ANDREW GALE entered 2016 hoping to captain Yorkshire to a hat-trick of County Championships on the back of one of his best years as a player.
He will exit it having retired from playing at the age of 32 to replace Jason Gillespie as the county’s first-team coach.
Few would have envisaged that turn of events when Gale began his benefit year aiming to become the first man since Brian Close in 1968 to captain a county to a hat-trick of titles.
Certainly not Gale himself, whose side finished third in the Championship and who stepped into Gillespie’s shoes in November after the Australian left after five years in charge.
“Some people outside the game ask, when you have a benefit year, whether it’s your last year as a player, and I always said, ‘no’,” laughs Gale, who turned 33 a fortnight after his coaching appointment.
“But, as it stands now, I guess that it was. It’s been a whirlwind year, and a roller-coaster ride.
“I went into it on the back of scoring 1,000 runs in 2015 only to have a poor season personally, and then to end up as the first-team coach.”
Gale’s return of 525 runs from 15 first-class games last summer expedited his ambition of moving into coaching.
His average of 21 was his lowest across a full season and he admitted at the time that had there been a second team batsman banging down the door, he would have been forced to leave himself out.
Approaching the twilight of his career in any case, and with no guarantee that he would recapture the heady heights of 2015, Gale ended the season publicly casting doubt on whether he wanted to continue as captain.
From Yorkshire’s perspective, having been turned down by high-profile coaching targets such as England assistant Paul Farbrace, options to replace Gillespie were limited, while they were loathe to lose someone of Gale’s know-how and experience.
Had Gale suffered a disappointing start to next season, indeed, it might have left the club in a tricky position and resulted in Gale drifting out of the first-team picture.
On the other hand, he might have returned to form with a vengeance; after all, he showed a capacity for bouncing back throughout his career – most often, in fact, when his place seemed under threat.
But the fact that Gale has helped to mastermind the most successful era in Yorkshire’s recent history; that he is known, respected and liked by the players; and that he has, for several years, run his own coaching business (even if he has not actually coached a first team), swayed Yorkshire’s thinking and ensured that there would be continuity behind the scenes.
Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire’s director of cricket, acknowledged that he came to appreciate that the best man for the job was already at the club, and he backed Gale to succeed in the two key components of the role – namely, ensuring Yorkshire’s continued success in the short term, and then trying to develop a long-term dynasty.
Since his appointment, Gale, who led Yorkshire not only to two Championships in his time as captain, but also to a runners-up position and two third-placed finishes, has been putting plans in place for the coming season.
True to character, he has thrown himself into the task at hand.
“It’s been going well so far,” he says.
“There’s been a lot of planning to do. Not that much hands-on stuff yet, as it’s very physical-based at this time of year, and the lads haven’t been doing that much skill work, but we’ll hit the ground running on the skill work after Christmas.
“I’ve settled in well, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with Martyn and the other coaches, making sure that everything is in place.
“We’ve been planning sessions, planning what each individual’s going to need, where we can improve as a club, how are we going to use the analyst’s stuff from last year, how are we going to use it going forward, and so on, and also making sure that the pre-season itinerary is sorted as well as practice days based around next year’s fixture list.”
Like most coaches, Gale prefers to be hands-on rather than sitting behind a desk.
Paperwork/coaching qualifications was not a part of the job that Gillespie relished, with the most important work conducted on the training field and in the key area of man-management.
“It’s the first time that I’ve had a desk in my life,” laughs Gale, “so it’s a bit weird at the moment.
“I’m based in the club offices, where ‘Diz’ (Gillespie) used to sit.
“I think that any cricket coach wants to be out there coaching and not doing much paperwork, although it’s more planning than paperwork just at the minute.
“Having run my own coaching business, I have done a lot of paperwork, a lot of planning, so it’s not a big shock to me, to be fair.”
Reaction to Gale’s appointment has been overwhelmingly positive.
Inevitably, there are those who believe that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but there is clearly a feeling of goodwill towards him.
His appointment is a leap of faith by the club and joined-up thinking on their part in that they do not want to rip up a script that has made them successful.
Significantly, it is an appointment that has been warmly welcomed by the players, who ran through the proverbial brick wall for Gale in his days as captain.
“The lads seem to have fitted with the transition as I have,” says Gale.
“I’ve had a very positive response so far.
“There’s been the odd shout of ‘Morning, gaffer’, but no real mickey-taking as such.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got a great group of players who are working hard and desperate for success.”
No-one has shown a greater desire for success in recent times than Gale himself, who has helped to put Yorkshire cricket back on the map.
Denied the ultimate happy ending as a player, he nevertheless looks back with pride on a fine career.
“It would have been nice to finish on a high with winning the Championship again, because that would have been a fairytale,” he says.
“But I’m still pleased with the way my career’s gone, and I always wanted to get out at the top rather than fade away into the second team.
“When I took over as captain, the club was fighting relegation year-in, year-out, so to win some silverware, having played for the club since I was 10 years old and come up through the ranks, is something I’m immensely proud of.
“Hopefully, we can continue to go from strength to strength.”