If there is one thing that Yorkshire have lacked in the three seasons since lifting the County Championship trophy in 2015, it is consistency. Bowlers have dipped in and out of form and fitness, the batsmen have had patches of feast and patches of famine, and more often than not a lucky late-season blooming has saved the blushes of the White Rose County.
It should hardly have come as a surprise to supporters and detractors alike, therefore, when Andrew Gale’s county announced the signing of South African Duanne Olivier on a three-year Kolpak deal, despite Gale having served a suspension for using ‘Kolpak’ as a slur against Olivier’s countryman, Ashwell Prince, when he was captain.
The reasons for signing Olivier are as strong as the excuses for Gale’s treatment of Prince were feeble: Olivier is one of South Africa’s finest and fastest bowlers, and has recently impressed in Test cricket. If he stays fit and in form, he could go a long way to replacing the ineffable Jack Brooks at the spearhead of the Yorkshire attack. Whether he can carry off regular match-winning performances in Leeds while sporting a stylish headband remains to be seen, but there are grounds for optimism.
Optimism is another thing that Yorkshire have lacked lately. Andrew Gale, who played a pivotal role in securing those consecutive Championship titles as captain, came in for criticism from fans after what some perceived as expectation management. Gale was right to be realistic about the state of Yorkshire’s squad – it is full of talent and promise, but is lacking the stable performers who underpinned the glories of yesterday. One half of the opening partnership, Alex Lees, has departed for Durham; the other, Adam Lyth, has struggled for consistency since his stint with England in 2015. Brooks and Sidebottom are gone; Bairstow is England’s now.
Yorkshire may not have the strength in depth that once moved heaven and earth, but they have talent in abundance, and many players who have been on the fringes of the first XI or been hampered by injuries could turn the mediocre runs of 2017 and 2018 into the kind of dominance that the fans who chant the name of their county with pride have come to expect. It would be a delicious irony if the key to further silverware and the security of Andrew Gale’s legacy at the club came in the form of a Kolpak signing.
Ins: Josh Poysden, Matt Pillans, Will Fraine, Duanne Olivier
Outs: Andy Hodd, Liam Plunkett, Alex Lees, Jack Brooks, Azeem Rafiq, James Wainman,
It is impossible to overstate the importance or value of Gary Ballance to this transitioning Yorkshire side. After being axed by England, he has been the county’s most consistent performer with the bat, and seems focused on the challenges ahead with Yorkshire. If he plunders the attacks again, maybe England will come calling once more, but he is needed and wanted at Headingley and his level head will be vital to their success.
Player to Watch
Harry Brook has been named as a potential FEC (Future England Captain) by those in the know. Admittedly they are rather fond in these parts of conferring that rare honour on promising young players born within the boundaries of God’s own county, and Brook is yet to really find his feet in county cricket, but his England under-19 performances show a great deal of potential and he will enjoy plenty of opportunities in 2019.
How they’ll fare
Without the signing of Duanne Olivier, Yorkshire might have been considered outside bets for relegation this year. They have the potential within their squad to challenge the top half of the table, but without having the resources of Surrey or the Alastair Cook of Essex, they might find sustaining a tilt at the title a tad beyond them.
Vs Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, 5-8th April
SS County Championship Division 1: 7-1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 10-1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 12-1