Yorkshire on top but Gillespie remains cautious

IT would be premature to proclaim the County Championship title race over at the start of July and yet the question must be posed: who is going to stop Yorkshire?

Yorkshire's Ryan Sidebottom celebrates taking the wicket of Durham's Mark Stoneman.
 (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Yorkshire's Ryan Sidebottom celebrates taking the wicket of Durham's Mark Stoneman. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

Not Durham on the evidence of the past four days, the leaders relinquishing first place to a Yorkshire side who beat them by an innings and 47 runs to go 11 points clear with a game in hand.

Although one could feasibly look in the direction of third-placed Middlesex or fourth-placed Warwickshire, with Yorkshire meeting Warwickshire in their next Championship match at Edgbaston from Sunday, it is difficult to see the champions being denied.

Just about the only thing that could stop them is the weather, injuries and international calls, but Yorkshire have been contending with strains on their resources all summer and yet remain the standout team in four-day county cricket.

Not that Jason Gillespie, the first-team coach, is tempted to order the champagne just yet.

On the contrary, Gillespie’s feet – and those of his side – are firmly on the ground after Yorkshire reached the halfway stage of their Championship programme still undefeated after five wins and three draws.

No sooner had his players crushed their nearest rivals on another scorching day in the north-east – sweeping up the last six Durham wickets in 85 minutes after the hosts resumed on 244-4 – when Gillespie sounded the obligatory note of caution.

“We’re in a very good position, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s a hell of a lot of work to do yet,” he said.

“There’s a lot of good sides in this division who are playing some very good cricket, and that’s obviously something we can’t control.

“Everything else is crystal-balling, looking into the future, and we just need to make sure that we maintain our standards and keep preparing as well as we can and being as consistent as possible.

“If we do that, the points table will take care of itself.”

Gillespie could almost have been reading from last summer’s script, when his side had the look of champions from a good distance out.

This win, which followed an innings victory over Notts at Headingley, evoked the cricket they produced last season, but Gillespie is taking nothing for granted and repeated his view that Yorkshire can improve.

“I still think we’ve got room for improvement, to be perfectly honest,” he said.

“I’ve spoken previously about the need for the top-order to do the bulk of the work, and we still haven’t quite nailed that.

“We’ve had individuals go and get scores, but, as a batting group, we haven’t quite nailed it.

“Having said that, there were some good signs against Durham.

“The lads ground it out in tough conditions – Alex Lees looked fantastic for his 40, and Will Rhodes did a fine job and is a fantastic young player – but we were grateful to an amazing partnership between Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan that you don’t see very often in first-class cricket.”

Their stand of 366, a record for the seventh-wicket in England, elevated Yorkshire from a dodgy 191-6 to a dominant final total of 557-6 declared.

It provided the platform for Yorkshire to dismiss Durham for 208 in their first innings and 302 second time around.

“I thought the way Jonny and Tim played was superb,” said Gillespie.

“Durham have got a fine pace attack, and the way they coped with it was great. At the end of the day, it was a fantastic win against a quality side.

“You always want to play good, hard, consistent cricket, and to be able to do it against a side like Durham, who have been the pacesetters in the competition this year, is very satisfying, and on their home ground as well.”

Durham went down like dominoes on the final morning as Yorkshire simply blew them away. Steve Patterson struck with the old ball to bowl Gordon Muchall before Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks wreaked havoc with the second new ball.

Sidebottom got the key wicket of overnight centurion Mark Stoneman, lbw for 131, to leave Durham 275-6, and then trapped John Hastings in his next over.

Brooks followed up by having Ryan Pringle caught at long-leg, pinning Jamie Harrison lbw and removing Chris Rushworth caught behind, the last five wickets falling in 32 balls.

Brooks finished with 4-66, there were two wickets each for Patterson, Sidebottom and Adil Rashid, and there were any number of reasons to suppose that Yorkshire will be celebrating back-to-back titles come season’s end.