WE managed 15 minutes of conversation before it was brought up.

Gary Pratt, skipper of Richmondshire, discussing the North Yorkshire side’s appearance in tomorrow’s ECB National Club Championship final in Bristol. Gary Pratt, former Durham opener, talking about his former county’s topsy-turvy existence since they dispensed with his services more than a decade ago. Gary Pratt, now happily settled in Willington, enjoying his post-professional existence.

Ultimately, though, our chat was always going to be pulled a certain way. Plenty of people enjoy a fleeting moment of fame, but hardly any achieve worldwide recognition for an incident that lasted no longer than a second. “You know what I’m going to have to talk about,” I say eventually. “Come on then,” chuckles Pratt. “Let’s get it over with.”

“I ALWAYS wanted to be known as a proper cricketer,” he goes on. “People forget, but when all of that happened, I was on the brink of England’s one-day squad. I thought I might be going to the next World Cup. That’s really why I was there in the first place.

“A couple of years before Durham let me go, I’d been their Player of the Season and scored more than 1,000 runs in the Championship season. I think I had a decent career, and I’ve spent most of the last ten years playing at a pretty decent standard in the Minor Counties League. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m always going to be known for throwing a ball.”

Not just any ball of course, but perhaps the most famous turn of an arm in the whole of English cricket. To recap, Pratt was playing as a substitute fielder at Trent Bridge during a pivotal period in England’s successful Ashes series against Australia in 2005. Damien Martyn tapped the ball towards him at cover, and quick as a flash, Pratt threw down the stumps at the striker’s end, running out Australian skipper Ricky Ponting.

Ponting reacted furiously, railing against Duncan Fletcher’s use of substitute fielders, England won the Test and the series, and Pratt was awarded a place on the open-topped bus parade that celebrated the Ashes being regained.

For a week or two, Pratt was hailed a national hero. Even today, the Barmy Army sing songs in his honour when England are playing overseas. Yet for all that it raised his profile, the most famous run-out in history also came at a price. To Pratt’s mind, it hastened the end of his professional career.

“Looking back now, I definitely think it cost me a lot with Durham,” he says. “It was great when it happened, and as a young lad, I loved all the attention I got. But I don’t think it helped me in the long run.

“I think Durham’s attitude was that I wanted to be away with England more than I wanted to be with them playing second-team cricket, trying to get runs under my belt.

“I’d scored runs for the second team that season, but it hadn’t done me any good, so I thought, ‘You know what, fine, if that’s what you want, I will try to spend time with the international side and see what it’s like to experience being in that dressing room.

“I think I learned a lot from it, but I don’t think it went down very well at Durham, especially when I was getting all these headlines about the Ashes.

“It wasn’t long after that that I was sacked. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but I think it helped Durham make their mind up. I was 23, and was told they wanted to give the youngsters a go. A season or so before, when I was Player of the Year, I had people telling me I was too young.”

LAST week, when Paul Collingwood announced his retirement, the last link to Pratt’s playing days at Durham was broken.

Now 36, the Bishop Auckland-born batsman has retained an interest in the highs and lows experienced by his home county. He was delighted at Durham’s three County Championship wins and dismayed by the ECB’s draconian punishments in the wake of the county’s financial troubles. However, he laughs when he hears some of the current hierarchy complaining that they have never had things so bad.

“I don’t doubt it’s hard for them now,” he says. “But I think people forget how hard we all had it before Durham started enjoying success. They’re going to have to grin and bear it like we had to.

“It was tough when we were all coming through because as a group of young lads, we never had our best players available. Harmy (Steve Harmison) and Colly (Paul Collingwood) were always away with England, and there was a period where we went through about ten or 15 overseas players, but they were always injured.

“You had me, Goughy (Michael Gough), (Nicky) Peng and (Gordon) Muchall all up at the top of the order, and we were desperate for some experienced batsmen to help us out.

“We were trying to learn our way in the game, but were being asked to make big scores to keep the team afloat. I think we were shafted because we were the local lads. If you’re paying a load of money to bring an overseas player in, you probably cut them a bit of slack. We came through the academy, so we were easy to let go.”

PRATT was released little more than a year after his Ashes heroics, and did not play another professional game. He briefly played Northern League football for Crook Town, but resumed his cricketing career with Cumberland in the Minor Counties League in 2007 and has represented the Carlisle-based side ever since.

He started playing for Richmondshire in the North Yorkshire and South Durham Premier Cricket League in 2013, and skippered the side as they finished third in the league season that finished last weekend.

That was regarded as something of a disappointment given Richmondshire’s success in three of the previous six top-flight seasons, but tomorrow offers an opportunity for national glory as they take on Stamford CC, based in Middlesex, in the ECB National Club Championship final.

If they are victorious, they will be the first NYSD team to lift the trophy, and they have already exceeded expectations by knocking out regional rivals South Northumberland, Chester-le-Street and York, all of whom started as favourites against them.

“At the start of the season, we didn’t really think about this competition to be honest,” says Pratt. “Because, normally, nobody gets past South North or Chester-le-Street. We’ve beaten them both, so we deserve to be in the final.

“We weren’t that happy with how we did in the league, so this is a great chance to finish the season in style. It would be a great achievement if we could do it, because while some of the teams are pretty much fully professional, we’ve got eight local Richmond lads and only two professionals. There’s only three of us that haven’t come through the youth ranks here – the rest of the lads have been playing together since they were about 15.”

And if he was to lift the trophy tomorrow night, how would that compare to that unforgettable day some 13-and-a-half years ago?

“To be honest, I’m enjoying my cricket now more than I ever did then,” said Pratt, who runs the cricket equipment branch of Peter Lorimer Sports in Bishop Auckland. “Back then, there was always someone telling you what to do and pulling apart the way you were playing. You were made to feel that you were never good enough.

“Today, I play because I want to and I love being part of this team. I love playing with the younger lads and trying to improve them. It’s so much more rewarding than when I was trying to make it as a professional.”