Yorkshire CCC face nervy last week but should beat the drop
They are in the conversation - the relegation conversation - one of three sides, along with Kent and Warwickshire, who could yet go down in the season’s last week, joining the already doomed bottom club Gloucestershire in Division Two.
Conversation is cheap and actions speak louder than words, and what should have been a fairly comfortable run-in for Yorkshire - if never a title-chasing one - has been rendered nervy by five defeats in the last seven games to go with two draws.
It is the sort of freefalling form that has ‘relegation’ written all over it, and yet it would still be a major surprise if Yorkshire did go down, given the way that the table shapes up going into Monday’s final round.
The situation as Yorkshire prepare to welcome the ‘dead men’ of Gloucestershire to Headingley is this: they are seventh in Division One, 15 points and two places above second-bottom Warwickshire, who occupy the other relegation place.
Warwickshire - champions just 12 months ago - take on second-placed Hampshire at Edgbaston, with Hampshire’s title bid having been ended by a combination of last week’s defeat to Kent and by the new champions Surrey’s victory against Yorkshire.
As such, it might be a good time for Warwickshire to play Hampshire, who now have nothing riding on the match except for prize money and the incentive to finish runners-up. But to overturn a 15-point deficit to Yorkshire would need two things to happen: first, Warwickshire to claim only their second victory of the season against a side who have won nine of their 13 games; second, for Yorkshire to lose against a team who have lost eight of their 13 fixtures - including to Yorkshire in the opening game of the season in Bristol, which remains Yorkshire’s solitary triumph.
With a maximum of 24 points on offer for a win (16 for the victory plus first innings bonus points of five for batting for reaching 200/250/300/350/400 and three for bowling for taking 3/6/9 wickets), it would take something pretty remarkable for Yorkshire to go down. Likewise for Kent, who are one place and one point behind Yorkshire in eighth, with Kent facing a Somerset side in Canterbury who guaranteed their survival last week by beating Northamptonshire.
In the final analysis, the key result - at least as far as Yorkshire and Kent are concerned - could well prove to be Warwickshire’s narrow three-wicket defeat to Gloucestershire in Bristol last week. Had that match gone the other way, Warwickshire would have gone into the final round on 136 points, Yorkshire on 135 and Kent on 134, with Gloucestershire even further adrift on 79.
Then it really would have been the tensest of three-way battles to beat the drop as opposed to what should - one stresses the word ‘should’ - be a case of Warwickshire falling through the trap door along with Gloucestershire.
Not that Gibson, whose first season at the helm has proved to be challenging on a number of fronts, can afford to take anything for granted. Yorkshire have not played badly throughout the season by any means; far from it, in fact. They will look back on a couple of opportunities to have won more games, particularly in the first half of the campaign, but also during the recent damaging sequence which has included a one-wicket defeat to Essex and a two-wicket defeat to Hampshire, narrow margins which, by definition, could have gone the other way.
After last week’s defeat at the Oval, Gibson stressed that Gloucestershire “is a massive game because we don’t want to be playing in any other division than the first”. The former West Indies’ fast bowler added that “it’s been a long season” and that one last push was required to “make sure this club is still playing in the First Division next year”.
Yorkshire’s chances are set to be swelled by the return of Matthew Fisher, who has not played for the first team since that victory against Gloucestershire in Bristol in April. Fisher has recently returned from a stress fracture of the back to help Yorkshire to the Second XI Championship; he captained the side when they gained the draw against Kent in Folkestone on Friday that secured the title.
The prospect of Fisher and Ben Coad resuming their pace bowling partnership is one to savour, as is the chance for the Headingley faithful to say goodbye to one of the club’s most loyal servants, former captain Steve Patterson. The club, quite mystifyingly to some, has decided not to extend Patterson’s contract beyond this season which, although he turns 39 next week, smacks of a strange decision - not least because Patterson has a good fitness record in a bowling attack which has suffered its share of injuries.
As well as Patterson, Yorkshire are saying farewell to the Somerset-bound Tom Kohler-Cadmore, the 28-year-old batsman in the prime of his career, who, on signing a contract extension in 2019, said: “When the club asked me how long (I wanted to sign for), I said, ‘The longer the better.’ I love playing here. For me, it was a no-brainer.”
No starker illustration exists of the events that have subsequently ripped Yorkshire apart and permeated all corners of the club - from dressing room to members’ Long Room.