Omens are good for Yorkshire to seal title hat-trick

WHEN Yorkshire became the last county to win a hat-trick of Championships in 1968, they started the season with a home game against Hampshire.

Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale leads his team around the Headingley outfield with the LV County Championship Trophy earlier this year.

For those seeking an omen as Andrew Gale and his players strive to emulate the achievement of the late Brian Close’s side, it is a positive one before a ball has been bowled.

Gale’s men start next summer with a match against Hampshire at Headingley after the county fixtures were announced yesterday.

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They finish it at the Lord’s ground where they clinched back-to-back titles last season – although they lost that game amid the enveloping euphoria, having secured the crown earlier in the match.

Like Close, whose attack at St George’s Road, Harrogate, in May 1968 included himself, Fred Trueman, Don Wilson and Ray Illingworth, Gale has a battery of quality bowlers.

Jack Brooks, Steve Patterson, Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom each took more than 40 wickets last year, and they will be back to lead the line in 2016.

Throw in David Willey, the new signing from Northamptonshire, along with England’s Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett, and Yorkshire are not short on wicket-taking power.

It is the main reason, in fact, why the club are so successful, why they are odds-on now to complete another hat-trick.

As ever, Yorkshire and the county clubs must navigate a fixture list which is high in volume and short on clarity.

They start the season with five Championship games in successive weeks before the NatWest T20 Blast and Royal London Cup start to take over.

The Royal London is regionalised this year and staged in two blocks: one from early June, the other from late July.

The T20 Blast group stages run from late May to late July, an assault course of 14 games played mostly on Friday nights.

Yorkshire play three Championship matches between June 2 and August 3, with the usual glut of four-day cricket at the back end of the season marrying the usual glut at the start of it.

The highlight of the summer, to these eyes at least, are the two Championship games at Scarborough against last season’s second and third-placed sides, Middlesex and Nottinghamshire, which should ensure bumper crowds at North Marine Road.

“There’s so many matches to digest, we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves,” said Gale, who was appointed Yorkshire captain six years ago this month.

“The first game against Hampshire at Headingley looks good, and, as always, there is a lot of cricket to be played in the opening two months of the season.

“With the recent changes to the toss, and Surrey and Lancashire being promoted, it will be a tough challenge to defend our title.

“Teams will come to Headingley and probably will bowl first with the toss trial, particularly during the April and May fixtures.”

The toss trial is the England and Wales Cricket Board’s attempt to encourage counties to produce better pitches – instead of raging seamers – and gives visiting captains the chance to bowl first.

If they decline, only then will a toss take place, an experiment Gale has termed “absolute madness”.

The thinking behind the move – which smacks of a knee-jerk reaction to England’s Test series defeat against Pakistan in the UAE – is also to encourage the development of English spinners.

A better place to start, though, would be to contemplate the fact that Yorkshire, for instance, play six Championship games before the end of May and four in September, when seamer-friendly conditions traditionally prevail.

Hands, of course, are to some extent tied.

There are only so many sardines you can squeeze into a cricket season, and too much cricket to keep everyone happy.

A more comprehensive overhaul of the fixture list, set for 2017, could well ease pressure on the schedule, but it may be bad news for the Championship too.

Amid talk of lop-sided divisions of eight and 10, and even cutting the programme, there are fears that the four-day game could suffer.

There are no stronger supporters of the Championship than Yorkshire, and no better exponents for that matter.

A record of four defeats in four years speaks for itself, and it is hard to see them being easily toppled – whatever the vagaries of the fixture list.