County news March 30, 2016

Gale backs Yorkshire's own to conquer 'hardest task'

The standard of the County Championship may be higher than ever, but Yorkshire will continue to back their own as they bid for a third successive title.

While Surrey and Somerset have recently signed experienced international players - Ravi Rampaul and Yasir Arafat respectively - on Kolpak registrations, Andrew Gale insists Yorkshire have no need for such "panic" despite facing "the hardest year we've had".

And Gale, the Yorkshire captain, believes the policy of backing homegrown players breeds confidence in the squad and helps build a team spirit that can prove crucial over the course of a draining season.

Yorkshire were without six first-choice players at the start of the 2015 season - all were part of the England squad in the Caribbean - but, over recent seasons, they have made a habit of providing opportunities to young players. Matt Fisher, who made his first-class debut as a 17-year-old, is tipped by Gale to be the breakthrough player of the season, while Alex Lees, aged only 22, is now established as the club's captain in white ball cricket.

"It just says panic stations, really, at this time of the year to go out and sign players," Gale told ESPNcricinfo.

"It's not something we want to do at Yorkshire. We back our own players. We put a lot of time and effort into our academy and we have a history of bringing players right though from grassroots to Test cricket and that's the route we will continue to go down.

"We missed six players at the start of last season but we don't see that as a negative. We embrace that. It creates an opportunity for someone else to come in to the side. Lads see that opportunity and want to grasp it.

"We think the togetherness of the team and going out with as many Yorkshire men as we can gives us an edge. There is a massive togetherness in that dressing room when players see the likes of Matthew Fisher and Will Rhodes grasp that opportunity. It creates a confidence in the young players that they could be the next cab off the rank. We want to continue to do that."

Winning a third successive title - now named the Specsavers County Championship after a change of sponsor - will not prove easy. Not only is it inevitable that Yorkshire will continue to be hit by more England call-ups, but it appears the standard of the opposition may have improved.

For the first time, there are eight Test-hosting grounds in the top division, meaning, as Gale reasons, that each of them has the financial resources to mount a sustained challenge on the title.

"I believe it's the strongest division that I've seen for a long time," Gale said. "You usually get a team who has scraped up. No disrespect to Derbyshire or Worcester, but their aim coming into the season is probably to stay in the first division.

"With Surrey and Lancashire coming up, they are probably aiming to win the County Championship. And there is no reason why not: they have the resources compared to a club that's running on a shoestring.

"We believe it's going to be the hardest year that we've had. The division looks as strong as it's ever been.

"Warwickshire will be strong. They've as strong a squad as I've seen. They have always been strong with their bowling, but have struggled for runs at times. Now they have got Bell and Trott, possibly for most of the season, they will be a good side."

Andrew Gale reasserted Yorkshire's commitment to player development as they chase a third straight title © Getty Images

But Gale remains positive. With most of their England players back for the opening weeks of the campaign - although Joe Root is likely to be rested for at least the first two rounds of games and Tim Bresnan has an Achilles injury that could keep him out for a month - and David Willey joining to add depth to the bowling, he knows his team have the chance to write themselves into Yorkshire folklore if they pull off a third successive triumph.

"We're confident and positive," Gale said. "But we can take nothing for granted. We've won two championships, but that counts for nothing at the start of the season. But if we win three championships in a row, we'll go down with the legends of Yorkshire cricket."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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