Yorkshire CCC: Ability to thrive under pressure key to any future White Rose success, says Andrew Gale

ANDREW GALE has spelled out what Yorkshire must do to go from challengers to champions.

The Yorkshire first-team coach said that they need to be better in pressure situations and work on the mental aspect of their game in addition to improving skill levels.

His comments come after a sixth season without a trophy after Gale himself captained Yorkshire to back-to-back County Championships before replacing Jason Gillespie as first team coach in late 2016.

“I think we’ve got to do a number of things,” said Gale, “particularly skills-based. There’s a lot of skill work to do, particularly with our batting.

LEADING LIGHTS: Yorkshire's Gary Ballance & Dawid Malan have shown how experience helps deal with pressure situations. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“But I also think there’s a lot of mental work to do because, when the pressure’s been on, we’ve just fallen short. That T20 quarter-final (when Yorkshire lost to Sussex); we didn’t field very well - that’s pressure.

“In our last game (when Yorkshire were dismissed for 73 in their first innings against Notts), when we started losing wickets, it can only be pressure that caused that because you look at how we played second time round (396 all out), when the pressure was off and we were expected to lose, we were able to score runs.

“So we’ve got to find ways – and as a support staff we’ll sit down and put a programme together – that improves the way that we play under pressure.”

By definition, however, that is less than straightforward. A “pressure situation” means exactly that – a situation in which players feel and come under pressure in the cut-and-thrust of a contest as opposed to something artificially created in training.

Yorkshire first-team coach Andrew Gale takes part in some catching practice, assisted by Yorkshire physio Kunwar Bansil Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“It’s difficult because you can set up pressure situations in training, but unless the lads feel the pressure, then it’s not a pressure situation, so it’s hard to replicate,” conceded Gale.

“There’s things we can do, there’s no doubt about that, but I also think a lot of it comes down to playing and being there before in terms of experience, and the more you go through something, the more experience you’ve got of it, then the better you become at it.

“You look at senior players like Gary Ballance and Dawid Malan, for example, because you can tell when the total’s 20-2, say, that they still manage to make it look like it’s 200-2 in the way that they go about things, whereas younger players can panic a little bit, tense up more and that encourages decision-making to be off and playing false shots.”

Yorkshire’s batting remains their primary concern. Eight of their 13 first innings totals in the Championship last season were less than 250, five of which were under 200.

Yorkshire's Dawid Malan hits out against Sussex earlier this season. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Only three men – Adam Lyth (819), Harry Brook (797) and Gary Ballance (594) – scored over 500 runs in the four-day tournament, and only one regular frontline batsman (Ballance) averaged over 40.

“We’ve still got the same problems with our first innings batting and that’s why two years ago we signed Dawid Malan, and who’d have thought that his career would have gone like it has,” said Gale, with Malan having since regained his Test place and risen to No 1 in the T20 rankings.

“It’s been crying out for two experienced players in our middle-order and between Dawid and Gary (Ballance), you’ve got 70 first-class hundreds, and when they’re missing it shows.

“It’s no coincidence that the two games that Gary’s missed this year, at Lancashire and the last game at Notts, and when we haven’t had Joe (Root) available as well, it’s exposed us.

As a player, Andrew Gale captained Yorkshire to back-to-back County Championship titles under head coach Jason Gillespie Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

“We’ve made good progress and some of the young lads have shown what they can do, but we’ve got to start being more consistent in terms of making big first innings runs, and we’re not always talking about getting 400/500 either, because there’s times when 250/300 can put the opposition under a lot of pressure.”

Gale continued: “In seven out of 13 first innings this year we didn’t even manage to bat for two sessions. It’s amazing that we’ve finished in the positions that we have and won games, which is testament to the character and resilience of the lads, but in the red-ball game, Test cricket, first-class cricket, the basics are still there.

“It’s still the same game, and scoring big first innings runs is a key part of winning red-ball cricket. If you can’t do that consistently, then you’re always clawing your way back into matches.”

Yorkshire’s recovery powers and strength of character were evident in some of the close matches that they won. They achieved the joint third-highest number of wins (17) across the formats, behind Nottinghamshire (19) and Gloucestershire (18), and were the only county to qualify for the top division of the Championship and the knockout stages of both white-ball tournaments.

“One of the positives is that you want your team to play in the way that you want them to play, and I think we’ve shown some great character and resilience throughout the season,” said Gale.

“I’m proud of the lads’ efforts, and although I would have liked that trophy in there as well to tick that box off, I think we’ve shown improvement and are headed in the right direction.”