DICKIE BIRD is backing Yorkshire to successfully defend their County Championship title and believes it will be an even greater achievement if they win it this year.
The Yorkshire president said they can follow up last season’s success despite increasing demands on their squad due to England call-ups.
And the former umpire – who has been nominated by the Yorkshire board for a second one-year term as president – is confident Yorkshire can win some one-day silverware.
Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, Bird said: “I think we’ll win the title again.
“We’ve got some magnificent players and strength in depth.
“But to win it this season would be an even greater achievement because of the number of players likely to be called up by England.
“We could have six players in the England squad for the tour to the West Indies in the Spring, and they would miss the first few Championship games.
“That’s clearly going to be a massive challenge and you can’t just blood six youngsters at once.
“We’ll certainly have to use the squad but, at the same time, the young lads in the Academy are superb.
“I’ve been watching them in the indoor nets this winter and they’re outstanding, these kids, and some of them will hopefully come into the side, stand up and be counted.
“But I think we’ll successfully defend the title this year and I think we shall definitely win a one-day trophy as well.”
Such is the champions’ strength that six of the England Lions’ side currently in action against South Africa A in Paarl are Yorkshire players.
That fixture could almost be “South Africa A v Yorkshire Lions”, with batsmen Adam Lyth and Alex Lees, batsman/wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, leg-spinner Adil Rashid and pace bowlers Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks forming a formidable White Rose sextet.
With county team-mates Joe Root and Gary Ballance also likely to be in the squad for the West Indies trip, an estimate of six Yorkshire call-ups for the Caribbean tour is by no means conservative.
The third and final Test ends in Barbados on May 5, by which time Yorkshire will have played their first three Championship games against Worcestershire (A), Nottinghamshire (A) and Warwickshire (H).
“We’ve got so many England players at Yorkshire that people were saying last season that a full strength Yorkshire side would beat the rest of England,” said Bird.
“That’s what I said to the England selectors, that’s what I said to James Whitaker (the national selector).
“I said to him, ‘let me pick my Yorkshire team and let me have Root in it and Ballance.’ I said, ‘I’ll pick my Yorkshire side and you pick your England side, and I tell you, over five days, we’ll beat you. We’ll play you and we’ll beat you’.
“He probably thought I was right. I am right.”
As well as coping with England call-ups, Bird believes Yorkshire will be seen as the side to beat, making their challenge tougher.
But he is adamant they have the talent and, crucially, the bowlers to take 20 wickets regularly.
“Everybody will be trying to beat Yorkshire, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“They’ll be wanting to put one over the champions, and you’ve got to expect that.
“The year after winning the title, after so much publicity and everything, it will definitely be harder.
“The players have got to live up to that, and it won’t be easy for them.
“But we’ve got a very good attack – men like Ryan Sidebottom, Jack Brooks, Steve Patterson, Tim Bresnan, Adil Rashid, and so on.
“We’ve also got this young lad Karl Carver, the left-arm spinner, who I rate very highly.
“We’ll bowl sides out at Headingley with our attack – particularly if Ryan keeps going like he has been.
“He’s such a great asset to the club; year after year he keeps going, and when you swing the ball late like he does, you get all the good players out.”
Bird – who believes Yorkshire’s main challengers could be Warwickshire (“they’re my dark horses”) – is thrilled to have been nominated for a final year as president.
“Mr Graves (chairman Colin Graves) told me the Yorkshire board have put my name forward and that I’d done a wonderful job,” said Bird, whose re-appointment is set to be ratified by the club’s members at the annual general meeting in March.
“The players have also said I’ve given them a lot of encouragement. That’s marvellous, coming from the players, and it means so much.
“Hopefully, I’m a lucky charm for them, and I’d like to thank the members for all their support.”