MARTYN MOXON believes the County Championship has never been more wide open and says his newly-promoted Yorkshire team have got as much chance of winning it as anyone.
As Yorkshire prepare to fly to Barbados for a pre-season tour starting on Monday, Moxon said Yorkshire could defy their underdogs tag by winning English cricket’s greatest prize.
The bookmakers are not enthusiastic about Yorkshire’s chances; William Hill make them the second-least likely of the nine Division One counties at 9-1, with fellow promoted club Derbyshire rank outsiders at 20-1.
But with no apparently outstanding side in the division, and with confidence high at Headingley after last season’s success, Moxon believes Yorkshire have a great chance of winning their first title since 2001 – and only their second since the Brian Close-inspired glory days of the 1960s.
“The Championship is as wide open this year as it’s ever been,” said Moxon, who is gearing up for his seventh season as director of cricket since returning to the club from Durham.
“If you were to ask me who are our main threats, then I would say everybody, and if you were to ask me who might go down, then I would say everybody could potentially go down.
“It really is that close to call, and the First Division this year is going to be incredibly competitive.
“There is nobody you would say is definitely going to win it or anyone you would say is definitely going to get relegated, and I believe we’ve got as much chance of winning it as anyone.”
The title would represent a dream way to mark Yorkshire’s 150th anniversary year.
Moxon denied there was extra pressure because of the landmark and said his side were simply looking forward to the challenge.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any extra pressure on us this year compared to any other year, and it’s just a case of going out there and giving it our best shot,” he added.
“We might have a little bit of a point to prove after 2011, I guess, when we got relegated, but we just want to play with the same desire and determination that took us back up.
“Of course, it would be fantastic to win the Championship in our 150th anniversary and very much the icing on the cake.
“Everyone knows it’s a tough tournament to win, but the squad we’ve got on paper is definitely capable if all the players perform to their potential.”
As ever, it will be important to hit the ground running, with three of Yorkshire’s first four Championship games taking place at Headingley. Moxon’s men open the season at home to Sussex on April 10 before visiting Durham, after which Derbyshire and Somerset visit Leeds.
“If we are going to win the Championship, then getting off to a good start could be very important,” he said. “Early success breeds confidence.
“If you don’t start well you are under pressure, you don’t relax as much and things can go in the opposite direction. We want to lay down a marker and get on a roll.”
Yorkshire will spend the first of two weeks in Barbados training and playing a two-day game among themselves.
In the second week they will defend the Barbados Twenty20 Cup they won last year, a triumph that triggered some outstanding performances in domestic T20.
Yorkshire are joined in Barbados this time by Derbyshire, Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and two local teams. After the T20 contest, they conclude their trip with a brace of two-day friendlies against Derbyshire and Notts.
“Last year’s trip to Barbados helped to set us up for a really good season and hopefully that will happen again,” said Moxon.
“In recent years, going over there has become an important part of our preparations and given us an opportunity to get some cricket under our belts.
“The reason we go to Barbados is because we’re guaranteed good weather and the chance to play on grass. Ultimately, you can do all the training you like in the indoor nets, but there is nothing like time in the middle or a day in the field.”
Yorkshire are taking a full complement of players to the Caribbean minus Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, who are on England duty, and batsman Gary Ballance, who has been granted time off after returning from the England Lions tour of Australia.
New bowling recruits Liam Plunkett – himself back from Australia after a stint in club cricket – and Jack Brooks will be hoping to press their claims for a starting place, while the party includes youngsters Will Rhodes, Ben Coad and Lewis Stabler.
Preparing for the new campaign...
Barbados tour itinerary
March 13-14: Two-day inter-squad friendly at 3Ws Oval.
March 16: Barbados T20 Cup v Hampshire, venue TBC.
March 17: Barbados T20 Cup semi-finals/final, venue TBC.
March 19-20: Two-day friendly v Derbyshire at Windward CC.
March 22-23: Two-day friendly v Nottinghamshire at Windward CC.
Division One title odds
County Championship, Division One odds supplied by William Hill.