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Overseas absentees add weight to Yorkshire’s triumph

1 October 2015
Overseas absentees add weight to Yorkshire’s triumph
With a record 11th victory of a rampaging LV Championship season, Yorkshire CCC wrapped up their 2015 campaign last week in the same unrelenting manner in which they had approached pretty much every day of it. The 100-run victory over Sussex not only brought a record number of victories in a 16-game season, but also a record points haul while the Championship has been two divisions, of 286, and skipper Andrew Gale was able to lift the Championship trophy once again; ironically for a third occasion after farcically being denied the opportunity at all last season.

The plaudits have kept coming this week, with individual awards’ recognition for Yorkshire players – Johnny Bairstow and Jack Leaning named as Cricket Writers’ Club Player and Young Player of the Year respectively - and certainly the management structure of the Club can briefly take stock and reflect on a job very well done, before they sketch out the blueprint for the very presentable opportunity of doing it all again.

Yorkshire are well set to continue this passage of success, and given the manner of their title win it seems the team from the Broad Acres are some distance ahead of the opposition at this moment in time, quite literally. Consider that Yorkshire won the title by 68 clear points, and that the second-placed team Middlesex were actually nearer to the relegation zone than they were to Yorkshire, finishing only 67 points above bottom-placed Worcestershire.

Still, the plaudit most often thrown around when discussing Yorkshire CCC’s second successive triumphant season, is that it was achieved with the nucleus of their side away on international duty with England for intermittent chunks of the summer. Indeed, they started the season with six players on duty in the Caribbean. Joe Root played no part in Yorkshire’s season at all, as expected, but Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Johnny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid were all in and out of the White Rose County’s side.

Director of Cricket Martyn Moxon hailed the second Championship title as more impressive and satisfactory than the first, purely for this reason; that players were coming and going at the eleventh hour and still Yorkshire ploughed on and made best use of their resources, often with little or no planning. For his part, Moxon is laudably philosophical about the situation, claiming that the fundamental aim of county cricket is to “produce England players and still win”. It’s a foreign concept to fans of other sports, where the international scene perhaps doesn’t spark the day-to-day passion that club fanaticism does, but it is a timely reminder of Yorkshire’s priorities, although given the ease with which they have swept the competition aside, you would be forgiven for labelling Yorkshire as comparably ruthless and single-minded as any Premier League club or their neighbours at Leeds Rhinos.

What is often forgotten is that international duty has also robbed Yorkshire of their overseas players for several matches, with none of the four contracted players making key contributions in the format of the game they were signed for. By their very nature, overseas players are carefully considered pre-season additions to the squad, both in terms of finance and their strategic value to the side, be it in the four-day game or in limited overs cricket. In 2015, Yorkshire made the investment in four players, but would be more disappointed in their returns had it not happened to highlight the wealth of talent already under their noses.

Even before the first ball had been bowled in a season beset by chopping and changing of batting orders and bowling attacks, Yorkshire had to contend with Pakistan batsman Younis Khan backing out of the deal he agreed to play for the first part of the Championship season. Khan had previously played for Yorkshire in 2007 and was chosen with this experience in mind. However, in April he was replaced by Indian right-hand batsman Cheteshwar Pujara. The arrangement was only ever to be for the first four games, and Pujara scored 264 runs at an average of 52.8, helped by an unbeaten 133 in the 305-run win against Hampshire at Headingley. But before Pujara could build on a slow but promising start for Yorkshire, he was gone.

The contributions of both high-profile Australian additions Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell are well-documented. Brought in principally for the T20 campaign, they, and Yorkshire as a whole, disappointed hugely, albeit partly due to injury. Finch played some part in the Championship season and was ready to play a starring role in Yorkshire’s Royal London Cup Semi-Final versus Gloucestershire at Headingley in early September, but was called up by the Australian one-day squad the day before.

New Zealand test batsman Kane Williamson was all set to join Yorkshire for a third consecutive season, this time for the final four Championship games towards the end of August. Despite training with the Yorkshire players in July prior to touring South Africa and Zimbabwe with the Kiwis, Williamson never arrived at Yorkshire. Fortunately, he wasn’t needed.

Planning for the 2016 season will start, therefore, with a careful assessment of the county’s policy with regards to overseas players. In 2015 it hasn’t worked out, but it is accepted practice that some overseas players represent short term punts, and with the growing status of T20 cricket and, more specifically, Yorkshire’s continuing failure to master it, you wouldn’t bet against some more marketable additions for the white ball game in 2016.

In the Championship, Yorkshire have been strong in all departments, but most pleasingly in the bowling line-up, where they have won by an innings on three occasions and therefore bowled teams out twice while only needing to bat once. Other wins through bowling teams out came via large margins; 305 runs, 184 runs, 174 runs. Steve Patterson and Tim Bresnan took over 40 wickets in the Championship season, as did Jack Brookes and Ryan Sidebottom, but the latter two are classed as prolific strike bowlers who can be a little expensive. For this reason they were largely spared from the limited overs game where every run counts, and this is where Yorkshire came unstuck; the lack of a reliable and economic wicket-taker. Matt Fisher showed some promise in this respect, but Yorkshire’s bowling attack was left exposed in the disappointing 50-over Semi-Final loss to Gloucestershire with Brookes and Sidebottom omitted. So as to really make an impact in next season’s T20 campaign, Yorkshire may scour the overseas market for that cutting edge with the ball.

Elsewhere, Yorkshire’s policy of promoting youth is of course hindered by the inclusion of overseas players. Jack Leaning is a prime example of a player who has thrived on the opportunity presented by the frequent omission of others from Yorkshire’s first XI this season, and the emerging talents of Fisher, Will Rhodes and Karl Carver may be trusted more next season, given the successful use of this policy.
Certainly Yorkshire are now benefitting from a framework of age group coaching and academy structure implemented several years ago, and everything appears in place to see them dominate the county scene for many years to come. At the very least you would make Yorkshire strong favourites to lift the title for a third successive season in 2016, the first time any county has done that since Brian Close’s Yorkshire team of 1966-1968.

One factor possibly out of Moxon’s control, however, is the future of first team coach Jason Gillespie. The former Aussie paceman was openly courted by England this summer before they opted for Trevor Bayliss. Now, the Yorkshire hierarchy will have a close eye on Gillespie’s performance as coach of the Adelaide Strikers in Australia’s Big Bash League this winter; a dual role accepted by Gillespie with Yorkshire’s blessing and on the understanding that it may well improve Yorkshire’s poor performance in the T20 format.

You expect, though, that Gillespie’s success with Yorkshire speaks for itself, and the flourishing systems implemented since he joined in 2011 are there for all to see. It can’t be long before another approach for the Adelaide-born 39-year-old is made. Only then, you feel, will something disrupt the effortless pathway of success that Yorkshire are storming along.

Jon contributes sports content for Leeds Living, he is an established sports and lifestyle writer for various organisations, and is a twice published author.