A poor start cost Yorkshire in their pursuit of the County Championship last season. Captain Andrew Gale tells Chris Waters how he hopes to avoid a similar situation this year.
ANDREW GALE prides himself on le ading from the front, so when the Yorkshire captain began last season with a whimper, he even contemplated dropping himself.
Gale sought the opinion of director of cricket Martyn Moxon and first-team coach Jason Gillespie, who offered this unanimous advice: “Don’t do it, Andrew.”
Although Gale had struggled for runs, managing just 210 in nine innings since the start of the summer, Moxon and Gillespie had seen enough to suggest a big score was just around the corner.
Sure enough, in Yorkshire’s next game, against Nottinghamshire at Scarborough, Gale hammered a career-best 272 – the then 13th-highest innings in Yorkshire’s history and the first of three successive hundreds which emphatically ended a period of two years without one in first-class cricket.
Come summer’s end, after Gale had led Yorkshire to their best County Championship finish since 2001, he had amassed 1,067 Championship runs at 44.45.
It was the first time the left-hander had reached four figures, and now he is determined to build on his efforts.
“To get 1,000 runs last year was very pleasing, but in the first four or five games I didn’t contribute,” said Gale, who followed that double hundred at Scarborough with 103 against Middlesex at Lord’s and 148 versus Surrey at Headingley.
“This time I really want to get out of the traps and start the season well; that’s going to be the big thing for me.
“I feel I’m better off for the experience I went through last year, and you’re always going to go through a bad patch at some point in your career.
“But to come out the other side in the fashion that I did has given me a lot of confidence, and I want to make sure that in the first two, three, four games of this season I make some match-winning contributions.”
The importance of getting off to a good start cannot be understated – neither for Gale personally nor Yorkshire collectively.
With England’s Test series against Sri Lanka not starting until mid-June, and with England’s centrally-contracted players available for Championship cricket as they seek to prove their worth following the disastrous Ashes tour, any team that can flourish while the tournament is at its strongest stands an excellent chance of going all the way.
In Yorkshire’s case, they are expected to do well after their second-placed finish last year, which will put added pressure on Gale and his men.
He acknowledges it will be a different type of challenge.
“It’s a slightly different pressure this year,” he said.
“People are obviously tipping us for the Championship, and it’s a pressure that we haven’t had for quite a few years now.
“Every season is a massive season if you’re a Yorkshire cricketer, but this one is going to be bigger than most.
“We need to get off to a good start – which we didn’t do last year when we lost our first game to Sussex – and back up what we did last summer.”
Optimism is traditionally high at this time of year but Gale believes it is justified in Yorkshire’s case.
The 30-year-old is adamant they can end their 12-year wait for silverware.
“We want to win trophies, and I believe we’ve got a squad of players good enough to win trophies,” he said.
“The players are busting a gut to get their hands on some silverware and that’s been the case for several years now.
“For me personally, as captain, having three or four runners-up finishes in various competitions in the last few years has been quite tough at times.
“We’ve been so close without actually picking up a trophy, but we’ve got some experienced players in the side and players who’ve won stuff elsewhere, so I think we can go one better this year.”
Silverware would be sweet for Gale, who made his first-team debut in 2004.
He believes he has never been part of a better Yorkshire set-up.
“It’s the best squad of players I’ve seen at Yorkshire since I’ve been involved,” he said.
“It seems like we’ve definitely got all bases covered and it’s very exciting.
“People talk about England call-ups, and they will have an effect on us, there’s no doubt about that.
“But I still believe that the lads who come in will be able to do a good job.
“If you look at last year, Alex Lees came in and did a fantastic job at the top of the order. Andrew Hodd, Liam Plunkett, Jack Brooks – they all took their opportunities when they got the chance.
“Of course, it would be nice to have the England lads available all year, but that isn’t realistic. But there’s no reason why we can’t be successful when they’re not around.”
Gale has spent much of the winter playing club cricket in Australia with Melbourne side Dandenong.
He believes the experience will stand him in good stead.
“I felt I learnt a lot of things out there,” said Gale.
“Not only did it give me time to work on specifics outdoors, which you can’t do in England in November/December/January-time, I also learnt a bit on the coaching side as well.
“Hopefully, I picked up one or two tips in that regard that can, hopefully, help Yorkshire too.
“It was good to do some coaching work and I’m very interested in that side of the sport.”
Gale’s main focus, however, was improving his batting – something he believes he succeeded in doing before a hip injury forced his early return to the UK in February.
“I did quite a bit of work on my one-day stuff,” he said, “things like strike-rotation and getting down the other end, as opposed to just being a brutal boundary hitter, which has always been more of my game.
“I worked on shots that will help get me off-strike a bit more so that I can benefit the team and improve my strike-rate.
“It was just things like concentrating on trying to knock the ball into the gaps and trying to alleviate pressure situations.
“I feel I’ve become a more rounded player.”