ANDREW GALE insists that Yorkshire will relish the pressure of being favourites to win the County Championship.
Yorkshire start their title defence tomorrow against Hampshire at Headingley as they chase an unprecedented third straight Championship in the modern era.
Not since the great Yorkshire team of the 1960s has a county achieved a hat-trick of titles, and Gale said his squad will savour the challenge.
“I just think the players will embrace it,” said the Yorkshire captain.
“We’ve spoken about it, and we’re just going to embrace it as best we can.
“There’s always pressure on Yorkshire, especially when you’re winning Championships.
“But I guess there would be more pressure had we not won back-to-back titles and were going into a 15th year without a Championship trophy, so there’s certainly less pressure in that respect.”
Yorkshire sat out the opening round of games so are doubly keen to make a good start.
However, Gale insists it would not be the be-all and end-all if they do not manage that.
“Everyone’s got their England players available at the moment, so it’s going to be a tough start,” he said.
“It would be nice if we can get out of the blocks, but, if we don’t, there’s no panic. We didn’t get out of the blocks last year; we won our first game then drew our next two, so there’s no panic there.
“We know that we can easily go on a run, and I think we won seven or eight on the trot last summer.”
Yorkshire are once again the team to beat and will be confident against a Hampshire side tipped by many for relegation.
Hampshire only narrowly avoided the drop last year and they have been hampered by an injury to England pace bowler Reece Topley, who fractured his right hand while batting against Warwickshire last week.
“Losing Topley is a blow to them, and I’m gutted for the lad on a personal level, but they are not a team to be underestimated,” said Gale.
“They probably underperformed last year and will have the bit between their teeth to put that right.
“They’ve got some impressive young players in Dawson and Vince, they’ve got some experienced players in Carberry and Adams, and I think they’ve got an impressive overseas player in Ryan McLaren.
“They’ve also got a bit of firepower with the ball in Fidel Edwards.”
Yorkshire thrashed Hampshire by 305 runs in the corresponding match last year before winning by five wickets at the Ageas Bowl, where Gale made a splendid hundred.
He believes last year’s results will count for nothing.
“They actually outplayed us for a bit of the match here last year,” said Gale.
“They could have taken the game away from us and are not a team to be taken lightly.
“They’ll have an underdog mentality coming here – what have they got to lose?
“It’s a dangerous place for us to be in if we underestimate them in any way.”
There would appear little chance of that happening with Gale having constantly drummed into his players the importance of not getting too far ahead of themselves. He believes that simple mantra has underpinned their consecutive titles.
“We can’t afford to get too far ahead of ourselves because you’ve got to play some really good cricket to win Championships,” he said.
“This is as strong a First Division as I’ve seen, and you could literally go down the list as to who could win it.
“The two teams that have come up have Test match grounds (Surrey and Lancashire), and they’re not coming up just to make up the numbers and stay in the First Division.
“They want to be challenging for the Championship themselves, and any team could potentially threaten.”
Yorkshire are boosted by the return of their England players for this week’s match, with the exception of leading batsman Joe Root.
Root has been given some extra time off after a hectic winter and will make his return against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on May 1.
“It will be good to have our England lads back early season, including those who were on duty in the World T20,” said Gale, with Yorkshire boasting a clean bill of health apart from all-rounder Tim Bresnan (calf).
“The England lads will be chomping at the bit to do well early doors.
“It’s going to be tough to do the hat-trick (of Championships), but if we play the cricket that we can play, then we know we’ve got a chance.
“It’s all about getting our attitude and mindset right.”