Yorkshire Yorkshire Yorkshire. Can they make it three titles in four seasons? Who can but guess when the season has not yet begun? On paper, Yorkshire are as strong as ever. Many of their players are selected to step away from the hallowed Headingley turf and onto more exotic shores with the England team, but that does not always translate onto the field and the rankings.
With a new captain and coach heading up the leadership team in Leeds, the team who were pipped to the post in the final match of the season down at Lord’s are looking to start this new era with a bang.
Gary Ballance has been appointed captain, after Andrew Gale opted to retire from playing and take the newly vacant Head Coach position that Jason Gillespie left at the end of the season. This transition was in many ways unexpected but, once it had been announced, seemed to indicate natural progression.
Gale has always had his finger on the pulse and been acutely aware of the nature of the job, and what needed to be done in order for him and his team to succeed: so where better place to put that sort of brain but in the coach’s spot? Ballance is a thorough individual who will take the advice and guidance of the previous captain in his stride, to ensure that the best decisions possible are made on the pitch.
In other news around Headingley, bowling legend Ryan Sidebottom has announced that he will retire at the end of this season. His fabulous flowing locks have been gracing the cricket pitches of England for twenty years now and his experience, dedication and ability will be sorely missed within the Yorkshire ranks.
This will most likely be something of a transition season for Yorkshire but the way they are managing the natural loss of their older players, and the progression of their developing players, should ensure a smooth transition for all involved and who knows? That might even result in some silverware.
Outs: Andrew Gale (Retired)
Key Player: Gary Ballance
It might be considered by some to be a cliché to select the newest leader of the Yorkshire 1st XI as the key player for the season, but those of you who have watched Gary Ballance play his cricket for both Yorkshire and England over the years will know as well as I that he is a confidence player.
This is fine when you’re batting at three or four and are focused almost exclusively on your own performance, but what’s going to happen when the other ten men in the team are looking your way? Confidence can make or break a team and if the tide begins to turn, and the inexperienced captain can’t turn it back around, what will happen to the rest of the team?
That’s a very negative introduction unfortunately, but it is something that needs taking into account. On the flip side of course, Ballance is an exceptional batsman and coming into matches in that third/fourth bat position is a powerful place to have the captain. They are always considered to be a prized wicket and Ballance will prove even more so than perhaps others, due to his Trott-like stickability at the crease.
If early wickets fall, he will present the opposition with a concrete hurdle that they have to break through. If early wickets do not fall, his walk to the crease will still cast a shadow over their bowler’s brief achievement, as he will not offer them an easy second or third wicket. His batting will lead him in his captaincy and that, of course, will lead the team.
Player to Watch: Jack Leaning
Jack Leaning is such a genius player, it’s hard not to think his breakthrough season is just around the corner.
His 2016 season was a sterling one: his contributions in the limited overs competitions proved to be invaluable and he regularly struck a quick-fire 30-50 runs in order to get his team over or very close to the line. It’s those kinds of runs that a team value more than anything, even if they’re not ‘officially’ 50s or 100s to go down in the record books.
He has seven ‘not out’ scores in his 30 match T20 career to date, and two 50s: an example of how the record books do not reflect the magnitude of his contributions.
Leaning is a player so consistent in the field and batting line-up that he is almost forgotten about. He has slotted into the Yorkshire line-up so smoothly that his presence is predictable, and yet unacknowledged.
In all first-class matches Leaning has scored three hundreds and nine fifties – considering he’s only played 41 matches, that’s not bad going. He has an understated ability to move through the gears and strike the ball to the boundary causing the scoreboard to all over a sudden tick over.
Overseas Signings: Travis Head and Peter Handscomb
Australian Travis Head returns to Headingley for another year to assist with the team’s T20 Blast campaign. Whilst only playing four times for the club last season, Head’s knowledge of the game will be invaluable to Yorkshire.
Yorkshire have also signed fellow Australian Peter Handscomb. The difference with this signing is that he will be available for selection in all three formats of the game. The batsman is relatively new to international scene but there is no denying his skills.
How they’ll fare:
Things for Yorkshire could go one of two ways this year. The change in captain and coach would usually be a flag for a rocky beginning, but the men who have stepped into these roles are veterans of the game and the county: they are not new settlers.
Their experience at the club, and their presumably well-established relationships with players and backroom staff, should allow for a smooth transition, removing any kinks that often require ironing out when changes like this occur. But one never does know, does one?
It is likely that Yorkshire will pose a genuine threat to other counties eyeing up that Division One trophy because they have such a strong team – even without the cohort of England players – but there is no getting away from the fact that Gale often appeared happy to settle for a draw as captain. Will he endorse the same view as coach? Ballance could have an issue on his hands if this proves to be the case.
As for the limited overs competitions, Yorkshire have become renowned for cruising into the upper echelons of the competitions and then unceremoniously tossing their opportunity to one side. With their key limited overs players selected for England on a regular basis, it will be for the spectators to see how the younger players have developed over the summer. If they have progressed well, then there could be some silverware in the sights of Mr Ballance.
v Hampshire. Friday 7th April 2017, Headingley Stadium.
SpecSavers County Championship Division One: 9/4
Royal London One-Day Cup: 7/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 9/1