IT is not only Yorkshire’s all-conquering first-team which is in the rudest health at Headingley.
Often it is said that the secret of a club’s strength is in what lies underneath in terms of players lining up to challenge the existing order in the near future – and if that is the case, then Yorkshire are blessed.
While first-team bosses can reflect on a wholly positive past few seasons, joyously culminating in the County Championship coming home last month, the academy hierarchy are also enjoying a veritable harvest.
It culminated in the side this year breaking York’s seven-season ECB Yorkshire League title hegemony, with the League Cup added to the trophy cabinet for good measure in a season when the academy achieved an unprecedented league and cup double.
Such was the extent of the academy’s success that, as with the first-team, they took the regular departure of players to the international ranks comfortably in their stride, with others stepping in consummately.
It is something Yorkshire’s cricket development director Ian Dews is justifiably proud of.
Not that the academy have had everything their own way, with the side showing commendable character particularly in their League Cup final win against Barnsley, when they were on the ropes at 24-4 when opening and also left with plenty to do when the Shaw Laners were 88 without loss, chasing 187 to win.
Key contributions arrived at important junctures, as they did throughout the season, Elliot Callis stepping up with a classy 86 and then Josh Shaw later taking a hat-trick, with the academy’s strength across the board pronounced.
Dews told The Yorkshire Post: “I have been involved a long time and the last time we had a group probably as strong as this is the current (first-team) group up above in Bresnan, Gale, and Pyrah. They played a similar brand of cricket like we do now and also did not fear anybody and they backed themselves and did not know when they were beaten.
“The performance in the League Cup final shows that they did not know they were beaten and that is the bottom line.
“We expected to be up there challenging in the league, without a doubt. What has pleased me more than anything is that when we lost six lads to England for a month to five weeks, we lost just one game after bringing in the youngsters.
“When the lads came back from England, we were able to say: ‘Come on, guys; the pressure is on you’ because the young ones were able to fill their slots.
“Where we have the academy lads putting pressure on the pro squad in the second team, we had the youngsters putting pressure on the academy lads, which is where we want to be.
“It is not easy telling a good player that somebody has actually played better than you this week and that you have to perform and do it.
“But as I keep saying to Jason (Gillespie), I am not paid for that pressure, I give that to you and you have to leave them out at top end. It is easy to leave them out at the academy, because I can say: ‘Oh, you will play next week.’”
In the recent past, the maxim of ‘If you’re young enough, you’re good enough’ has been adhered to by the White Rose, with first-team coach Jason Gillespie showing no hesitation in blooding youth and if he comes knocking on Dews’s door in 2015, he can be sure of several more candidates being ready to step up.
The academy’s ultimate raison d’etre is to provide homegrown stars of the future for the first team and Yorkshire cricket lovers can rest assured that there are many fresh-faced talents ready to move into the academy breach when others move up.
On the academy star turns of the summer, Dews added: “The ones who stand out, without a doubt, are the England guys, with the likes of Karl Carver having played a Championship game and Josh Shaw having also been in the first-team squad without playing.
“He (Shaw) has certainly been the next bowling ‘cab off the rank’ with Will Rhodes, who has had a great year with the England Under-19s. They are not picked for England without good reason.
“We have had other performances from the likes of Elliott Callas and Ryan Gibson when the England lads were away.
“The senior academy lads have stood up and delivered. Barney Gibson has been outstanding too.
“He is a ‘keeper in the engine room and his glovework is as good as anything we have got at the club. He just now needs to score a few runs and get an opportunity to put some pressure on Hodgson, Hodd and Bairstow.”
The first-team may still be basking in the glow of last season’s title high and the academy squad also reflecting on the most wholesome of years, but they turn their attentions to next season’s journey pretty shortly. For Dews, it means ensuring the best of his academy boys are in immaculate order to be ready for any first and second XI calls that may come next spring and do not bet against a fair few opportunities presenting themselves.
He said: “We don’t get to rest that long. The pros start back on the 10th of November and the academy start just before then.
“Our challenge is quite clear, if we are lucky enough and three, four or five get picked to go with England to the West Indies, then we have got to get the next group ready to play first-class or second team cricket.
“This winter will be quite a challenge to us.
“If all the lads are going to be available and we have 25 players all fighting for a place, the pressure is off a little bit.
“But if you have just 10 or 12 pro players available, you need the others ready as you do not want to be going into a championship and defending it with young players who have not had a lot of input put into them.”