Lengthened batting practice denies Yorkshire victory

Yorkshire batted well beyond the lunch interval on the final day of their last warm-up match against Leeds/Bradford MCCU at Headingley, leaving themselves too little time to force a win against a fiercely determined University side.

Already a considerable way in front overnight, Yorkshire started the morning session in a comfortable and unhurried fashion with Richard Pyrah and Tim Bresnan seeing off the early overs. A shift in the pair’s mentality became clear when Bresnan clubbed two fours off the spin of Joe Ellis-Grewal and Pyrah started going for his shots as well, including a straight drive for six, again off Ellis-Grewal. Bresnan was then out for 38, slapping a loose delivery to cover for the second time in the match.

Yorkshire kept on batting, despite their lead swelling over an already-improbable target of 300. The young slow left-armer Ellis-Grewal stuck to his task and bowled with discipline and control throughout a long spell. Any counties on the lookout for a young spinner would do well to keep an eye on how he progresses this season.

Karl Carver was caught behind after the lead passed 350, but Steven Patterson and Jack Brooks put on 50 runs for the final wicket to remove any chance Leeds/Bradford might have had at the start of the day to pull off a surprise win against the 2014 County Champions.

Brooks scored 36 of his 38 runs in boundaries in the second innings; one of Yorkshire’s great strengths in their Championship-winning season was the contribution of lower-order players with the bat, and the early indications are that they will continue that tradition this year.

Given just over three hours to bowl out the MCCU side, Yorkshire’s bowlers made the early inroads they struggled for first time out. Bresnan extracted enough movement with the new ball to have Henry Thompson caught at third slip, before Brooks squeezed one through Billy Root’s defences to leave the visitors reeling on 10/2.

Leeds/Bradford then set out their stall to defend, but Carver enticed a drive from Logan Weston to a cleverly-placed fielder at short extra-cover to give his side a big chance of forcing a result going into tea. Twenty minutes into the final session, Carver struck again when opener Steve Bullen stepped back to a full delivery and was trapped lbw.

Harry Rouse and George Scott both held firm against Carver and the seamers, who were bowling to fields packed with close catchers.

Based on the evidence of this fixture, the lack of an aggressive spinner like Adil Rashid who can bamboozle tailenders and finish teams off quickly will be a big challenge for Yorkshire in the first three matches of the season. They have demonstrated their depth in batting and seam bowling, but they may yet go to New Road on Sunday without a front-line spinner.

That will depend on whether Carver has shown enough promise in this match to convince Jason Gillespie that he is worth a spot in a side where places are still hotly contested in spite of their six England absentees.

The students of Leeds/Bradford can now proudly say that they have held the County Championship title-holders to a draw on their home turf, and they deserve a lot of credit for their performance. While they never looked on top, they had Yorkshire in trouble at times and just lacked the quality and depth to trouble their professional opponents in key passages.

The debate about whether MCCU games should have first-class status will never go away, but the Leeds/Bradford students provided Yorkshire with a sterner test than many counties managed in 2014.

Wickets tumble but Yorkshire in strong position

ON A DAY when two Yorkshire players were named among the five Wisden Cricketers of the Year, no clear candidate to replace them in next year’s edition of the cricket bible emerged from the White Rose ranks on day two of their warm-up fixture against the students of Leeds and Bradford Universities.

Yorkshire bowled the students out for 202 just before the tea break, and reached 126-6 by stumps to set up an intriguing final day.

With Leeds/Bradford resuming on 46-0 overnight, Tim Bresnan broke a strong opening partnership when he trapped Henry Thompson lbw without adding to his score from yesterday.

Jack Brooks claimed two quick wickets with full-pitched deliveries to put Yorkshire in a dominant position after the first hour.

Billy Root, brother of the England and Yorkshire star, batted well in partnership with all-rounder George Scott, but they were tied down well by a rejuvenated Yorkshire pace attack, and Root was bowled by Patterson, whose flawless line and length manufactured the breakthrough.

