Comment - Ashes 2017-18: Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow headline intriguing Yorkshire subplot to the Ashes

BARELY an international match goes by these days without some sort of Yorkshire involvement/interest.

Formidable duo: Yorkshire team-mates Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow sharing the crease for England in 2013. By their own admission, they were just young kids back then but they return to Australia as much more seasoned and capable international cricketers. (Picture: PA)

The first Ashes Test in Brisbane will be no different, with five past or present Yorkshire players set to go head-to-head at the Gabba on Thursday – England’s Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, plus Australia’s Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Starc.

It might have been six ‘Yorkies’ out of the 22 names on show, but Gary Ballance, the Yorkshire captain, has yet to feature on the tour, with Dawid Malan booked in to bat for England at No 5.

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Even so, with almost a quarter of the Ashes combatants having worn the famous White Rose, there are intriguing side issues to the plot from a parochial perspective.

If England are to triumph Down Under for only the second time in just over three decades, much is likely to depend on Root.

Both as captain and batsman, Root could be key to a successful series and is leading what he describes as “a completely different side” to the one whitewashed on England’s last visit to Australia four years ago.

Back then, Root was among those blown away by the Australian juggernaut led by pace bowler Mitchell Johnson, managing only 192 runs in four Tests at an average of 27 and losing his place for the last game in Sydney.

“I wasn’t ready,” admitted the Sheffield-born player, who turned 23 during that series and has since become one of the world’s best batsmen.

Australia's Peter Handscomb played for Yorkshire this summer.

Another who admits that he was “only a young kid” back in 2013-14 is Bairstow, who is also vital to England’s chances this time.

Parachuted in for the last two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney, with England already 3-0 down and the Ashes gone, the then 24-year-old had a difficult baptism.

Back then, Bairstow had not kept wicket for Yorkshire for a full season, and the subsequent transformation in his game – both as a keeper and batsman –has been vast.

So much so, he is set to make his 50th Test appearance in the last game of the forthcoming series at Sydney, now an established cog in the England wheel.

Shaun Marsh batting for Yorkshire in 2017 (Picture:

Bairstow promises to be significant this winter, particularly in the absence of all-rounder Ben Stokes.

While that situation rumbles on interminably, like the cricketing equivalent of Brexit, the onus will be on the Yorkshireman to perform with the bat as well as the gloves.

At 28, one senses that this could be Bairstow’s time to make a major impact on the Ashes scene.

Certainly, England have much more to their batting armoury than Root and former captain Alastair Cook, as Bairstow hopes to show from No 6.

Australia bowler Mitchell Starc

For their part, Australia will be keen to show that they also have more to their batting armoury than Steve Smith and David Warner, their two acknowledged “world-class” players.

Much will depend on the supporting cast of Handscomb and Marsh, both of whom played for Yorkshire last season, and who are set for No 5 and No 6 respectively.

Neither, it must be said, pulled up trees during their time at Headingley – shaking branches rather than dismantling forests.

Handscomb hit 441 runs in nine County Championship games at an average of 33, and although Marsh ended the season with a flourish and 203 runs in the match against Surrey at the Oval, he had hitherto been steady as opposed to spectacular.

Marsh has continued his good form for Western Australia, however, winning his eighth international recall at the age of 34 as the hosts have opted to go with experience.

Marsh’s 23 Tests have been spread over six years, and he gets his latest chance in preference to another former Yorkshire player in all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, who could have given the hosts an extra bowling option.

Australia's Peter Handscomb played for Yorkshire this summer.

In choosing Marsh and wicketkeeper Tim Paine – a 32-year-old Tasmanian who has not played Test cricket for seven years – Australia have courted widespread derision.

Australia national selector Trevor Hohns, nicknamed “Cracker” in his playing days, has been re-nicknamed “Crackers” by some sections of the Australian public, while former Australia leg-spinner Stuart MacGill branded the selectors “morons masquerading as mentors” in a typically forthright and entertaining take on the matter.

The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the eating, but few would question Handscomb’s potential, averaging, as he does, 53 from 10 Tests despite an eccentric technique that sees him operate from deep in the crease.

Starc, the left-arm pace bowler who played 16 games for Yorkshire in 2012, helping them to their first T20 Finals Day, is Australia’s main bowling weapon and intends to have a similar impact on this series as did Johnson in 2013-14.

At 27, Starc should be at the peak of his powers and will spearhead a formidable pace attack.

But, when the talking has stopped and the battle is done, will it be Yorkshire’s English or Australian connection who are smiling?

Shaun Marsh batting for Yorkshire in 2017 (Picture:
Australia bowler Mitchell Starc