ASK Martyn Moxon who Yorkshire’s main rivals will be this summer and he laughs as if to say “where do I start?”
The Yorkshire director of cricket continues: “Anyone could win the Championship this year. All eight teams could win it, in my opinion.
“It’s absolutely wide open and I can’t tell you who the challengers will be.
“All we can do is take care of ourselves.”
Skipping lightly over the runners and riders, Moxon says: “The likes of Surrey have got some big players. Notts coming up – they’re always a tough nut to crack. Even Worcester.
“Under Sharpey (former Yorkshire player and coach Kevin Sharp), they’re going to be really keen and enthusiastic.
“They’re a good team, Worcester, and their enthusiasm and team spirit will count for a lot.”
Of course, the team to beat on last year’s evidence will be Essex, whom Yorkshire meet in their opening match today at Emerald Headingley.
Under former Yorkshire players Chris Silverwood and Anthony McGrath, Essex waltzed to the title last year, twice crushing Yorkshire along the way, beating them inside two days at Scarborough and then thrashing them by 376 runs in the final game of the season at Chelmsford.
Although Silverwood has since left to become England bowling coach, with McGrath ascending to the head coach role, Essex should be there or thereabouts again.
As Moxon knows from experience, their challenge will be backing up their efforts of last year, with every team now doubly determined to take them down.
“Essex played some fantastic cricket last year and kept it going when people wondered whether they would be able to sustain it,” he said.
The lads have worked extremely hard on their batting during the winter, stripping everything back to basics, and we know what we’re trying to do with regards to our techniques and also our mindsetYorkshire’s Martyn Moxon
“They just kept going and going throughout the season.
“We know the challenge of winning after winning the title the previous year, and it’s tough.
“People play against you differently, so it will be interesting to see how they do, but you look through their team and they’re a very strong team who are sure to provide a very tough test.”
In the spirit of making sure that their own house is in order and focusing on themselves, Yorkshire do not have to look much further than the importance of improving their batting form if they are to win their first title since the back-to-back triumphs of 2014/2015.
Consistent first innings runs have been lacking since the first of those titles, and Yorkshire have left no stone unturned in an effort to resolve the problem, signing top-class overseas players in the form of Cheteshwar Pujara and Kane Williamson, and even making greater use of the club’s sports psychologist, Dr Mark Nesti, of Liverpool John Moores University, with players having at least three sessions a year with him instead of the previous “it’s there if you need it” policy.
“The big thing is going to be our batting,” said Moxon. “It’s nothing new, and, hopefully, that extra psychological support will help as well.
“The lads have worked extremely hard on their batting during the winter, stripping everything back to basics, and we know what we’re trying to do with regards to our techniques and also our mindset as far as batting in longer form cricket is concerned.
“If we perform to our potential, there’s no reason why we can’t challenge for the Championship again, because if we can get runs on the board, we’ve got a bowling attack that can get 20 wickets.”
Moxon continued: “We essentially need to get back to what we were doing in 2014, when we showed that ruthlessness and desire to score big runs.
“Too often since, we’ve been seeing careless dismissals and getting out in the 20s and not going on and getting big hundreds.
“This time, we’ve got Pujara and then Kane Williamson later in the year, and we’ve also got Gary (Ballance) available.
“So, on paper, there’s no reason why we can’t challenge for the Championship so long as we perform to our potential with the bat in particular.”
As with many clubs, Yorkshire’s preparations have been hampered by poor weather, denying them the chance to build fully on a successful pre-season tour to Potchefstroom in South Africa.
The three-day match against Leeds-Bradford MCCU that was scheduled to have taken place at Headingley last week was cancelled, and outdoor practice has been thin on the ground.
“We would have liked a little bit more evidence as to who should play given the players that we’ve got available to us,” said Moxon.
“Trying to assess form is pretty difficult when you’re practising indoors for much of the time.
“The weather has been disappointing and made it hard to build on a really good pre-season tour, but the lads are in good spirits and we go into the season with a lot of optimism.
“We massively under-performed in red-ball cricket last year, and there’s a great desire to put that right.”