The late order of the Leeds/Bradford team did their best to build a partnership that would recover the situation, but Yorkshire’s bowlers struck at regular intervals to keep their studious opposition in their place.

Karl Carver bowled with discipline and control, and Brooks and Patterson gave the batsmen very little width to work with. Brooks also delivered for Yorkshire in the field, producing a deadly direct hit to remove the Leeds/Bradford captain Alex Lilley, who was trying to sneak a single off a drive to mid-on.

With the score at 141-8, the University side were in danger of not reaching the follow-on target of 179 (for a three-day match). However, the superbly-named Joe Sukhdev Edwin Ellis-Grewal, who was down to bat at number eleven on the original scorecard, top-scored with 42 off 65 balls to take his side to a highly respectable 202 all out.

In partnership with Liam Watkinson and then Doug Pratt, Ellis-Grewal showed enterprise and daring with the bat, and offered a few chances early on in his innings. After Watkinson was hit in front of his stumps by Steve Patterson, the slow left-armer decided that it was time to cast off the shackles that had tied down the recognised batsmen in his side.

Impatient with the controlled bowling of Karl Carver, Ellis-Grewal struck two punchy fours off the opening deliveries of the 74th over, and then lofted Carver over his head for the first six of the match. He kept out two quicker deliveries, before perishing to an audacious attempt at a reverse-sweep. It was the most exciting over of the match, and the final one of the Leeds/Bradford first innings.

Alex Lees was given out lbw before the tea break, despite being struck high on the pad and being well down the pitch; he was visibly disappointed with the decision. After tea, Rhodes went on a campaign of steady accumulation in a bid to secure his spot for Yorkshire’s first County Championship game against Worcestershire on Sunday. However, Joe Ellis-Grewal deceived him in flight and he was bowled for just 18.

He then added Dan Hodgson to his list of victims when the right-hander missed a swipe and was pinned lbw.

Jack Leaning and Andrew Gale rebuild comfortably for Yorkshire, and looked to be set for the close until Gale drove loosely outside off stump and was pouched at second slip by Logan Weston. A flurry of wickets followed as the hosts searched for quick runs, with Leaning and Hodd perishing before the close. With Yorkshire already 253 in front, an early declaration tomorrow could lead to an exciting final day.

Hodd and Pyrah spare Yorkshire blushes as preparations intensify

AN EXCITING 116-run stand between Richard Pyrah and Andrew Hodd spared Yorkshire some early-season blushes on day one of their three-day game against Leeds-Bradford MCCU.

After being put in to bat by the students, things looked precarious for the 2014 County Champions on 148-5 when the pair came together, but by the time Hodd was adjudged lbw to Alex Lilley in the 64th over, Yorkshire had laid the platform for an imposing first-innings total.

With six of Yorkshire’s first-team away on England duty, contributions from their reinforcement players will be extremely welcome.

Former England Under-19 captain Will Rhodes was selected to open the batting with Alex Lees, but the team management may yet change their stance after Rhodes struggled against the new ball and was strangled down the leg side for one.

Dan Hodgson, who spent most of last season in the second team, played some lovely shots in his 35 but frequently played and missed outside off-stump before he was bowled by Harry Rouse.

Andrew Gale won’t be captaining Yorkshire at Worcestershire on Sunday due to his suspension for an on-field spat with Ashwell Prince in 2014, but he is leading the side against the Leeds/Bradford team.

His stay at the crease in the first innings was a short one, however, as he was trapped lbw by Doug Pratt for just seven.

Although Jack Leaning only contributed eight runs to Yorkshire’s total, he did offer some stability for Alex Lees, who passed 2,000 first-class runs on his way to an encouraging 63.

Lees lost his wicket to an impatient stroke after being tied down by disciplined bowling. He will turn 22 in a week’s time, but if Yorkshire are going to retain their LV County Championship title, they will need Lees to show a maturity beyond his years as their senior top-order batsman in the early season.

