THOSE who like their County Championship trophy presentations laced with a dose of irony might have detected it in the fact that Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale received the cup from Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace.
Having recently found himself embroiled in the Ashwell Prince “racism” storm, when he was accused and subsequently absolved of using discriminatory language towards the Lancashire batsman, it seemed playfully pertinent that Gale should take delivery of the trophy from a member of the Royal Family who has, shall we say, dropped the odd racial clanger during the course of his 93 years.
In 1986, during a visit to China, the Duke famously told startled British students: “If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”
In 1999, while visiting an electronics factory in Scotland, he saw a messy fuse box and memorably observed: “It looks as though it was put in by an Indian”.
And in 2002, on a tour of Australia, he asked an askance Aborigine: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”
Happily, there were no such pronouncements at the Palace last Thursday, where around 50 Yorkshire players, coaches, officials and staff gathered for the traditional post-season presentation to the English champions.
The Duke betrayed an understandable lack of intimate Yorkshire cricket knowledge when he asked Gale if there were any Yorkshire lads in the first team, to which the captain proudly replied that most, in fact, are Yorkshire-born and had come up through the county’s Academy.
But at least His Royal Highness did not say something along the lines of: “Er, Andrew, about that Ashwell Prince business, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments, old chap.”
In fact, the Duke was on top form during a day that could not have gone more smoothly had it been scripted by the Palace’s PR department, which is presumably on red alert whenever the Duke’s voice box starts to vibrate.
Writing as one privileged to accompany the Yorkshire party on their coach trip south, I can vouch for the fact that everything ran like clockwork from first to last – tribute to the organisational skills of Yorkshire’s Janet Bairstow and Helen Baker, in particular – and that it was the perfect end to a perfect season, one in which Yorkshire were crowned kings of English cricket for the first time since 2001.
Strictly between you and I, Dickie Bird was a bit worried at one point that we wouldn’t get to the Palace promptly when we stopped off for a quick comfort break and a bite to eat at a motorway service station – “if the traffic’s bad in central London, we won’t get there on time, I’m telling yer now,” said the Yorkshire president, with endearing concern.
But the coach got Dickie to the Palace in perfect time for his 12th visit to the working headquarters of the British monarchy, with the Prince presenting the trophy and individual winners’ medals in The Blue Drawing Room, with its giant Corinthian columns and clusters of chandeliers, before the Yorkshire contingent took afternoon tea in The Picture Gallery, where Rembrandts and Rubens vied for viewing space on the plush pink walls.
On leaving The Picture Gallery, we came out into the spacious Palace courtyard, which was completely deserted save for one car – that belonging to Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves.
While countless vehicles and tourists swarmed around outside the locked Palace gates, which were heavily guarded by police and officials, it was quite a sight to see Graves’s black Porsche apparently given the licence to roam, much to the enjoyment of the Yorkshire party.
As Graves – the multi-millionaire founder of the Costcutter supermarket chain – has near single-handed kept the club afloat, it seemed only right and appropriate, and the chairman was also in terrific form on a proud day for him personally.
Ditto vice-chairman Robin Smith and chief executive Mark Arthur, the latter emphasising his commitment to engaging with Yorkshire’s cricketing community when he dashed back straight after the Palace leg to fulfil a prior engagement with Wombwell Cricket Lovers’ Society.
While Arthur returned north, the Yorkshire contingent moved on to No 10 Downing Street for a quick audience with the Prime Minister in a surprise last-minute addition to the itinerary.
Call me a cynical old hack (and I’ve been called worse), but one sensed that No 10 had spied a picture opportunity and, sure enough, Downing Street had its photographers in place when the Yorkshire team arrived as darkness fell.
The players were ushered into the Cabinet Room, where wicketkeeper Andrew Hodd did his best Winston Churchill impression (sans cigar, of course) as we awaited the arrival of David Cameron – or “The Boss”, as the man guarding the entrance to the room called him, as though confusing him with the rock star Bruce Springsteen.
A little later than billed, “The Boss” (Cameron not Springsteen) breezed in as though he owned the place – which, of course, he does at the moment – and proceeded to deliver a performance more polished than the furniture we had seen at Buckingham Palace.
Hands were shaken, pictures posed for, and Cameron reflected with good humour on the fact that he had recently landed himself in hot water by calling former foreign secretary William Hague the Greatest Living Yorkshireman – a claim that had prompted a raised eyebrow from a G Boycott, of Boston Spa – before he left almost as soon as he had arrived, perhaps to attend his next photo shoot.
Yorkshire’s day was not finished, however, as the party took the short walk to the House of Commons for a reception hosted by Nigel Adams, MP for Selby and Ainsty.
We were taken into the Speaker’s House, where the current Speaker, the Rt Hon John Bercow, MP for Buckingham, congratulated Yorkshire on their Championship title.
Yorkshire CCC board members Harry Gration, of BBC Look North, and Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, also addressed the assembled gathering, swelled by businessmen and political figures, while Harry conducted a short interview with Jason Gillespie, the Yorkshire first-team coach.
Shortly after 8pm, and as Big Ben looked down from above while one player quipped, “Does anyone know the time?”, Yorkshire stepped back into the night and headed for home armed with a hatful of happy memories.