THE PREDICTION by this correspondent that Yorkshire might be dark horses in this year’s County Championship is not looking too ropey after two victories and a draw from the first three games.
There is a long way to go, of course – another 11 matches, to be precise – but so far so good for the White Rose, who followed a draw at Nottinghamshire with convincing triumphs at Hampshire and Kent.
Part of the reason for optimism in this quarter was the new-ball pairing of Ben Coad and Duanne Olivier, as good as any around on paper.
After steady collaboration in the fixtures against Notts and Hampshire, they really hit it off against Kent in Canterbury, where their share of 14 wickets in the match was a significant difference between the teams.
We’re working from spell to spell on what sort of bowler he’s going to be, and there’s times when I think he can pitch it up and bowl more around off stump. But he’s a fantastic asset for us with his paceAndrew Gale on fast bowler Duanne Olivier
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Coad, the Harrogate-born 25-year-old, returned figures of 3-66 and 6-52. Olivier, the 27-year-old South African signed on a Kolpak deal in February, captured 3-82 and 2-92 as Yorkshire won by 172 runs.
It was not just their individual success which stood out, however, and which provides confidence moving forward, but the fact that they are creating wickets for each other – particularly, one suspects, Olivier for Coad.
Olivier’s blistering pace perhaps means that batsmen subconsciously relax against Coad and feel that they have to score runs off him – easier said than done.
Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire first team coach whose side start their return match against Hampshire on Monday, said: “You could see the difference between the sides on a flatter pitch (at Canterbury) with that pair. They’re complementing each other really well at the minute
“Duanne has tremendous pace, and extra pace in county cricket gets wickets. With Ben, we know the skills he’s got and they’re a formidable combination.”
Gale’s decision to rest Coad for the Royal London Cup looked a good one in the immediate aftermath of victory in Kent.
Yorkshire are now in the thick of a heavy block of Championship cricket – Monday’s match is the first of four back-to-back fixtures – and Coad is a vital cog in the wheel.
“I know he was desperate to play some white-ball cricket, but as I’ve said to him all along, he’s our prize asset in red-ball cricket and I’d hate to think that we were coming into this block with an injury in the 50-over stuff, so we needed him fit, fresh and raring to go,” said Gale.
“He’s a massive player in Championship cricket.
“Ben doesn’t bowl many bad balls and I think he’s proving now as well that he can get wickets on good pitches, not just at Headingley. People had always questioned that in terms of his pace -–he doesn’t bowl 90mph – whether he could come and bowl on flatter pitches such as Canterbury, but he’s answered that now.”
Managing Coad is an ongoing challenge.
“We have to be sensible in managing his workload,” said Gale. “We don’t want to put too much on his shoulders. He’s getting better all the time and has been up there in the last few years as one of the leading wicket-takers in the country.
“With his control and skill levels, I’m sure he could do a job at the highest level one day.”
Olivier, who turned his back on the highest level to come to Yorkshire, was far too quick for the good men of Kent. One blistering spell on the third evening will live in the memory.
“Duanne unsettled Kent,” said Gale. “The last thing you want to do when you’ve spent 120-plus overs in the dirt is to come out and face someone who’s bowling 90mph rockets, and he did blow them away.
“Duanne hasn’t played on a quick pitch yet, and I’m certainly looking forward – fingers crossed – to seeing him bowl at Scarborough, where we might have to have a backstop behind ‘Tatts’ (wicketkeeper Jonny Tattersall) because he’ll just keep bouncing it over his head if he bowls anything like.
“He’s hit nine people on the head this season already, and although you don’t want to see people getting hit on the head and being hurt, it’s often the next ball that gets them out.”
Yorkshire are working on trying to get Olivier to bowl fuller at times, reining in his obvious taste for the short stuff.
He is a bit like England’s new pace bowler Jofra Archer in that he almost ambles up to the stumps and never seems to be straining at any stage.
“Duanne doesn’t particularly warm up on the mornings,” said Gale. “He just waves his long arms around and runs in and bowls 90mph rockets.
“We’re working from spell to spell on what sort of bowler he’s going to be, and there’s times when I think he can pitch it up and bowl more around off stump.
“But he’s a fantastic asset for us with his pace – he brings a really good balance to our attack.”