Lees plans exciting route to hoped-for silverware

Yorkshire's new limited-overs captain Alex Lees is excited about 2016 when the county will look to complement their successive County Championships successes in the shorter formats.
Yorkshire's new limited-overs captain Alex Lees is excited about 2016 when the county will look to complement their successive County Championships successes in the shorter formats.
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IT is so long since Yorkshire last won a one-day trophy that Alex Lees, the club’s new limited-overs captain, cannot actually recall it.

“At the time, I would only have been nine years old,” he says. “It isn’t something that sits in my memory.”

It was way back in 2002 that the happy event took place.

Yorkshire beat Somerset by six wickets to lift the old Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy at Lord’s.

The Yorkshire side that day contained such distinguished names as Michael Vaughan, Matthew Hoggard, Craig White and Richard Dawson, plus Australian batsman Matthew Elliott, who hit a match-winning hundred.

The only member of it still playing for the club is Ryan Sidebottom, now one month short of his 38th birthday, while Anthony McGrath is part of the coaching staff.

Otherwise, it all happened so long ago that some seasoned observers – let alone those who were just nine at the time – may have little recollection.

On the face of it, then, Lees – the youngest limited-overs captain in Yorkshire’s history – has a hard job on his hands to replicate the feat of Richard Blakey, who was captain when Yorkshire lifted the C&G.

Not only is recent history against him, but the club’s main priority is quite rightly the Championship, which they have won two years on the trot, helped by a policy of resting key bowlers such as Sidebottom from one-day games to keep them fresh for the four-day fare.

Indeed, when you consider that Yorkshire’s previous one-day trophy prior to 2002 was the 1987 Benson & Hedges Cup, the club will go into next summer having won only one one-day trophy in 29 years.

Whereas great expectation surrounds them in the Championship, it has been more a case of great trepidation in the one-day arena.

“There’s been a bit of pressure hanging around the team in recent times that Yorkshire hasn’t won a one-day trophy for so long,” says Lees, who took over as interim one-day captain last August after Andrew Gale’s decision to concentrate on leading the Championship side.

“But after winning two Championships in the last two years, I think it actually takes a bit of the pressure off, and hopefully we can play some relaxed one-day cricket and challenge going forward.

“Last season, we got to the semi-finals of the 50-over competition, which gives us belief, and I’ve got no doubt that we can have a really good go at both one-day comps – the 50-over and the T20.

“We’ve got a relatively young one-day team and nothing to lose in a way, and we’ve made a great signing in David Willey, so it’s an exciting time for the club.”

‘Exciting’ is exactly the word that describes Lees’s appointment.

It would have been understandable had the club put a more experienced man in charge, particularly given that no one is more mindful than the coaches that one-day success has proved so elusive.

Instead, the appointment of someone who has played only 31 List A and 21 T20 games himself is a bold move much in keeping with Yorkshire’s selection strategy in recent years, which has been quick to give young players a chance.

For that, credit must go to director of cricket Martyn Moxon and first-team coach Jason Gillespie, whose mantra has been, “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”.

“It would have been easy for the club to have given the captaincy to somebody who had a little bit more experience of playing,” says Lees.

“But it sends a clear message to the Yorkshire fans that the club is looking forward, and hopefully I’m the right person to lead us in a new generation of one-day cricket.

“We’ve got the team, we’ve got the squad, and I think it’s now about the mental application and believing in what we do.

“We’ve shown the character we have in the dressing room, so why can’t our red-ball cricket transition over into the one-day form?”

Lees, who led Yorkshire 10 times last summer in all formats, describes his captaincy style as “open and relaxed”.

He is intensely passionate and competitive too, and he wants the team to play an exciting brand.

“I think we’ve got an exciting group of players, so it would be a shame not to try and play an aggressive brand of cricket,” he says.

“We all started out playing as young lads because we enjoy the game, and if we enjoy what we’re doing, allied to a real sense of professionalism, I think we’ll play some really good stuff.

“My captaincy style will develop with more exposure, but I’d like to think I’m open and relaxed.

“I’m quite calm and controlled – I don’t think I’ll be throwing too many tantrums – but I definitely have that will to win.”

Lees’s appointment – although courageous – is also consistent from the club’s perspective.

Not only has he led well in Gale’s absence, but he has done the job coming through the ranks, so has, to some extent, been groomed for the challenge.

“I had lots of captaincy opportunity growing up with the Yorkshire age-group sides and into the Academy and second team,” he says.

“Yorkshire exposed me to captaincy from an early age, and I think that’s definitely a testament to the club.

“I feel very honoured to be afforded this opportunity to lead the lads, and I can’t wait to put some ideas together as a group and to have a real good crack at it next year.

“I feel very proud that Yorkshire think I’m the best man for the job, and hopefully I can repay the faith they’ve shown.”

Captaincy suits Lees’s personality, which is to lead from the front, and it seems to bring the best out of his batting.

The left-hander struggled at times last season, averaging 29 in all cricket, but that figure rose to 49 when he was in charge of the team.

“I enjoy leading,” he says.

“On and off the field, I like to try and set an example, and through performances is usually the best way.

“I didn’t play as well as I would have liked last season, but the positive was that when I did captain, I managed to perform.

“Hopefully, that will continue to happen.”

Lees attributes his difficulties last summer to fatigue after more than two years of solid cricket.

He has now enjoyed some time away and recharged the batteries.

“I think I was a bit mentally tired,” he says.

“I’d been on the England Lions tour the previous winter and played cricket for maybe 28 months on the bounce without a break.

“It takes a toll, particularly as a young player, and I think it’s happened to other players as well.

“Having a break and some time away from the game is a good thing, and I’m a big one for spending time with family and friends.”

How those family and friends must be proud of Lees and his exciting appointment.

The man himself may not be old enough to recall when Yorkshire last won one-day silverware, but the club can build a one-day side around him and he is determined to create some memories of his own.