ANDREW GALE insists Yorkshire are “not even close” to winning the County Championship, despite the fact they are 34 points clear at the top with a game in hand.
The Yorkshire captain said the trophy “doesn’t feel like it’s in our grasp at all” as his side prepared to face Durham at Scarborough today.
However, Gale conceded Yorkshire are better placed now than they were this time last year, when they went on to win their first Championship since 2001, although he does not feel they have yet played as well as they did last year.
Gale believes there is more to come from his men – a frightening prospect given Yorkshire have won their last five Championship games and are the only unbeaten team in the country.
“Anyone looking at the Championship race now as someone not involved in the day-to-day side of things would probably say, ‘you’ve already won it’,” said Gale. “But, for me, we’re not even close.
“Yes, we are 34 points clear at the top and, yes, we’re playing some good cricket, but it doesn’t feel like it’s in our grasp at all.
“We played so well last year yet we only just won it – it still went pretty much down to the wire – and there’s always a twist and a turn in the season.
“We’ve just got to make sure we keep doing the right things, and I still feel like we’ve got a lot left in the tank in Championship cricket.
“I still don’t think we’ve played our best cricket yet.
“We’re better placed now in the table, but we haven’t played as well as we did last year even though we’ve won seven games this year and we won eight last year, and there’s still six games left.
“Overall, though, I’m really pleased with how we’ve gone – particularly given all the England call-ups we’ve had and with missing players, and the lads who’ve come in have really stepped up.”
Gale’s comments were echoed by director of cricket Martyn Moxon, who stressed Yorkshire cannot afford to think they already have one hand on the silverware.
Yorkshire went into the corresponding match at Scarborough two years ago with a 25.5 point lead over Durham, who beat them by seven wickets and went on to take the title.
“The job isn’t done,” stressed Moxon.
“Until you’ve won it (the Championship), you can’t say the job is finished, and we can’t afford to be complacent.
“Clearly, we’re in a good position, and, clearly, a good result this week would really strengthen that position, but that’s the only way to look at it.
“Potentially, there’s still a lot of points available for every county – more than 100 points up for grabs for each county, so a 30-odd point lead is pretty small in the context of that.”
Yorkshire learned lessons from the 2013 Durham match.
Gale feels they tried too hard and “focused too much on the final outcome as opposed to the processes needed to achieve the victory”, while Moxon believes they allowed negativity to creep in after Durham opened the match with a huge first innings total of 573.
“I think the lesson we learned was not to look too far ahead,” said Moxon.
“Once they got that score on the board in the first innings, it was a case of, ‘well, let’s try and not lose’, and, ‘as long as we don’t lose, we’ll be alright’ kind of thing.
“That created that little bit of a negative mindset and, consequently, we lost.
“It’s a cliche, but it really is all about the processes – taking it ball-by-ball, hour-by-hour, session-by-session, day-by-day,” he concluded.
Yorkshire’s determination not to count any chickens before they are hatched is understandable and yet it would be a major surprise if they do not land back-to-back titles.
Durham are one of three sides who could theoretically catch them, along with Warwickshire and Middlesex, but another Yorkshire win at North Marine Road would increasingly make it a one-horse race.
Yorkshire have pace bowler Liam Plunkett and leg-spinner Adil Rashid available after they were left out of the starting XI for the fourth Ashes Test.
Jonny Bairstow is involved in the Test, so Yorkshire will have to cope without a man who has scored 980 runs in 12 Championship innings at 108.88.
The return of Gary Ballance will help soften the blow, the left-hander having looked in good touch in the Royal London Cup.
Andrew Hodd is set to replace Bairstow behind the stumps and potentially open the batting if Glenn Maxwell is preferred to Will Rhodes.
Jack Brooks is rested.