Pyrah and Hodd kept the scoreboard ticking over by punishing the loose deliveries from the Leeds/Bradford bowlers, but once they were set they increased the pressure to great effect. Pyrah reached his 50 off just 63 balls, and Hodd reached the milestone even faster.

Both men drove comfortably, and Hodd hit the first three balls of an over from George Scott to the ropes. It was an expensive set from Scott, with 29 runs coming off the over, with four off no-balls. Pyrah was out 16 runs short of a hundred on the stroke of tea.

Bresnan played a dull, forgettable knock after tea, but Steven Patterson unfurled some glorious shots before being bowled on 41. His back-foot cover-drive off Rouse attracted the warmest applause of the day, and would have been the envy of many a top-order batsman.

The Leeds/Bradford openers negotiated a slow last hour of play to reach stumps on 46-0; Yorkshire will be hoping Ryan Sidebottom’s return (he is being rested for this game) will add some much-needed penetration to their attack.

Overall, the first day has left Jason Gillespie and Yorkshire with more questions than answers. Overseas signing Cheteshwar Pujara is not yet in the country, but is expected to be in the side for the game against Worcestershire at New Road; he will play in place of the suspended Andrew Gale.

Lees’ runs will be welcomed after he recorded two low scores against the MCC in Abu Dhabi, but the failure of Will Rhodes at the top, as well as the middle-order mini-collapse will give them something to think about.

The bowling was modest, testing their patience rather than their technique, and they are likely to face more stingy seamers at New Road on Sunday.

Rashid, Brooks give Yorkshire convincing win

Yorkshire started their County Championship title defence in convincing style with a comfortable nine-wicket win over the MCC in Abu Dhabi. 

Before the third day of the Champion County fixture was seven overs old, England’s Test skipper Alastair Cook was caught at mid-wicket for his second single-figure score of the match. The MCC had started their innings 151 runs behind Yorkshire, and they never looked like putting up a competitive total.

After Cook’s departure, MCC captain Nick Compton shared solid stands with Michael Carberry and James Hildreth, but after he was dismissed with the score on 125-3, the MCC’s lower order added just 95 runs for the final seven wickets.

It was a fine team bowling performance from Yorkshire, with Adil Rashid picking up four wickets, and Jack Brooks three. Brooks had struggled for line and especially length in his first spell of the match, but recovered later in the first innings to remove Sam Billings and Chris Rushworth.

His prize scalp in the second innings was Cook, who must be ruing the missed opportunity that this Champion County match was supposed to represent – theoretically using this match to get some touch and confidence back before the tour of the West Indies. Runs here, of any kind, would have gone at least part of the way towards proving to the world that the old Alastair Cook is still lurking inside of him, the man with 25 Test centuries and the ability to grind down bowling attacks. As it has turned out, questions about his form have only intensified.

Matters have not been helped by the sparkling form of Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth. He followed up his superb century in the first innings with an attractive 46 off 65 balls to see Yorkshire comfortably to their target of 70. He lost only his opening partner Alex Lees, who was caught behind off Adam Riley for just eight.

For many of the MCC players, there were a number of encouraging signs from this match. Nick Compton atoned for his golden duck in the first innings with a strong 74, showing all of the hallmarks of his batting – patience and excellent judgement – that were worryingly absent from the loose drive that got him out to the first ball of the match.

Adam Riley has a tendency to pitch the ball too short on occasion, but the experience of bowling so many overs to top-quality opposition will be valuable for him. Overlooked for the England Test squad in favour of his teammate James Tredwell, he is nevertheless certainly on England’s radar as a future prospect.

Hildreth was out lbw to Rashid on 49, a run short of what would have been his second half-century of the match. At 30, and with the number of young, talented middle-order batsmen floating around the county circuit, Hildreth may never achieve the international honours his talent initially promised. But after a lean 2014 for Somerset, he has set the platform for an improved showing this year.

