April 8, 2013

County Championship, Division One

Optimism tempered by recent experience

Dave Morton
Yorkshire have numerous seam options, including the experienced Ryan Sidebottom  © Getty Images
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Spring is a time for optimism. Yorkshire could do well in Division One in 2013. We could even win it; the make-up of our side is not dissimilar to Warwickshire's last season.

We could also struggle again. Get off to a bad start, as we did in 2011, as Lancashire did last season, and it'll be squeaky-bum time come August. There are nine decent sides out there, no easy games, lots of good players.

Success or failure will be achieved without the stalwart Anthony McGrath. I saw his first game, Glamorgan at Bradford in 1995, when he was 19, and I revelled in his glory years, roughly 2003 to 2007, five seasons when he was one of the best batsmen in the land. Certainly a fine player of very fast bowling, just ask Shoaib Akhtar.

Without Mags and one or both of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, we look a batsman short. Both the youngsters have been made available for some early county games, but I don't think we'll see much of either, long-term. Indeed, I note that one of the regulars at Corridor of Uncertainty, the Yorkshire forum, is already referring to "our former player, Joe Root".

Otherwise, we have four left-handers at the top of the order: the brilliant but vulnerable Adam Lyth, solid Phil Jaques, captain Andrew Gale and much-improved Gary Ballance.

After that, it's two more lefties, the experienced Joe Sayers and youngster Alex Lees from the second XI, though neither can have much enjoyed 2012. Jack Leaning looks the best of the second XI batsmen, and Jonathan Tattersall has had a good tour with England Under-19s.

In recent years Yorkshire's batting has countless times been bailed out by allrounders. We remember heroic efforts from Adil Rashid, Tim Bresnan and Rich Pyrah, to mention only those who remain with the club. Azeem Rafiq, Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett are other bowlers whose batting puts them into the allrounder class, and wicketkeeper Andrew Hodd made a fifty on debut last season.

One of these guys will need to step up and make serious runs in 2013. The obvious candidate is Rashid. This is the player who, in 2009, scored a hundred and took a five-for at Basingstoke, then in the very next game he repeated the feat against Lancashire. Statisticians tell us that not even Wilfred Rhodes, in all his glory, ever managed this.

If I have a single wish for Yorkshire in 2013, and for the lad himself, it is that Rashid and his coaches reinvent the genius boy-player who seemed destined for greatness.

The thin batting will become even thinner when England Lions again require Ballance or Lyth or Gale. This is my chief worry for the season ahead.

Hodd can replace Bairstow as wicketkeeper, no problem there, but his batting is nowhere in the same class. Watching Hodd last season I had the almost heretical thought that this might be the best Yorkshire wicketkeeper since the great Jimmy Binks of my boyhood, but perhaps this is best left unsaid...

Another keeping option is youngster Dan Hodgson, who acquitted himself well with bat and gloves in the televised Champions League T20 circus from South Africa.

Finally, the bowling. Rashid and Rafiq are the established spinners, but it is the seam bowling that has me concerned.

In 2012 we had Sidebottom, the always excellent Steve Patterson, promising Moin Ashraf and occasionally Bresnan. Then there was Iain Wardlaw (now a Scotsman), injury-jinxed Pyrah, and youthful giant Ollie Hannon-Dalby.

Hannon-Dalby has signed for Warwickshire (and I wish him well), but the addition of Jack Brooks and Plunkett brings the number to eight. They can't all play. How do you keep everyone happy, and fit and firing? And what about the regular second XI/Academy bowlers, two of them good enough for England U-19s? They need to play.

The County Championship title? It's a tough one to call. Notts, perhaps? It won't be Lancashire, anyway. That's summat.

In the shortest form, Yorkshire probably surprised even themselves last season, though overseas players Mitchell Starc and David Miller played a large part. Our athletic and youthful fielding is a real asset in the one-day stuff, where the likes of Lyth, Root, Ballance and Rashid really come into their own. Slip-catching has been an issue in the Championship, for several years, to be honest, but fielding is a strength of Yorkshire's limited-overs cricket, so I'm optimistic for 2013.

Likely Championship side
Lyth
Root/Sayers/Lees
Jaques
Gale (capt)
Bairstow/Hodd (wk)
Ballance
Bresnan/Ashraf/Brooks
Rafiq
Plunkett
Sidebottom
Patterson

What I love: I am pleased we still retain our essential 'Yorkshireness'. Watching the team, you feel the players are also fans. They're cocky, too, which is great. So are we non-playing fans, you'll have noticed.

What I'd change: The reverse of the same coin is a sadness, that in the club's 150th anniversary there will be no first-class game played in our Sheffield birthplace, nor indeed anywhere outside Leeds or Scarborough. So more games around the county, please.

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Posted by SDHM on (April 8, 2013, 17:34 GMT)

Agree with your point about Rashid - it's easy to forget he's still only in his mid-20s, he has so much time left on his side to become the player he can be. England's handling of him lead to his stagnation sadly, a trick they seem to be repeating with Graham Onions at the moment. In terms of losing batsmen to England, I'd actually like to see Root back at Headingley for a while. For someone brought up opening in Yorkshire he looks suspect against decent seam bowling and with NZ & Australia coming over he could well be completely destroyed come the end of the summer. Let him develop. England need an aggressive ball-striker down at 6, someone like Bairstow or Ballance, so either way, you're losing two batsmen most likely!

Posted by DaveMorton on (April 8, 2013, 17:30 GMT)

I don't know if it's the done thing to comment on your own article - but I submitted a likely/possible Championship team, in batting order with Steve Patterson at the bottom - and he has been omitted! For the record, Patto was our best bowler in 2012, by a mile, and my YCCC Player of the Season.

Dave Morton

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Morton
Dave Morton grew up watching and worshipping the powerful Yorkshire team of the 1950s. However, he left Yorkshire in his early teens and subsequently played nearly all his club cricket in the Manchester area. Now retired, from work and (sadly) from cricket, he spends his summers following Yorkshire in the County Championship, and his winters invariably include an England tour. Favourite ground in the world: Scarborough.

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