ANDREW GALE has warned that if Yorkshire play as well as they did in last season’s County Championship they will probably only finish second again and miss out on their dream of winning the title.
The Yorkshire captain is challenging his players to raise their game still further to ensure there is no repeat of last summer’s heartbreak, when Durham came from behind in the closing weeks to claim the Championship from Yorkshire’s grasp.
Going into the final month of the campaign, Yorkshire held a 25.5-point lead over their north-east rivals, with 24 points the maximum on offer in any one fixture.
But Durham – who had a match in hand – beat Yorkshire by seven wickets at Scarborough during a decisive run of five successive wins that sealed their third title in six years.
It was a sharp lesson, were any required, that the Championship is a marathon rather than a sprint and that the pacesetter does not always pouch the coveted prize.
Although Yorkshire began the season poorly with an innings defeat to Sussex, they led the table for much of the year and looked odds-on to mark their historic 150th anniversary in fairytale fashion.
Indeed, just prior to their fatal defeat to Durham, it appeared Yorkshire had the booty in the bag after crushing Nottinghamshire by 10 wickets at Trent Bridge.
What happened thereafter was a painful reminder of one of the oldest and most odious of sporting cliches – that it’s not all over until the fat lady sings.
“We need to find that little bit extra this season because if we play like we did last year we’ll probably finish second again,” said Gale, who is entering his fifth summer at the helm.
“We need to make sure that we’re on the ball in games like the first one of last season, when we were just off it against Sussex, and at Scarborough against Durham, which was the big changing point of the season.
“For me, it’s all about the processes and taking care of the little things that all add up to bringing success.
“We need to get off to a good start this time and not be sloppy, and then we need to make sure that we back last season up and do the basics well throughout the summer.”
Yorkshire begin their Championship programme against Somerset at Taunton a fortnight tomorrow.
But their season officially starts on Tuesday when they host Leeds-Bradford MCCU in a three-day fixture at Headingley.
Gale and his men – fresh from a successful pre-season tour of Sri Lanka in which they won three of four Twenty20 games and drew a two-day match against local opposition – will be among the favourites for the Championship crown.
Rarely, if ever, have Yorkshire gone into a season with so much expected of them since their glory days of the 1950s-60s, when they won seven Championships in 10 summers.
It is because of that weight of history and the club’s proud legacy that the winning of another is an urgent priority.
Yorkshire have not won the Championship since 2001, their only title since 1968 and the halcyon era of Fred Trueman, Brian Close, Raymond Illingworth and Geoffrey Boycott.
Remarkably, Yorkshire are the only first-class county who have not won a league or a cup competition since they lifted the old Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy in 2002. It is something Gale and the squad are desperate to put right this summer as Yorkshire seek to end their 12-year silverware drought.
“The players are busting a gut to try to win a trophy; you could see that last season,” maintained Gale.
“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 that team and players who have won stuff in the past.
“We’re better off for the experience of last year and I’m sure we can go one better this time.”
Because the Championship really is a marathon rather than a sprint, there are plenty of things that can influence the outcome of the race.
How much will Yorkshire see of their England players Joe Root, Tim Bresnan, Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow?
For how much longer can Ryan Sidebottom continue to lead the attack so wonderfully and tirelessly in his late 30s, his evergreen efforts an inspiration to everyone at the club?
All that can be stated for certain is that Yorkshire, on paper, have a squad more than capable of winning trophies, a squad Gale believes is the best in his time at Headingley.
“It’s the best squad of players I’ve seen at Yorkshire since I’ve been involved,” said Gale, who made his first-team debut in 2004.
“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 summer, Alex Lees came in and did a fantastic job at the top of the batting 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 for all of the year, but that isn’t realistic.
“But there’s no reason why we can’t be successful when they’re not around, and I definitely think we’ve got the ability to win some silverware.”