IT would seem appropriate to commence these ramblings by extending heartiest congratulations to Martyn Moxon, Jason Gillespie, Andrew Gale and all the players and coaches of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Promotion back to Division One of the County Championship was the No.1 target at the start of the year and, amid unforgettable scenes at Chelmsford last week, one deservedly and memorably achieved.
Director of cricket Moxon, first-team coach Gillespie and captain Gale have presided over a summer that put a smile back on the face of Yorkshire cricket after the disappointment of relegation last year.
Throw in the club’s first appearance at Twenty20 Finals Day and a place in next month’s Twenty20 Champions League, and it can be safely contended that the dark clouds which hovered above Headingley Carnegie last September have been replaced by the bright skies of optimism.
Optimism because there is a genuine sense of a Yorkshire side going places as the club enters its 150th anniversary next year.
Indeed, of the first team regulars who helped secure an immediate return to Division One, only Anthony McGrath, Ryan Sidebottom and Phil Jaques are aged over 30.
For the most part, the players are all in their early-mid 20s and capable of serving the county for many years to come.
After all the days spent talking about potential and of good young players coming through the ranks, such players finally seem to have come through with a vengeance this year to form the nucleus of a team with the potential to be consistently successful in all competitions.
As one who has followed Yorkshire’s fortunes home and away this champagne summer, the one thing that particularly strikes me is that promotion was a genuine team effort.
Such phrases are bandied around so often these days that they can quickly lose meaning, but, if you look at the statistics, Yorkshire’s return to Division One was secured through a collective effort on the field and, it must be said, a collective effort off it too as the new coaching structure bedded in well.
Gillespie, the former Australia fast bowler, has linked up with fellow newbie Paul Farbrace, the club’s second XI coach, and pulled the operation together under the watchful guidance of Moxon, who has overseen cricketing matters from top to bottom.
As anyone who follows Gillespie on the social networking site Twitter will know, “@YCCCDizzy” invariably concludes his messages with the hash tags #strong unit #teamwork #YCCC – a neat microcosm, in fact, of why Yorkshire will be playing in Division One next year.
Never was that “strong unit” more manifest than in the batting department.
Six players averaged over 40 in the Championship – Adam Lyth (53.64), Jonny Bairstow (53.45), McGrath (48.66), Jaques (44.00), Joe Root (43.41) and Gary Ballance (40.86), which enabled consistent totals to be posted and solid foundations set.
Steve Patterson, the 28-year-old pace bowler, was the standout performer with the ball – 48 wickets at 20.81 representing an excellent effort in a summer bedevilled by bad weather.
There was more fine work from Sidebottom, despite some nagging injury problems in midsummer, and some striking end-of-season contributions from Moin Ashraf and Azeem Rafiq.
The fielding, too, was sharp and agile and the catching sensational – either close to the wicket or in the deep, with spilled opportunities rarer than uninterrupted days of cricket.
Ah yes, the weather...
Yorkshire lost more playing time than any of their rivals – roughly 24 days of a possible 63, including 13 totally blank days.
Although there were a couple of games when the elements helped them, the weather also cost them 16 points for a win on several occasions as well as the consistent loss of bonus points – something that will irritate in the context of the fact that just one more point would have given Yorkshire the title over Derbyshire.
The weather also played its part in Yorkshire finishing unbeaten (the first time they have done so since 1928, so the statisticians tell us, with 11 of their 16 matches finishing as draws) but the club overwhelmingly won promotion in spite of the weather – not the other way round.
All things considered, Yorkshire were on a hiding to nothing this year because most people, not least club president Geoffrey Boycott, expected them to go straight back up.
In that respect, the players achieved what they were expected to achieve at the very outset. Next season will represent a different challenge and it would be wrong to get too carried away.
At the same time, there is no reason Yorkshire could not follow-up by achieving another of Boycott’s goals – to challenge for the title in their sesquicentennial year. To do that, they will need to strengthen, and it is encouraging that the club have already been linked with the likes of pace bowler James Harris, a former team-mate of Gillespie’s at Glamorgan.
The bowling does need bolstering as, you feel, does the batting in view of the fact that Bairstow has already been spirited away by England and that Root is surely set to follow – perhaps as early as tomorrow when the squad is announced for the winter tour to India.
With the likes of Ballance, Rafiq, Lyth and Ashraf all having the ability to aspire to international colours too, the biggest problem for Yorkshire might well be that some of their young players are just too good, which could test their reserves in the years ahead.
That, however, is for the future.
For now, let us reflect on a job well done and the fact that Yorkshire cricket is back where every Yorkshireman and Yorkshire woman knows that it belongs.
Let us toast some outstanding performances in Twenty20 cricket and wish the team well in the forthcoming Champions League. And let us raise our glasses once more to Moxon, Gillespie, Gale et al and reiterate our heartiest congratulations.
Well done, everybody... #strong unit #teamwork #YCCC