September 23, 2014

Yorkshire's lucky 13

The heroes of 2001 recount how they overrode the burden of history. The similarities to 2014 are striking

The class of 2001 © Getty Images

The emotion that surrounded Yorkshire's first Championship win in 13 years, leaving aside the rancour springing from Andrew Gale's suspension, has been understandable. One of the grandest old counties had not won anything since the 2002 C&G Trophy - a barren run during which every other county had claimed silverware of some form or another.

A 31st outright Championship gives Yorkshire a haul not far off double the next most successful, which is a statistic all the more remarkable for the gaps between the last two. The wait just ended was a mere baker's dozen, compared to what Wisden called "33 years of anguish" prior to Yorkshire's 2001 triumph.

That was a Baddiel and Skinner-worthy period of hurt but things quickly deteriorated again. When Colin Graves, Yorkshire's chairman, became involved in 2002, the club was on the brink of bankruptcy. "There have been a lot of low points but today makes it all worthwhile," Graves said after the pennant was clinched at Trent Bridge two weeks ago.

Two cathartic triumphs, twin peaks preceded by deep troughs - and there are other similarities. Wayne Clark, appointed coach shortly before the start of the 2001 season, brought an outsider's sense of perspective to the role, just as another Australian, Jason Gillespie, has with the current side. (Coincidentally, Gillespie was one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year for 2001.) Both victories came as a result of strength in depth. The modern game is more squad-based, and this year Yorkshire used 19 different players; in 2001, that number stood at 25.

Dealing with England call-ups was a common feature, from Michael Vaughan, Darren Gough and Matthew Hoggard then to Joe Root, Gary Ballance and Liam Plunkett now. There is also the sense of expectation that weighs on the shoulders as soon as a Yorkshire player pulls on a White Rose sweater. In 2012, with Yorkshire in Division Two, Geoffrey Boycott declared the club had to be promoted so they could win the Championship the following year, to coincide with their 150th anniversary. Better late than never.

At the start of the 2000s, the weight of history was becoming a problem. David Byas had been Yorkshire captain for several years and felt the 2001 side was capable of breaking the run of failure. "To be part of the team that won it after such a length of time was very special," he says. "It doesn't get any better than that really." But it was a long journey.

"As that period got longer, the more pressure was heaped on," Byas says. "Especially when we had a good side and players were playing for England on a frequent basis. We had such depth, such a good squad, we could afford two or three players playing for England, as you find now. What they've done this year pretty much mirrors what we did in 2001."

Their most important international recruit was one who usually couldn't get in his country's Test side. Darren Lehmann helped cement his status as an "honorary Yorkshireman" by scoring 1416 runs, including an innings of 252 against Lancashire at Headingley. That is still the record for a Roses match, though Adam Lyth fell one run short of equalling that at Old Trafford last month.

Alongside the impetus provided by England players such as Vaughan, Hoggard and Craig White, who made important contributions, Yorkshire were buoyed by a clutch of less-heralded names. Matthew Wood was the only Englishman to pass 1000 runs, while Steve Kirby, signed a third of the way through the campaign, finished as their leading wicket-taker; the offspinner Richard Dawson also made an immediate impact.

"Many people contributed to it," Byas says. "The likes of Matthew Wood, he had a wonderful season; Craig White got an injury with England, he came back and played for us as a batter. He and Matthew formed a fabulous opening partnership. Steve Kirby came on to the scene when we were really struggling with injuries... He was such a breath of fresh air, when we needed an opening bowler. Richard Dawson bowled particularly well in the second half of the season, which got him on an England tour. Darren was a wonderful overseas pro and he served us so consistently for such a length of time. But a number of other players played a significant part and contributed so well that it ultimately brought the trophy to us."

"Sign every autograph, speak to every person that you can, look at those members outside now, those people who love Yorkshire cricket, because these days don't come around very often. Treasure it"
Michael Vaughan after the 2001 win

For Kirby, who retired this year, his involvement in Yorkshire's 2001 title was a Cinderella story wrapped up in the wider fairy tale. Born in Lancashire, released by Leicestershire, Kirby had been working as a flooring salesman and playing for Yorkshire 2nds when he was given his first-class debut at the age of 23 as a replacement for Hoggard, who was called up by England halfway through a Championship match against Kent. He took 7 for 50 in the second innings and ended the season as their leading wicket-taker.

"I've no idea how I did it, I still pinch myself now and wonder how it all happened," he says. The fondness of his recollection is audible, even though he "took some stick" for being from the wrong side of the Pennines, and he remains in awe of his colleagues in the Yorkshire attack. Of the six bowlers to take 20 wickets or more - Kirby, Dawson, Hoggard, Ryan Sidebottom, Chris Silverwood and Gavin Hamilton - he was the only one not to play for England.