As well as the encouraging performances of Lyth and Rashid ahead of their first Test tour with England, the fact that young hopeful Will Rhodes made a 50 on his first-class debut will reassure Yorkshire supporters concerned with the depletion of the White Rose’s squad through international call-ups. Jack Leaning also made runs in the T20 matches on this tour, so it seems that the Yorkshire talent-production conveyor belt is still fully operational.

This can only be good news for England, at a time when they need all the good news they can get.

Cook falters as Yorkshire take opening honours

England Test captain Alastair Cook endured a miserable return to competitive cricket after his axing from the ODI squad in the Champion County match between Yorkshire and the MCC.

He had already lost his opening partner Nick Compton, who had edged an uncharacteristically loose drive to Jonny Bairstow off the first ball of the match, when he was given out lbw for three to give Ryan Sidebottom his second wicket.

Compton’s decision to bat first appeared dubious with the MCC at 7-2, but Sidebottom’s new ball partner Jack Brooks struggled to control his line and especially his length, and gave free boundaries to Michael Carberry and James Hildreth, who staged an impressive recovery with a partnership of 74.

With the scoreboard on 81-2 and 36 runs to his name, Carberry’s frustration at the economical bowling of Steve Patterson caused him to attempt an ill-advised cut shot, which he hit to Adam Lyth at second slip. After lunch, Hildreth continued his fine scoring in another big partnership with Worcestershire captain Daryl Mitchell, but fell short of his 31st first-class century when he was out lbw to Tim Bresnan on 89. Mitchell overcame some early nerves to pass fifty shortly after Hildreth perished, a lucky inside edge off Patterson bringing up the milestone.

Soon after, however, Mitchell became Will Rhodes’ first victim in first-class cricket, and an MCC collapse ensued. Brooks made a triumphant return to the bowling attack, removing Billings and Rushworth (both for 0), and Rhodes got Graham Onions lbw for one. Adil Rashid cleaned up the tailenders after the second interval to leave the MCC 221 all out.

There was bad news for Durham as Onions limped off with a groin injury midway through the seventh over of Yorkshire’s reply. He is going to be reassessed tomorrow to see if he can continue with the match. Batting under lights, Yorkshire’s opening duo of Lyth and Lees negotiated the first few overs well, before Lees nicked off to Dunn on 11.

Jack Leaning joined England’s latest recruit at the crease, and although he made an encouraging start, he prodded an innocuous delivery from Zafar Ansari to Mitchell at slip. Patterson came in as nightwatchman, and Yorkshire reached 82-2 at stumps with Lyth unbeaten on 53.

Lyth is expected to be the reserve opener for England’s tour of the West Indies, with Jonathan Trott likely to join Alastair Cook at the top of the order. However, it appears that Lyth has picked up from his excellent form of last season, and if you consider for a moment the question of whether he or Cook would score more runs for England this summer, the current evidence looks bleak for the captain. Certainly, their diverging fortunes in this match won’t have escaped the attention of the England selectors or the cricket media.

The pitch was fairly slow and, according to Ryan Sidebottom in his post-day interview with the BBC Yorkshire’s Dave Callaghan, the pink ball wasn’t giving the bowlers a lot of assistance. There appeared to be some turn in the pitch for Adil Rashid and Adam Riley late in the day and that is likely to get more pronounced as the match goes on.

Needless to say, Alex Lees will be the happier of the two team captains with the day’s proceedings. The least happy captain in the match, however, will undoubtedly be England’s.

Stumps, Day One: Yorkshire 82-2 (Lyth 53*) trail MCC 221 (Hildreth 89) by 139 runs

Champion County Preview: MCC v Yorkshire

The English county season will get underway over 4,000 miles from England’s shores, as the Marylebone Cricket Club take on Yorkshire in Abu Dhabi for the Champion County match.

The fixture, which has taken place in the UAE every year since 2010 and is played using a pink ball, pits the winner of last year’s LV County Championship against an invitational MCC XI. This year’s match will see England Test captain Alastair Cook return to competitive cricket after being dropped from the ODI team (and sacked as captain) last December.

