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Yorkshire Cricket's return to winning ways

22 September 2015
Yorkshire Cricket's return to winning ways
The plaudits keep coming for Yorkshire’s double Championship-winning heroes, and Thursday’s unlikely five wicket victory over relegation-threatened Hampshire demonstrated some of the key attributes that have seen the White Rose county cruise to the title for a second consecutive year.

The latest proud boast is a record points total, with the 19 collected for the win over Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl taking Yorkshire to 265, the most collected since the LV County Championship was divided into two divisions in 2000. With one game still remaining this is indeed a remarkable achievement by Yorkshire, and they could post a formidable points total for future teams to beat, with a home fixture against Sussex closing the season next week.

If such records exist, it is likely that Yorkshire will also be close to having won the title with the least number of overs bowled over a season. Several games have been concluded without the need for the final day, and with the Championship mathematically clinched on the first day of the game with Middlesex at Lords last week, there were effectively three whole games of the season remaining.

This theme continued with Thursday’s victory over Hampshire, with all but 7.4 overs of day three wiped out owing to rain and bad light. On this occasion, however, circumstances dictated that Yorkshire was given something of a helping hand to win the game. Firstly, the weather intervened with Hampshire holding a 318-run lead and Yorkshire already four cheap wickets down. Secondly, Hampshire’s precarious position in the relegation zone meant they had to force a result at the beginning of day four, when a draw looked otherwise most likely.

From such a grim-looking position for Yorkshire, the two captains contrived a solution that certainly benefitted Andrew Gale’s men and provided the gamble Hampshire needed. Yorkshire declared at the 97-4 they remained on from the soggy day three and Hampshire forfeited their second innings to set up a 304 run-chase; the only way they could claim the points they so badly needed. It was an agreement that could have been viewed with scepticism by rival captains had Hampshire won the contest, but as it was Yorkshire turned the screw and took advantage of the generous gift, albeit not without an early scare.

At 37-3 it was looking good for Hampshire. The indifferent form of both Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance continued, with cheap wickets falling (for 12 and 17 runs respectively) which, in addition to the loss of opener Alex Lees, left Yorkshire staring down the barrel of a second consecutive Championship defeat, having strolled to the title previously undefeated.

However, a textbook captain’s innings of 125 from Andrew Gale – fittingly intrepid in the week that former Yorkshire captain Brian Close sadly passed away - turned the game, and Yorkshire’s best-case scenario of a gritty draw slowly evolved into a winnable pursuit. Jack Leaning joined Gale to continue his productive season, and the pair added 190 in 61 overs before both fell to Fidel Edwards.

It still left Yorkshire with some work to do, but as has so often happened this season a saviour came to the rescue, and once again it was 30-year-old Tim Bresnan, who supplemented his most productive season with the bat with an undefeated 35, ably supported by Andrew Hodd with 17. Yorkshire clinched the win with 305-5 and just 4.4 overs left.

Bresnan’s 35 runs takes him into eighth place in the county batting averages, above Yorkshire’s front line batsmen such as Leaning, Gale and Lees. An impressive batting average of 51.87 has included two 100s and three 50s, and while Bresnan’s batting has always been a major feature of his game, Thursday’s steady innings at a hazardous juncture comes after a number of match-winning innings this season. Although Bresnan remains a significant part of Yorkshire’s seam attack – with 40 championship wickets to his name this season, at an average of 32.64 - it may be that he is now considered more of an asset to Yorkshire as a batsman than a bowler.

Yorkshire now closes their season at Headingley Carnegie against Sussex, and thoughts are already turning towards England’s first winter tour and the inevitable inclusion of Yorkshire’s high-profile names. Centrally-contracted Joe Root has long since been written out of coach Jason Gillespie’s plans, but Yorkshire has enjoyed the services of Adam Lyth, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett at various stages this season, while they flit in and out of England’s various teams. Indeed, Bairstow has enjoyed a hugely impressive season with his home county, standing in second place in the county batting averages with 13 innings resulting in a very healthy average of 107.

Such form has resulted in Bairstow being selected for the October and November three-test series against Pakistan in the UAE. In fact a whole quarter of England’s 16-man squad comes from Yorkshire, with Root, Rashid and Plunkett joining Bairstow in the test squad. Further highlighting Yorkshire’s stock is the inclusion of all-rounder David Willey – set to join Yorkshire from Northants for the 2016 season – in the T20 squad, for which Root and Rashid are also selected. Bairstow has been selected for the ODI series along with Root and Rashid, but omitted from the T20s.

Notable by their absence are Yorkshire batsmen Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance after they each endured a difficult Ashes summer against the Aussies. Opener Lyth scored just 115 runs in five tests – averaging 12.77 runs - and has been replaced by Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales, while Ballance played just two tests in the triumphant but patchy Ashes win, finishing with an average of 24.5.

Certainly Gillespie will welcome the chance to protect his batsmen from the England limelight, and work on the mental strength and sparkling batting that both contributed to Yorkshire’s initial LV Championship win in 2014. If that happens – England re-selection aside – you would be a fool to bet against Yorkshire being the first triple Championship winners since a certain Leeds-born Brian Close captained the Tykes to three triumphs between 1966 and 1968.

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