"What was most important to me about that environment was, there were a lot of superstars but no one had an ego that was bigger than the team," Kirby says. "It was the Yorkshire way at that time, they wouldn't allow that to happen, they wouldn't allow one person to be bigger. It was all about you as a character, an individual, rather than your cricketing ability, and enjoying other people's successes. That's what we did a hell of a lot of. It was the best team I've ever been involved with."

Kirby remembers seeing grown men cry at Scarborough on the day the title was clinched, as well as Vaughan's words in the dressing room: "Sign every autograph, speak to every person that you can, look at those members outside now, those people who love Yorkshire cricket, because these days don't come around very often. Treasure it, because before you know where you are these days will be a distant memory, so really make the most of every moment right now."

The outpouring was part joy and part relief, like a dam bursting. Had that build-up of collective frustration been an inhibiting factor? Gough, who only played two Championship games that season but knows the Yorkshire psyche well, having been brought back by Graves as captain in 2007, felt that the success of previous generations cast a long shadow. "The history is kind of shoved down your throat by the older players," he says. "It very much was your Boycotts, your Illingworths, your Closes - they were always around and reminding you of the successful years of Yorkshire CCC. It's never easy.

"The thing with Yorkshire is always the history, like Liverpool Football Club. There's a high expectancy because they want you to compete year in, year out. It was hard for a time but in 2001 we got a good squad together, a lot of different players, and they all had their moments during the season. That expectancy in Yorkshire will always be there. Everybody expects us to win, when you're part of it, and it's sometimes difficult."

One of Clark's major achievements was in helping the side to shut out external pressure. "He wouldn't have any talk about winning the Championship, none at all," Kirby says. "If anything, he would stop people talking about it. It's a cliché but it was, take one game at a time, you're going to go out there and express yourself, enjoy yourself. If you do fail, don't die wondering. Do what you do and do it with complete confidence, and he allowed that to flourish. The fear of failure was taken away."

Byas, in what turned out to be his final year as captain, was seen as a hard man and admits he could be "a bit brusque" with people but he struck up an immediate relationship with Clark. Together, the farmer from Kilham and the coach from Western Australia managed to shut out the noise surrounding Yorkshire's longed-for title challenge. Byas didn't even bother to look at the table.

"Wayne brought an understanding that if we just looked after what we could control, per session, we'll find out where we're going to be at the end of the season," Byas says. "He had a wonderful philosophy: 'Let's just look at what we can do tomorrow'. First session, second session, third session and we'll pick up from there. And if we do that, what we end up with in September will look after itself. I don't think for one second, leading up to the last month of the season, I'd have known where we were in the Championship. We just took each game as it came and broke it down into 12 parts - if we win more sessions than they do in 12 then we win the game."

The triumph was crowned, on a personal note, when Byas took the catch that sealed the Championship with two matches to spare. He was "the only person you would have trusted under that ball", according to Kirby, who still bears the scar from where White's spikes dug into his shin while the two jumped madly up and down in celebration.

Byas' moment of glory stands in contrast to Gale, who was suspended for Yorkshire's decisive match against Nottinghamshire this year and was not allowed to receive the trophy. But Byas, who ended up playing for Lancashire while Yorkshire were relegated in 2002, is hopeful that Gale will be able to lead a stronger defence this time around. While they may not win again next year, or for 13 years, or perhaps 33 years, it as much about putting in the effort - something Gale, Yorkshire's youngest post-war captain, doubtless knows.

"Yorkshire teams have to go out and commit," Byas says. "It's a well-supported club and the members are thrilled when they see guys go out there and play the game in a positive manner. Win or lose, they won't suffer teams going out and not really trying. When you pull a Yorkshire shirt on, you've got to commit to the game. The result is important, there's no question about that, but it's more about a commitment to wanting to play the game properly, and the rest will look after itself.

"To play for Yorkshire is a huge honour but with that honour there's something that's a little bit more special than playing for one or two other counties. But they need to keep that intensity into next year because if members see the same side not putting in the same level of commitment, that's when the Yorkshire players will find themselves under pressure."

Gough and Kirby both believe that Gillespie's influence will mean success is not quickly outflanked by expectation this time; and even if the likes of Adil Rashid, Alex Lees and Jonny Bairstow are required to strengthen England, in addition to Root and Ballance, a flourishing crop of young players should insure against a weakened Yorkshire.

Then there is the accumulated knowledge of the one player who provides a link between Yorkshire's 30th and 31st titles: Sidebottom. Kirby still recalls the sensations of 13 years ago and one imagines Sidebottom has not forgotten the moment they shared. Maybe he said something similar before going out to take four of the last five wickets on the final morning at Trent Bridge.

"Sitting down before the end in Scarborough, Clark said, 'I want you to look round the dressing room, lads, and look at who's sat next to you.' And I'll always remember who was sat next to me: Ryan Sidebottom and Craig White. He said, 'I want you to look them both in the eye and think what it will be like when you're 55 or 60 and you've won something special with that guy sat next to you.' And I remember that so vividly because, now I'm not playing any more, those are the days that you remember."

And there were tears in their eyes again.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

Comments