Yorkshire v Middlesex: Time for Yorkshire to start picking up the pace in County Championship
THE problem with setting high standards is having to live up to them.
Yorkshire’s standards were Everest-high last summer when they won their first County Championship since 2001. So far this summer, they have shown glimpses of that form but nothing yet more than momentary flashes. They will be aware of the need to raise the bar.
Yorkshire have won two and drawn three of their opening five games, a solid rather than spectacular start. One does not have to think back too many years to when such a sequence would have been cause for celebration.
But times have changed.
Going into tomorrow’s match against Middlesex at Headingley, Yorkshire could do with stringing together a few wins, to start showing that all the talk of creating dynasties was not simply talk but a realistic target.
This is no time for panic.
For the purposes of perspective, Yorkshire are fourth in the league – 16 points behind tomorrow’s opponents, who top the pile – with a game in hand on the three teams above them.
Crisis time it ain’t...
But Yorkshire will sense that now is the time to really put the foot down, to start slipping through the gears in a league that provides precious little margin for error, as proved when Yorkshire finished second in 2013.
In their last game at Somerset, Yorkshire were fortunate. A better side would have punished them when they were 117-5 in their second innings, a lead of just 70, but Somerset did not have the killer instinct that Yorkshire have so often shown themselves.
Somerset were unable to seize their opportunity and Yorkshire emerged with a draw on the back of a match-saving stand between Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid.
Yorkshire’s bowling in that game was below-par, and the need for improvement against Middlesex is clear.
Only pace bowler Steve Patterson gave captain Andrew Gale consistent control, with the rest of the frontline attack conceding too many boundaries.
The return of Ryan Sidebottom – available for the first time since injuring his left calf in the opening game at Worcestershire – should help, as should Yorkshire’s familiarity with their own conditions.
They will miss leg-spinner Rashid, however, and also Liam Plunkett, who are away with the England one-day squad as 38-year-old James Middlebrook gets ready to resume spin bowling duties, but on the flip side they welcome back batsmen Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance, who are not part of the ODI party.
Lyth is in good form, having hit his maiden Test hundred at Headingley last week, while Ballance has something to prove after six low scores.
Lyth’s ability to “go big” should assist a top-six that was not ruthless enough at Taunton, while Ballance is too good a player to stay stuck in a rut.
A glance at the averages shows that only Jack Leaning and Bairstow of the frontline batsmen have so far sparkled, with the rest having chipped in at times without quite setting the world alight.
Will Rhodes, who will make way at the top of the order for Lyth, has scored four 40s in his eight innings but has gone no higher than 46, a frustration to a man who has made a promising start to his Championship career.
Alex Lees, Lyth’s regular opening partner, started the season in terrific style with scores of 87 and 52 not out in the first game at Worcester and 100 in the second match at Nottingham.
Since then – like Ballance at Test level – he has had six low scores in the Championship and will be looking to show his undoubted class. Ditto Gale, who has had five low scores on the trot after an excellent 96 in the first innings of the home game with Warwickshire. They are quality players just searching for a spark.
In their five games to date, Yorkshire have delivered perhaps one display that might be called 2014-esque. That came against newly-promoted Hampshire at Headingley, who they thrashed by 305 runs.
In the first game at Worcester, Yorkshire needed a strong lower-order stand between Tim Bresnan and Jack Brooks to get them up towards first-innings parity before killing off the other Division One newcomers. At Nottingham, they were well behind the eight-ball when the hosts reached 248-2 only to hit back with splendid batting themselves through Lees and Leaning, while they conceded a first-innings lead of 132 against Warwickshire.
There has been mitigation in terms of the overall inconsistency.
Yorkshire have been without Sidebottom; their overseas plans have been disrupted by injuries and U-turns; they had six players away with England in the West Indies; Gale was still suspended for the first game, and so on.
On top of that, there was a whirlwind of speculation surrounding coach Jason Gillespie, for whom England’s loss is Yorkshire’s gain.
Now, with such factors behind them, and with a little more clarity to proceedings, Yorkshire will hope to reach the towering standards they achieved last year.