Yorkshire CCC 2019 Review – Handful of positives in frustrating, barren summer

THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS: Andrew Gale, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Matt Pillans and Duanne Olivier.
THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS: Andrew Gale, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Matt Pillans and Duanne Olivier.
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THE SUMMER of 2019 was a memorable one for English cricket, with the World Cup triumph and the Ben Stokes-inspired miracle in the Headingley Ashes Test, but it was a largely forgettable one for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Fifth in the County Championship First Division, fifth in the T20 Blast North Division and sixth in the Royal London Cup North Group, they failed to challenge in any competition and have now gone four seasons without a trophy.

Yorkshire's Joe Root bats at Trent Bridge in the early part of the season. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

Yorkshire's Joe Root bats at Trent Bridge in the early part of the season. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

If the shortage of silverware was not unexpected, with few considering Yorkshire to be Championship contenders, and with the club having gone 17 years without a one-day cup, it was not a summer that contained any obvious improvement to the casual observer.

In terms of league position, Yorkshire actually went backwards in two tournaments (in 2018 they were fourth in the Championship and third in the One-Day Cup), and although they equalled last year’s finish in the T20 Blast, they were bottom of their group before victories in their last two matches shot them up four places to paint a somewhat flattering and misleading picture.

Yorkshire’s white-ball return was worse than expected – they won six of 22 fixtures, five of which were ruined by the weather, their performances encouraging at times if error-prone. They lost or tied matches that they should have won and had dominant periods in several defeats; it was not uncommon to see their hard work unravel especially at key moments under pressure with a game in the balance.

If that suggested a lack of nous and mental toughness, which was indeed missing on occasions, it was also emblematic of a largely young side, albeit one still boasting enough experience to have done better.

It was not a summer that contained any obvious improvement to the casual observer ... it would be clutching at straws to pick too many positives.

Chris Waters

Next year, Yorkshire are to overhaul their white-ball practices to better replicate the pressure of match situations by trying to recreate those situations on grass as opposed to honing their skills primarily in the nets; it suggests that one of the biggest improvements needed is between the ears.

Although Yorkshire regressed in one-day cricket, give or take the performances of such players as Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Adam Lyth in T20, they arguably improved as a Championship team. Dig deeper than the one-place drop in position from 2018 and Yorkshire actually won as many games (five) as they did in 2016, when they were narrowly pipped to the title by Middlesex.

Yorkshire were third this year and still outside title contenders before a 298-run defeat at Somerset and a club record 433-run defeat at home to Kent put paid to those hopes ahead of their final match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

Had Yorkshire not lost a tight game at home to Warwickshire, and had they not been stymied by the weather at times, they would have had a much closer three-way fight for the title with Essex and Somerset, with Essex thoroughly deserving champions.

Yorkshire's Gary Ballance hits out against Nottinghamshire at Scarborough, eventually scoring the most Championship runs in 2019 - 975 - at an average of 46.42. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Yorkshire's Gary Ballance hits out against Nottinghamshire at Scarborough, eventually scoring the most Championship runs in 2019 - 975 - at an average of 46.42. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Although Yorkshire were not fancied for the title in April, with the perception prevailing of a club in transition, I felt that they had the look of dark horses – not least because they had signed the South African pace bowler Duanne Olivier on a Kolpak deal.

Olivier performed superbly in Test cricket last winter and had quit South Africa at the height of his powers; whatever one’s view on that and the whole Kolpak subject, it seemed that Yorkshire had pulled off a major coup.

However, despite finishing as the club’s leading Championship wicket-taker with 43 at 32.32, Olivier was steady rather than spectacular, with Ben Coad again the pick of the pace men.

It felt as if Olivier hit almost as many people on the head as he took wickets; he will be better for the experience of English conditions, but he still has much to prove.

Yorkshire's Jack Shutt took a match-winning 5-11 in a T20 win at Durham. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Yorkshire's Jack Shutt took a match-winning 5-11 in a T20 win at Durham. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Yorkshire’s best bowler was actually a man who played only five Championship games.

Keshav Maharaj, the South African left-arm spinner, and a bona fide overseas player, as it were, took 38 wickets at 18.92, including four five-wicket hauls.

The 29-year-old also chipped in with 239 Championship runs and filled the problem position of No 8, with Yorkshire not yet having sufficient confidence in their existing spinners to strengthen the lower-order/tail as opposed to weakening it.

Maharaj was one of the few overseas signings that Yorkshire have made recently that could be said to have been an unqualified success. They hope to get him back next year, although he is due to get married in May and it remains to be seen how his and Yorkshire’s respective schedules tally.

Another good overseas recruit was Nicholas Pooran, the West Indies batsman-wicketkeeper, who appeared three times in T20, while off-spinner Dom Bess performed steadily on loan from Somerset. Pooran hits a long ball, as they say, while if Bess ever chooses to leave Taunton, it would be a surprise if Yorkshire were not first in the queue of potential suitors.

Once again, Yorkshire struggled for top-order Championship runs, with only Gary Ballance, Kohler-Cadmore and Lyth producing decent returns; the club’s total of 24 batting points was the lowest apart from relegated Notts.

Wider positives included the emergence of such players as batsmen Will Fraine and Tom Loten, along with off-spinner Jack Shutt, but it would be clutching at straws to pick too many positives.

Inevitably, and perhaps curiously given that he captained the club to two Championships in the middle part of the decade, first-team coach Andrew Gale continued to come in for intense criticism, with Yorkshire’s own Twitter feed poisonous towards him.

The thirst for scapegoats in modern sport shows no sign of abating, but Gale is a good man doing a tough job in challenging circumstances; if anyone thinks that another coach would have magically led this group of players to silverware this summer they are, of course, entitled to that view, although mine is that results, more or less, are an accurate reflection of the talent at Gale’s disposal.

There is no magic wand for him but there is reason to think that with the odd astute signing or two and continued hard work, better days are perfectly possible.

Ultimately, though, Yorkshire do not have the same collective quality that they had when Gale was captain and, regardless of the club’s size and stature, no divine right to it either.