Chris Waters: Proving that a ‘strong Yorkshire is a strong England’

Yorkshire's Adil Rashid has been called up by England (SWPIX).
Yorkshire's Adil Rashid has been called up by England (SWPIX).
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THEY say that “a strong Yorkshire is a strong England”, and although the national team’s strength could be debated, not so that of the county champions after six Yorkshire players were named in the Test squad to tour the West Indies.

Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Liam Plunkett, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid and Adam Lyth were picked in a 16-strong party that will contest the three Tests in Antigua, Grenada and Barbados.

It means that more than one-third of the squad is from LS6.

It is a remarkable level of representation.

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To Yorkshire falls the kudos of discovering and/or developing such talent but also now the challenge, for how do you lose six top players from your squad and still retain your strength and status as county champions?

In point of fact, Yorkshire will be without seven first-choice players for their opening Championship game at Worcestershire starting on April 12 – the day before the West Indies series begins – as captain Andrew Gale completes his ban for verbally abusing Lancashire’s Ashwell Prince at Old Trafford last summer.

Not many sides could afford to lose seven key players and remain competitive, yet Yorkshire are not unjustified in believing that they can rise to a difficult challenge.

Having predicted weeks ago that they would lose up to six players for the tour, they signed the Pakistan batsman Younus Khan as early-season cover (Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell and Kane Williamson will dovetail as overseas players later in the year) and identified potential replacements from within the present squad.

In reality, Yorkshire are only losing three players who were available to them for the majority of last year in Lyth, Rashid and Bairstow, with Root, Ballance and Plunkett having played Tests last summer, so the hit, so to speak, is only half as bad as it might initially seem.

Andrew Hodd could effectively replace Lyth/Bairstow as an opening batsman/wicketkeeper, while the highly-regarded left-arm spinner Karl Carver could step in for Rashid. And with five of the six players picked for the West Indies having come up through the Yorkshire Academy (only Plunkett did not), there are plenty more where they came from with all-rounder Will Rhodes, batsman Jonathan Tattersall and pace bowler Josh Shaw ready to prove that Yorkshire’s enviable production line shows no sign of abating.

It will be a challenge, certainly, but also a chance for some of the younger players to thrive in a competition in which likely challengers to Yorkshire’s crown do not immediately leap out.

Although Yorkshire will be under-strength for the three Championship games that coincide with the West Indies trip, with the club also visiting Nottinghamshire and hosting Warwickshire during that time, it is perhaps something of a red herring when it comes to considering their overall Championship prospects.

The real problem, indeed, is not so much being without key players for those games but what would happen should some of the more fringe selections for the West Indies (Lyth, Rashid, Bairstow) take their chance and cement their England places for the rest of the summer.

Yorkshire would be particularly hit should Lyth win what looks likely to be an early-tour shoot-off with Jonathan Trott in the West Indies to partner captain Alastair Cook at the top of the order and then keep hold of the opener’s place for the visit of New Zealand and Australia.

It does not take a genius to work out that you do not replace in a hurry 1,489 Championship runs at 67.68, with six hundreds and six fifties, which were Lyth’s statistics last summer. The inclusion of the Whitby-born player reflects well on England, who have picked him ahead of Sam Robson when it might have been tempting to stick with the status quo.

However, this is no time for timidity – there was too much of that at the World Cup – and fears that Lyth might have faded from selectorial thoughts in the six months since the end of last season have proved unfounded.

If Lyth can win the vote for the first Test, there is every reason to suspect that he will thrive on the flat pitches of the West Indies against a modest attack.

At 27, he is coming into his prime and his free-flowing strokeplay would be a more natural foil for Cook than that of the more sedately-paced Trott.

The really exciting Yorkshire pick, though, is Rashid, who has been quietly developing since his only other taste of international cricket in 2009, when he played five one-day internationals and five Twenty20 internationals.

With Moeen Ali out with a side strain (although possibly joining the squad later depending on his recovery), Rashid is battling it out with James Tredwell for the spinner’s berth.

It would be no surprise if the 27-year-old Yorkshireman won that scrap, just as it would be no surprise if he earned a place in the Ashes series too.

If Yorkshire were without Lyth and Rashid for much of the year, that would certainly make winning the Championship again so much harder.

Yorkshire, of course, are victims of their own success.

They have done a great job in developing England players – no county has developed more in recent times – and it is a credit to coaches such as Martyn Moxon, Jason Gillespie, Ian Dews and Richard Damms.

The congested nature of the cricket calendar means that England call-ups will always impact on clubs like Yorkshire, who have made no secret of their determination to create a dynasty of success to rival what they achieved in the Silver Sixties.

But whereas the likes of Fred Trueman, Brian Close, Ray Illingworth and Geoff Boycott played both county and Test cricket in the era before central contracts, it is a vastly different challenge faced by Moxon et al to make sure that the relentless desire for a strong England is not to the detriment of a strong Yorkshire.