular in Championship cricket.

“It was a strange one, really, because the ball came to me so slowly that I had time to think about it and was saying to myself, ‘This catch is going to win the Championship. Don’t drop it, whatever you do.’

“I’d rather it had come to me at 100 miles an hour and been a reflex catch.

“But it was something that will always be remembered and a special moment.”

Not quite as special to Pyrah, however, as the sensation of winning the title and celebrating accordingly with team-mates with whom he grew up at Yorkshire.

Indeed, every visiting player when Pyrah threw the ball triumphantly skyward came up through the county’s Academy apart from Jack Brooks.

“What made the Championship win even more special was that most of us have grown up together,” said Pyrah.

“The likes of myself, Steve Patterson, Andrew Gale, Adam Lyth, Tim Bresnan – we’re all good mates because we’ve been playing together, some of us, since we were 12 years old.

“To finally win the title, having played together for so long, was a wonderful feeling and I think that togetherness played a big part in what we achieved because if someone’s struggling a bit, or we’ve had a poor session, we’re not afraid to give each other a kick up the backside and say, ‘Hey, come on,’ because we know each other so well.

“If we can keep this squad together for the next five years, there’s no reason why we can’t go on and be successful again in the Championship and also in one-day cricket, because we want to get better in the one-day stuff.”

It is as a one-day cricketer that Pyrah, 32, has made his name.

Last summer, he became the first Englishman to take 100 Twenty20 wickets, a towering achievement, and one which gives a modest man and the proud holder of Yorkshire-best T20 figures – 5-16 against Durham at Scarborough in 2011 – suitable pleasure.

It was in August, 2004 that Pyrah made his Yorkshire first-class debut in a Championship match against Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay.

He was a batsman in those days – the bowling only developed later – and by far the highlight of a rain-ruined contest in North Wales was the courageous way Pyrah combated the searing pace of Simon Jones in the course of compiling an unbeaten 25.

“He gave me a bit of a working over,” remembered Pyrah, “and it didn’t help that the announcer said it was my first-class debut as I walked out to bat. I think the next 12 deliveries were all at my head!

“That innings proved to me that I could do well at that level because they were really tough conditions; it was dark and gloomy, it was a league pitch, and the ball was nibbling a bit.

“If I’d played regular cricket after my debut I think my batting would have kicked on and I’d have developed further in that respect, but with the side Yorkshire had in those days it was very difficult to get into it as a young player, and the batting took a back seat as I worked on my bowling to try to develop a role for myself.”

How difficult it was for Pyrah to cement a place is highlighted by rolling off a few names… Darren Lehmann, Michael Vaughan, Anthony McGrath, Craig White, Michael Lumb, Matthew Wood, and so on.

To rub shoulders with such talented players was naturally daunting at first for one of county cricket’s genuine good guys.

“It was a bit intimidating initially because although I’d come up through the Academy and knew quite a few players, I didn’t know the likes of Darren Lehmann and Michael Vaughan,” said Pyrah.

“They’d been away with Australia and England, and it was a big thing to be around players like that.

“But, to be fair, Darren Lehmann, for instance, is one of the greatest blokes in cricket and he made me feel very welcome, so I felt at home quickly.

“However, I knew that when everyone was fit and available, I wasn’t going to play; even if I’d got 200 I probably wasn’t going to play!”

This sentiment was emphasised when Pyrah – who might have made more Championship appearances elsewhere had he not stayed loyal to Yorkshire – struck 78 on only his fifth first-class appearance to help inspire a three-wicket win against Worcestershire at New Road in 2005, the highest score of the match.

Strikingly, his next Championship appearance was not until just under three years later, while his efforts to clinch a regular spot over the years have not been helped by injuries to such as his hands and knee – not that he would say so himself.

Some of Pyrah’s favourite memories, however, such as his 117 in a Championship match against Lancashire at Headingley in 2011 – after Yorkshire were 45-8 – and his maiden first-class five-wicket haul against Nottinghamshire at Headingley the same year, are testimony to his talent.

One area in which the Dewsbury-born player has always excelled is fielding, which helps make him such a formidable one-day package.

“Fielding is a massive part of my game and one of the reasons I first got picked in Yorkshire’s one-day side,” he said.

“In my early days, I practised fielding a lot, and down at my local club, Ossett, we had an Indian professional, Sameer Dighe, who was best friends with Sachin Tendulkar.

“Sameer played a little bit of Test cricket himself and he spent hours and hours with me on Friday evenings at junior practice, smacking the ball miles in the air.

“When I look back now, I think that’s what really made me as a fielder.”

Now Pyrah plans to help youngsters himself as thoughts turn to his post-playing days.

Although he has no intention of hanging up his whites yet (he hopes to win another contract after his current one expires at the end of the year), he has aspirations of becoming a coach.

“It would be a natural progression for me to go into coaching,” said Pyrah, for whom a successful benefit year would help facilitate the transition.

“With not being in the Championship team regularly, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the second team as a senior player and had a lot of responsibilities and a kind of coaching role anyway.

“I’m Level Three-qualified, and the club are putting me forward for Level Four, and by the time my career finishes, fingers crossed, I’ll be as highly-qualified as you can be.

“That’s my dream, to become a coach and to go as far as I can, and I’d love to coach Yorkshire in some capacity one day.”