With the now prolific Yorkshire opener Adam Lyth jetting off to the Caribbean with five of his Yorkshire teammates, one might be forgiven for thinking the defending County Champions are in a pickle before the season has even begun. Or you might be rebuffed by a gruff Yorkshire accent who reminds you that the unrelenting quality of the team is strength in depth.
While Captain Andrew Gale will have to miss the first County Championship match of the season, he will return with gumption for the second match which, possibly ironically, will be played at Trent Bridge. Gale is just one of the players who remain a constant in the background for the young players coming through to aspire to as well as pick up a few tricks of the trade from. Bowlers Steve Patterson, Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom of course offer support in this field.
As if this wasn’t enough, the team have strengthened their team by bringing in no less than four overseas players for various competitions and sections of the season. Aaron Finch and Kane Williamson are welcomed back with open arms as Glenn Maxwell and Cheteshwar Pujara are invited into the fold for the first time.
The signing of Indian top order batsman Pujara came as a result of a sudden change in the circumstances of Pakistani opener Younus Khan. When Khan agreed the contract with Yorkshire it was suspected that he would not be included in the Pakistan squad due to tour Bangladesh but this changed and Yorkshire’s hand was forced.
While predominantly the new season signings have reflected a commitment to the limited overs competitions, Pujara reflects the need to secure a more experienced batsmen for the lacking top order positions. With Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance joining Lyth on England duty it is the batting that has taken a hit.
Ins: Cheteshwar Pujara (Derbyshire), Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch, Kane Williamson (all overseas)
Outs: Azeem Rafiq, Barney Gibson (both released)
For two seasons now Alex Lees has opened the batting alongside Adam Lyth, whose prolific run-scoring has caught the eyes of the England selectors so much that a spot opening against the West Indies is a distinct possibility. Lees now has the opportunity to up his game again and shoulder the responsibility of opening as the senior player. Who is partner will be is yet to be confirmed but it seems a distinct possibility that Will Rhodes could be the man walking out beside him; having played just one first-class match to date.
Averaging a solid 39.85 from 53 innings is indicative of yet another young player in the Yorkshire squad who can make 2015 a noteworthy season. Lees features across the formats for the Vikings and his averages confirm that he will continue to feature heavily – 39.66 in 50 overs and 34.80 in 20 overs.
All three of these averages as well as his highest score in first-class cricket – 275* – provide enviable groundwork to develop and only further concrete his place at the top of the Yorkshire order.
Player to watch
Emerging players often strive to be noticed, perhaps obviously, but there are those rare moments when you – the spectator, the coach, the teammate – turn around and realise that one player has been so inconspicuous, they have concreted their place in the side. Jack Leaning is just one of these players.
Leaning has scored 505 runs from 13 first-class matches (18 innings) and averages 33.66. While this might not be an average that sets England selectors’ tongues wagging, it certainly is a total that can only show the promise of what is to come for the youngster.
The joy of having a young player such as Leaning in the squad is his ability to transfer his skills between the three formats. Not only does he have a healthy average in the longer format, he can be called upon to fire in the middle order when needed in the limited overs competitions. The 21-year-old has featured in 14 List A matches and has a high score of 111* with an average of 38.00.
The 50-over competition could easily prove to be Leaning’s strongest format as his bowling figures reflect it is the only format to date where he has taken wickets; 7-141 from 14 matches. All-rounders are priceless in the limited overs matches when oppositions can tighten the screws disturbingly quickly and teams can wind up on the back-foot – part-time bowlers can be the players that the turn the tables.
With no fewer than four overseas signings to boast this year Yorkshire have some serious fire-power coming through.
For the start of the season, Indian top-order batsman and former Derbyshire signing Cheteshwar Pujara will join the part-time Captain Alex Lees at the top of the order. Pujara’s Test career speaks for itself with a high score of an unbeaten 206 and an average of 47.11 from 48 innings.
The other new signing for the 2015 is Australian power-hitter Glenn Maxwell for the Natwest T20 Blast competition. Not only does Maxwell bring the ability to baffle bowlers with his natural talent for sending the ball to the most obscure – and farthest – parts of the ground he is also brings some very useful off-break bowling. Clubs can ask for little more from their overseas players than the ability to hit match-winning runs as well as wickets!
Australian opening batsman Aaron Finch and New Zealand number three bat Kane Williamson are both welcomed back to Yorkshire from last season. Finch will join up with the side following his stint in the IPL and Williamson will come in for the end of the season and feature in the last three County Championship matches.
How they’ll fare
There is no denying that the format favoured by the Yorkshire team is the longest one and they will remain serious contenders to defend their title but they will be up against some stiff competition. 2014 County Championship runners-up Warwickshire in particular will pose a threat but provided Yorkshire combine their youth, enthusiasm and experience they could just create a formidable force.
The silverware in the Yorkshire trophy cabinet for the shorter formats of the game is conspicuous by its absence and this has been reflected in the overseas signings for this season; spectators will need their Viking helmets this season at Headingley!
Unlike last year, there have been no mutterings of ‘doing the treble’ yet this season but with the fire-power due to come in alongside the sturdy backdrop of the established Yorkshire players and the veritable cornucopia of fast bowlers, who knows what the season will bring.
v Worcestershire, Sunday 12th April, New Road
Season Odds (via SkyBet)
LV County Championship Division One: 11/4
Royal London One-Day Cup: 7/1
Natwest T20 Blast: 6/1