Farmer Byas leads his flock to promised land

Stephen Brenkley salutes the new champions' driving force
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The Independent Online

On a fine Saturday morning at Old Trafford in 1997, the Yorkshire captain, David Byas, was angry. An emotional but controlled outburst neatly conveyed the contradictory aspects of his feeling towards cricket: it was probably a matter of life and death but that did not mean there were not more important concerns.

Water had flowed rather than seeped under Lancashire's covers during overnight storms and the match was abandoned with Yorkshire in a strong position. This severely affected their Championship prospects and Byas called an impromptu press conference, which he was neither in the habit of doing then nor has developed an addiction for since.

Perversely, his face went redder than a North Riding farmer's, and without quite making a direct accusation it was clear that he smelled conspiracy. For 10 minutes he railed against the inefficiency and unfairness of it all.

The point made, he rose from his stool in the Lancashire committee room, walked to the door and said: "Right, I've got to get to work now." He then strode to his car and drove across the Pennines to the family farm in the East Riding, where there were some beasts needing his attention.

It was the way he stressed the point about going to work which resonated. Cricket was only a game, lad. He has often grudgingly conceded that in another age he would have been an amateur, and although he is no doubt paid handsomely as a cricketer he would always claim that his job is that of partner in the family holding at Kilham.

Doubtless this has helped Byas to be a strong captain of the new county champions. The strains of leading a side burdened by history and internecine strife have been insurmountable for seven other men since Brian Close took Yorkshire to the last of their previous 29 titles in 1968.

Byas has probably had more help – the backing of the committee and a dominant overseas player for a start – but he has managed utterly to shrug off criticism. Darren Gough, for instance, has little kind to say about him in his recent autobiography, but Byas will have been unbothered by that. He has a wider perspective than cricket alone.

Similarly, it has been alleged that Darren Lehmann, the prolific and prodigious South Australian, has effectively been the county's captain this season. Fielding at mid-off to Byas's slip, he has often been seen advising bowlers and directing fielders. If this has undermined Byas's position a jot it has not shown, because he has not let it show.

When farming is in disarray and you are under threat of foot and mouth disease, a little thing like who tells extra cover to move wider may not seem to have a great bearing on life.

Byas, gum permanently in mouth, gives nothing away on the field. He started late in professional cricket. He made his county debut at 23 but was not capped until he was 27. His nickname, Bingo, is imaginative for cricketers but inapposite. He got it because he played his club cricket in the seaside resort of Scarborough, and what do they do in seaside resorts...? The image of the bucolic Byas stepping out for a game of bingo sporting a kiss-me-quick hat and a bunch of candy floss is not one that springs easily to mind.

There were multiple rumours that after a poor summer with the bat in 2000 he was no longer worth his place. He did not rise to that particular bait and has responded with four hundreds in the present campaign –the fourth coming on his home turf at Scarborough in the match which clinched the title.

Byas would admit that he has benefited greatly from, firstly, the Yorkshire Academy's proclivity for turning out able seam bowlers; secondly, and at last, the addition to his squad of a worthy spinner to the seam in the 23-year-old Richard Dawson; and thirdly, from the wonderful Lehmann.

During Byas's tenure, Yorkshire have never finished lower than sixth, a high position they had last occupied in 1980. Presumably, he has had something to do with the transformation. This season the county have kept losing players to England or long-term injury – Gough, Ryan Sidebottom, Craig White, Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard – but their depth has seen them through.

Comparisons with the 1968 Championship side are odious. To say that the competition is weak today is to suggest that it was strong throughout 33 years ago. Not so. Certainly, Byas loses nothing in terms of being a cool, hard-nosed operator with the 1968 skipper, Close.

Byas is 38 today and must be close to retirement. If Yorkshire had not won the title the likelihood is that he would have returned to Kilham for good. Now he will probably stay for one last hurrah before handing over to Lehmann. But on Friday, after a pint or two, he might well have driven home to tend his stock.

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