Surrey v Yorkshire: Champions struggling to match feats of the White Rose

ANDREW GALE knows better than anyone how hard it is to back-up winning the County Championship.

Dom Bess: Last match on loan to Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire first-team coach captained the club to successive titles in 2014 and 2015 and almost to a third in 2016.

Now Gale takes his team to Guildford to face defending champions Surrey, who are winless after their first five games.

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A side that were many people’s favourites to retain their crown have lost two and drawn three to lie sixth in the table above Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire.

Asked whether Surrey’s problems – which continued with a defeat against leaders Somerset at Guildford last week – proved how difficult it is to back up a Championship title, Gale said: “Yes, looking back now, you don’t realise how good an achievement that was to win back-to-back and nearly win three in a row, because, as we’ve seen in recent years, it’s bloody hard work to back it up.

“They’re not having it all their own way at the minute, and Somerset have come out of the traps really strong and they are the team to beat at the moment.

“I think that Surrey are probably facing a few things that happen in the second year (after winning the title).

“A few injuries can come around, England call-ups, Lions call-ups, and so on, and it’s only going to get harder for them because if you win something everyone else wants your players, so it’s tough to back it up.”

In terms of their title aspirations, this already has the look of a must-win match for Surrey as Yorkshire play their first Championship game at Guildford since 2002.

Along with Somerset, third-placed Yorkshire are the only unbeaten side in Division One after two wins and three draws, the latest stalemate coming against Hampshire at Emerald Headingley last week.

“We are playing well and we’re a confident bunch at the minute,” said Gale.

“There’s a tremendous team spirit in there which shines through in our cricket, and, if we keep playing like we did against Hampshire, we’ll be okay.

“This is another big test against a Surrey side who’ll be wanting to bounce back (after losing to Somerset) and I’m sure they’ll want a result out of this game in terms of the pitch they prepare.

“We go into it with confidence but we’re certainly going to have to play well.”

This match is the final one of Dom Bess’s one-month loan spell from Somerset, with Gale not expecting the 21-year-old off-spinner’s deal to be extended.

Gale has made no secret of his desire to sign him permanently but, with another year left on his contract at Taunton, the situation is up in the air.

“We’d love to extend his loan but, if I’m being honest, I don’t think that will happen,” said Gale.

“I think Somerset will take him back; I think they’ll want him for their game at Chelmsford coming up because it spins down there.

“We might see him again, who knows; I’d love to have him on board full-time.

“We’ve seen what he can do; he got 90-odd with the bat against Hampshire and, on a pitch that didn’t really spin that much, he bowled beautifully.”

Gale has been particularly impressed with Bess’s attitude and competitive nature.

He said that the Exeter-born player has the look of a Yorkshire cricketer.

“He’s been a great addition to our team,” added Gale.

“In the dressing room as well he’s a mature, get-up-and-go character and a really good fit.

“He looks like a Yorkshire cricketer to me.

“He’s got a bit of grit and he’s quite feisty, and when Patto (Steve Patterson) was padded up to go in as nightwatchman the other day, he was like, ‘Can I do it?’, so for a 21-year-old to come to a Test ground and show that confidence is the sort of character we want in our dressing room.”

Gale accepts that Bess’s success is a double-edged sword from Somerset’s perspective.

With the Taunton club already looking a good bet to win the Championship, albeit with a long way still to go, Yorkshire have emerged as one of their strongest rivals.

“I’m sure it probably hasn’t gone down well that we’re in the top half of the table and they’re at the top of the league and one of their players has done well,” said Gale.

“If one of our bowlers was on loan and taking a five-fer every week at Notts, for example, then you wonder what our members would be saying.

“I’m sure there’s a little bit of that involved but you have to be fair to the lad as well.

“English cricket wants Dom Bess playing cricket and there’s no point in him going around carrying drinks.”

Yorkshire have announced a 13-man squad for this week’s match: Ballance, Bess, Coad, Fraine, Kohler-Cadmore, Leaning, Lyth, Olivier, Patterson (capt), Pillans, Tattersall, Thompson, Fisher.