Byas can swing the balance

Stephen Brenkley reports on a captain's train of thought for a cup semi-final
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The Independent Online
In being invited to perform the annual ritual of assessing if this is the summer when Yorkshire's glory days finally return, their new captain was distinctly unexcited.

"Ask me again at the end of September," David Byas said. "There's a lot of things that can happen yet and I can't tell you what they are. But if you'd told me at the start of the season that we'd be second in the Championship and in the semi-finals of the Benson and Hedges by June, then I'd have settled for that."

Byas is unwilling to speculate on his side's chances in either competition. He restricts his public analysis of games both won and lost to the laconic expression, "That's cricket". However the B & H Cup semi-final against Lancashire on Tuesday is being discussed in the dressing room, he declines to build it up. "Of course it's a big game," he said. "It doesn't take me to tell anyone that. But the Championship match against Surrey is a very big game, too. I don't want to increase the pressure of the situation for the players."

His approach to the job is doubtless shaped largely by a naturally phlegmatic attitude, but he is aware, too, that Yorkshire have been this way before. "There have been a lot of summers when we've started very well and ended up with nothing. I've enjoyed being captain so far but then I should have done."

Byas was appointed to the captaincy in succession to Martyn Moxon, who had done a sterling job over six seasons without quite marshalling the breakthrough so sought after. Since the last of their 29 Championship titles in 1968 (which was also their seventh in 10 seasons), Yorkshire have won three one-day trophies. But the most recent of those was nine years ago.

The team now seems to be as complete and balanced as it has been for seasons. When Moxon recovers from a severely bruised thumb, the batting line-up, with the accomplished Australian Michael Bevan at its fulcrum, will take on a formidable air, and the bowling attack, led by Darren Gough and the worthy Peter Hartley, matches any in England. Byas has to preserve their self-belief.

His tough, rural Yorkshire character has been demonstrated in his leadership. He drew criticism when Yorkshire put up the shutters against Kent two weeks ago, securing three points for a draw rather than declare and try to contrive a positive result. The view of Byas was that his side could not win and Kent might have made some concession much earlier. Yet at Lord's last week, when he sensed victory was possible despite a target of 344, Yorkshire sustained the pursuit to the end. They lost by 21 runs, of which Byas, bordering on the emotive, said: "That was a really magnificent effort."

He is 32 and came late to first-class cricket. After one game in 1986, he was 25 before he established his place. By then he had long since begun his duties on the Byas family farm in the Yorkshire Wolds. "I'm a cricketer in the summer and a farmer the rest of the year," he said, agreeing with the suggestion that he is as near to an old-fashioned amateur as is likely to be found in the modern game. Even in the summer on days off, if he is in a field it will probably be of the farming variety rather than the cricketing one.

This should not underestimate his dedication to cricket. He made an uncertain start at Yorkshire after years of league cricket at Scarborough - where he was made captain at 21 - but by dint of rigid application and concentration he developed into a solid but sprightly No 3. He is a notably composed four-day batsman and can inflict rapid, irreversible damage in the limited overs stuff as was evident by his destruction of Surrey in the B & H Cup quarter-final.

Byas also takes breathtaking slip catches. Before play he can frequently be seen going through a rigorous schedule, edge after edge being sent his way. His hands are the size of a JCB digger and he moves them at the speed of a Formula One racing car. He is known to his cricketing colleagues as Bingo, an ill-chosen sobriquet bestowed early in his career because of his Scarborough connections. A seaside fun palace is the last place you would look for him.

Not the least fascinating aspect of the tie at Old Trafford on Tuesday is his confrontation with the opposing captain, Mike Wat- kinson. Dry, droll Tyke meets dry, droll Lancastrian. "I know it'll be a full house," said Byas. "But the game's big enough without me going on about it. Cricket's full of setbacks." The last farmer to be appointed as Yorkshire captain was Vic Wilson. He won two Championships in three seasons. Byas will let us know of his progress in September.

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