“IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
So wrote Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, words to which Andrew Gale could relate.
The Yorkshire captain experienced the pinnacle and nadir of his career when the club won the County Championship last summer.
The pinnacle was the procurement of a prize for which Gale had worked all his life to achieve; the nadir was when the honour of lifting the trophy was taken away from him amid baseless accusations of racist abuse.
The details of Gale’s verbal outburst at Lancashire’s Ashwell Prince are well documented.
In response to his opponent’s time-wasting and earlier sledging in a game at Old Trafford, Gale told Prince, a black South African, to “f*** off back to your own country, you Kolpak f*****”, with Kolpaks being overseas players who have taken the places of home-grown products, causing resentment among county pros.
It was a knee-jerk comment – one Gale regrets – and no-one who knows him or anything about the game considered it racist: not even Prince, whose insistence that it was not effectively kyboshed the England and Wales Cricket Board’s case.
Having banned Gale for the final two games of the season, the ECB tried to save face by tacitly dropping the racism charge and extending his ban to the first two games of next season, although no one was fooled.
At the heart of it all was a 30-year-old sportsman (now 31) with feelings just like anybody else.
Although Gale made a mistake and deserved to be punished (although certainly not banned from lifting the trophy), let he who is without sin cast the first cricket ball and there are few greater stigmas than being called racist.
It was only the support of his family and Yorkshire CCC – specifically chief executive Mark Arthur – that helped him through his own worst of times in what was also the best of times. He reflects on it all with typical candour.
“To be touted a racist hurt a lot and it was a bad period,” says Gale. “It got to a stage where I didn’t even want to go to the local gym; I didn’t want to go out in public just because people were asking me about it all the time.
“I just wanted it all to go away and I was in a position where I couldn’t say what I wanted to say anyway because lawyers and stuff were involved. I’ll be glad when the ban is out the way and I can move on because I still think about it even now.”
Gale will miss the annual match between the county champions and MCC in Abu Dhabi in March, followed by Yorkshire’s opening Championship game at Worcestershire.
The club are bracing themselves for the possible absence of seven key players for the match at New Road, which clashes with England’s tour of the West Indies.
Only then will Gale experience closure from an episode that will, by then, have hung over him for eight months. He feels remorse but also injustice.
“The way I behaved on the pitch, I do regret that, but I didn’t expect it to be blown out of proportion the way it was,” he says. “To not be able to lift the trophy really hurt, and I only found out 20 minutes before we were going to be presented with it that I wouldn’t be allowed to hold it aloft.
“I’ve always prided myself on playing the game hard but fair and being a role model, and I do a lot of work in and around the local community and dinners and appearances free of charge.
“But the reaction I’ve had from the Yorkshire members and the cricketing public, along with everyone at the club, has been brilliant because they know the sort of person I am.”
Despite everything, Gale describes 2014 as “the best year of my life”, citing not only the Championship triumph – Yorkshire’s first for 13 years and only their second since 1968 – but the birth of his second daughter, Bea, a sister to Ada.
Married to Kate, who is the sister of Hannah Bresnan, Tim’s wife, Gale is the definition of a family man.
“There have been a few downs but mostly it’s been a fantastic year,” he says.
“To win the County Championship – that’s the Holy Grail and something we’ve worked hard for over a number of years.
“Off the field, I had my second child born mid-summer and family life puts things into perspective.
“When you’ve had a bad day at cricket and you come home and you’ve got two kids and they smile at you, the duck doesn’t seem that bad after all.”
Not that there were many ducks for Gale in 2014.
Although not quite as prolific as the previous year, when he passed 1,000 first-class runs for the first time, he averaged 43 in the Championship and hit two important hundreds – 124 against Durham at Chester-le-Street and 126 not out against Middlesex at Scarborough.
The first century was particularly significant.
Prior to their trip to the north-east, Yorkshire had lost one of county cricket’s most extraordinary games, succumbing by seven wickets as Middlesex improbably chased 472 at Lord’s, a game for which Gale selflessly dropped himself to make way for Joe Root and not disturb the opening partnership of Adam Lyth and Alex Lees, which would prove so vital, and how Yorkshire bounced back was going to be key.
“I always think that game at Durham was massive for us,” says Gale.
“We’d just lost at Middlesex and people were doubting our bowling attack, I’d dropped myself and there was the hangover from Durham beating us at Scarborough the year before, when they went on to win the Championship.
“It was important that we came out of the blocks in that game and really performed, and it was live on Sky too, so there was added pressure.
“I won the toss and elected to bat on a gloomy morning, a typical Riverside morning, so we made a bold statement and never looked back.”
Although Yorkshire did not win the match, they had the better of a high-scoring draw.
For Gale, it proved his team had the character – as well as the class – to go all the way.
“The way we reacted showed our guts and determination,” he says.
“Afterwards, I thought, ‘the lads have got the bit between their teeth. They’re not just going to lay down and die and feel sorry for themselves after the week before.’
“It showed the team spirit – people are proud of each other’s performances, there’s no jealousy – and it’s when things don’t go well, like in that Middlesex match, that your team spirit is really tested.”
Yorkshire came through with flying colours, a tribute to Gale and the side he has built.
Ten years after making his debut, he became only the third living Yorkshireman after Brian Close and David Byas to lead the club to Championship glory.
“When I first got the captaincy five years ago, I perhaps tried a bit too hard but the lads will tell you I’m more laid-back now,” he reflects.
“I consult them more – especially the senior players – and take a lot from them; they’re the ones who run the dressing room really. All I want is people who are passionate about playing for Yorkshire, which is what we’ve got.
“I’ll never have a cross word with anyone who gives 100 per cent for the team; the only time I’ll lose my rag is if someone’s not trying or hasn’t worked hard enough in training.”
An impressive character in every respect, the challenge now for Gale is clear: to back up this year’s brilliant efforts.
“I’ve said to the lads, ‘win one Championship and people will remember you for a few years, but win two, three, four, five Championships and people will remember you forever’,” he says.
“That’s the challenge – to go down in history.”
If Gale’s side can do that, the man himself will have plenty more chances to lift the trophy.
Why, the very best of times could yet lie ahead.