A MATCH that began with the sad news of Brian Close’s death ended with a Yorkshire win that somehow captured the great man’s spirit.
Precariously placed at 37-3 in pursuit of 304 for victory, Yorkshire fought back boldly to win by five wickets and thereby create a new record for the most points in First Division cricket of 265.
If he was looking down from the great pavilion in the sky, cigarette in one hand and glass of whisky in the other, a copy of the celestial Sporting Life perched on his lap, Close would no doubt have nodded with approval.
This was the sort of battle that he would have relished, a win that had seemed improbable when Yorkshire lost Alex Lees, Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance inside the first 12 overs of their chase.
Fortunately for the visitors, they had Andrew Gale and Jack Leaning to dig them out of trouble and then eat substantially into a target agreed between the teams before start of play.
Yorkshire declared on their overnight 97-4 and Hampshire forfeited their second innings to gamble on trying to force a win in their fight to avoid relegation.
The equation favoured Yorkshire, and Gale led from the front in Close-esque manner with a magnificent 125.
Leaning was similarly tenacious en route to a fine 76, the pair adding 190 for the fourth wicket before Tim Bresnan and Andrew Hodd completed the job.
“It was a good pitch and we managed to get that big partnership and it took the game away from them,” said Gale, who was re-presented with the Championship trophy after the match for the benefit of the Sky cameras.
“Fair play to Hampshire for playing ball; it was tough for them and we had all the cards, but I thought it was a fair chase.
“Since we won the Championship last week, we’ve played some really poor cricket, and we were lucky with the weather because Hampshire had played all the cricket in this game.”
There had seemed little prospect of a positive result after only 7.4 overs were possible on day three due to rain.
But Gale and Hampshire captain James Vince deserved credit for their negotiations, with Hampshire not wanting to leave it until their last game against Nottinghamshire to get the points they need to have any realistic chance of staying up.
Yorkshire’s need was not as great, but Gale has spoken of his desire to make this a record-breaking season.
Not only have his team now beaten Sussex’s First Division points record of 257 in 2003, but they need only two points from their final match against Sussex at Headingley, starting on Tuesday, to eclipse Somerset’s overall record of 266 in Division Two in 2007, while a win against Sussex would give Yorkshire more victories (11) than any side has managed since the move to two divisions.
Such thoughts seemed a long way off when Yorkshire ran into early trouble on a sunny morning at the Ageas Bowl.
Lees was bowled in the fifth over by Fidel Edwards, the ball keeping low and feathering the inside edge.
It has not been a good week for Lyth and Ballance, who were left out of England’s Test squad for the forthcoming series against Pakistan, and neither was able to deliver a put-that-in-your-pipe-and-smoke-it performance to the selectors.
Lyth was run-out by a direct hit from Jimmy Adams after pushing Edwards to mid-wicket, while Ballance was strangled down the leg-side by Gareth Berg.
But Gale withstood some hostile stuff from Edwards, who was bowling in the mid-to-high 80s, and he helped Yorkshire to lunch on 96-3.
Gale and Leaning batted throughout the afternoon as Hampshire’s hopes steadily diminished, with Dawson dropping Gale on 35 straight after the break when the batsman jabbed down on a yorker from Ryan Stevenson that flew to second slip.
For the most part, Gale and Leaning defended stoically and attacked selectively, lifting Yorkshire to 186-3 at tea.
Gale’s 20th first-class hundred soon followed from 193 balls, Leaning falling with the score on 227 when he followed one from Edwards and was caught behind.
Gale finally pulled Edwards to deep mid-wicket, but Bresnan showed all his experience with an unbeaten 35, while Hodd contributed 17 to their unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 41.
Yorkshire have announced that Brian Close’s funeral will take place on Wednesday, September 30.
There will be a private cremation at Rawdon Crematorium, Leeds, with only immediate family invited to the funeral.
A service of thanksgiving will be held at St Chad’s Church, Otley Road, Far Headingley, at 12.30pm on the same day.
There will be refreshments in the Long Room at Headingley cricket ground after the service.