“CATCHES win matches” is one of cricket’s oldest sayings.
It is a message that Martyn Moxon is enforcing as Yorkshire gear up for the final weeks of the County Championship season.
Yorkshire’s catching – normally one of their stronger suits – has at times let them down this summer.
It did so in their last game against Durham, when opportunities of varying difficulty were dropped on the final day at Headingley as the champions held out for a draw in a match that Yorkshire dominated.
As Yorkshire prepared to return to Championship action against Middlesex at Scarborough today, director of cricket Moxon highlighted this area as one that Yorkshire must improve if they are to go one better than last season’s second-placed finish.
For with the title race tighter than a Scotsman’s wallet, the former Yorkshire and England opening batsman knows only too well that fine margins could ultimately prove decisive.
With Yorkshire’s three main rivals all winning last week (Nottinghamshire, Somerset and Warwickshire), a dropped chance here or a missed opportunity there could have potentially decisive consequences.
Conversely, a side that seize their opportunities can steal a march in the all-important run-in.
“We missed a few chances against Durham and that’s one of the biggest areas for me going into the final five Championship games,” said Moxon. “We’ve got to make sure that we take as many chances as we can as that could be the difference between winning the Championship and not winning it.
“I think it’s been a slightly disappointing feature of our cricket this year that we have dropped quite a lot of catches, certainly more than we would like.
“You’re going to drop the odd one, that’s normal, but we’ve dropped more than we would have wanted, and that’s something we need to be better at.”
Yorkshire dropped four on the last day against Durham, although three fell into the category marked “half-chances”.
At the same time, as captain Andrew Gale said afterwards, you have to take half-chances, too, to win the Championship.
What those missed opportunities reflected was something true of Yorkshire’s cricket in general this year: namely, that they have not quite hit absolute top gear.
It is a tribute to them, in fact, that they are still riding high in the Championship – and they would go back on top again next week with a win – without hitting completely maximum stride.
“There are most definitely areas we can improve,” said Moxon.
“Our batting has generally been good, although there have been little collapses here and there, and our bowling has generally been good, although there have been periods when we’ve lost our way a little bit.
“You’re always aiming for the perfect performance, and I thought the win we had down at Edgbaston recently was outstanding – particularly with the number of key players we had missing.
“But, overall, we’ve got to be pleased with the way we’ve gone so far, but clearly we’ve not achieved anything yet.”
That final point is significant.
For as well as Yorkshire have played, Moxon is conscious that they have not yet got their hands on any silverware.
“The results last week weren’t ideal for us, with the teams around us all winning, but you’ve got to expect that and it showed that to win the Championship you’ve got to play well for seven months,” he added.
“We’ve played well up to now but are by no means certain of winning anything yet and we have to keep going. But it’s in our hands, and that’s the only thing you can hope for really, so you can control your destiny as much as possible.
“If we win this game, we go back to the top of the table, and the lads are well up for it and looking forward to playing at Scarborough again.”
Two of Yorkshire’s final five games are at Scarborough, something that could play into their hands if they get pitches that provide good pace and carry.
The Yorkshire players always enjoy performing at North Marine Road, one of the world’s most picturesque outgrounds.
“Everyone loves to go to Scarborough and, hopefully, it will bring the best out in us,” said Moxon. “It’s a ground that’s capable of producing results and, hopefully, the pitch will have good pace and carry. That’s all we want from our pitches, whether at Headingley or Scarborough, and if we get four good days of weather I’m sure it will be an exciting match.
“We got one result there last year in a great game of cricket against Durham – although not the result we wanted, obviously –and, hopefully, we can get a better result this time.”
Three wins from their last five games should give Yorkshire an excellent chance of going all the way.
After this week’s match, they play Sussex at Scarborough (August 15-18), Lancashire at Old Trafford (August 31-September 3), Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge (September 9-12) and Somerset at Headingley (September 23-26).
Play starts at noon today and at 11.00am on all other days.