WHEN Yorkshire began their 2012 campaign on April 5 with a County Championship match against Kent at Headingley Carnegie, little did they imagine that they would end it exactly 200 days later at a ground some 6,000 miles from their Leeds headquarters.
The longest season in Yorkshire’s history ended yesterday in the South African port of Durban, where they concluded their Twenty20 Champions League programme with a four-wicket defeat to Chennai Super Kings.
The excursion to South Africa, which began less than three weeks after the Championship summer ended, was an unexpected bonus for Yorkshire and reward for their reaching the Twenty20 Cup final.
When one considers that they also flew to Barbados for a pre-season tour starting on March 12, the players have been going pretty much non-stop for over seven months, a schedule that shows no sign of abating for the likes of Joe Root, who goes straight from the Champions League to a Test tour of India.
Not that the players would have passed up their trip to South Africa for a second.
In addition to the prize money at stake, a cool £2.5m had they won the competition, there was the chance to test themselves against the world’s best players and to put themselves in the shop window for a potentially lucrative Indian Premier League contract.
Although Yorkshire lost three of their four group matches, with the other rained off when they were facing a potentially formidable run-chase, it was great experience for a side that will split the lion’s share of the £128,000 prize money gained for progressing through the Champions League qualifying phase and into the main tournament.
Having qualified for that main tournament in such splendid style, with wins over Sri Lankan Premier League champions Uva Next and West Indian champions Trinidad & Tobago, Yorkshire will be a touch disappointed with their efforts thereafter, despite injuries and player unavailability hampering their cause and the fact their opponents were significantly superior.
That gulf in class was highlighted again by yesterday’s adversaries, whose team of international talents belied the fact that they, too, are going home at the group stage. Chennai, with such luminaries as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina, were comfortable winners in the end, overhauling Yorkshire’s 140-6 with an over to spare.
Raina, who took over the captaincy from Dhoni for a proverbial dead game, got the chase going with an innings of 31 from 30 balls before Subramaniam Badrinath (try typing that after a bottle of whisky) supplied the main contribution of 47 from 38.
Dhoni walloped 31 from 23 before falling one run short of the winning line, wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Shah completing the formalities with the match-clinching single.
If any Yorkshire player has alerted the antennae of IPL scouts in this competition it is surely Gary Ballance, who near single-handed ensured his side raised a competitive score.
Ballance flailed 58 from 38 deliveries with five sixes in the outstanding innings of the match, reprising the form he showed against Trinidad, when he hit an equally impressive undefeated 64.
Unlike Michael Vaughan in Strictly Come Dancing, the 22-year-old gets better and better and the sixes were typically classy and clinical.
Ballance brutalised the left-arm spin of Ravindra Jadeja out of the ground over mid-wicket, deposited the occasional filth of Dhoni for maximums over point and mid-wicket and dispatched the otherwise probing pace of Ben Hilfenhaus for sixes over square-leg and cover.
Not for the first time it was Yorkshire’s top-order that was their Achilles heel.
Andrew Gale once again did all the hard work by playing well for 23 from 22 balls before skying Albie Morkel’s first delivery to mid-off, while Adam Lyth – deputising as opener for Phil Jaques (hip) – fell in identical fashion soon after off the bowling of Hilfenhaus.
Root’s disappointing competition continued when he was caught down the leg-side off Morkel as Yorkshire – 35-0 off five overs – suddenly found themselves 43-3 in the eighth.
David Miller, back in the side after commitments in South African first-class cricket with Dolphins, chipped in with 28 off 26 balls, sharing in a stand of 78 from 56 deliveries with Ballance.
But Yorkshire fell 15 to 20 runs short of par as Miller drove straight to cover before Ballance was run out attempting a bye to the wicketkeeper and Dan Hodgson caught in the “V” off the last ball of the innings.
Morkel (2-12) and Bollinger (2-16) were excellent for Chennai, while there were 52 dot balls in the Yorkshire innings.
With Ryan Sidebottom and Moin Ashraf still on the sidelines due to hamstring injuries, the total was never likely to be defendable.
Nevertheless, Yorkshire made a fine start, Patterson having Faf du Plessis caught at mid-off and Oliver Hannon-Dalby sending back Murali Vijay with the aid of a catch at deep square-leg, Chennai falling to 26-2 in the fifth.
Raina and Badrinath added 48 before Raina sliced Hannon-Dalby to deep cover; Iain Wardlaw bowled Badrinath and Dhoni, while Patterson had Jadeja caught at mid-wicket.
Wardlaw, Patterson and Hannon-Dalby each claimed their two wickets cheaply, but the spinners were expensive and the fielding off-key.