“ALEX LEES should be captaining England now and Will Rhodes is the next Ian Botham.”
A visit from Dickie Bird to the press box rarely fails to produce a line.
The Yorkshire president was in fine form yesterday, extolling the virtues of the Yorkshire players and delivering juicy soundbites to journalists.
Last year, Dickie said that just about every Yorkshire player should be in the England team including Kane Williamson, who felt obliged to point out to the former umpire that this might be difficult seeing as he actually represents New Zealand.
The underlying point is that Dickie loves the Yorkshire players, just as the Yorkshire players love Dickie.
Sometimes the great man’s affection spills over into contentions that might not chime with popular opinion outside the Broad Acres, but his advocacy of Lees – at least as an England Test player – is one that could gain increasing momentum if the 22-year-old maintains his rate of development.
“I would make Lees the England Test captain now,” said Bird as he watched the left-hander score an even 100 on day two at Trent Bridge, helping Yorkshire to 226-3 in reply to Nottinghamshire’s 428.
“I’d open with Lees and Adam Lyth, and I’d have no qualms about putting Lees as captain in place of Alastair Cook.
“Lees has done a great job of leading Yorkshire when Andrew Gale has been unavailable, and his batting is going from strength to strength.
“Make no mistake, that lad should be England captain now.”
On a day when Yorkshire showed the resilience of champions, recovering from a disappointing first day when they conceded 393-7 despite winning the toss, Lees showed there are more contenders for an England opener’s spot than the likes of Lyth and Jonathan Trott.
There are those who believe that Lees, five years younger than Lyth at 22, is a better bet than his county colleague, who was left out of the first Test against the West Indies in Antigua last week in a decision that highlighted England’s safety-first strategy.
Indeed, if you were selecting the England Test team on form, a Lees-Lyth opening combination would appear more likely to flourish than that of Cook and Trott, while Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid would surely not be carrying the drinks, which is another story.
Lees is not so much coming up on the rails as steaming along them with performances likely to bring him into Test contention sooner rather than later, and this innings would have done little to harm his cause.
Having opened the Championship campaign with scores of 87 and 52 not out at Worcester, where he led Yorkshire to a 10-wicket win in Gale’s absence, Lees carried on from where he left off.
After Yorkshire needed only 50 minutes to wrap up the hosts’ innings, with Steve Patterson bowling Alex Hales after he had added 14 to his overnight 222, and Jack Brooks and Tim Bresnan each claiming a wicket, Lees was immediately into his stride.
He struck the first ball of the reply from Vernon Philander to the cover boundary in front of the Larwood and Voce stand and received attractive support from Rhodes, whom Bird believes could ultimately follow in the footsteps of England’s greatest all-rounder.
Whether that happens remains to be seen, but what cannot be questioned is that Rhodes, who bats left-handed and bowls right-arm medium-fast, is a player of potential.
A feature of his fluent 41 yesterday, which followed an unbeaten 45 on Championship debut at Worcester, was the seemingly effortless way in which he worked the ball off his legs, and he scored at a good lick too, facing only 62 balls and striking seven boundaries.
Rhodes’s departure to a catch at second slip by Samit Patel off Harry Gurney from a mistimed drive brought to the crease Cheteshwar Pujara, who made a six-ball duck on his Yorkshire Championship debut at New Road.
The Indian overseas player, nicknamed “Steve” by his Yorkshire colleagues as they find “Cheteshwar” neither the catchiest name nor the easiest to remember, was in no mood to miss out again as he chipped in with a useful 57.
It was not a faultless display – Nottinghamshire were convinced they had him caught behind on 15 off Jake Ball; he was badly dropped on 37 by Riki Wessels at first slip off Philander, and he eventually fell in tame fashion, chipping Patel to mid-wicket.
But it was an innings that will give him confidence, while his stand of 116 in 44 overs with Lees was valuable in the context of the match.
As well as he played, particularly through the offside, Lees also had his moments of luck.
Patel put him down low to his right at second slip off Philander on 59, and then shelled him off his own bowling on 79.
Lees finally fell when he followed one from Will Gidman that was taken by Chris Read, the wicketkeeper’s 850th dismissal for Nottinghamshire.
Both sides have missed chances in this game – Yorkshire did not make good use of helpful bowling conditions on day one, while Nottinghamshire have dropped catches – to leave the contest intriguingly poised.