Yorkshire players and supporters will be hoping that a winter’s planning and hard work followed by a detailed pre-season programme will begin to come to fruition this week when Andrew Gale’s side return to the First Division of the LV= County Championship with a home match against Sussex.
Some might argue that the fixture list could have been kinder to the White Rose – Yorkshire have only beaten Ed Joyce’s side once in 13 first-class games since September 1998 and have not beaten them at home since 1997 – but the skipper is in a confident mood ahead of Wednesday’s game.
“I want to go and win the Championship this year,” Gale said. I don’t want to come up from the Second Division and say: ‘We’re going to compete and try to avoid relegation.” That’s not the right message to send out to the players. The message to them is: “Let’s go and win it.”
At the same time no one at Headingley labours under the illusion that beating teams like Sussex will be straightforward. The side, skillfully coached by Mark Robinson, finished fourth in Division One in 2012 and Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie is readying his players for a tough battle.
“Sussex are a very good team and we know they’re strong in all departments,” he said. “We know what we’re up against, and it will be a real battle. That’s the reality of Division One, you’re in for some serious battles. We had some cracking games in Division Two last year, we had to play some really good cricket to come out on top.
We know that if we do come away with some victories in Division One, they’ll have been hard fought. But that’s what we want. We’re ready for the hard work. We have prepared for hard work, and we’re willing to put it in in order to get the success that we’re after.”
Yorkshire have named a 13-man squad for the match against Sussex. New signings Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett could make their Championship debuts in Yorkshire colours and 19-year-old opener Alex Lees has a very good chance of opening the batting after scoring his maiden first-class century against Leeds/Bradford MCCU last week.
Australian batsman Phil Jaques and seamer Moin Ashraf have been drafted into the squad. Opener Joe Sayers and the ex-Sussex wicketkeeper Andrew Hodd both miss out. The starting XI will be named before the toss on Wednesday.
Yorkshire’s 13-man squad to face Sussex: Andrew Gale ©, Moin Ashraf, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Jack Brooks, Phil Jaques, Alex Lees, Adam Lyth, Steve Patterson, Liam Plunkett, Azeem Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Ryan Sidebottom.
Lees’s selection is the reward for his two centuries in recent games, performances which have impressed the Yorkshire coach.
“Alex has done everything he can to give himself the best possible chance of being selected,” said Gillespie “He scored a hundred against Northants in Barbados and then showed his character by coming back from a first ball duck and getting a hundred.
“One thing that has impressed me with Alex is his temperament and how he goes about it. He takes his cricket seriously. He puts the time in. He’s always trying to learn and get better. As I say to the players, you be your best selector. If they put the performances in, they’ll give themselves the best chance. We’re very consistent with that.”
For his part Lees is happy with his form but cautious about his prospects.
“I’ve had two innings of substance already this year, which is a good start,” he said “But you don’t know what the balance of the team is going to be. All I can do is do my job. From a young age, I’ve aspired to play for Yorkshire. If I’ve given myself the best chance and it happens, then fantastic.”
The Sussex side is likely to include England spinner Monty Panesar, who has been made available for the game by the ECB, although similar permission has not been granted to the Test wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Last time they met:
At Scarborough: August 17-20, 2011: Match Drawn
Sussex 398 (Yardy 130, Brown 108: Sidebottom 5-53, Pyrah 3-64) and 333-6 (Yardy 122, Rashid 4-121). Yorkshire 388 (Root 160, Ballance 87; Khan 4-70) and 312-6 (Rudolph 120, Sayers 84)
Last time out:
At Headingley: April 5-7 2013: Yorkshire beat Leeds/Bradford MCCU by 294 runs
Yorkshire 244 (Ballance 112, Sidebottom 40, Lee 7-45) and 289-2 decl. (Lyth 111, Lees 121). Leeds/Bradford MCCU 118 (Patterson 3-39, Brooks 3-26, Sidebottom 3-9) and 121 (Plunkett 6-33)
At Hove: Susse drew with Loughborough MCCU. Sussex 297 (Brown 85, Gatting 61; Riley 4-48) and 105-2 (Nash 60*. Loughborough MCCU 155 (Baker 44)