Yorkshire CCC v Sussex - Dynamic duo can thrill returning Headingley fans

STEVE PATTERSON could have been forgiven for echoing the famous words of former England captain Archie MacLaren when Yorkshire visited Lancashire last week.

Yorkshire debut: England's Dawid Malan. Picture: AP

Seeing the side that he had been sent for one of the Ashes Tests in 1902, MacLaren exclaimed: “My God, look what they’ve sent me!”

Patterson is too tactful and too diplomatic to express such a sentiment but it was clearly less than ideal for him to go into such an important game without two of his best and most experienced batsmen in Gary Ballance and Dawid Malan, who missed the contest at Old Trafford due to a calf strain and personal reasons, respectively.

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Sure enough, an innings defeat ensued and Patterson will no doubt be delighted that both are back for the game against Sussex at Emerald Headingley that starts today, when Yorkshire’s supporters (up to 4,250) will be able to watch their team live on home soil for the first time in 623 days – so long ago that if feels almost back to the era of MacLaren.

On way back: Yorkshire's Gary Ballance. Picture: SWPix

They will be returning to headquarters at a time when Yorkshire are second in Group Three of the County Championship with last week’s defeat their first of the season, but with the club far from satisfied with performances to date.

It is a measure of the standards expected in Yorkshire cricket –and which Yorkshire expect of themselves – that practically every post-match press statement, even in victory, has been caveated with the need for urgent improvement.

Specifically, it is their batting which Yorkshire are not pleased with – and for good reason; they have the lowest number of batting points (nine) of any side in the country and have only twice passed 230 in their first innings in seven attempts.

Their descent to 21-6 at Old Trafford after choosing to bat on a good surface represented a nadir and left them with too much to do to claw things back, even though a fine second innings rearguard – one which highlighted the team’s inherent ability and fighting spirit – came desperately close to doing just that.

As Andrew Gale, the first-team coach, put it: “A lot of teams would have faded away and the match would have been done in two-and-a-half days, but we’ve got to find a way of being ahead of the game and not being 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 down, if you like, on the first day.”

To that effect, Gale and the coaching staff must walk what must be an increasingly fine line between emphasising this message while at the same time not over-emphasising it, considering that it has been pretty much the only topic in town all season – actually for several years, to a greater or lesser extent.

Yorkshire are – have been – working tirelessly to address their lack of first-innings runs and the risk of a ‘paralysis of analysis’ is palpable.

“It is a fine line,” conceded Gale. “You don’t want to make a massive deal of it where it creates fear, but you need to address it and hit it smack in the eyes.

“We’ve talked about it. We had a good meeting the other day. We’re working hard to put it right.”

Gale continued: “The bottom line is that I want the opposition to get us out.

“Lancashire had to work hard for their wickets in our second innings. It doesn’t mean that we have to go into our shells and score at 1.5 an over, but we want to see opposition bowlers coming back for third, fourth and fifth spells.

“The lads have proved that they can do it. If they were getting rolled for 150 every innings, you’d be going, ‘We need to get some new players here’.

“But that’s not happening. They can do it. It’s just a question of finding the consistency.”

The worry for Gale, Patterson, etc, must be that some players are self-evidently not kicking on as the club had hoped, as revealed by a look at the statistics.

At the same time, the frustration for the hierarchy is that all have shown the necessary quality at some point or other – just not frequently enough.

The return of Ballance and Malan is an obvious fillip, with the latter playing his first match of the season after a largely futile stint with Punjab Kings at the Indian Premier League.

Despite being the world’s No 1-ranked T20 batsman, Malan was selected for only one match – a poor return for a player so talented.

Malan was Yorkshire’s leading run-scorer in last year’s first-class tournament and possessed the highest average.

That the club have missed him in the Championship thus far is a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, while Ballance adds steel to the top-order.

“The team will look a bit different for this week,” continued Gale. “When you bring Gary and Dawid back in, you’re bringing in a lot of experience and 70-odd first-class hundreds, so that can only help.

“We’re looking forward to it. We’re back on our own patch, the weather’s set fair, and we’ll have our supporters back and a couple of experienced senior players too.”

Yorkshire (from): Ballance, Bess, Brook, Coad, Duke, Kohler-Cadmore, Lyth, Malan, Olivier, Patterson (captain), Thompson, Willey.