By Graham Hardcastle
Yorkshire captain Steve Patterson is expecting plenty of attacking and creative cricket in this summer’s Bob Willis Trophy.
The experienced seamer is confident his side has what it takes to qualify for the five-day final, potentially at Lord’s culminating in early October.
They start their five-game North Group campaign against Durham at Emirates Riverside on Saturday.
The best two of the three group winners from the North, South and Central pools will advance through to the showpiece finale.
Patterson said: “With only two going through, even if you top your group you’re not guaranteed to be playing in that final. That means teams are going to have to be incredibly positive to get as many points as they can.
“If you get behind in a game, you have to make a play to get back into it.
“There might be some quite creative options taken by teams in games to try and get the win because it’s not as if you’ve got plenty of time to recover like you have in a 14-game Championship season.
“You haven’t got time to say, ‘We’ve drawn our first three, but it’s fine because we’re still in touch with them and them’.”
Patterson has been delighted by his squad’s preparations for action, starting with work done by the players at home during lockdown and finishing with two-day friendlies against Lancashire and Durham during the last week.
“The lads have looked after themselves during their time at home,” he said. “So, when we came back, we could get straight onto cricket.
“That means we’ve had five weeks of solid, productive cricket leading into the season.
“We’re in a good place and ready to go.”
Yorkshire have been touted as favourites to win the North Group. They are the only established, regular Division One county alongside Lancashire – newly promoted last season – and four other Division Two sides.
Patterson, though, is taking absolutely nothing for granted.
“I don’t like to even think about whether we’re favourites or not,” he said.
“What I’ve stressed to the lads is, ‘Other people may see us as favourites, and it’s up to them to speculate. What we need to be aware of is that even though some teams have been in Division Two and we haven’t, it doesn’t mean that over four days they won’t play a lot better than us’.
“We know if we play the cricket we’re capable of, we will compete with any team in the country. We’ve proved that already in the last season or two. We have to perform.”
Yorkshire will hand a debut to marquee winter recruit Dawid Malan, the former Middlesex captain and current England T20 batting star.
But they may have to do without key duo Gary Ballance (illness) and Duanne Olivier, who are not 100 percent fit.
Upon returning from South Africa three weeks ago, fast bowler Olivier had to spend a week in quarantine and has only had a fortnight of full training.
“We might have to alter the team from game to game due to soreness, tiredness, etc,” said Patterson.
“We’re expecting we’ll have to be flexible, but we’re fortunate that we have a big squad of players capable of stepping up and contributing when we need them.”
In the build-up to this game, Patterson has also lavished praise on opponents Durham for the way they play their cricket and also the ECB for striking exactly the right balance with the creation of the Bob Willis Trophy, a one-off competition with no bearing on the regular County Championship.
He added: “I love the way Durham play their cricket. No matter who they select in their team, it’s going to be one heck of a tough game.
“We need to be at our best to stand a chance of winning. It will be a good test of where we’re at.
“We’re confident in our skills and ability, but until you match yourselves up against somebody else you don’t quite know.
“The challenge for the ECB, with a limited amount of time available, was, ‘Can we play a competition with meaning so that it doesn’t become just a bunch of friendlies?’
“For me, the way they’ve brought this trophy together, it’s done exactly that. It will be a brilliant few weeks.”