Yorkshire v Surrey: Champions need to bring their season to the boil

Jonny Bairstow hits a six off a Fidel Edwards delivery.
Jonny Bairstow hits a six off a Fidel Edwards delivery.
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HARD though it is to believe with spring still in bloom, this week’s match completes the first quarter of Yorkshire’s Championship season.

The competition is squeezed in at the start and end of the campaign, with Yorkshire about to embark on their fourth of 16 games.

After draws in their three matches so far (their longest sequence without a Championship victory since 2012), it goes without saying that the champions need to get on the winning trail as soon as possible.

The visit of newly-promoted Surrey – currently the division’s bottom club – provides a chance to do that, albeit with the customary proviso that “there are no easy games at this level”.

As annoying as that cliche is, it also possesses – as most cliches do – more than a kernel of truth.

Yorkshire might have been expected to beat Hampshire in their opening match, for example, seeing as Hampshire only narrowly avoided relegation last year and, man for man, are not in the same class.

But after dominating the first half of the game and reducing their opponents to 128-5 in reply to 593-9, Yorkshire were unexpectedly held to a draw.

And although Surrey have lost one game and drawn two, no side with Kumar Sangakkara in their line-up can be classed as mugs, with Surrey possessing a number of quality players.

Yorkshire, who are fifth in a table in which only nine points separate top from bottom, have yet to hit their straps this season.

The prevailing view is that if they play to their potential, there is no side that can live with them in four-day cricket, but they have not yet played to their potential consistently.

So far, we have seen only flashes of the form that sent them into the season as favourites to complete a hat-trick of Championships, glimpses of the quality that blew teams away last year to the tune of 11 wins from 16 games.

When they have managed to exert pressure they have invariably released it, allowing their opponents to climb off the canvas.

Yorkshire missed a chance to beat Hampshire, and they also missed a chance to beat Notts at Trent Bridge last week, effectively reducing them to 69-5 in their second innings before the match ended in a nail-biting draw.

In recent times, Yorkshire have been brilliant at ramming home such advantages and not allowing the pressure to decrease, but the ruthless streak is still to resurface.

At times, Yorkshire have batted and bowled very well but they have also been mediocre in both departments.

They are still to string together a performance across the entirety of a match, and they have paid the price for some careless sessions.

The top-order batting remains up and down, but arguably the biggest problem has been the bowling.

Yorkshire stormed to the title last year despite inconsistent batting because their capacity for recovery was quite remarkable, and because their bowling attack was phenomenal at times.

But at Trent Bridge, Yorkshire conceded 132 runs in the opening session on day one and 148 runs in the opening session on day four, which meant that their ultimate victory target of 320 was much higher than it should have been.

For Yorkshire to have one bad session like that is unusual, but to have two in a match is positively unheard of.

The good news is that these are still early days and no county has yet established a clear lead.

Indeed, Notts and Lancashire are the only sides to have picked up wins, with Notts beating Surrey and Lancashire beating Notts.

Yorkshire do not find themselves adrift but only four points off first place in a competition in which 24 points are up for grabs in every fixture.

But with a trip to Taunton following on next week, where it is never easy to force a win on a normally featherbed pitch, Yorkshire will be extra keen to get on the board this week – particularly with plenty of good weather forecast and England players such as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow available for one last time prior to the Sri Lanka Test series.

One man who will not feature, however, is Tim Bresnan, who the club had hoped might be available for selection for the first time since the pre-season tour.

Bresnan is not quite ready to return and he might have made a positive difference to the bowling, with his trademark accuracy perfect for building pressure along with Steve Patterson and allowing the likes of Jack Brooks to attack.

Yorkshire have missed Bresnan’s contributions with the ball more than might have been expected, and the all-rounder will continue his recovery this week.

Yorkshire have also missed Ryan Sidebottom, who is also still injured, but they have more than enough quality to knock over teams.

It is far from panic stations at this early stage of the campaign, and one win would quickly change the picture.

Yorkshire’s cricket has been simmering so far.

Now they need to bring it to the boil.