Time has come for Yorkshire to show they can mix it with best

THROUGHOUT their Champions League odyssey Yorkshire have been at pains to point out they are not there simply to make up the numbers.

Today gives them a chance to conclusively prove it when they take on Highveld Lions in Johannesburg – on paper the most winnable of their four group games and one they must win to keep alive their semi-final hopes.

Although Yorkshire played well to get to the Champions League in the first place, and even better to qualify for the tournament proper following wins against Sri Lankan Premier League champions Uva Next and West Indian champions Trinidad & Tobago, the main competition has not yet gone to plan.

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Yorkshire crashed to their heaviest Twenty20 defeat in their opening group game against Sydney Sixers, losing with 11.1 overs to spare, and were up against it when rain washed out their second match against Mumbai Indians, with their opponents having scored 156-6 from 17.5 overs.

No one seriously expected Yorkshire to beat Sydney, who have so far cut a swathe through the tournament as Yorkshire cut a swathe through last summer’s Twenty20 Cup, although the margin of defeat was unexpected.

Mumbai, too, were significantly stronger than Yorkshire on paper, although they did not have the look of defending champions during Thursday’s match, while Yorkshire were not at their best with the ball.

The reality is that Yorkshire – although nothing is expected of them and despite the fact they are without certain players – have not yet played to their full potential.

It is something they will be determined to put right today and in their final group game against Chennai Super Kings in Durban on Monday, with Yorkshire needing two wins, plus Mumbai to fail to gain two wins from their last two games against Chennai and Sydney, to emulate Somerset’s achievement last year by reaching the last four.

Chennai, the 2010 winners, have been immensely disappointing so far in an event in which Indian Premier League teams have generally struggled.

Several theories have been advanced for this: the extra pace and bounce of South African pitches; fatigue following the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka; a lack of preparation; an over-reliance on spin bowlers; the climactic conditions; the high altitude – indeed, practically everything you can think of apart from the fact that Mars is in Sagittarius.

However, the simple truth is that too many big-name players have yet to stand up, and Chennai have left themselves a mountain to climb having lost their opening two games against Sydney and Highveld.

Chennai will be eliminated should they lose to Mumbai in today’s second match at the Wanderers, although the group would already be “dead” should Highveld beat Yorkshire as that would send Highveld through to the semis to join fellow Group B qualifier Sydney.

Rather than the IPL glitterati, backed by their millions and minions, it is actually unfancied Highveld who have caught the eye.

The Johannesburg franchise won their opening two games before Sydney beat them in Cape Town on Friday and, like Yorkshire, they have no star names as such, relying more on collective endeavour than individual expertise.

Jason Gillespie, the Yorkshire first team coach, is certainly not taking them lightly ahead of today’s game, which starts at 12.30pm UK time.

He is also adamant his team can yet make an impression on the main tournament.

“We’re not here to make up the numbers,” reiterated the former Australia fast bowler.

“We’re here to compete and we’re here to win games of cricket, and that’s certainly the attitude we’ll take into the next game.

“The Lions will be on their home patch and they are a very good side, there’s no question of that.

“But we believe that if we play the T20 cricket that we know we can, that we’re in with a good shot, no question.”

Yorkshire are monitoring the fitness of pace bowlers Ryan Sidebottom and Moin Ashraf, who had to leave the field during Thursday’s game with cramp and hamstring trouble respectively, although Sidebottom subsequently returned to action.

Iain Wardlaw and Oliver Hannon-Dalby are on standby, with Yorkshire’s squad well served with pace bowlers.

Yorkshire today resume their rivalry with South African batsman Neil McKenzie, who accused them of bad sportsmanship following Hampshire’s 10-run victory in the Twenty20 Cup final in Cardiff.

McKenzie was furious when David Miller refused to walk after McKenzie took what appeared to be a clean low catch at mid-wicket, with television replays proving inconclusive.

Miller, who had scored seven at the time, went on to 72 to take Yorkshire to within a whisker of victory, McKenzie pointedly declaring afterwards that “the good guys won”.

Miller is not available for today’s game due to commitments with his South African franchise Dolphins, but is expected to play on Monday.