Saturday, 1 April 2017

Yorkshire 2017 season preview

Saturday, 1 April 2017
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, spring has sprung, blossom is on the trees, and of course the start of April means the county season is about to begin. Now I’ve just about recovered from last season’s thrilling championship finale, it’s time to look ahead to what 2017 may hold for my beloved Yorkshire.

First of all, it will be a new start, with a new captain in Gary Ballance and an old captain as the new coach in Andrew Gale. It’ll be a big job for Gale in his first role as coach, but there are few people more passionate about Yorkshire than he is, and he’s had the opportunity to learn from one of the very best in the past few years whilst alongside Jason Gillespie. Ballance, meanwhile, will be looking for the kind of form that brought him into the England setup for the first time in 2013/14. He’s endured a difficult winter, even when compared to his international teammates, and will return to Yorkshire with a lot to prove. Despite the problems he’s had over the past couple of years, I’m still a big fan and would love to see him churning out the runs again for Yorkshire and showing the sort of form that saw him called up to the England teams in the first place. Often for England he became rather bogged down, somewhat pigeonholed as a defensive number three – a role he had never really played for Yorkshire - so I wonder if we might see a touch more aggression come into his game along the way.

Yorkshire will be eager to get back to the top of the table after being ousted last year, and have a squad definitely capable of challenging for the title. Tim Bresnan will be a key player and something of a talismanic figure after a strong 2016, where he proved a key performer with the bat as well as lending his weight of international experience with the ball. Peter Handscomb will be joining as the overseas player after a successful start to his test career, and there will be several batsmen looking to improve on their returns from 2016, too. The bowling line-up looks strong as ever – though injury will be a concern after the pre-season: both Sidebottom and Plunkett carrying niggles, and Jack Brooks set to miss the start of the season. With this trio, Bresnan, and Patterson all over thirty, there will be chances for the younger pace bowlers to step up – and it’ll be important that they do. 19-year-old Matthew Fisher is one held in particularly high regard, and despite an injury plagued twelve months will certainly be a player to keep an eye on when he returns to the side. In the meantime it will be the final season for the ever-dependable Ryan Sidebottom, and the team will want to give him a fitting swansong.

The matter of international selections will be an issue, and Yorkshire can count on losing several players to England through the course of the season. Appearances from Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow will likely be a collector’s item, and with Plunkett, Rashid, and Willey all regulars in T20s and ODIs they too will be in and out of the team. Though it’s something they’ll be used to by now, having to prove capable themselves without them on many occasions in recent years, it will as ever be an important factor when managing the team throughout the season.

2016 saw a dramatic improvement in the T20 arena, where the team reached finals day before running into an inspired performance from Durham and Mark Wood in the semi-final. It’s a format where Yorkshire have tended to underperform in over the years despite a good group of players, and they will want to continue their progress. David Willey will be a key figure with both bat and ball, whilst Travis Head has also re-signed as a T20 specialist. In the 50 over competition Yorkshire have been losing semi-finalists for two successive years, and will hope to be making those extra steps forward.

In short, Yorkshire remain a strong side and can again be considered contenders to win back the championship title in 2017 – though they do have more of a transitional element than in previous years. They will certainly be itching to get back the title that they came so close to winning for a third successive year in 2016, and may relish returning to the role of the hunter again, rather than being the hunted. Much as I do every year, I’d love to see them with the trophy in their hands come September – but not least as it would be a fine and fitting send off for Ryan Sidebottom, the icing on the cake for such a fine player and stalwart of the game.

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