COLIN GRAVES launched a stinging attack on Yorkshire’s cricketers after the club were relegated in the County Championship in 2011.
In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, the chairman branded their performances “a disgrace” and said they needed to take “a long, hard look at themselves”.
Three years on, and Graves could not be more effusive in his praise of Yorkshire’s players.
After the club won their first title since 2001, following on from their second-placed finish last summer and promotion the previous year, he said they had been “magnificent to a man”.
“The big thing from my point of view, and I take my hat off to the players, is that they’ve responded to what I said,” declared Graves.
“Since then, they’ve never looked back, to be honest.
“They’ve got stuck in, they’ve shown resilience, and they’ve shown that there’s some bloody good cricketers in there.
“I’m as proud as punch of them.”
Although Graves would never claim credit for this year’s title, there is no doubt his 2011 message had the right effect.
As kicks up the backside go, it was one of the more memorable issued in county cricket, a world hardly given to Sir Alex Ferguson-style hairdryer blasts.
“Yes, I lambasted the players, and I would do the same again if I had to,” said Graves.
“People who know me know that’s the way I am, and if something has to be said I will say it and won’t hide behind anybody.
“I’ve talked to one or two players and they held their hand up and said, ‘What you said was absolutely right.’
“But, at the same time, if praise is due, like it is now, I’m the first to congratulate them and say, ‘You’ve done a cracking job, all of you’, which they have.”
It is not only the players whom Graves believes have done a cracking job.
He is also delighted with the efforts of the coaching staff led by director of cricket Martyn Moxon.
“The one person I’m really pleased for is Martyn,” said Graves.
“He’s never won the Championship before and he deserves a hell of a lot of credit.
“I’ll be honest, back in 2011, when we were relegated, there were some people on our board who were wanting to pull the trigger and I said, ‘No way’.
“I won’t name names, but Martyn came here to do a job when we appointed him in 2007 and he was in the middle of doing it, and you couldn’t blame him for the way the players had performed.
“It wasn’t Martyn who had a bat in his hand, or a ball in his hand, it was the players. I believed Martyn was the right man and he’s repaid that faith.”
Graves feels another key factor was the restructuring of the coaching staff after the 2011 campaign.
Yorkshire recruited Jason Gillespie, the former Australia fast bowler, as first XI coach and ex-Sri Lanka boss Paul Farbrace as second team manager, both of whom reported to Moxon.
“It was a big turning point when we changed the coaching structure and brought in Dizzy and Farby to work with Martyn,” said Graves.
“Without any shadow of a doubt that helped tremendously from the players’ point of view, as before the structure had been a bit divisive, in all honesty.
“Martyn’s philosophy has always been what I believe to be right, which is to back youth and to try to bring the young kids through. When Dizzy and Farby came in, they enhanced that and built on it.”
Success is particularly sweet for Moxon, who had never previously won the Championship as player or coach.
Graves believes the former England opening batsman has a great many attributes.
“The big thing I like about Martyn is that he’s very solid and very thoughtful,” said Graves.
“When he has to be hard he does it in a very nice way, and he’s not an aggressive character.
“The way he handles himself, the way he conducts himself, is excellent. He’s a thorough professional at his job.
“Martyn left Durham when they were on the brink of winning everything and came back to Yorkshire, and he must have wondered what he’d done when Durham went on a great run of success. But he’s stuck to his guns, stuck to his philosophies, and it’s worked.”
Yorkshire’s Championship is also their first under Graves, who joined the club at the end of the 2002 season.
It has been a long journey for the multi-millionaire founder of the Costcutter supermarket chain, one he believes has been worth every minute.
“I took over just after Yorkshire won their last trophy, the old C&G,” he reflected. “And when you look at where we were 12 years ago and where we are now, there’s simply no comparison.
“Back then, we were in dire straits in more ways than one and had a lot of problems on-and-off the field.
“But, year-by-year, things have got better and we’ve come a hell of a long way since.
“You look at Headingley in the last 10 years, and what we’ve done, and it’s a fantastic ground now which will be even better when we get the floodlights up this winter.
“That was my ambition when I came to Yorkshire, to continue the development of the ground and the club in general, and it’s good to see some reward for it now.”
It would not be stretching it to say that Graves has single-handedly kept Yorkshire afloat.
He estimates he has pumped circa £10m of his own money into the club because, as he says, “I just love Yorkshire cricket”.
Graves, who founded the Costcutter supermarket group in 1986, is one of the country’s most successful businessmen.
He grew Costcutter into a multi-million pound enterprise before selling the company in 2011.
Unusually for someone in his position, Graves has traditionally shunned publicity and has not sought to put himself in the media spotlight.
He hails from a cricketing background too, having played for Dunnington Cricket Club as a talented batsman.
Perhaps Graves’s greatest achievement at Yorkshire was to negotiate the purchase of Headingley cricket ground in 2005, a deal which guaranteed international cricket in Leeds.
As part of that arrangement, Yorkshire are guaranteed Tests and one-day internationals until at least 2019, whereupon they must renegotiate with the England and Wales Cricket Board in the face of increasing competition to host international fixtures.
“The big thing, when you look back, is that until we owned the ground we were on a hiding to nothing,” said Graves.
“We had no income streams, we couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t go anywhere. We were never going to get a long-term staging agreement with the ECB if we hadn’t owned the ground because all the money was going into rugby.
“There wouldn’t have been a staging agreement and there wouldn’t have been Test matches. Buying the ground turned it round totally.”
At the heart of it all is Graves’s deep love of cricket. It courses through every vein in his body.
“The bottom line is that I’ve always been passionate about Yorkshire County Cricket Club,” he said.
“When I got involved back in 2002, people said I was bloody mad to do it and ‘what are you doing that for?’ and all the rest of it. They were saying I should walk away from it, you name it. But I could never do that.
“I love Yorkshire cricket and I always will. There’s no one happier than me that we’ve won the Championship.”