As back-to-back County Champions and with an essentially unchanged squad for the new season, Yorkshire are the team to beat in 2016.
Many obstacles were posed, but duly overcome, in the 2015 season and the Leeds based team were able to secure their second consecutive victory in the County Championship. There was the threat of their coach moving on to bigger and better things on the international circuit, which sadly for Jason Gillespie’s career progression, never came to fruition; the captain stepping back from the limited overs field to focus on the longest format of the game and; the omnipresent threat of a key player being ruled out through injury.
Ryan Sidebottom and Aaron Finch were two of the players who found themselves on the receiving end of injury time out of the game, but the team rallied to ensure their absence was not felt too acutely.
Fortunately for Yorkshire they were able to tackle these challenges head-on and progress forward to win the Championship, go out in the semi-finals of the Royal London One Day Cup and falter only in the Natwest T20 Blas, in which competition they were unable to make it out of the group stages. This year, the team’s focus can be dedicated entirely to each format as the captaincy is split: Andrew Gale takes the helm for the Championship and Alex Lees for both limited overs competitions.
As ever, the team has a comprehensive mix of youth and experience. Sidebottom will again feature regularly in the Championship fixtures with Jack Brooks, Tim Bresnan, Liam Plunkett, Steve Patterson and David Willey providing support. The bad news is that the first six weeks of the season will see this impressive bowling line-up weakened ever so slightly by the loss of Bresnan, who has torn his lower calf muscle. In addition to this, Matthew Fisher has sustained a hamstring strain and will have to undergo fitness tests before he can be confirmed as an option for the first Championship match of the season.
The other side of the coin shows Gary Ballance scoring runs in the pre-season tour and no injuries to any of the top-order batsmen to date. This faction of the team are more prone to being on the receiving end of England call-ups, though, and it is precisely this that acts as a double-edged sword for the Tykes: good performances are excellent news for both the team and the individual’s career progression, but international call-ups mean open spots in an intimidating line-up.
The likes of Adam Lyth and Ballance will be focussed on getting their performances back to their best and drawing the ever-critical eyes of the England selectors, but Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett are looking like the latest England regulars even it is only in the limited overs squads.
Ins: David Willey (Northamptonshire)
Outs: Rich Pyrah (retired), Josh Shaw (Gloucestershire on loan), Jonny Tattersall (released), Moin Ashraf (released) and Dan Hodgson (released). 2015 overseas signings Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell will not be returning this season.
This is always a tricky section to fill – one always feels like they should pick which branch of the team will have a greater impact: bowlers or batsmen. In this case however the focus will be on batsman Jack Leaning. A high order batsman and part-time bowler, Leaning has been a solid fixture in the Yorkshire setup since 2013 totting up three hundreds, seven fifties and an average of 35.35.
Whilst these statistics may still show some room for improvement, they are nonetheless indicative of a batsman who performs for his side time and time again. The role of the reliable middle-to-high order batsman who settles or accelerates as the innings demands, is a precious commodity and one that can be tricky to hold on to and nurture.
Player to Watch
Youngster Matt Fisher has been drawing attention left, right and centre for a year or two now thanks to having such a raw talent that he was selected to play for the prestigious club when he was just 15 years of age. Since then, with the likes of Ryan Sidebottom, Tim Bresnan, Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks leading the bowling attack Fisher has been on the receiving end of some impressive performances from which to gain experience.
In previous seasons he has had to take time out from cricket to focus on school work but this season should, by all calculations, mark the end of his time in education and open up the opportunities for becoming more of a permanent feature in the side.
His figures in the 2015 Natwest T20 Blast competition should also help him confirm his place in the side. He has played 13 T20 matches, taking 16 wickets with an innings best of 5/22.
New Zealander Kane Williamson will be returning to the Yorkshire dressing room for another season and will be key not only to the limited overs competition bids, but also to the Specsavers County Championship campaign. He will be with the club for June until mid-July, when he will return to International duty. Williamson’s international experience both as a captain and top order batsman will be crucial for Yorkshire, especially combined with the relationships he has built up over the seasons returning to the same county.
Australian Travis Head will be winging his way to Yorkshire for July-September to give the side something extra in the second half of the season. Selectors have had their eyes on Head for the last year or so, thanks to his performances in the Australian T20 competition the Big Bash. The 22 year old was also included in Australia’s T20 squad earlier this year and has received the nod to be included in their ODI squad this coming summer.
How they’ll fare
The odds listed below are extremely optimistic for the Northern side. Will Rhodes’ opinion that the team could genuinely smash their way through all formats of the game, and get themselves to the top of every competition, might just prove to have some weight to it. Yorkshire are a side who can quite genuinely boast strength in depth, especially with signings like impressive bowler David Willey, but previous years’ performances do not pave the way for a straight forward run to the respective finals days. Although, gutsy youngster Alex Lees is the new limited overs captain having taken over from Specsavers County Championship skipper Andrew Gale half way through last season, so maybe he will demonstrate a different approach right from the get-go and reap the rewards.
v Hampshire, Sunday 17th April at Headingley
Specsavers County Championship Division: 6/4
Royal London One-Day Cup: 5/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 7/1