God bless you Yorkshire, after years struggling to avoid relegation you’ve finally got some of the miserable old bastards in the stands working harder to find things they can moan about. That’ll cause the kind of increased synaptic activity vital to keep a misanthrope alive during the cold winter months to come, making Moxon and Gale a kind of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole for the doom-laden.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, as little had altered since the previous season at Headingley beyond the retirement of Deon Kruis and the fractious departure of Matthew Hoggard. For all the world it looked like Yorkshire were facing another tough year, this time minus their two most experienced bowlers. As the summer drew on, Bresnan and Shahzad were increasingly away on England duty and the knowhow of Hoggard in particular started to be missed – something the current attempts to re-sign Ryan Sidebottom perhaps acknowledge. It’s worth remembering Yorkshire had pointed out money freed by Hoggard’s departure helped retain Ajmal Shahzad – a hot property 12 months ago whose signature was chased by numerous clubs – as well as invest in long-term contracts for Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Jonny Bairstow and several second team hopefuls; but was it really a choice of either/or? We’ll probably never know.
That move to back youth was also seen when Anthony McGrath stood down from the captaincy to be replaced by Andy Gale, the youngest person to take the role since Lancashire’s accounts included a championship trophy cleaning budget. Gale was officially unveiled in late December, with the suspicion that a decision had actually been made several months earlier but kept under wraps whilst McGrath completed his benefit year commitments.
But regardless of when Gale’s voice had been added to the planning for 2010, some clear headed decision making was required if Yorkshire were to avoid the fight against relegation predicted by many. There was certainly a great deal of thought put into the exact team for the opening fixture at Edgbaston. A great deal of thought that resulted in an unexpected batting line-up.
The first surprise was a new opening pairing of Sayers and Lyth. Sayers’ partner from the previous year, Jacques Rudolph, had continued at the top of the order when he returned to his native South Africa for their domestic season, but a switch in December to number three was to precede a similar move to Yorkshire’s middle order. His replacement as opener, Adam Lyth, was perhaps an even less predicted move given he’d not opened on a regular basis for the second team and had only prospered during his 2008 run in the first XI after being moved down from opener to number five. Despite this, someone at Yorkshire thought Lyth could do the job. Someone at Yorkshire was proved right.
Another big call was made by giving Jonathan Bairstow the gloves and dropping Gerard Brophy for the first time since Moxon had returned as coach in 2007. It gave Yorkshire an impressive looking middle order, one that helped the team gain a first innings lead in virtually every match during the opening half of the season. But when illness struck Joe Sayers in late June, Rudolph was moved back to open and a combination of Brophy’s form for the second XI and his younger colleague clearly being on a steep learning curve, led to the wicket keeping duties being handed back; changes that resulted in a less robust middle order for the remainder of the summer as well as further uncertainty over Bairstow’s ultimate role in the side.
For all the reshuffling of the batting line-up, improvements in solidity and consistency were marked. Lyth in particular had a fantastic summer, moving from county squad member to serious candidate for international honours with the ease of one of his own cover drives. The raw statistics of 1,500 championship runs and having won the race to a 1,000 in first-class cricket tell you little of the pleasure of his stroke play, the intent of his approach.
Rudolph remained as reliable as ever, scoring heavily in the middle-order and later in the year as a stand-in opening bat, whilst both Gale and Bairstow continued to grow as batsmen capable of reading the situation; batsmen willing to play for the team rather than themselves. Praise was rightly handed to Lyth and Bairstow for the responsibility they shouldered this season, but in his own way Gale made just as impressive a step forward. He’s now an adaptable batsman, confident in attack or defence, capable of responding to the most pressurised of situations – his counter-attacking 151 not out in the first innings at Trent Bridge was an indication of just how far his game has improved.
Add in the return to form of McGrath and the batsmen weren’t just producing individually but were also a much more cohesive unit. The batting collapses of previous years were largely gone as partnerships would form after the fall of two or three quick wickets, partnerships that repaired the damage and stabilised the innings. The only real insistences of collective batting failure were in the home games against Lancashire, Notts and Kent. Just three false steps out of twenty nine is a decent record, certainly a vast improvement on the form of 2009, but the fact two of those failures came in vital matches during the championship run-in, the final one probably costing Yorkshire the title itself, is a concern that needs addressing.
