Yorkshire CCC: ‘Focus has now got to be on the cricket’ insists Darren Gough

IT was the morning after the night before and all was quiet on the Western Terrace.

Just hours earlier, Yorkshire’s members had approved governance reforms to guarantee the return of international cricket to Leeds.

Now Messrs Darren Gough, Ottis Gibson and Steven Patterson – respectively the club’s interim managing director of cricket, head coach and captain – are looking ahead as the club attempts to move on from the darkest winter in its history, the last remnants of which were symbolically visible in the form of unmelted snow on the Headingley outfield.

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Speaking at the club’s media day, on which Patterson represented a playing squad left stunned by the racism affair, Yorkshire’s new holy trinity, if it can be so described, are aiming to pick up the pieces of an unholy mess.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club team photo during a photocall at Headingley. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

It won’t be easy…

As gorgeous sunshine looked down on a freezing April Fool’s Day, where the reassuringly familiar figure of groundsman Andy Fogarty and his team were diligently working hard in the unseasonable conditions, Gough conceded that the events of the past few months will inevitably provide the backdrop to the coming months too, the present and past inextricably interlinked for the foreseeable future.

“I think there’s going to be things going on throughout the year; this is probably going to happen all season,” he said, referring to such as the ongoing England and Wales Cricket Board investigation into the racism affair and possible sanctions for the club/individuals. “But as far as the players and coaches are concerned now, their focus has got to be on the cricket.

“Some of them... they’ve been through a lot as individuals, especially in the last 18 months. When I took over in January, I saw almost fear in a lot of the players’ faces, along with confusion. But I tell you what, three months later, what I have seen and witnessed is a team that work for each other. They’ve worked their socks off to get into a position where they’re excited about the season, they’re excited about every coach that’s come through the door, every medical staff member that’s come through the door. They’ve embraced it, and I’m immensely proud of them, and I’ve told them so.”

Although the spectre of the club losing international cricket and perhaps even going bust has been averted, after members overwhelmingly approved the reforms urged by the ECB and government, there remains the possibility that Yorkshire could be hit with some form of points penalty and that the likes of batsman Gary Ballance – who confessed to using racial language in a social setting to former friend and team-mate Azeem Rafiq – could be punished also. No time-frame has been put on Ballance’s return.

“Gary at the moment is off with his mental health,” added Gough. “Obviously that’s a serious situation, so we just want to support him the best we can and give him the space that’s required. I’d like to think that people will give him that space as well because it’s a serious illness, mental health. Having lost two of my best friends to suicide... we’ll give him as much time as he possibly needs to make sure he’s in the right frame of mind to play cricket again, however long that takes.”

On possible sanctions, Gough said he had heard nothing but hoped that the issue would be swiftly resolved.

“I don’t think anybody knows yet,” he said. “I’ve not heard anything about a points deduction, and we can only deal with what we’re dealing with.

“At the minute, we’re starting the season on zero points, same as everyone else, and if we’re at the top at the end of it, we win it. That’s how I see it.”

Gibson said the squad had spoken at length in an effort to move on from a challenging period. “We had a lot of conversations in Dubai in pre-season on how we can do things better as a group of people, how we can look out for each other better,” he said.

“There was talk about inclusivity, how we can make sure that we’ve got each others’ backs – not just on the field, but off the field, the language that we use to each other, and so on. We’ve had a lot of those conversations and also conversations about the things that are going to make us win.”

Patterson concurred: “Obviously it’s not been easy. There’s been a lot of change, a lot of upheaval, but we’ve seen a big shift in the positivity in the environment since Ottis came in in March and the other coaches came in.

“That was the beginning of the future for us and it gave us real structure and direction.”