Professional cricketers go in all sorts of directions when their playing careers are over. Many stay in the game. Others look elsewhere. Some struggle. Some reach great heights. Adrian Pierson is in the latter category, quite literally.
Pierson, an off-spinner with Warwickshire from 1985 to 1991, hit some impressive heights in cricket. His first county championship wicket, for Warwickshire v Somerset on July 26, 1985, was a certain IVA Richards (“he played for the spin and edged it to Geoff Humpage,” Pierson recalls).
"It was a privilege to share a dressing-room with the likes of Alvin Kallicharran, Gladstone Small and Geoff Humpage. Geoff was a fine player and way ahead of his time. He always played for the team and was always positive."
The Enfield-born player was a key member of the Leicestershire squad which won the championship in 1996, taking 46 wickets and imposing a level of control which contributed to many wickets at the other end. It was for the Foxes that Pierson recorded his career-best figures. His eight for 42 against Warwickshire on his old home turf at Edgbaston in 1994 included an incredible spell of eight for 11 in 58 balls.
Further moves to Somerset and Derbyshire left Pierson with 463 wickets in senior cricket when he retired, since when he has pursued a very different career in a field which was always dear to him.
Adrian’s great uncle, Rex Pierson, was a pioneer of aviation. A brilliant engineer, he designed the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic non-stop (1919) and those which set world records for altitude (1932) and long distance (1938). At Vickers-Armstrong he worked closely with Barnes Wallis, creator of the bouncing bomb.
Whether Rex ever bowled off-spin is undocumented but his passion for flying was certainly passed on to his great-nephew. During the latter winters of his cricket career, Adrian trained and qualified as a pilot and he now spends much of his time in the skies on behalf of commercial airline Jet2.com.
“The family is very proud of Rex and I certainly am so it is lovely to be in aviation,” Pierson said. “I always wanted to do it and it was great that in my two years at Derbyshire at the end of my career I could play cricket in the summer and fly in the winter.
“I was very lucky to get into the industry at the age of 42 and more than a decade later I still love it. Jet2 are fantastic to work for. It was quite a small company when I started but is now the third biggest airline in the UK. I mainly fly passengers around Europe these days but have done other stuff over the years like delivering newspapers and flowers – and footballers. I picked up the Manchester United squad after one game in Denmark.
“Taking the mail from Coventry to Dublin over Snowdonia at night was always interesting. Up there in all weathers with just the voice of the air-traffic controller for company it was like being in a Boys Own adventure every night. It could be quite scary but I think, to be a pilot, part of you has to quite like that.”
Pierson retired from professional cricket in 2003 and it is now 27 years since he left Warwickshire, but he recalls his time at Edgbaston with great warmth – though is still not quite sure how it began.
“I loved it at Warwickshire,” he said. “I felt honoured to have played at that ground and known those people but it was rather strange how it started. I went to a trial at Lord’s in 1984 and was one of only six out of 100 (Phillip de Freitas and Phil Tufnell were two of the others) who were picked. A few days later I received a letter from Warwickshire. To this day I haven’t got a clue how they knew about me.
“I’d never been to the Midlands and didn’t even know where Warwickshire was but dad drove me up and David Brown, the cricket manager, said for me to come back the following summer. I didn’t hear anything else but then Warwickshire reached the Benson & Hedges Cup final that year and I was on the Lord’s groundstaff so bowled at them in the nets. David spotted me and a few days later I was on the way to Pontarddulais to play for the 2nds.”
Pierson signed at a pretty thin time for the Bears’ team and found his own opportunities limited by the presence of Norman Gifford as first spinner.
“I was twelfth man quite a lot,” he said. “The pitches back then were low and slow and didn’t help batsmen or bowlers. I only played if we played two spinners. I was picked for one game down at Cheltenham when they badly misread the pitch. It was lightning fast and Gloucestershire had Courtney Walsh and David Lawrence and they blitzed us. They took 19 wickets in the match and I didn’t bowl a ball.
“It wasn’t a successful period for the club but for me it was a privilege to share a dressing-room with the likes of Alvin Kallicharran, Gladstone Small and Geoff Humpage. Geoff was a fine player and way ahead of his time. He always played for the team and was always positive. Now everybody bats that way but back then he got harangued by the older players. But he carried on doing it anyway!
“I was with Warwickshire until 1991 and getting sacked was one of the saddest days of my life. I was captaining the 2nd XI at Moseley and several senior players had been released and there was talk that another one was on the way. I thought ‘well, it can’t be me because I’m contracted for another year’ but then David Heath and Bob Woolmer drove into the ground and asked me to go and sit in the car with them. They told me I’d been sacked and I admit I wept. I had huge respect for Bob, I idolised him as a kid, but I was bitter about that.”
Pierson’s finest moment at Edgbaston was still to come – with a fox on his shirt. Early in the 1994 season, with the Brian Lara hype at its height, Leicestershire visited in the championship. They made 403 then Warwickshire reached 201 for two (Lara 106) before being unpicked by Pierson. His return catch to dismiss Lara triggered a spell of eight for 11 in 58 balls on his way to career-best eight for 42.
"Taking the mail from Coventry to Dublin over Snowdonia at night was always interesting. Up there in all weathers with just the voice of the air-traffic controller for company it was like being in a Boys Own adventure every night."
“Just before tea I bowled one which turned and bounced and I remember the umpire David Shepherd raising an eyebrow and looking over to square leg,” he said. “Lara had got after me but at tea I said to the skipper ‘keep me on, I can get a bit out of this’. I got Lara caught-and-bowled and went through the rest.
“I really enjoyed my time at Leicestershire. Jack Birkenshaw was a great mentor and it was very different to Warwickshire. It was provincial and not a Test ground but I felt very included, as though I had a greater purpose.
“Then Dermot Reeve became Somerset’s cricket manager and I had a very high regard for him so went down there for three seasons. I scored my maiden century, which I was very proud of. It was down at Hove and, just after tea one day, our openers had just started batting and I was reading the paper in the dressing-room when a message came through to pad up. I said ‘are you kidding?’ but Peter Bowler, who was out in the middle, signalled over to say yes.
Apparently he thought the pitch suited my batting. It was placid, to say the least. I think Sussex had a meeting shortly afterwards and decided to dig the pitch up if it was so placid I could score a century on it.”
It was also in Sussex that Pierson played his valedictory first-class match, for Derbyshire at Arundel in June 2001. He was on his way to another ton in his final innings only to run out of partners just 99 short. But as he walked off that beautiful ground, and out of first-class cricket, his second career was already heading for the heights…