This year, Yorkshire have been the ‘almosts’ of the County circuit. They are not often thought of in such a way, being one of the more dominant counties, but this year they have managed to record success in all three competitions without actually walking away with any silverware.
In addition to that, Yorkshire’s home meeting with Somerset in the County Championship hardly went to plan and – although a draw at Old Trafford has helped hugely – it has left them with work to do if they want to clinch that third successive title. Somerset will likely beat relegated Notts, Middlesex haven’t lost a match this season and Yorkshire haven’t won at Lord’s since…well, it wasn’t this millenium let’s just say that.
When the team travelled south for their RLODC quarter final against Kent the fixture fell at a time that allowed them to have their England contingent to hand, meaning they fielded no fewer than eight internationals and ex-internationals in that fixture.
They won that match and were able to then host a home semifinal against Surrey. It was at this point, however, that they appeared to have exhausted their reserves for ‘performing when it counts’ at the quarterfinal stage. In fact, they stumbled at the semi-final block in both limited-over formats.
At T20 Finals Day it was Yorkshire’s northern rivals, Durham, who out-witted them with the ball after they had managed to limit the under-dogs to a meagre total.
A similar plot played out in their RLODC semifinal. Good bowling, and some tremendous fielding, saw Surrey post a total that was at least 30 runs lower than it should have been on that pitch and in those conditions. A staggering 81-5 after 22 overs saw Yorkshire too far behind the required run rate to make it up, and their hopes of a Lord’s final were dashed.
So, is there any rhyme or reason to Yorkshire’s poor performances, after putting in all the hard work to get to the final qualifying stages of the competition? In all honesty, I’m not sure there is. You can sit and debate until you’re blue in the face about how the ins and outs of how the international players affect the dynamics of a team, but at the end of the day wickets that fell shouldn’t have fallen when they did.
In their T20 semifinal against Durham, Adam Lyth was the man in the middle scoring and holding his head high whilst all around him were losing their wickets (and heads). Just when fans started uttering the phrase ‘if he’s still there at the end, we might be in with a sniff’, however, he played an appalling, uppish shot to backward point and lost his wicket.
No amount of evident anger would be adequate compensation, and I will have to be critical here by commenting that he should have seen the rest of the innings out. To get so far and then crumble is the epitome of Yorkshire this season.
The return of England Test trio Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Balance had no major impact on Yorkshire fortunes, although Ballance did manage to record the third highest run total in their unsuccessful One-day cup final bid.
The issue is that Ballance and Root are not machines designed for the shorter formats of the game, and yet they are granted places in the squads simply because the logic is that if they are good enough to play internationally, they have to be in the county squad.
For the four-day game: yes absolutely. For Bairstow: yes absolutely, because he can convert his four day form to limited overs form. I would even be inclined to permit the aforementioned pair spots in the 50 over game, but their inclusion was the fatal flaw in their T20 Final bid.
The RLODC saw a slightly different conundrum placed at Yorkshire’s door as they found themselves without the bowling power of David Willey, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid. Their absence was probably felt most acutely, but to have Surrey 31-3 without those three surely means that they could – or should – have continued to take wickets.
And, finally, in the penultimate fixture of the Championship the defending champions were permitted a selection of their England players, although not all of them. The ECB refused to permit Root and Bairstow to play but Rashid, Plunkett and Willey were all available for selection.
In addition to that they were able to select the fit-again Ryan Sidebottom, who proved his worth and timeless skill with 5-51 in Somerset’s first innings. New-boy Jake Lehmann then struck 116, before falling lbw to Joe Leach, and yet Yorkshire were unable to secure a comfortable victory – or any victory at all.
That in itself is almost concrete evidence for how any team, in any sport, cannot guarantee performance even when they are able to select their best players.
Permutations for Championship title
If Middlesex beat Yorkshire they are the 2016 County Champions.
If Yorkshire beat Middlesex with maximum bonus points they are the 2016 County Champions, for the third consecutive year.
If Yorkshire beat Middlesex without maximum bonus points AND Somerset beat Nottinghamshire with maximum bonus points, Somerset will claim the title for the first time in their history.
If Middlesex and Yorkshire draw, everything gets confusing. Mathematically speaking, even if Middlesex took maximum bonus points, if Somerset were to beat Nottinghamshire with maximum bonus points, Somerset would win the title. If there’s a draw at Lord’s and Somerset do not obtain maximum bonus points, the title would be Middlesex’s.