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Last of the 2011 Whine – Season Review

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(c) Dave Morton

So which year was the blip? 2010, when a team perennially at the relegation end of the table overachieved to mount an unlikely tilt at the tile? Or 2011, when an emerging side packed with exciting young talent underachieved and was taught the harsh lesson of relegation?

The truth of course is more nuanced than a simple binary choice.

It’s hidden somewhere within the story of a truly miserable season for Yorkshire supporters. A season that saw the club slip back into the quicksand of division two, whilst traditional rivals Lancashire won their first outright championship title since Americans started dressing their cats as Superman for Halloween.

Yorkshire’s struggles were caused by shortcomings in all three disciplines of the game; but a batting line-up that was brittle, and on occasion overly cautious, proved to be the initial concern.

(c) Dave Morton

Those problems were there from the very first championship innings of the year, with spectators at New Road watching us slump to 155/7 before we were rescued by the unlikely pairing of Gerard Brophy and Ryan Sidebottom. There were no such lower order heroics the following week at Headingley as a solid start of 100/2 against Durham fell away to 149 all out; and there were no heroics at all in our third championship game, when after being set a modest 145 to win, we were dismissed for an inept, dispiriting, 86.

That collapse was against Nottinghamshire, supposedly one of our rivals for the title. It came after we’d taken a 193 run first innings lead; it came after it briefly looked like we might force home an innings victory. Instead, such a dramatic reversal of fortune was not only a humiliating, chastening experience; it influenced much of the caution that was to permeate our play during the remainder of the summer.

Certainly our batting rarely pushed the clap-o-meter needle over from ‘polite’ to ‘drunken US chat show audience’. Having the two Joe’s, Sayers and Root, at the top of the order didn’t help us get off to a flier, but even so, of the seven times we scored more than 350 in our first innings, we only managed to get there within the bonus point qualification period of 110 overs on three occasions. Hardly the attacking cricket promised by Andy Gale when he’d taken over the captaincy.

There were mitigating circumstances of course. Batsman struggling with form and fitness are unlikely to play like Varinder Sehwag with a bus to catch. Teams liable to collapse are unlikely to sound the cavalry charge – although whether Yorkshire’s ISO 31000 certification would have been invalidated by them pacing their innings towards a fourth batting bonus point is debatable.

What’s not debatable is that the departure of Jacques Rudolph at the end of 2010 left a huge gap in Yorkshire’s ability to post large scores. The young batsmen earmarked during the winter to replace him, Joe Root and Gary Ballance, had fine seasons, but their consistent run scoring is yet to regularly include the long innings that significantly influence the outcome of a game. That task you’d expect to be fulfilled by the capped batsmen; yet of them, Gale missed the championship run-in after breaking his arm, Bairstow’s red-hot form cooled in the second half of the season, Sayers played like a man slowly recovering from a career threatening illness, Lyth had a summer spent offering catching practice outside off stump and Mags was being picked when out of form and barely off the physio’s table.

The overall impression was not only of a side that wasn’t scoring the runs it should, but perhaps more tellingly, one that had reverted to the batting collapses and careless sessions of play that had bedevilled them in 2008 & 2009.

Yet if anything, the bowling fared even worse.

(c) Dave Morton

Sidebottom came in, did a brave job of leading the line, and captured by far his best haul of first-class wickets; although even he looked ineffective during some of our more toothless displays, and was clearly down on pace from his time with England. Pyrah was a vastly improved four day bowler during early season, but the extra zip he’d found gradually ebbed away after a nasty knee injury kept him out of action for almost a month.

The rest of the attack was a huge disappointment. None more so than Adil Rashid, who started the season with an opening-day six-wicket haul in front of Geoff Miller and ended it so far off the national selectors radar you’d need the Hubble telescope to locate him.

Steve Patterson’s nagging accuracy from the previous year took overly long to be rediscovered, and when it was, a side strain left him out of action for almost two months. Ajmal Shahzad’s enthusiasm led to occasional incisive spells, but all too often a scattergun inaccuracy. Whilst the fringe bowlers found themselves dropped in and out of an ineffective bowling unit backed by a slip cordon that caused more balls to be grassed than a naturist picnic.

Our problems in the field reached their nadir during a tortuous two week away tour of Liverpool, Taunton and Hove that saw 1,678 runs conceded with just 28 wickets taken. It was a road trip which included the twin embarrassments of Lancashire chasing down 121 in an hour to win the Roses match off the final over of the game, and an undefeated opening stand of 228 in just 40 overs that allowed Somerset to complete a contemptuous run-chase against us for the third year running.

Oh, and later in the summer Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie put on an eight hour, 523 run stand for Hampshire’s third wicket in our match at the Rose Bowl.

As I said, a truly miserable season for Yorkshire supporters.

And not a particularly enjoyable one for our players either.

So what went wrong after the improvement of 2010?

(c) Dave Morton

You could start by looking at the previous winter’s preparations. There’s already been an acknowledgment that our training programme left some of the squad feeling jaded when the season began, and there needs to be an honest assessment as to whether that was also a factor in the plethora of injuries suffered throughout the summer.

