YORKSHIRE coach Andrew Gale has dropped a heavy hint that teenage batsman Harry Brook will start the new County Championship season, although last year’s leading wicket-taker Ben Coad and England star Liam Plunkett will not be fit to face champions Essex in the opening game at Emerald Headingley, starting on Friday.
Gale has been impressed with England Under-19 captain Brook in pre-season, saying that he has “a good chance” of playing against Essex and “looks the real deal”.
But Coad (hip) and Plunkett (hamstring) are not quite ready for first-team action, with Plunkett hoping to step up his recovery in a four-day friendly for the second XI against Gloucestershire at Bristol from Tuesday, a game in which fellow pace bowler Coad could also feature.
Yorkshire have pace bowling options coming out of their ears, however, with the likes of Jack Brooks, David Willey, Tim Bresnan, Matthew Fisher and Steve Patterson, and they may opt for an all-pace attack against Essex, entrusting any slow bowling duties to a batsman in conditions unlikely to favour spinners.
Gale will run the final rule over his players in a hastily-arranged two-day friendly against Leicestershire at Grace Road from Monday, after Yorkshire’s three-day match against Leeds-Bradford MCCU at Headingley, due to start today, was called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
Gale confirmed that India Test star Cheteshwar Pujara will bat at No 3 against Essex on his return to the club and that captain Gary Ballance will slot in at No 4, with Brook among the candidates for a place below them in the middle order.
The 19-year-old Brook, who played four Championship matches last year and whose top score was 38 on debut against Middlesex at Lord’s, is challenging for the batting positions along with more experienced young players in the form of Jack Leaning and Tom Kohler-Cadmore.
“Harry Brook has had a fantastic pre-season and he’s got a good chance of starting against Essex,” said Gale.
“I felt a bit sorry for him last year because I know, as a young batter, that when you come into the side there shouldn’t be that pressure and expectation to score big runs on you when you first come in, and there was because the other lads weren’t performing.
“But, for me, he looks the real deal now and, since he’s come back from the Under-19 World Cup during the winter, I just see a confident cricketer who knows his own game better.
“I don’t want to put too much on him – the first two games are at Headingley, which are going to be a tough task for any batsman selected – but nothing fazes him and he’s almost got that naivety about him that young players have, that fearlessness that he can score runs against any opposition.”
Brook led England to the World Cup quarter-finals and was the side’s leading run-scorer with 239 in five innings. He missed a match for disciplinary reasons over what was understood to be a relatively minor indescretion, but the teenager who has not made a mistake has yet to be born.
“We’ve all made mistakes along the way,” said Gale. “He’s learnt his lesson and he’ll be better for it.
“Overall, the Under-19 World Cup helped him massively. Harry got so much confidence from it and he only got out once on our pre-season tour to South Africa as well.”
For me, he looks the real deal now and, since he’s come back from the Under-19 World Cup during the winter, I just see a confident cricketer who knows his own game better.Andrew Gale, on batsman Harry Brook
Gale is also backing the old firm of Adam Lyth and Alex Lees to rediscover their touch at the top of the order.
The openers struggled last year as Yorkshire’s batting laboured collectively, but the left-handers both have fine track records.
“Lythy’s record speaks for itself,” said Gale, “and from what I’ve seen from Alex, his desire and stubbornness for runs is coming through again.
“He’s had a good pre-season and come back much fitter and leaner, and he’s desperate to prove people wrong, and I think that he will.”
Gale is thrilled to have Pujara back on board.
The 30-year-old played briefly for the club in 2015 and has gone on to average 50 for India from 57 Tests.
“We’re crying out for someone to be consistent and, for a number of years, our overseas players have been ordinary,” said Gale. “In Pujara, we’ve got someone who’s experienced and whose record is fantastic.
“Last time he was here, it was only a short-term deal, but this time he’s with us for three months or so. He’s a more mature, experienced cricketer now and he’s fitted straight back in with the lads.”