Durham v Yorkshire: Fighting spirit key in battle to beat the drop

IT is a statement of the flaming obvious that Yorkshire need to get their act together in the second half of the County Championship season.

That starts this morning against Durham at Chester-le-Street with third-bottom Yorkshire just one place and 14 points above the relegation zone.

With the two teams below them, Worcestershire and Hampshire, having one and two games in hand, respectively, Yorkshire face a battle to avoid the drop.

Just one year after they nearly won the title, it is hardly the position they hoped to be in.

Yorkshire’s first eight games have brought the disappointing return of one win, three draws and four defeats, their sole victory coming at Worcestershire in the opening match.

That result has proved the deepest of red herrings, with Yorkshire a shadow of the side that finished third last season.

The loss of star batsman Jacques Rudolph has had a predictably unsettling effect but few would have envisaged that so many players who performed well last summer would struggle to hit the same high standards.

Indeed, the inconsistencies that did not materialise from a young side last year have now done so with a vengeance, meaning Yorkshire can in no way take their First Division status for granted.

On the face of it, a journey to the Championship leaders is the last thing they need as they look to inspire a turnaround in fortunes.

On paper, it is the hardest of their remaining eight games but Yorkshire have happy memories of the Chester-le-Street venue, where they chalked-up a notable four-wicket victory last year.

For Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire’s director of professional cricket, there is reason for optimism that the second half of the season will prove better than the first half.

Moxon admits Yorkshire have not quite been at the races so far but believes improved results are just around the corner.

“We’ve more than held our own at various stages of several games, which is something we can draw encouragement from,” he said.

“Individually, there have been some very good performances during the course of the season, but, collectively, we have not yet played to our capabilities.

“There’s nobody I would say, for example, from a batting point of view who is particularly out of form at the present moment.

“The problem has just been that players have got themselves out after getting themselves in and that we have gone back to that old difficulty we had a couple of seasons ago of losing too many wickets in clusters.

“Rarely, for example, have we had four or five batsmen coming off at the same time.

“It’s just been one or two players doing well and the rest finding it difficult, and then perhaps a different couple of players doing well in the next match.

“The bottom line is we haven’t played well enough for long enough.

“We’ve played well for periods but not for long enough to win a match, and we’ve played poorly for long enough to lose matches.”

One thing Yorkshire have in their favour is fighting spirit, which augurs well if their season continues in difficult vein.

They are not the sort of side to lie down meekly.

“That was shown for me by the fact we didn’t lose against Sussex at Hove in our last Championship match,” added Moxon.

“The lads showed great fighting spirit not to get beaten because it was a game we could easily have lost – particularly with our confidence having taken a bit of a knock after losing our previous two Championship fixtures.

“For me, the way we fought at Hove was a really good sign because it showed the character and fighting spirit are there.

“There is disappointment and frustration within the camp – I’m not going to hide that – but there is also a fierce determination to put things right.”

Moxon believes the key to a revival is simple.

Namely, players need to start performing to their capabilities.

“What we have got to do is execute our skills better,” he said.

“At the minute, there is perhaps just that little bit of fear, which is always created when you don’t win games.

“All of a sudden, you find there’s a fear of failure, a fear of making a mistake, and you don’t quite relax and go out and play with the same authority.

“Confidence is just that little bit lower than it would have been if we’d won three or four games on the bounce but, at the end of the day, it’s only us that can change that situation.

“The good news is there’s still a hell of a lot of cricket to be played.

“A lot can change during the second half of the season.

“Last year, everything ran smoothly but that hasn’t been the case so far this year.

“We’ve had no consistency of selection because of injuries and now we face a challenge to turn things around.”

Adam Lyth is recalled after missing the match at Sussex, with Joe Sayers the man to make way.

Rich Pyrah is set for his first Championship appearance in five games following his recovery from a knee injury.

England seam bowler Tim Bresnan is not fit to play in this match but will travel with the squad as he steps up his training and recovery programme following a calf injury.

Yorkshire hope Bresnan will return to action in Friday’s Twenty20 Cup game against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.