Taking part in the Champion County match will give Cook a valuable opportunity to regain some confidence before England fly to the West Indies for a series that may well be crucial for his future as captain.

The game will be the concluding fixture of Yorkshire’s tour of the UAE, which also saw them claim the Emirates T20 title after beating holders Sussex in the final. The MCC team, boosted by the presence of dynamic Indian all-rounder Yuvraj Singh and the captain of Nepal, Paras Khadka, also took part in the competition, albeit with less success. In the semi-final (of the four-team event), Cook top-scored with 35 as the MCC failed to chase Sussex’s 165. He, and the rest of the MCC side, will be hoping to do much better in the first-class fixture.

The presence of the England captain, and the media attention he inevitably attracts, will add an extra layer of motivation for Yorkshire’s team of champions: recalled pace bowler Liam Plunkett has spoken of his desire to show Cook, and the world, that he deserves a place in England’s Test side.

Key Men

The MCC will be captained by new Middlesex recruit Nick Compton, who left Somerset at the end of last season in an attempt to revive his chances of an England career closer to his London home. He will share an opening partnership with Alastair Cook, as he did for all of his nine Test matches; many have suggested that his chance of an England recall have gone, but if he were to score back-to-back centuries here, who knows?

For Yorkshire, Adil Rashid will be out to show that he is the spinner to bowl England to victory in the West Indies. Caribbean pitches are no longer the fast, bouncy tracks they used to be, and a quality spinner or two is absolutely essential. If he can exploit the favourable conditions in the UAE, he would surely put himself in line for a Test debut next month as well.

Team News

The MCC XI is packed with high-quality openers, with Worcestershire’s Daryl Mitchell and Hampshire’s Michael Carberry joining Cook and Compton in the team. Young Surrey all-rounder Zafar Ansari also opened in the County Championship last year, so there should be plenty of players capable of facing up to the new ball. They also have middle-order experience in the shape of James Hildreth, and exciting youthful talent in Kent keeper Sam Billings. In the bowling department, spin will be provided by Adam Riley, another player England are known to be looking at for future reference, and the Durham duo of Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth (who is playing in his third consecutive Champion County match) will join Surrey’s Matt Dunn to complete the MCC’s seam attack.

Lyth and Lees, the opening partnership that underpinned Yorkshire’s title-winning campaign of last year, will hope to pick up where they left off before the senior partner flies off to the Caribbean with England. Club captain Andrew Gale remains unavailable following his suspension for an on-field spat with Lancashire’s Ashwell Prince near the end of last season, and with Joe Root away with England, Lees may be given the armband instead. Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid, and Liam Plunkett will all be looking to prove their spots in England’s touring party were justified, and pushing on for a place in the final XI. Yorkshire have a wide pool of talented cricketers to choose from, and former Test pacers Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom may well join another man with England aspirations, Jack Brooks, in their final XI. The real challenge for Jason Gillespie will be fitting them all in alongside Will Rhodes, who is set to make his first-class debut.

MCC squad: Nick Compton (c), Zafar Ansari, Sam Billings (wk), Michael Carberry, Alastair Cook, Matt Dunn, James Hildreth, Daryl Mitchell, Graham Onions, Adam Riley, Chris Rushworth.

Yorkshire squad: Moin Ashraf, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Tim Bresnan, Jack Brooks, Kyle Carver, Ben Coad, Matthew Fisher, Andrew Hodd (wk), Jack Leaning, Alex Lees, Adam Lyth, Steven Patterson, Liam Plunkett, Richard Pyrah, Adil Rashid, Will Rhodes, Ryan Sidebottom.

Form

MCC (in Champion County fixtures): WLLWL

Yorkshire: DWWWW

Weather and conditions

A couple of showers are expected on the final day of the match, but mostly the weather will be hot and dry. Historically, spin has played a big part at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, so Riley and Rashid should bowl plenty of overs.

Date: 22-25 March 2015

Time: 14:30 local (10:30 GMT)

Ground: Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi.