Chris Waters – Yorkshire in position to be a force to be reckoned with once again
IT’S time to deliver.
It’s time for a group of talented cricketers to stand up and be counted.
After two seasons of self-styled transition, seasons in which the squad has been reshaped and results have yo-yoed, there can be no more talk of building for the future.
That is always happening to a greater or lesser extent in any case, and implies that not much should be expected in the here and now.
But the team that will line up at Trent Bridge tomorrow for the first County Championship match against Notts is good enough to challenge for – and even win – the title.
A third successive fight against relegation should be out of the question.
For Yorkshire, the key question is this: can the batting finally deliver after several seasons of under-achievement, even going back to the title win of 2015?
If it can, then the pace bowling looks more than good enough to do the rest.
Boosted by the arrival of Duanne Olivier, the South African signed on a Kolpak deal, Yorkshire should have wickets and options galore.
Olivier, 26, could be the difference for Yorkshire this summer as was fellow countryman Morne Morkel for Surrey last year.
Olivier has quit international cricket (for South Africa at least) at the very height of his powers.
Granted, Surrey are starting the season as favourites.
The only people who would write them off are to be found in padded cells claiming to have been some great historical figure in a previous life – Joan of Arc, perhaps, or Horatio Nelson.
But it is not easy to “back-up” success, as many have found out, which made Yorkshire’s achievement in winning back-to-back Championships in 2014 and 2015 – and almost a third in 2016 – so memorable and impressive.
It is certainly no given that Surrey will win it again this year.
Yorkshire, in fact, are in an ideal position.
No-one really expects too much from them – at least not outside these parts, given that they flirted with Division Two in the past two seasons.
They are not overburdened by the weight of great expectations, as are now Surrey, for example, but can slip quietly under the radar while trying to surprise a few people along the way, ready to reflect, perhaps, that few gave them much hope if they do just that.
Olivier and Ben Coad is certainly one-half of a potentially title-winning attack.
Steve Patterson, the captain, is as reliable as ever, while there is plenty of life yet in fellow veteran Tim Bresnan.
If Yorkshire can get Matthew Fisher fit – and it is a big ‘if’, admittedly, given his wretched luck with injuries – that would be another major boost.
Throw in the likes of Mat Pilans, Josh Shaw and, after the World Cup, David Willey, and Yorkshire’s bowling has class and variety.
There is a slight question against the spin department, and one man hoping to provide the answer is Josh Poysden, who has played just 14 first-class games.
If Poysden prospers, Yorkshire really will have all bases covered, although it is unclear how much they will see of Adil Rashid in the Championship owing to his England commitments.
Rashid told The Yorkshire Post last week that he is hungry to play county red-ball cricket again, while there are some particularly avaricious appetites to be satisfied on the batting front in particular.
Adam Lyth, for example, knows that there is no better time for him to show the sort of form that once won him a Test call (he could yet play Test cricket again given the prevailing uncertainties at the top of the England line-up), with Gary Ballance – now released from the demands of the Yorkshire captaincy – another with the ability to score 1,000-runs plus.
Although Joe Root is available for the first two games, the rest of the batting is relatively inexperienced but rich in potential.
Harry Brook looks to have the skill to follow Root into the England side in the not-too-distant future, and although Tom Kohler-Cadmore’s best chance of playing international cricket has long been considered to be through the white-ball route, he showed towards the back end of last summer, when he scored two hundreds in the last four games, that he has an enormous amount to offer in the red-ball game, too.
Jonny Tattersall is a wicketkeeper with plenty of runs in his locker, while it was not so long ago that Jack Leaning was winning the Cricket Writers’ Club Young Cricketer of the Year.
It promises to be a big season for Leaning, who is keen to reassert himself with runs and more than capable of chipping in with a few wickets with his handy off-spinners.
The appointment of Paul Grayson looks a shrewd one by Yorkshire.
His task as batting coach is to get the best out of that hitherto under-achieving line-up, and also to provide invaluable support to first XI coach Andrew Gale.
Since taking over from Jason Gillespie at the end of 2016, Gale has suffered his share of criticism from supporters disinclined to accept that Yorkshire have indeed been going through a transitional phase.
Some of that criticism has been over the top, and Grayson’s experience of having done the same job at Essex means that Gale will have another empathetic figure on which to lean and to gain nuggets of advice.
Of course, nothing can be predicted with certainty in professional sport. If a key man breaks down injured at the start of the season, for instance, then the outlook could change as quickly as the weather.
But, given anything like clear skies and smooth sailing, Yorkshire should be a strong force in the Championship First Division, with as good a chance as anyone, on paper, of procuring the main prize.
It is a big summer for English cricket in general, with the World Cup and the Ashes, and Yorkshire could make it even more of a season for their supporters to remember.