Yorkshire win first County Championship in 13 years: Yorkshiremen rule again thanks to Graves raising them from the dead

Championship secured with victory over Nottinghamshire

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The Independent Online

Yorkshire, the most famous cricket team in the world, are county champions again. In sweeping aside Nottinghamshire, purportedly their nearest rivals, they took the title for the 31st time today.

If it was a triumph founded on the principles which made the county of the broad acres – a gritty professionalism intermingled with flair, application and richly talented players from their own nursery – it was one born out of adversity. It may never have arrived at all.

The majestic sweep of history mattered not a jot when the supermarket tycoon Colin Graves walked into Headingley in late 2002. It was only a year after their first Championship for 33 years but they were broke and about to go out of business.

“The bank had already a cross next to the debt and Headingley was 48 hours from being written off. It was going to go,” said Graves as he surveyed his celebrating team and their supporters on the outfield at Trent Bridge. Graves received a call one day from an old friend, Geoff Cope, the former Yorkshire and England bowler, who revealed the county’s plight.

Next day, Graves left the head office of his Costcutter chain in York and went to Headingley. Yorkshire’s bank manager, it turned out, was also Graves’ bank manager and he immediately drew the picture.

“He told us how much they owed and it was just a disaster. When I took it over they had debts of £8m, no assets, no income streams and no ECB staging-agreement for international matches. Why did I do it? Purely and simply I couldn’t sit there and watch Yorkshire County Cricket Club go bust. Cricket’s my passion, it’s my hobby and when I knew Yorkshire was in the state it was in there was no way I could sit there and watch it disappear, simple as that.”

Graves has sunk a considerable amount of his personal fortune – an estimated £7m – into keeping the club afloat while also ensuring the club developed its own players and a first team which could restore the old glories. He was instrumental in hiring the Australian, Jason Gillespie, as first-team coach while also retaining the services of Martyn Moxon, who first played for the county in 1981, as director of cricket.

The fruits of this liaison were on full display as they defeated Nottinghamshire, who still had title aspirations of their own, by an innings and 152 runs. Moxon, who played for 16 years in the period without titles, could barely contain his tears of joy.

Gillespie, who seems to have allowed Yorkshireness to seep into his bones, said: “The club’s got proud traditions, we want to celebrate tradition and still set new standards, we’re striving to get that balance right. If you’ve represented Yorkshire, you’re always welcome in our dressing-room, any time. That’s important. But we’ve got to set new benchmarks ourselves.”

There was but one blight on proceedings, placed there by the England and Wales Cricket Board who forbade the Yorkshire captain, Andrew Gale, from being presented with the trophy. Gale is banned until the end of the season after being found guilty of using foul and abusive language towards the Lancashire player, Ashwell Prince. He has been around the Yorkshire dressing room during this match and his invaluable contribution to this season was made abundantly clear.

If the ECB were being needlessly censorious, depriving Gale of perhaps his greatest moment as a cricketer, Yorkshire went along with it. “The important thing is he’s captain of our team, and in history it will go down with him as captain when we won the championship”, said Moxon.

Instead, it was the 23-year-old Joe Root, in only his 34th Championship match, who lifted the LV Trophy as stand-in captain. It was touching that Root was indubitably proud, aware of what being a Yorkshireman playing for Yorkshire means.

The team won in barely an hour, hurried there by a probing spell of left-arm swing bowling from Ryan Sidebottom. He took four for six in 7.2 overs to finish with figures of  6 for 30. Only James Taylor was defiant without ever promising permanence.

Jack Brooks, Sidebottom’s opening partner, with 64 wickets, is one of the few of the 19 to have played this season with no Yorkshire links but even he, it is said, is flattening out his Oxfordshire vowels. They are a team of Yorkshiremen representing Yorkshire. This was only their second title in 45 years. The next five alone may bring more.