I would gravitate to somewhere between “decent” and “disappointing” to sum up Yorkshire in 2021.
It was certainly not a dazzling season given that they failed to win a trophy for a sixth straight year.
Nor was it dire given that they were the only county to qualify for the top division of the County Championship and the knockout stages of both white-ball tournaments.
That, in itself, was deserving of praise.
As one who followed them from Chester-le-Street to Cardiff and all points between, I feel that “decent” is about right, with dashes of the “disappointing” mixed in, and that it was the sort of unremarkable summer, in fact, which, years from now, one might struggle to recall in the vivid detail that the extremes of a “dazzling” or indeed “dire” season invariably elicit from the corridors of memory.
It was a season – if recalled for anything years from now – that was conducted to the backdrop of a racism investigation that was as serious a crisis to hit the club as any in its history, a situation that is still rumbling on more than a year since the club’s former off-spin bowler, Azeem Rafiq, made his allegations, some of which were upheld.
Back to events on the field...
Andrew Gale, the first team coach, pointed out after the final match that his side had won the joint third-highest number of games across the three formats (17), behind, for the record, Nottinghamshire (19) and Gloucestershire (18).
It brings us back to the “decent” and “disappointing” thing, for having got themselves in the hunt for the treble, Yorkshire were frustrated to come away empty-handed after finishing fifth out of six in the Championship First Division (albeit they were hampered by the points-carried-through system) and losing in the T20 and 50-Over Cup quarter-finals.
Incredibly, it will be 20 years when they take to the field next summer since they last won a white-ball trophy, an embarrassment even to a county that commendably prizes red-ball cricket above all else, albeit champions the abomination of The Hundred at every opportunity for financial gain.
At the same time, and one has never felt more strongly about this, county cricket is now a complete lottery and Yorkshire, regardless of their size, resources and catchment area, have no divine right to win trophies.
The game – and its landscape – has changed too much.
Yorkshire have a good squad with a lot of good young players coming through – just like a number of other clubs, in fact; Warwickshire, Somerset, Essex and Kent also won 17 games across the formats.
But Yorkshire are stymied by the loss of top players to England/franchise cricket in a way some others are not, with Harry Brook, the best of the young bunch, surely the next to taste international cricket to the detriment of Yorkshire’s chances of refilling their trophy cabinet, and one barely knows who is going to be available from one game to the next.
There needs to be a reality check, in my view, a recognition that success invariably goes in cycles (as it did in the middle part of the 2010s when the stars aligned) and a realisation that when it comes to Yorkshire’s batting frailties, in particular, their chief concern, that you cannot lose the likes of Dawid Malan for long periods, say, or be without Gary Ballance from time to time, and simply stroll to the Championship regardless. It doesn’t work like that.
Throw in the inevitable fluctuations in form which periodically occur, even to the best, and Yorkshire have simply not been good enough to take the extra steps needed to prove that the transitional phase since they last won the Championship in 2015 can, simply as a consequence of its conclusion, itself transition into success.
It doesn’t work like that either.
This year, eight of Yorkshire’s 13 first innings scores in the Championship were under 250, five of which were under 200 and therefore resulted in no batting points.
But there is no silver bullet, no magic wand, just a need to recognise that Yorkshire must work with what they have to improve skill levels and their ability to cope in pressure situations.
Will it be better next year?
There are no guarantees.
The young players will be more experienced and, given a fair wind, Yorkshire will be able to take the extra steps needed to follow a decent season tinged with disappointment with what they hope will be a dazzling one.
But with the county cricket schedule all over the place, as though it has been drawn up by a drunk with a pin and a hat, and with players seemingly unavailable on a whim, gone are the days when Yorkshire could expect to win anything simply because they are Yorkshire.
Essex batter and former Warwickshire captain Varun Chopra has brought down the curtain on a 15-year playing career.
Chopra, 34, started and ends his career with Essex, either side of a stint with Warwickshire, where he won the County Championship title in 2012 before becoming captain of the Birmingham side.
He returned to Essex in 2016, initially on-loan, and was part of their Championship and T20 Blast triumphs in 2019 and Bob Willis Trophy win last year - although first-team opportunities have been restricted in the last couple of seasons since Sir Alastair Cook’s retirement from England duty.