WHENEVER I read about the great Yorkshire cricket captains – Brian Sellers, Brian Close, David Byas, et al – I am often put in mind of Andrew Gale.
The current Yorkshire captain seems to fit the mould perfectly: the no-nonsense, courageous, successful mould.
Gale, I would suggest, is a Yorkshire captain for the ages, a man in the deepest traditions of the office.
Strong and tough, he takes no prisoners and wears his heart on his sleeve; he might have been hewn from the Headingley turf.
Gale’s passion for Yorkshire, along with his skill as a captain and talent as a batsman, has been recognised by readers of The Yorkshire Post, who have voted him into second place in our search for Yorkshire’s Sports Hero of 2014.
It is deserved reward for a man who led Yorkshire to the Championship title, while we have reason to believe that he may well approve of the overall winner to be announced tomorrow.
But enough of the heavy hinting...
For now, let us celebrate Gale’s contribution to the sporting year, one capped by the return of that Championship crown.
It had been 13 long years since Yorkshire last won the title under David Byas, a true tough cookie, while it had been 33 years prior to that since Brian Close – the father of tough cookies – was the previous Yorkshire captain to hold aloft the trophy.
Gale, as we know, did not hold aloft the trophy this year – at least not officially.
Suspended for the last two games of the season after a verbal altercation with Lancashire’s Ashwell Prince, a ban subsequently extended to Yorkshire’s opening two matches of next summer, he was cruelly denied his moment in the sun by a governing body that tried – and predictably failed – to pin on him charges of having used racist language towards opponent Prince in the Roses game at Old Trafford.
This is not the place to debate the whys and wherefores of that unfortunate episode – one in which Gale’s language was regrettable rather than racist – but to celebrate what the 31-year-old has achieved not only this summer, but also since taking on the captaincy reins.
When Gale was unveiled almost five years to the day at a snowbound Headingley, he was Yorkshire’s youngest leader since Brian Sellers way back in the Thirties.
Improbably, gloriously, Gale led Yorkshire to a third-placed finish in his first season in charge – his young and unfancied team would have won the title but for a batting collapse on the final day of the season – and followed promotion in 2012 with a runners-up finish in 2013.
The only blip was relegation in 2011, with “blip” the operative word given what has followed, while Yorkshire can also boast a runners-up finish in the Twenty20 Cup under Gale and an appearance in the international Twenty20 Champions League.
In the early days of his captaincy, Gale, by his own admission, was a chest-thumping type who pulled no punches on or off the field.
He does not pull them now and yet his management style is more relaxed, the product of growing maturity and the realisation that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Like all good leaders, Gale has learned the art of listening as well as the art of laying down the law, seeking the views of his senior players.
The respect between them is clear and mutual; one had only to see the disappointment etched on the faces of the team when Gale was denied the chance to lift the trophy at Trent Bridge to appreciate the regard in which he is held.
Gale is not merely Yorkshire captain, of course, but a skilful batsman in his own right out in the middle.
He is the type who normally produces when it matters, and it was no coincidence that his two Championship hundreds last summer were of the significant variety.
His innings of 124 in the fourth game of the season, away to Durham, was important as it followed Yorkshire’s humiliating defeat against Middlesex at Lord’s, when the home team chased down 472 in a match for which Gale dropped himself to accommodate the returning Joe Root.
Gale’s response at Chester-le-Street got Yorkshire straight back on track and reinforced his personal authority, while his innings of 126 not out against Middlesex at Scarborough in July laid the foundation for a crushing victory.
Gale might not have been involved at the end of the piece, when he was banned for the games against Nottinghamshire and Somerset, but his contribution to the title could not be under-stated.
This was very much his team, his triumph, and Yorkshire’s supporters appreciate the part that he played.
In years to come, the spat with Prince will fade from memory.
Not so Gale’s place in Yorkshire’s history.
In addition to announcing your choice of No 1 Sports Hero tomorrow, we will be revealing the winner of our competition to win a pair of hospitality tickets to day two of the Test match between England and New Zealand at Headingley on Saturday, May 30.