Yorkshire secure redemption after promotion
Yorkshire 312 (Lyth 67, Rafiq 53, Napier 5-65) and 252 for 8 dec (Rafiq 75*, McGrath 68) beat Essex 177 (ten Doeschate 62) and 148 (Shah 71*, Rafiq 5-50) by 239 runs
They may not have been promoted as Division Two champions, but Yorkshire could look back on a highly satisfying season after their final game ended in a 239-run win over Essex.
It was not just that they had won promotion that was pleasing. It was that in this side they have the nucleus of a team that could flourish in the county game for a decade or more. After letting themselves down with a poor campaign in 2011, Yorkshire overcame the challenge of bad weather - no team lost more overs to poor weather this season - England and Lions call-ups and the pressure of expectation to win promotion with some style. They finished the season the only undefeated side in either division and having won three Championship games in succession for the first time since 2005. Few would dispute they deserve their success.
Fittingly, it was the bowling of a 21-year-old who hurried them to victory on the last day. Azeem Rafiq, gaining impressive turn with his offspin and utilising the breeze with rare skill, finished with his maiden five-wicket haul and his best match figures in first-class cricket. Suffice it to say he has a golden future.
He is not the only one. Jonny Bairstow has already been elevated to the England set-up and Joe Root may not be far behind him. Adam Lyth could yet prove to be the best of the lot of them, while 20-year-old seamer Moin Ashraf was described by Essex captain, James Foster, as "exceptional". Around such men will the future of Yorkshire be built, with the club also confirming they are keen to bring James Harris to Leeds and that Anthony McGrath will be offered another playing contract.
It was a far cry from the emotions of 12 months ago. After last season's relegation, Yorkshire's executive chairman, Colin Graves, called performances "unacceptable" and "a disgrace" and warned that "there will be some heads rolling" if the club's fortunes did not improve.
He put his money where his mouth is, too. Graves has invested £7m of his own money into Yorkshire as well as personally guaranteeing bank loans. He reorganised the coaching staff, allowing Martyn Moxon to concentrate on his role as director of cricket and bringing in Jason Gillespie as first-team coach and Paul Farbrace to oversee the second team.
"At the end of last season I said what a lot of people were thinking," Graves said, as Yorkshire began to celebrate their success. "But it had to be said. If it gave them a spur then I'm glad because this just proves that we had the ability to do what we've done. The players have responded and I'm pleased for them.
"The disappointing thing is that we have virtually the same group of players, apart from Phil Jaques coming in. And they've all performed. Last year some of them just didn't perform, which is what I said. Gillespie has made a very big difference. The coaching structure now is entirely different and it has worked. Andrew Gale has had a fantastic year, too, and captained them very well. He's brought the younger ones through as well, like Rafiq and Ashraf who have been a revelation.
"We believe with the squad we've got here we have the makings of a good team for the next ten to 15 years. We've proved in the last three matches what we can do and if we can carry that back into the first division we can have another team of the 60s. I think we can challenge for the Championship next year. If you look back two years we ended third in the Championship with virtually the same team. So why can't we do the same next year?
"We'll end up with a profit of £250,000 - £300,000 this year. I've never cut the cricket budget and the money is there if the right player comes along. Everybody in county cricket would tell you that they could do with another seamer. One or two new good seamers would make a difference. James Harris is a name that is mentioned with everybody, but let's see what happens. I certainly don't want McGrath to leave and I've told him there's always something there for him at Yorkshire."
For Essex, however, this was a disappointing end to a disappointing season. Indeed, any year that starts with a former player being sent to prison and ends with a fifth-placed finish in Division Two might be described as grim.
It is a puzzling club. In terms of talent production, Essex have a wonderful record. The likes of Reece Topley, Tymal Mills, Adam Wheater and Ben Foakes all possess the talent to follow Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara into the England team. Any club with a production line like that is clearly doing something right.
The fact is, however, that few of their players are fulfilling their potential for Essex. For some reason, the likes of Varun Chopra, Chris Wright, Stephen Peters, and Tony Palladino all had to leave the club to flourish. Tellingly, Wright - who finished with 62 Championship wickets for County Champions Warwickshire - was left out for Lonwabo Tsotsobe last year and replaced by Charl Willoughby this. The club needs to ask itself why it has failed to coax the best out of such players and what is failing in the management or coaching environment.
There is something just a little bit cosy about Essex, something that seems a little too accepting, so it remains to be seen if the hard questions will be asked. But there is little evidence that a search for quick-fixes in the form of overseas players or expensive imports from other counties - the likes of Greg Smith or Owais Shah - is the answer.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo