Yorkshire face test of title challenge at Lord’s

Joe Root.
Joe Root.
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MARTYN MOXON believes Yorkshire’s next two County Championship matches will be a litmus test of their title credentials.

Yorkshire face Middlesex at Lord’s from tomorrow and champions Durham at Chester-le-Street the following week.

On paper, they are two of the toughest games in the 16-match programme, and Moxon knows they will give Yorkshire a good idea of whether they can go one better than last year by winning the title.

“By the end of that Durham game, we’ll have a good idea of where we stand,” said Moxon.

“We’ll have played four games in total and will certainly have been tested.

“It’s going to be a very interesting couple of weeks and will give us a good idea of where we’re at.

“We’ve played two good sides in Somerset and Northants and it’s never easy at Middlesex and Durham.”

A repeat of the corresponding results last year would probably put Yorkshire top of the table.

They are already second in the fledgling First Division, having drawn at Somerset and beaten Northamptonshire by an innings, and they are only nine points behind Sussex, who have won two out of two.

Last season, the catalyst for Yorkshire’s second-placed finish was their four-wicket victory at Durham in April – underpinned by Joe Root’s imperious 182.

Their 10-wicket win against Middlesex at Lord’s in June, meanwhile, was one of their 
finest displays of the entire season.

“As an all-round performance, that win was up there with the best we had last year,” said Moxon.

“We batted superbly and our bowling was excellent.

“We had a few great wins to be honest – the games at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge also spring to mind, as they were also very good team performances.

“We know what we’re capable of and we’ve just got to be consistent enough to repeat that again.”

Middlesex’s results so far this year highlight perfectly the intensely competitive nature of Division One.

Thrashed by Sussex in their opening match, Middlesex stormed back with a 10-wicket win over Nottinghamshire, who themselves beat Lancashire in their opening game.

There are already signs, in fact, that it might be harder to predict the champions this year than last, when Moxon said it was the most wide-open race he had known.

That is reflected in the bookmakers’ odds, with some leading outlets making Yorkshire slight title favourites and only Northamptonshire rank outsiders.

“It might well be more open than last year,” said Moxon.

“I don’t see any one team as the favourite; I think it could be any number of teams who goes on to win it.

“You only have to look at what’s happened so far; Sussex have had a flyer and are going to be there or thereabouts, and you can’t write off the likes of Notts.

“It really is completely wide open.”

Yorkshire have named a 13-man squad for tomorrow’s match – only their second in the Championship at Lord’s since 1998.

Chief interest will be on who makes way for returning England batsman Joe Root, with captain Andrew Gale admitting after the Northamptonshire game that it could be him.

Gale – the only one of Yorkshire’s frontline batsmen not to have made at least a half-century so far – has been named in a 13-man party that also includes all-rounder Rich Pyrah in place of pace bowler Moin Ashraf.

If Gale does stand down at the ground where he made an outstanding hundred last year, Gary Ballance would captain the team.

Root comes back after playing for the Yorkshire second XI last week after seven weeks out with a broken thumb.

He scored eight and 61 in a three-day friendly against Lancashire at Northop Hall and also bowled seven overs of off-spin.

Root is set to come face-to-face with Middlesex’s Australian batsman Chris Rogers, who said recently that he does not think the Yorkshireman should open the batting for England, and also the man whom Rogers does think should open for England – his county colleague Sam Robson.

The Australian-born Robson played a key role in the win over Nottinghamshire, scoring 163 and 41 not out.

Middlesex are also strengthened by the availability of England batsman Eoin Morgan and England pace bowler Steven Finn, who has made a fine start to the season with 15 wickets in three innings to date.

Moxon is only too aware of the threat posed by Finn, who is battling hard to regain his Test place.

“He can make a big difference with his pace and height,” said Moxon.

“It’s like for us with Liam Plunkett with his pace and his bounce; it unsettles batsmen and creates opportunities.”

Plunkett’s pace – blistering at times – has been one of the most striking aspects of Yorkshire’s early work. Fellow pace bowlers Ryan Sidebottom, Jack Brooks and Steve Patterson have looked excellent, ensuring Yorkshire head to Lord’s in good heart.