GARY BALLANCE believes Yorkshire must cash in on the rare boost of having all their England players available as they start their quest for a first one-day trophy for 15 years.
Yorkshire have England quintet Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and David Willey available for their first three games in the Royal London Cup, starting with today’s match against Notts at Trent Bridge.
Captain Ballance insists that Yorkshire must capitalise on their presence as the club chase their first one-day silverware since they won the old Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy in 2002.
“We’ve got to make the most of having the England lads around,” said Ballance, who will also have them for the Headingley double-header against Lancashire on Monday and against Durham on Wednesday.
“They’re not available for very many matches.
“If they can help us win some games while they’re here, that’s perfect for us and we can generate good momentum at the start of the competition.
“If we can win first-up at Notts, that will stand us in good stead and give us a lot of confidence.”
Yorkshire’s England quintet head to Bristol on Thursday for the start of the international season.
Two games against Ireland are closely followed by three ODIs against South Africa and then the Champions Trophy, which begins for England on June 1.
As preparations continue towards that tournament, counties are benefiting from England’s concerted focus on white-ball cricket.
Notts presently have England trio Stuart Broad, Alex Hales and Jake Ball available, while Root could face his younger brother Billy today after he was handed his List A debut by Notts in their opening 50-over game on Thursday, a rain-affected five-wicket defeat at Worcester.
“Notts are a very good side, especially in the white-ball stuff,” said Ballance.
“They will be tough opponents, and they always give us a good game.
“We’ve been very consistent in one-day cricket in the last few years, getting to quarter-finals and semi-finals, but we want to go that one step further.
“We’ve put in a lot of work on white-ball stuff over the winter, an, hopefully, that will pay off this time.”
Yorkshire first-team coach Andrew Gale said much of the work had centred on performing better in the middle period of both the batting and bowling innings.
Yorkshire have identified these middle overs as a key area they need to improve.
“The main areas we’ve been working on are those middle periods,” said Gale.
“With the bat, that means reducing the amount of wickets that we lose before the ‘death’ period, and, with the ball, it’s about being a little more aggressive in the middle overs.
“If we haven’t got an Adil Rashid or a Liam Plunkett, for example, who are slightly different, then we need to find a way of still being able to take wickets in that middle period.
“We’ve been very consistent but want to go one step further”Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance on their white-ball challenge
“So we have to start taking them in different ways, either by keeping the field up and building pressure, and certainly by being that bit more aggressive.”
The 50-over competition has been brought forward this year, allowing not only the England players to prepare better for the Champions Trophy, but also affording greater clarity to the domestic schedule.
Yorkshire’s eight group games are all played in a block before they return to County Championship action on May 19, with the Royal London knockout stages taking place in mid-June ahead of a July 1 final.
The remainder of Yorkshire’s group campaign sees them play Worcestershire away on May 5, Derbyshire at home on May 7, Northants away on May 10, Warwickshire away on May 14, and Leicestershire at home on May 16.
“I think it’s good to have the competition in a block,” said Gale.
“We’ve also had a bit of time in the past week to prepare for the tournament.
“We’re really looking forward to it. We’ve worked really hard on our one-day cricket, and hopefully we can get some wins on the board.”
Yorkshire squad v Notts: Ballance (captain), Bairstow, Bresnan, Fisher, Handscomb, Leaning, Lyth, Plunkett, Rafiq, Rashid, Root, Waite, Willey.
Waters on Cricket: Page 8