Work is also needed on our scoring rate. It’s understandable that following the fragility our batting has shown in the recent past we should try to walk before we run, but too often the boldness shown during our final day chases wasn’t mirrored by a more positive attitude earlier in games. Instead, Yorkshire seemed content to carve out a first innings lead and try to force the game from there. But once Bresnan and Shahzad were no longer available and Best started misfiring, we needed more time to bowl out the opposition twice. That time was too often eaten away, and in the process bonus points lost, by overly cautious batting, particularly against opposition spinners, many of whom were being shown more respect than they deserved.
Our own spinners had a mixed time of things. Adil’s final tally of 57 championship wickets was the most by any slow bowler in the competition; although 42 of them had come in a rush of just seven mid-season games, with pickings much slimmer during the final few vital matches.
Wainwright had a poor season from the off and needs the winter to re-group, sort out whether Yorkshire or England are giving him the best advice about his action and come back again next year with the resilience and grit he’s shown in so many games for us over the last few seasons. As for Azeem Rafiq, he just needs to pause before pressing the send button on Twitter – the knowledge Yorkshire have signed up fellow spinner Gurman Randhawa after he took 120 odd wickets for academy and second team this year should help concentrate his mind in that regard.
Yorkshire’s pace attack was another mixed bag. Bresnan and Shahzad did well in early season, but once England duty called they returned only fitfully and often undercooked from time spent watching from the international sidelines. Tino Best bowled with raw pace – he was easily the quickest bowler on the county circuit – but too often raw direction as well. As an overseas player he’d been a gamble, if his form from the first couple of games had held he’d have been a gamble that paid off, sadly that wasn’t to be.
With their more experienced colleagues absent or out of form, much responsibility fell on the shoulders of Steve Pattterson and Oliver Hannon-Dalby. Patterson turned out to be the most improved bowler at the club and certainly the most dependable one available to his captain, whilst Hannon-Dalby started with great success before wickets dried up in mid-season. They both looked tired towards the end of their first full year in the side and that may explain why it was another new boy, Moin Aashraf, who took best advantage of the more helpful wickets found in the final couple of matches.
If Patterson, Hannon-Dalby and Ashraf can continue to improve, and we manage to re-sign Ryan Sidebottom, then next year we should be in a better position to cope if Bresnan and/or Shahzad are on England duty once again. But in truth, during most of 2010, our bowling lacked the penetration, and to be fair the helpful surfaces, of some of our rivals. It’s notable that only once did we bowl a side out for less than 200, and that in very advantageous conditions on the first day at Trent Bridge, and only half a dozen times more did we bowl them out for under 300. It’s little wonder so many of our victories relied on a final day race against time with the bat.
That we managed to win six games and come within an ace of the title itself says much for the team ethos at the club, with a large share of the credit for that going to Gale himself. The blue print for the current Yorkshire team – the 2008 victory at Taunton by a young side missing its ‘big names’ – has been taken and implemented all season long. Captaincy has generally been pro-active rather than re-active, and bar the decision to bat first in the home game against Notts, the kind of occasional gaffes you’d expect from a rookie captain have been avoided – the Taunton declaration was made whilst Gale was on Lions duty and frankly I’ve already vented my spleen enough on that subject!
There’s little doubt great strides forward have been taken this summer, and there’s now a much more optimistic outlook for Yorkshire’s immediate future. But if the team is to continue that improvement some issues require addressing. Not least how we replace the runs of Jacques Rudolph; no easy task given our entire winter recruitment budget has been targeted on acquiring a new bowler and there is no guarantee that either Joe Sayers will be fit again for the start of next season or that Adam Lyth can reproduce the sheer weight of runs scored this year.
That ability to replace Rudolph, somehow, someway, will probably determine whether we continue our improvement in 2011, or if a step back is needed before we can move forward once again.
Si’thee next seaon,