RYAN SIDEBOTTOM believes the pain of missing out on a hat-trick of County Championships will only help inspire Yorkshire in their quest to reclaim the title next summer.
The pace bowler said it would serve as extra motivation as the club embark on a new era under first-team coach Andrew Gale and captain Gary Ballance.
Yorkshire were pipped to the post on the final day of last season when Middlesex beat them at Lord’s in a thrilling title decider.
Sidebottom already senses a fierce determination within the Yorkshire squad to hit back strongly in 2017.
“What happened last season has only made us more hungry,” said Sidebottom.
“I’ve witnessed it in the last few weeks (in pre-season training) that the lads have really got the bit between their teeth.
“When you have that winning habit, and when you’re a team that’s won things over the last three or four years, as we have, then, when you suddenly don’t win something, you have that desire and hunger to go one better and keep improving as a group of players.
“Consequently, we’re really excited by the prospect of next year and what we can potentially achieve.
“We can hopefully draw inspiration too from what’s happened to us in the past.
“When we finished second to Durham (in 2013), we were bitterly disappointed, but we knew that we’d played some good cricket and then we won it (the Championship) back-to-back.
“I think the same sort of principle applies next year too.”
Sidebottom is candid on Yorkshire’s narrow failure to emulate Brian Close’s team of the late 1960s – still the last time that any county achieved the title hat-trick.
“Our top-six didn’t fire together and our bowling unit was not as consistent as it might have been,” he admitted.
“It was just one of those years when we didn’t quite get it together as a team. Credit to the team, though, because we showed a lot of other qualities in the sense that we battled really hard and showed a lot of pride.
“The lads deserve a lot of credit as well because we came so close in all three of the competitions.
“Middlesex deservedly won the Championship, and well played to them.
“They played some really good cricket throughout last summer.
“It made us realise where we need to be at come next year, particularly with other First Division teams getting stronger as well.
“They’re all signing players, and we will have to play well to be successful.”
Yorkshire might have retained the Championship had Sidebottom been fit throughout the year.
However, a three-month injury lay-off due to a football-related accident deprived the club of his talismanic services.
Sidebottom’s day-to-day fitness – just one month short of his 39th birthday – remains remarkable and a testament to his professionalism and the way that Yorkshire have carefully managed his workload.
He has always been quick to credit the club’s coaches and support staff for helping him to prolong an outstanding career, one that has statistically got better with age. Prior to rejoining Yorkshire for the 2011 season, Sidebottom had taken 475 first-class wickets at an average of 25.48.
Since then he has captured 262 first-class wickets at an average of 21.04, statistics that defy medical science as well as comprehension. Next year will be a special one for him as it will be his 20th as a professional, a rare achievement in the modern era.
The club have marked that achievement by awarding him a two-month testimonial at the end of the summer.
“To play 20 years as a fast bowler, it’s a huge year for me,” reflected Sidebottom.
“First and foremost, it’s about helping the team win as much as I can. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m very lucky that I’ve had the career that I’ve had.
“I’d like to think that I’ve probably got better and better as I’ve gone along, and I still love playing, still love the battle.”
Because Sidebottom has improved like a vintage wine, it is tempting to wonder whether part of him regrets retiring from international cricket in 2010 prior to returning to his native county.
His answer is emphatic.
“It was the right time,” he insisted. “I’d have been doing it for other reasons if I’d carried on (playing international cricket).
“I’ve always been a bowler who wants to play; I don’t just want to carry the drinks.
“I want to play and be out there in the moment, and I think, at that time, I was sort of in-and-out a little bit, and I just think it was the right time to concentrate on playing county cricket.”
It is a decision that Yorkshire and their supporters have had much cause to be grateful for in the last six seasons.
And the desire for the club to win three Championships in four years burns strong in a man who already has five winner’s medals to his name.