Middlesex v Yorkshire, LV= Championship, Division One, Lord's, 1st day September 9, 2015

Sidebottom still the zest in powerful Yorkshire cocktail

The strength of Yorkshire cricket, based around a generation of homegrown players, runs deep - nowhere is that expressed more clearly than in the evergreen Ryan Sidebottom

Ryan Sidebottom has been an enduring symbol of Yorkshire's quality © Getty Images

At 3.06pm Yorkshire secured their 32nd outright County Championship. They had not managed it at Headingley, but being champions at Lord's would certainly do. Once again the Tykes were the envy of the rest of the country.

Partly this is the story of an outstanding team. But it is also a tale of an enduring cricket culture that continues to thrive. There are 747 clubs in the county - more than in Australia. About 120,000 people play cricket every weekend, a greater number than in New Zealand.

"It's a very traditional part of Yorkshire life, cricket. There's a lot of participation, more than anywhere else in the country, so we have a bigger base to choose from but we've still got to produce," cricket director Martyn Moxon said. "The pathway system we have is working. It's a lot of hard work at age-group level. We can't underestimate the work that the age-group coaches do - a lot of them volunteers. That's where the process starts. Every cricketer starts at school level so the work that's done from Under-11 through to academy age group is vital.

"Pleasingly we're starting to get some success back - we've had a few barren years over the last 20 or 30 years but now we're starting to get a bit more sustained success." 

It has the feel of success built to last. Consider the obstacles Yorkshire have overcome in 2015. Captain Andrew Gale was suspended for the opening game of the season. Six players were selected by England for their tour of the West Indies. The indispensable Ryan Sidebottom suffered a hamstring injury as well, only managing one game before mid-June.

Few other sides could have survived such impediments. Yorkshire not only survived but thrived. They are unbeaten in 2015, and have amassed a formidable run of 26 Championship games without defeat, extending all the way back to Lord's last April, when Middlesex chased down 472. Such feats are required to topple this side.

"When history gets written in a few years time, I think this lot will also be bracketed with the greats of the 60s. I said last year that this is a golden era for Yorkshire cricket. The foundations have been laid for success," the chief executive, Mark Arthur, said. "While you can't guarantee success because of the vagaries of sport, I do genuinely believe the structure is there and is right. The players now know how to win. Knowing how to win, as I'm sure the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough would tell you, is almost as important as having the ability to win."

Talk of building a dynasty is not trite. Since Jason Gillespie become Yorkshire coach four years ago, the club has lost only three of 61 County Championship matches. The side fully expects that next year they will become the first county to win a hat-trick of titles since Yorkshire, naturally, last managed the feat in 1968.

Until 1992, Yorkshire did not allow players born from beyond the county borders to wear the White Rose. At times since they have desisted dramatically from this philosophy, but their back-to-back Championship triumphs have come with a side built upon players reared in Yorkshire. Seven of the side who secured the title against Middlesex were born in the county, as were Jonny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett (though he came through Durham's youth system), Adil Rashid and Joe Root.

"The emphasis should be on homegrown players," Sidebottom said. "Having individuals from your club homegrown means a great deal. Yorkshire are making big strides in doing it."

So, for all of Gillespie's influence, consecutive Championship gongs are an achievement for Yorkshire and made in Yorkshire. And it was apt that Sidebottom propelled Yorkshire to the three bonus points that, together with Nottinghamshire's collapse, ensured they would retain the title.

In Sidebottom it is possible to detect the very essence of Yorkshire cricket. It runs in the blood - his father, Arnie, was a notable Yorkshire cricketer too. Rows sometimes happen - a contractual dispute led Sidebottom to a seven-year hiatus at Nottinghamshire. But never was Sidebottom happier than at Headingley.

How he has proved as much. Since returning five years ago, Sidebottom's second Yorkshire career has now yielded 229 wickets at 20.68 apiece. The notion he is getting better with age is backed up by an average of under 20 in his last three seasons, which plummets to just 15.71 for his 39 wickets in 2015.

The first morning at Lord's was made for Sidebottom. Critically, Gale won the toss; a combination of cloudy skies, the 10.30am start and the knowledge he could call upon Sidebottom's skills rendered his decision to bowl an easy one.

Still, no one could have envisaged how lethal Sidebottom's contribution would be when he bowled the first over of the match. After two deliveries across Paul Stirling, Sidebottom's third ball swung back, scythed through his tepid defence and compelled the umpire to give an lbw. His fifth delivery lifted late outside off stump, and implored Nick Compton to edge behind. Best of all was his sixth delivery, which moved back enough to uproot Dawid Malan's off stump. While it lay shattered on the floor, Sidebottom was engulfed in a violent Yorkshire huddle and Middlesex were left to reflect on the debris of a score of 0 for 3. Soon after, debutant Stevie Eskinazi nicked Sidebottom to Adam Lyth, one of the Yorkshiremen prowling in the slips, lurking with gleeful intent like a tribute to the domineering Australia sides of Gillespie's day.

Any stragglers accustomed to the normal 11 o'clock start arrived with Neil Dexter, Middlesex's No. 6, already at the crease. The sight of second-placed Middlesex being eviscerated on their home turf was a symbol of the gulf between Yorkshire and the rest. And there is no intention of let-up. "There's too much personal ambition in this team," Gale said, turning his sights on Sussex's Division One record of 257 points in 2003. "We want to get the record wins and record points - we don't just want to go past that record points, we want to blast it so it's there for a number of years."

Amid the bedlam it felt almost incidental that Sidebottom surpassed 700 first-class wickets. Within a few hours another number provided a better distillation of Sidebottom's enduring worth over 19 first-class season: five. That is the number of County Championships he has now won, a record unmatched by any current player.

As he runs in, shaggy of hair but relentless in his line and length and generating swing, it was evident that his zest and deep-rooted competitiveness are undimmed. That the day ended with Sidebottom the batsman nonchalantly rolling his wrists and pulling for four, a shot no Middlesex player had the temerity to even contemplate against his bowling, merely emphasised how age has not diluted Sidebottom's qualities.

Sidebottom will be 38 by the time next season begins, but happily has already signed a contract to play in 2016. He will go on. On this evidence so, too, will Yorkshire.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

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