THERE was a moment at Worcester last week when you feared that a potential banana skin game for Yorkshire was going to turn out just that way.
The champions were 217-7 in their second innings in reply to newly-promoted Worcestershire’s 311 when an already precarious position suddenly got worse.
Yorkshire’s leading bowler, Ryan Sidebottom, set off for a single and then pulled up in pain after injuring his left calf.
The former England man was forced to retire hurt and although he later resumed his innings with the help of a runner, the injury – now set to keep him out for several weeks – clearly meant he would be unable to bowl for the rest of the match.
Trailing by almost 100 runs and a bowler down, having actually been 193-7 when Sidebottom came to the crease, Yorkshire were in danger of making a losing start to their title defence.
With six players away with England and captain Andrew Gale suspended, they effectively had eight players missing, including Sidebottom.
What happened next showed the character and quality in Yorkshire’s side.
Tim Bresnan played a terrific innings of 83, helping Yorkshire to a final total just four runs short of Worcestershire’s first innings, and Jack Brooks supported him with a key contribution of 26.
When Worcestershire batted again, Brooks (4-28) blew away the top order and Steve Patterson (5-11) cleaned up the rest as the hosts were dismissed for exactly 100.
Chasing a paltry 105, Yorkshire romped home by 10 wickets courtesy of acting captain Alex Lees (52) and Championship debutant Will Rhodes (45), completing an emphatic win inside three days.
Small wonder Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie described it as “one of the best wins I’ve ever been involved in”.
Although there were several contenders for man-of-the-match, the unofficial recipient of that award was probably Brooks.
Having captured 5-56 in the first innings, the man affectionately known as ‘The Headband Warrior’ finished with career-best match figures of 9-84.
Throw in his contribution with the bat, when he and Bresnan combined in a crucial stand, and Brooks was understandably pleased not only with the team’s start to the season but also his own.
As he prepared for tomorrow’s match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, which should provide a sterner test for Yorkshire’s depleted side, Brooks believes Yorkshire have issued a statement of intent.
“Missing seven players and Siddy going down, to win the game so convincingly in the end was quite ridiculous really,” he said.
“Worcestershire were not a poor side by any means. They competed and they were on top of us for patches in that game. But in Division One, if you lose a session heavily, it can cost you the game, and that’s what happened from their point of view.
“To be honest, I think it was important for us to win at least one of the first three games while the England guys are away.
“If we’d got battered, we’d be staring down the barrel a bit without those guys early season, but now we’ve got a win first game of the season, which we hadn’t managed in the last two years when we finished second and first, we’re already in a better position than we were last year.
“We’re a very confident team, and we proved it again. We’ve got guys in the side who can really nail down a session, and that’s what enabled us to get on top of Worcestershire in the end.”
Few can “nail down a session” more convincingly than Brooks, one of the game’s more eye-catching cricketers.
The trademark long hair might have gone during the winter to be replaced by what Brooks calls “a tidy barnet that probably makes me look a bit more approachable”, but the famous headband remains in position – not to mention the aggression that underpins often dramatic spells.
Brooks is always animated on the field – he celebrates his wickets with the unbridled joy of a man who has won a year’s subscription to The Yorkshire Post – and has continued from where he left off last season, when he took 68 wickets.
He wants to play a similarly important role this time around.
“Winning the Championship is always the No 1 goal, while my personal goal is maybe to take 50 wickets as part of a Championship-winning team,” he said.
“Sixty-eight was just a massive bonus for me last year. I probably wasn’t expecting to play all of the games, but the way it worked out with international call-ups and injuries to other bowlers, I ended up having to play every game really.
“Hopefully, I can play my part again this summer.”