YORKSHIRE have been dealt a blow with the news that pace bowler Ryan Sidebottom has been ruled out for a month with a calf injury.
The former England man will miss the rest of Yorkshire’s Twenty20 Cup group campaign and up to three County Championship matches at a critical phase of the season.
The club are well-placed to reach Twenty20 Finals Day for the first time, having stormed to the top of the North Group with four wins from six games.
And they are handily positioned to achieve their No 1 objective and the one that matters most to their members – that of Championship promotion.
Yorkshire are third in the Championship Second Division, level on points with second-placed Kent and 32 points behind leaders Derbyshire, on whom they have a game in hand.
Sidebottom, who has performed terrifically since his return to the county last summer, was forced to sit out Wednesday’s Twenty20 match against Leicestershire at Grace Road, with tests revealing the extent of the damage to his right calf.
The 34-year-old, who has signed a one-year contract extension to the end of the 2014 season, will miss tonight’s showpiece Twenty20 game against Lancashire at Headingley Carnegie (5.40pm start), along with the Twenty20 fixtures at Nottinghamshire (July 5), Lancashire (July 6) and at home to Derbyshire (July 8), which completes the group phase.
More importantly, Sidebottom could miss the Championship matches at Hampshire (July 11-14), Derbyshire (July 18-21) and Leicestershire (July 27-30), while the away game at Northamptonshire (Aug 1-4) falls close to that period.
The situation is exacerbated by the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the availability of overseas player Mitchell Starc.
Yorkshire are thought unlikely to see much of the left-arm pace bowler after their final Twenty20 group match due to his involvement in the Australia A tour of England, which runs from July 27 to August 14.
Although there is a gap between the end of the Twenty20s and the start of that tour, it is thought Starc may be needed for strength and conditioning work.
Yorkshire are keen to hang on to the 22-year-old for as long as possible and would jump at any chance to have him back, however briefly, later in the summer.
After a slightly slow start (understandable given his unfamiliarity with the Dukes ball and the fact he had to travel around the world owing to complications with his visa), Starc has bowled very well of late and become an important part of the side.
He has operated at high pace, while he showed an old head on young shoulders to close out the game on Wednesday, claiming two wickets from the final two balls as Yorkshire grabbed a four-run win.
All of which means Yorkshire could be without Sidebottom and Starc for key Championship fixtures next month.
However, with pace bowler Moin Ashraf, 20, having performed well in Twenty20, the club will be confident of filling the void.
Also on the treatment table is captain Andrew Gale, who has missed the last three Twenty20 fixtures with a hip injury.
Gale will not play this evening, with Azeem Rafiq set to continue as stand-in, and he will be reassessed ahead of Yorkshire’s subsequent game, the floodlit encounter against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on Thursday.
While matters boil up nicely on the field, with Yorkshire having reserved their best cricket of the season for the crash-bang-wallop, off the field the club are hoping for a bumper crowd for tonight’s Roses encounter.
It is a game that could make Yorkshire more money from gate receipts than the whole of their Championship home matches combined, with potential income of £100,000 minus costs.
A five-figure crowd will be present at Headingley, although plenty of tickets are available.
Charles Hartwell, Yorkshire’s finance director, said the match is the most significant of the summer in a financial sense. “It will be our biggest crowd of the season and a big boost to us financially,” he said.
“Last year, we had about 12,000 people for the corresponding game, and it’s a match that could be worth around £100,000 to us as a top-line figure, not including costs.
“Yorkshire versus Lancashire is the biggest Twenty20 match in the country and it remains one of the biggest rivalries in cricket.”
One man who would love to sample that rivalry again, albeit from a different perspective, is Ajmal Shahzad, the Lancashire pace bowler on loan from Yorkshire.
However, Shahzad is prevented from playing in games between the sides due to the terms of his loan agreement, while he has a rib injury in any case.
Yorkshire (from): Lyth, Jaques, Root, Miller, Ballance, Pyrah, Brophy, Rashid, Rafiq (capt), Starc, Ashraf, Wardlaw, Patterson.
Cook in guarded response over treble prospects
England are only 12 days, and five wins, away from making cricket history as the first team to reach the top of the world in all three formats.
An unlikely whitewash of one-day international table-toppers Australia is ‘all’ it will take for Alastair Cook’s team to add 50-over supremacy to their No 1 rankings at Test and Twenty20 level.
Cook was having little of that dangerous talk, though, as he also batted aside suggestions that the NatWest Series, starting at Lord’s today, might somehow have a significant bearing on next summer’s Ashes.
World Twenty20 champions England became the International Cricket Council’s first official table-toppers when rankings for the shortest format were inaugurated just before Christmas.
They remain the No 1 Test team, despite their winter’s travails against Pakistan, but face a significant defence of that mantle against South Africa later this summer.
Before then, an unprecedented world-beating treble is up for grabs – until tonight, at least.
England have won their past six ODI series on home soil, but Cook is hardly gung-ho about the chances of a 5-0 victory over Australia.
“Let’s not get too carried away,” he said. “It’s the start of a series against the current world No 1 side.
“They’re a very good side and they’ve proved that over a number of years. That’s why they’re at the top of the rankings.
“It would be an amazing achievement. We are very much a developing one-day side and we’re desperate to keep going up the rankings.
“But... we have got plenty of stuff to keep improving on. Over the next 12 days we have a chance to do that.”
England last week completed an unexpectedly comfortable 2-0 ODI series win over the West Indies, and then beat those same opponents in a one-off Twenty20 at Trent Bridge.
There are still three teams, however, ahead of them in the ODI table and opening batsman Cook’s assessment of England’s prospects is studied and cautious.