Yorks riches give Gale selection quandary
Yorkshire 459 for 9 dec (Ballance 174, Lees 90, Hall 4-103) beat Northamptonshire 94 (Brooks 5-36, Sidebottom 4-16) and 245 (Middlebrook 63, Sidebottom 3-34, Brooks 3-76) by an innings and 120 runs
No one embraces the principle of team before individual more steadfastly than Andrew Gale, Yorkshire's captain, who again finds himself contemplating a looming selection dilemma with the thought that the player least sure of his place probably ought to be him.
It was in his mind, just as it was in June of last year, after Yorkshire completed a comprehensive demolition of promoted Northamptonshire at Headingley and he began to ponder how to accommodate Joe Root for next Sunday's match against Middlesex at Lord's, with the return of Tim Bresnan and Jonny Bairstow now on the cards for the match against Durham that begins the following weekend.
Last season, it was a lack of form and some technical issues that brought him to the brink of dropping himself (although he did not, ultimately, and rewarded himself and the team by making 272 against Nottinghamshire at Scarborough). This time, although he says he feels comfortable with his game, it is lack of practice, after a pre-season spent off the field nursing a hip injury. In three innings so far, Gale has 48 runs
"There are a few selection issues," he said. "I haven't thought too much about it, but I'm obviously the one who hasn't got any runs over in my last three knocks. Do I leave myself out or not? It's a decision myself, Jason and Martyn Moxon have to make.
"I said last year I was not frightened about leaving myself out for the sake of the team. I think it would be a brave decision, but it would also send a good message to the squad that if you're in the runs, you deserve your place in the side no matter who you are.
"It is frustrating. My record as captain speaks for itself. But I didn't have a pre-season and it was always going to be tough coming out of the blocks without playing a single game since January, when I was in Australia."
As dilemmas go, though, Yorkshire could be facing worse. This one merely reflects the strength of their squad, blessed with not only three - potentially four - players likely to be spending good parts of the summer on England duty, but with a bunch of Under-19s pushing to be noticed as well.
Gary Ballance, along with Root, must surely be one of those required by the senior England side. Since his Test debut in England's last five-day match, he has done nothing at all to justify being omitted and in his 174 here, the innings that set the match up for Yorkshire, Gale reckoned he saw evidence that the Zimbabwe-born left-hander is a better player for his Ashes experience, particularly against the short ball.
"Last year he was a guy who just worked the ball off his hips or ducked out of the way," Gale said. "Now he has the authority to be able to pull back of a length or a short ball, hitting sixes, that shows how much he has improved against the short ball and with him being a back-foot player on the whole I think he is well suited to Test cricket."
Ballance did not take the field on Wednesday but an X-ray confirmed that the finger he damaged attempting to take a low catch in the slips on day three is not broken. He will therefore play at Lord's, possibly even as captain if Gale does decide to be ruthless with himself.
Ruthless was the word that best summed up Yorkshire's performance against Northants, who produced some belatedness defiance when David Murphy and Azharullah, their last-wicket pair, resisted for 48 minutes in adding 50 runs, the visitors' second biggest partnership in the match.
Even so, victory was complete before the scheduled lunch interval. The six wickets were shared between five different bowlers and Jack Brooks finished with 8 for 112 against his former county, giving him career-best match figures.
Northants suffered heavily on two counts. With no replacement yet for Trent Copeland, their joint leading wicket-taker with 45 in 2013, and David Willey, who also took 45, unable to bowl, they were at an obvious disadvantage, although coach David Ripley offered no excuses.
"Pretty bluntly, they bowled better than us, they batted better than us and they caught better than us and that's a good recipe for coming second in a two-horse race," he said. "We played well against Durham in the opening game but we have been reminded here that if you have a bad session it puts you on the back foot and we had more than one bad session."
With scarcely a full XI of fit players currently available, Ripley said that the loan market is being looked at as one way to strengthen his hand while the search for an overseas player, after deals for Jackson Bird and then Rory Kleinveldt fell through because of injury issues, could be concluded in time for the match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on May 11.