On loan opener Mark Stoneman says performing well in T20 cricket forms a big part of his future ambitions in the game.
Surrey’s ex-England Test batsman is spending the next few weeks in a Yorkshire shirt in the Vitality Blast, helping the Vikings overcome injury and unavailability issues in their batting department.
At 34, Stoneman, a regular in the Championship team down at the Kia Oval, finds himself on the outer when it comes to Blast cricket.
However, recently, he has shown that there is plenty to give against the white ball, a theory highlighted by Saturday’s debut 50 against Northamptonshire at Emerald Headingley as the Vikings went top of the North Group with a sixth win in nine Blast games.
In seven T20 innings this summer – six of them for Surrey seconds – he has scored four fifties.
Ahead of Yorkshire’s next fixture against Birmingham Bears at Edgbaston on Wednesday (6.30pm), he said: “After a tough couple of years, I’ve really got the energy back for cricket in general.
“I’m loving playing, and I want to play all formats.
“That’s not to be at Surrey in T20 cricket at the minute. So to come here, play, try to express myself and see how good I can be, I’m really grateful.
“I went to Surrey with Test ambitions, and the white ball stuff sort of goes on the back-burner a bit when you’re chasing a specific dream like that.
“Now, it’s about being the best all-round player I can be.”
Stoneman swapped Durham for Surrey ahead of 2017 and almost immediately broke into the England team, playing 11 Tests between August 2017 and May 2018, including an away Ashes series.
He scored five half-centuries in 20 innings.
A couple of baron years followed in first-class cricket in 2019 and 2020, with him only scoring 791 runs in 17 matches at an average of 25.51.
But he is back in the groove this summer, scoring 397 runs in eight Championship matches at 49.93.
“From the beginning of the season, I’ve been in good form regardless of the colour of the ball,” he said.
“I feel like I’m in a good place mentally, which allows me to keep my head still and watch the ball. That’s generally always been the basis of how I’ve gone about playing.
“I’ve had a couple of nice knocks in Surrey’s second team to almost get a feel for this format. To get 50 again, on my debut, was very pleasing.
“There’s an abundance of riches down at Surrey, and it’s on the guys in charge there to make the decisions.
“You’ve got to take it on the chin that you don’t make the cut in T20 cricket.
“But you still have to go about it with the attitude of, ‘Be the best you can be’.
“This is the perfect opportunity for me to come and get some cricket elsewhere in the format. That’s what the loan system is about.
“I’ve played a lot against Andrew Gale and have a lot of respect for him. I’ve played with and against Adam Lyth – a bit at Under 19s, and I obviously toured with Gary Ballance.
“There are a few familiar faces there, and I’ve been welcomed with open arms.”
Saturday’s win over Northamptonshire, by 82 runs defending 225, was as comprehensive as it gets in T20.
Stoneman said: “You’d like to put a title of ‘complete performance’ on it. But there are always areas you can improve – things like minimising dot balls, mishaps in the field.
“You chase perfection whilst understanding that you’re never really going to get there.
“But it’s a nice confidence builder heading into Edgbaston, where we can hopefully put in another big performance.”
Birmingham are also in quarter-final contention.
Yorkshire are top of the North with 13 points from nine games and may only need one more win to seal a top four place and qualify for the quarter-finals.
The Bears are fifth with nine points from nine, one point behind local rivals Worcester.
They were well beaten by Yorkshire at Headingley in the opening game earlier this month.
The Vikings excellent recent performances mean they go into the closing stages of the group campaign in a completely different position to recent years when they have been scrambling for wins and left themselves with too much to do.
The pressure has been eased to a certain extent.
Stoneman added: “Being top of the table is exactly where you want to be.
“It gives you a lot more scope for planning and stuff.
“But, ultimately, you just want to be playing at your best every time you go out onto the park.
“We’ll still be striving for those complete performances.
“You don’t take your foot off the gas and stutter into qualifying and then lose momentum into the knockout stages. You want to solidify what you’re doing as a group and have everyone nailed down to their roles.”
Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan, Adil Rashid, Joe Root and David Willey are all unavailable due to England commitments.
Tom Kohler-Cadmore (broken finger) and Will Fraine (oblique strain) remain on the sidelines.
13-man squad to take on Birmingham Bears
Adam Lyth (Captain)
Jonny Tattersall (Wicketkeeper)
A look at the opposition – Birmingham Bears
Coach: Mark Robinson
Captain: Will Rhodes
Last Year’s Performance: Third (Central Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Sam Hain (284 runs, average 56.80)
2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Olly Stone (14 wickets, average 17.50)
Overseas players: Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies – whole tournament), Pieter Malan (South Africa – whole tournament)
Key man: Carlos Brathwaite – The West Indies all-rounder is a marquee signing and the Bears will look to him in terms of both performance and personality to drive their young and evolving side.
Flies under the radar: Jake Lintott – The wrist-spinner burst into the Blast side as an unknown quantity last year and bowled superbly. Not quite so unknown this time round but still an engaging mystery.
Best Player Under 24: Rob Yates – The 21-year-old batsman has proved he can play long innings in red-ball cricket. Last year he showed he has the range and confidence to shine in T20 too.
Blast expectations: Inconsistent and disappointing in recent seasons, much better is expected of the Bears this season under two men who know how to win in the format, director of cricket Paul Farbrace and first team coach Mark Robinson.
Last year’s campaign concluded with an absolute nightmare when, in a winner-takes-all final group game against Northants Steelbacks at Edgbaston, they went to pieces with the ball and threw away an apparently impregnable position. Much greater resilience under pressure will be demanded this time – and much will depend on how they fare during a tough start of five straight away games due to the opening week of the tournament coinciding with Edgbaston hosting a LV= Insurance Test match against New Zealand.
The Key Statistics
• Until 2019 Yorkshire had never won a T20 match away to Warwickshire or Birmingham Bears. Of the seven previously-scheduled games three were lost, two were abandoned and two finished as a ‘no result’.
• There have been two innings totals of over 200 in the 14 T20 games which have taken place between these two teams and both were scored by Yorkshire, the higher one being 226 for eight at Headingley in 2018.
• No batsman has made a century for either side in this series, the best being 94 not out by Tom Kohler-Cadmore at Edgbaston in 2019. The home side’s best is 69 not out by Laurie Evans at Headingley in 2014.
• Both Jeetan Patel (Headingley 2014) and Keith Barker (Edgbaston 2010) have taken exactly four for 19, these being the best figures for the visitors in these matches but no Yorkshire bowler has ever taken four wickets in a matcj in this series; their best is three for 21 by Tim Bresnan at Headingley in 2017.
• Two Birmingham/Warwickshire bowlers have taken four wickets in an innings but no one has done so for Yorkshire in T20 mtches against these opponents.
HOW TO FOLLOW
There will also be a match blog on the website, and the clips available via the match centre. Highlights will also be available after the game.