There is a certain sense of deja vu when you look at the 2024 county fixtures, with Yorkshire starting their County Championship campaign at home to Leicestershire in early April – just as they did this year.
But coach Ottis Gibson is confident that the comparisons won’t go any further and his Yorkshire side can start next summer with a victory instead of a defeat.
At the start of 2023, Leicestershire came to Headingley and chased down a final day 389 target to win.
It was clearly a disappointing start to a season which ended encouraging for Yorkshire with three victories.
“A lot has happened since then, and we’ve progressed nicely,” said Gibson as he discussed the 2024 county fixture list, released by the ECB this morning.
“If you look at that game, you have to give a lot of credit to Leicester. I thought they played well – they way they chased that score on the final day.
“The one thing you look at with Headingley, whether it’s first-class or Test cricket, no score is big enough in the fourth innings. You can always chase a target.
“We did that in the last game of the season against Worcestershire after they set up a nice target of 360. We chased those runs quite comfortably in the end.
“It’s a good opportunity for us, against a good team, to get our season up and running.”
That season opener begins on Thursday 5 April, with plenty of other things which catch the eye. Yorkshire’s pair of Scarborough four-day games, for example, are against Gloucestershire from Sunday 23 June and Sussex from Thursday 22 August.
Another is the third round clash with Middlesex at Lord’s, starting on Friday 19 April.
That is the venue where Gibson made his Test debut for the West Indies against England in 1995 and where he was named player of the match in 2007 when Durham won the Friends Provident Trophy final against Hampshire.
“Playing at Lord’s is special, the Home of Cricket,” he said. “Going there as a coach is special as well. I’ve experienced both.
“Some of the young guys who haven’t played there yet, that will be a nice thing for them. It’s the third game of the season. By then, hopefully, we’ll be in a groove and we can go there and play well.”
He continued: “I think you have to treat it as just another game.
“The one thing you have to be aware of more than anything is the impact of the slope there. It does take a bit of while to get used to it.
“The problem can be that sometimes they don’t allow you to practice on the outfield beforehand. You net on the Nursery Ground and then go out and play with this great big slope to deal with.
“Hopefully we can make those adjustments quite quickly.”
Yorkshire play seven Championship matches before starting their Vitality Blast campaign against Worcestershire Rapids at Headingley under lights on Thursday 30 May.
Again, fixtures to look out for are the pair of Roses fixtures – the world’s best domestic T20 clash – on Thursday 20 June at Headingley and at Emirates Old Trafford on Friday 12 July.
Unfortunately, the two rivals have been drawn in separate groups for the Metro Bank One-Day Cup, which starts a week earlier than usual on Thursday 25 July against Surrey at the Kia Oval.
“We want success in four-day cricket,” said Gibson. “We want to get ourselves back in the first division. That’s where most of the attention is in county cricket.
“Then, in white ball cricket, especially in the Blast, we want to put forward a better showing than we did this year.
“Our Blast cricket this year was pretty disappointing.
“There were one or two games which we should have won which we didn’t, and we didn’t close out key moments in games. A couple of rain outs here and there as well.
“We’re trying to get a few more pieces into our Blast squad which give us a better chance of winning games and qualifying for Finals Day.”
The Vitality Blast group stage runs from 30 May to 19 July, with a pair of Championship matches in between. Finals Day is at Edgbaston on 14 September.
The first half of the group stage clashes with the T20 World Cup in the West Indies and the USA through June.
That means we’ll miss some players, but hopefully we’ll have a few others. Hopefully that will give us some real quality and experience at the top of the order,” said Gibson, who admitted there has been a knock-on effect as all counties bid to fill their Blast overseas spots.
“It’s proving to be quite difficult to be honest,” he continued.
“We have Shan Masood as our captain, who we’re hoping to see a lot of. Then it’s about adding in what we need alongside him.
“We don’t know whether we are going to see Dawid Malan for all or part of that campaign, Joe Root the same. If we have those two, we won’t need a batter. But we won’t know that until quite late.
“With regards to white ball recruitment, we’ve spoken about a lot of things. But we haven’t done anything significant yet. There are all sorts of questions which may mean we wait a bit longer to see where we go with that.
“If we can keep all of our bowlers fit – Matthew Fisher, Matthew Revis – he gained a lot of experience this year, Mickey Edwards didn’t play any Blast cricket this year, Matt Milnes also – I think we have enough bowling to ensure we do well.
“But with seven four-day games in eight weeks at the start of the season, history suggests there will be some injuries in that period. That’s not the ideal situation going into another very hectic period with the Blast.”
Concentrating on one player who Gibson name-checked, Matt Milnes. In 2021, the seamer was the second leading wicket-taker in the entire Blast with 22 scalps as he helped Kent win the title. But he didn’t play a limited overs fixture at all for the Vikings last year owing to his back stress fracture.
“He was recruited as an all-format player for us, and it didn’t work out for him or us this year,” said Gibson. “But he finished the season really strong in that game against Worcestershire, and things are going well for him in training at the moment.
“I’m sure he’ll be in a fantastic place at the start of the season to be that leader that we see him to be.”
Clearly, Shan Masood’s recent appointment as Pakistan’s Test captain means his availability may be affected. But Yorkshire are keeping their fingers crossed it won’t be too much of an issue.
They are assessing their options with regards to four-day recruitment – another overseas player can be signed to play alongside Masood.
But Gibson believes whatever the overseas picture looks like in 2024, he has plenty of domestic quality within his squad to underpin a push for success.
He added: “We have some of the best young players in the country,” he added.
“One thing we are perhaps lacking is experience in that middle order, and not having Malan (he has announced his intention to concentrate purely on white ball cricket for now) might represent a bit of a problem if the likes of Jonny and Joe go to the IPL at the start of the season.
“But I’m expecting the youngsters to step up. George Hill has had two good seasons now, Matthew Revis had a good year batting at seven, Jonny Tattersall and James Wharton also.
“If someone is not available, it always presents an opportunity to someone else. What I want and expect is for those youngsters to take that opportunity.”