WRITING a Yorkshire end-of-season review in recent times has largely consisted of patting people on the back and regurgitating phrases such as “bulging trophy cabinet” and “dynasty of success”.
Not this time.
No honest appraisal of Yorkshire’s 2017 campaign could fail to conclude that it was a disappointing one that did not meet expectations.
Not quite an annus horribilis, perhaps, but certainly a bad season at the office, if you pardon the expression.
It was a season that ended not with talk of dynasties and glory, but of the very real threat of County Championship relegation, a danger averted only by victory over bottom club Warwickshire in the penultimate match.
It was a season that saw Yorkshire inexplicably fail to qualify for the knockout stages of the T20 Blast, despite possessing one of the strongest squads in the country and passing 150 in all 11 of their completed innings, seven of which were over 180 and four over 220.
It was a season that saw Yorkshire fail to reach a Lord’s final for a 15th successive year, once again falling short with that prize within tantalising range.
And it was a season in which they lost five of 14 Championship games; to put that into perspective, they had lost only seven in the previous five years.
Above all, it was a season when key players failed to perform – most notably batsmen.
Indeed, the only batsman who emerged with credit was Gary Ballance, the sixth-highest scorer in the Championship First Division with 951 runs at 67.92, a return that booked his place on the Ashes tour.
Although tactics, selections and signings can always be debated, it would seem illogical to pile all the blame on to Gale considering that he was part of the management group for several years in his role as captain.The YP’s Chris Waters
Adam Lyth, who played Test cricket as recently as two years ago, averaged 25.22 from 13 games, a mystifying return for a man who played the year’s most magical innings – an English T20 record 161 against Northants.
Alex Lees, his long-time opening partner, averaged 24.12 as Yorkshire’s only ever-present in the Championship, with the club eventually forced to break up their partnership, move Lees down to No 3 and sign West Indian opener Kraigg Brathwaite on a short-term deal, a move that also backfired.
Jack Leaning, the 2015 Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year, averaged 30.26. Tim Bresnan, who hit 722 Championship runs at 48.13 in 2016 and played like a dream, had a nightmare this time, scoring 284 runs in 11 games at 18.93, including six ducks in 15 innings, and was dropped for the final game.
Peter Handscomb, the first-choice overseas signing, was no better than mediocre, with 441 runs in nine Championship games at 33.92, although the Australian did play well in the Royal London Cup.
Adil Rashid averaged 23.44 with the bat in seven Championship games and took 10 wickets at 50, his fragile confidence unlikely to have been helped by England discarding him after a successful winter on a personal level.
Azeem Rafiq, his fellow spinner, managed five wickets in five Championship games at 78.60 and may now have to settle for white-ball opportunities, with 21-year-old Karl Carver pushing increasingly hard to become Rashid’s red-ball understudy.
The bowling attack, in fact, was spearheaded by the unlikely source of 23-year-old pace man Ben Coad, whose first full season was a roaring success.
Coad was easily the biggest plus point in a difficult summer and comfortably Yorkshire’s leading Championship wicket-taker with 50 at 20.86, almost twice as many as Bresnan, the next-highest with 27 at 32.85, while the great Ryan Sidebottom ended an injury-hit final season with 25 at 20.72, with talk now of a possible bowling coach/consultancy role at the club going forward.
Like Sidebottom, Jack Brooks also missed six Championship matches, finishing with 23 wickets at 37.60, while Steve Patterson (23 wickets at 32.78) was not always an automatic choice, much to his chagrin.
Patterson and the 19-year-old Matthew Fisher did a fine job towards the end of the campaign, with Fisher another young player to watch.
But although Yorkshire bowled well at times, they lacked the incessant, collective threat that swept them to back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
The type that Essex displayed en route to winning the title under former Yorkshire players Chris Silverwood and Anthony McGrath. It was a threat that Yorkshire palpably failed to counter last week when they were dismissed for 111 and 74 at Chelmsford, a fitting end to a summer beset by batting troubles that actually go back several seasons. The difference this time being that only Ballance bailed them out before a midsummer international recall.
While Silverwood and McGrath prospered in their coaching capacities, Andrew Gale, appointed Yorkshire first-team coach last November, had a tough baptism after relinquishing the captaincy to replace former coach Jason Gillespie, who returned home to Australia.
Although it was not quite a case of trying to follow Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, or Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, Gillespie’s track record spoke for itself, and Gale, by his own admission, was learning on the job.
Inevitably, after a season in which Gale himself conceded that Yorkshire were lucky not to be relegated, with two wins over hapless Warwickshire and a three-run triumph against Somerset at Taunton proving vital, he found himself facing a predictable backlash on social media and elsewhere.
His response was to insist that he will not quit and is thoroughly determined to turn things around, as he previously helped to do as captain, it must be remembered, after Yorkshire were relegated in 2011.
Of course, it is impossible, even if you follow a club closely and watch every ball, to assess with complete confidence the merits of any coach, captain or senior official. Unless you are physically on the field or in the dressing room, and working under the people concerned, it would be entirely presumptuous to do so.
A personal view would thus be confined to the observation that although tactics, selections and signings can always be debated, it would seem illogical to pile all the blame on to Gale considering that he was part of the management group for several years in his role as captain.
Had he been an outsider coming in, bringing different ideas and a change to the culture, it would be more likely that the coach had had a deleterious effect, but Gale does not appear to have changed his style or ripped up the script any more than has director of cricket Martyn Moxon, another who has played an integral part in what has been an overwhelmingly successful era for the club.
That era may or may not be coming to an end, but it is perhaps a little too easy to hide behind such factors as an inexperienced coach.
That does not mean that every decision that Gale makes is right, or that he has not made mistakes, but the game is ultimately about players producing on the field.
It is quite possible that amid talk of golden eras and dynasties of success, which has been heard at Headingley in recent years, an element of subconscious complacency has crept in.
In the final analysis, it is down to each and every player to demonstrate – regardless of his track record – that he is still good enough to play for the club.
This year, the averages would suggest that some are living on borrowed time.