In his 13 seasons as a Yorkshire player, Andrew Gale always looked forward to the release of the county fixture list. But following his surprise elevation to become the first-team coach, which also meant retirement after seven seasons as captain, Gale admits he has been anticipating the full details more keenly than ever.
He now knows that his first game as Jason Gillespie’s successor will be at home to Hampshire; that the Roses Matches will be played unusually early in the season and in quick succession – at Emirates Old Trafford from May 19-22, with the return at Headingley two weeks later; that Yorkshire will face Somerset and Essex in next summer’s two Specsavers County Championship fixtures at Scarborough – the latter meaning a return to the seaside for the two Tykes on the Essex coaching staff, Chris Silverwood and Anthony McGrath; and that Surrey will provide heavyweight opposition in the first day/night Championship fixture at Headingley in late June.
“I’ve had a bit more than a quick glance through the fixtures since we first saw the way they were shaping up,” says Gale. “As a Yorkshireman, you always look for the Lancashire games first – they’re always good games to play in. Then I’d look at the first game – see where you’re playing, how cold it’s going to be, and the team you’re up against.
“As a player, that would be what you’re thinking about through the pre-season, that first game. We had Hampshire in our first game last year as well – it was a high-scoring draw, and they showed they’re a good side on their day, and not to be underestimated.
“It will be quite weird for me next year for that first game at Headingley, not having to be nervous or putting the pads on, or wondering what to do at the toss. But as I said when the appointment was announced, I’m excited about the new role. For the moment it’s a lot of planning, around the skill sessions the players will be doing after Christmas, and now looking at the fixtures.
“I think the day/night games are a good initiative, and we’re really pleased to be hosting one at Headingley – especially against Surrey. There’s a good chance we’ll be seeing a few of our England players available next season, for the day/night game to give them some experience of the conditions and the pink balls, and maybe in the early Championship matches as well. With our England guys playing against Surrey and people able to come in the evening after school or work, hopefully the crowds will roll in as they have done for Test cricket.”
“I think the day/night games are a good initiative, and we’re really pleased to be hosting one at Headingley – especially against Surrey."
The Day/Night round, which sees four Division One matches and five from Division Two played with pink Dukes balls from June 26-29 is the most striking innovation in a reshaped Specsavers County Championship schedule for 2017.
With the reduction to eight teams in Division One, and the increase to 10 in the second tier, it means all 18 counties can play at the same time, rather than one from each division having to take a break as with the previous set-up of two leagues of nine.
There has also been a reduction in the number of Championship fixtures that each team will play, from 16 to 14 – seven at home, and seven away.
And after the number of promotion places from Division Two was halved from two to one last summer, this year it’s back to two-up, two-down – two promotion places on offer for the 10 counties in Division Two, and the eight teams in the top tier battling not only to win the title, but also to avoid two relegation spots.
Another feature of the Championship fixture list for 2017 is the significant increase in weekend cricket. The first seven rounds of matches in April and June, either side of the Royal London One-Day Cup group matches, are scheduled for Friday to Monday – including both Roses Matches, and starting on Friday April 7, when Yorkshire’s opener against Hampshire is one of six fixtures (three in each division).
Lancashire will face Essex in the first Division One match in Chelmsford since 2010, and there’s a heavyweight meeting between Surrey and Warwickshire at the Kia Oval. Nottinghamshire will launch their bid to bounce straight back from Division Two under Peter Moores with a short trip to Leicester, who also have a new head coach in Pierre de Bruyn. Kent, who were runners-up to Essex in 2016, begin their attempt to go one better against Gloucestershire in Canterbury, and Northamptonshire have home advantage against Glamorgan.
Middlesex miss out on the first round of matches, and will instead face Cambridge University in a three-day match at Fenner’s, before launching their title defence against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl on April 14.
The Championship takes in outground cricket in Tunbridge Wells, Southport, Guildford, Chesterfield, Cheltenham, Scarborough and Arundel before the NatWest T20 Blast takes centre stage from July 7, for most of the next seven weeks – with the exception of a single round of four-day matches in early August including that Yorkshire-Essex game at North Marine Road.
Then after the Blast quarter finals from August 22-25 the counties return to red-ball cricket, and the business end of the Championship campaign, from August 28, with a round of matches including a late-summer trip to North Wales for Glamorgan as they face Sussex at Colwyn Bay.
There are four more rounds in September, with all matches scheduled from Tuesday to Friday except the final round which begins on Monday 25th – and includes one especially intriguing match between Somerset and Middlesex in Taunton.
It is two months now since Somerset were so agonisingly denied their first Championship title by Middlesex’s dramatic last-day victory over Gale’s Yorkshire team at Lord’s. What price Marcus Trescothick’s men having the opportunity to claim the sweetest of revenge on home soil on September 28?
Although as Gale said with a chuckle, looking ahead to Yorkshire’s 2017 climax against Essex in Chelmsford – “There’s a lot of cricket to be played before then”.