Nor did it help that four key members of the squad were involved with the Lions tour which coincided with our crucial pre-season trip to Barbados, or that Anthony McGrath was injured during the same period. The fact we had half a dozen players putting their names forward for the IPL auction in January was probably more of a worry than a disruption, but even so, should anyone in the squad feel like making themselves available for IPL5 I’d suggest they avoid asking YCCC chairman Colin Graves for a letter of recommendation.

But the off-season factor that had the biggest impact on our performances was the decision not to replace Rudolph with the signing of another senior batsman, most likely an overseas pro. The results are there for all to see; although the squad’s inability to cover for Jacques’ loss stemmed mainly from a failure of our capped batsmen to maintain their form, as the judgement made that Joe Root and Gary Ballance were ready for first-team action has proved to be sound.

There’ve been plenty of voices criticising that lack of an overseas player in the Yorkshire ranks, but I’ve yet to hear anyone volunteering the money to pay for him. Because let’s be clear, Rudolph’s wages were spent on signing Ryan Sidebottom, without whom our bowling attack would have been as limp as a librarian’s handshake. The only other option would have been to increase spending on the squad at a time when the need to cut costs was causing redundancies elsewhere at the club and the chairman was having to cover the workload of our recently departed Chief Exec.

I’m not sure how Colin Graves would have pitched that to our bank manager, “Yeah, I know we’re £20 million in debt and we’ve projected another million pound loss in the coming year, but are you ok with us upping the cricket budget by £150,000?” Anyone who thinks they can manage that is free to re-negotiate my overdraft limit as well.

The truth is we had two holes in our bucket at the end of 2010, and only the money to repair one of them with outside help. So perhaps it’s worth remembering that Lancashire has just won the championship with a contribution of 257 runs and ten wickets from their overseas players.

(c) Dave Morton

But then Lancashire’s success has been based around the collective performance of a group of twentysomething, largely home grown players. Exactly the formula Yorkshire was boasting about at the end of last season. Exactly the players Colin Graves was ranting about at the end of this.

Whether he should have been voicing that kind of criticism in public is debatable, but it’s hard to deny that a number of the Yorkshire players underperformed during the season. The form of Lyth, McGrath, and to a lesser extent Sayers, left our top order batting vulnerable and liable to spark a collapse. Patterson lacked the control he’d shown last year that enabled him to be his captain’s ‘handbrake’ on an opposition innings, whilst Rashid and Shahzad saw their partnership-breaking ability diminish as their collective strike rate increased.

With so many senior players low on form it’s little wonder the team underperformed. But the fact that loss of form was so widespread means hard questions need to be asked about preparation as well as execution, and hard questions need to be asked of coaches as well as players.

Exactly what could have been done about Yorkshire’s injury crisis is another matter. It was maddening and had a similar effect to the problems suffered by Durham the summer before. Not only were players being put out of action for large parts of the season, but a number of them – Patterson, Pyrah, Rafiq – were being injured just after running into form.

It was hardly a situation geared towards stable team selection, but then that wasn’t an aspect of Yorkshire’s season from which the burning light of logic always emanated. As a desperation to get the experience of Anthony McGrath into the side certainly appeared to trump concerns about his fitness and form. And whilst Yorkshire’s strategy of playing Adil Rashid throughout the ups and downs of a young legspinner’s form has in the past been admirable, there were times this summer when you felt his confidence would be better served away from the firing-line. The decision to play him at Hove after a poor showing at Taunton just days before, resulted in figures of 0-187, Yorkshire’s third worst bowling return ever. It may have also been the final straw that pushes David Wainwright into the arms of another county.

It’s not as if you felt Rashid always had the full confidence of his captain; with Adil’s introduction to the attack being delayed further and further as the season progressed. But then Gale didn’t appear to have the same confidence in anything this year. Batting too often progressed cautiously, bowling changes seemed more regimented and fields less attacking. He looked like a captain who doubted his team had the ability to win games. It was certainly one that lacked the killer instinct.

(c) Dave Morton

Turning that around for next season will take some hard work during the winter. Difficult decisions may need to be made over the retention of existing staff, both on the field and behind the scenes. Difficult decisions will need to be made over recruitment – although the return of Test cricket to Headingley in 2012 has at least improved our financial situation to the point where an overseas player can be signed.

Honest assessment needs to be made over our planning and preparation. The batting line-up for one-day cricket needs to be sorted out properly – this year we only worked out Bairstow’s position in our 40 over side at the fifth attempt. More thinking needs to be put into catching drill as we can no longer afford to keep our best outfielders in the slips cordon.

But for all the hard work needed we should at least know the talent is there to be promoted back into division one. Hell, man for man we’re as good a squad as the newly crowded county champions. And that’s where much of this season’s disappointment must center. Because there was a lot of hot air expended at the end of last year in praising our young home-grown squad and what they could achieve. Yet it’s Lancashire that’s used a similar blue-print to capture the title whilst we’ve imploded.

It may be time to show some humility and look over the Pennines at how we could better use our resources.

Len

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Written by ThatCricketBlogger

September 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm

One Response

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  1. Nice Shots and keep hitting the ball
    Thanks for sharing Cricinfo

    Cricinfo

    May 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm


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