Promise of success brings expectation for Yorkshire
2nd, CC Div 1; 6th, North Group, FLt20; 6th, Group C, YB40.
2013 in a nutshell
Good in one part, but abjectly poor in the two others: Yorkshire's 150th anniversary season was one of contrasts, to say the least. Runners-up in the County Championship, Andrew Gale's team played four-day cricket as well as any Yorkshire side since the winners' pennant was last raised at Headingley in 2001. In the shorter formats, it was a very different story.
Over 22 matches in the Friends Life t20 and Yorkshire Bank 40, Yorkshire suffered 16 defeats, winning only three from 12 matches to finish only above Unicorns in their group in the latter competition, and finishing bottom of the North Group in the former, with two wins from 10. Given that they had reached the Flt20 final in 2012, it was a seismic reversal in fortunes, and only partially explained by the 11th-hour decision by David Miller, the South African batsman, not to return, and the loss of Joe Root because of his England call-up.
Never were their shortcomings as a T20 side more painfully exposed than in an eight-wicket defeat to Lancashire at Old Trafford, when the home side cantered to victory with nine overs to spare after restricting Yorkshire to 125 for 8.
Yet in the Championship, returning to Division One after winning promotion in 2012, they produced some genuinely impressive cricket, registering 10-wicket wins against Middlesex at Lord's and Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge and handing Warwickshire, the 2012 champions, a thrashing at Edgbaston, where the winning margin was an innings and 149 runs.
With new arrivals Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett settling quickly to their work alongside Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Patterson, Yorkshire's seam attack was as potent as anyone's. Three batsmen, Root, Gale and the newcomer Alex Lees, made double hundreds; Gary Ballance did not achieve the same landmark but had five centuries in an aggregate of 1251, which was enough to land him an Ashes tour.
Given that they had a 25.5-point lead with four matches left, it can be argued that Yorkshire let the title slip through their grasp as Durham won their final five matches and there is no doubt they were outplayed by the eventual champions in the pivotal match at Scarborough. Nonetheless, it was a hugely encouraging near-miss.
But with the promise of success comes expectation. The 2001 Championship is their only success in the longer format since 1968, the last title in that glorious run of seven in 10 years that recreated the county's pre-war dominance. Another golden era is long overdue. The experience of last season will hold them in good stead, although improvements can still be made. Avoiding a repeat of last season's poor start, when Sussex shot them out for 98 and won by an innings at Headingley, would be useful.
There are the now-familiar concerns about who will be available and when, given that Root, Tim Bresnan, Ballance and Jonny Bairstow remain subject to England call-ups, and age will surely catch up in time with Ryan Sidebottom, who has, after all, just turned 36. But Kane Williamson, the New Zealand batsman who will be their overseas player in four-day cricket, showed enough after his arrival in August to suggest he will be a substantial asset in 2014 and Gale, now well established as captain, will hope to maintain his own batting form after a much-improved 2013. Alex Lees, not yet 21, will look to build on last season's promise that earned him an England Lions call-up, with more budding talent pushing to follow his lead.
The response to the T20 disappointment has been the headline signing of the record-breaking Australian, Aaron Finch, who will arrive once his IPL commitments finish and will play some first-class cricket too as cover when Williamson is required by New Zealand.
Andrew Gale's batting has not prospered in the way he would have wanted since he took on the captaincy but after enduring a particularly lean time in 2012 he made a breakthrough last season by accruing more than 1000 first-class runs in a season for the first time, having ended a period of two years without a century with his career-best 272 against Nottinghamshire at Scarborough. If Gary Ballance makes the right impression on the England selectors in the opening weeks and follows Joe Root into the national team, another major contribution from Gale may be vital.
Bright young thing
The weight of expectation on the shoulders of 20-year-old Alex Lees could hardly have been heavier after Geoffrey Boycott predicted he would open the batting for England, yet he appeared completely unfazed, not least when making his extraordinary 275 not out against Derbyshire at Chesterfield in July in only his fifth Championship appearance. The peculiar difficulties of a second season beckon, but he has an adaptable technique and Yorkshire expect him to kick on.
Gale's relationship with coach Jason Gillespie has been central to Yorkshire's renaissance over the last two seasons, but the work carried out behind the scenes by the hugely experienced Paul Farbrace has been considerable and the impact of his departure to be coach of Sri Lanka remains to be seen. Former player Richard Dawson has arrived in his place, taking over as second-team coach after four years on the coaching staff at Gloucestershire.
Yorkshire have plenty of experience and enough youthful promise in their squad to be capable of another tilt at the Championship title, where their prospects would be still further enhanced if Azeem Rafiq's offspin becomes a useful weapon again after an injury-troubled 2013. They have much ground to make up in white-ball cricket but the arrival of Aaron Finch at least promises some explosive Friday nights in the NatWest t20 Blast.