Dawid Malan believes seven wins from 14 North Group games would put Yorkshire on course for their maiden title in the Vitality Blast.
Malan will be available when the Vikings bid for the first of those victories against Birmingham Bears in the 2021 opener at Emerald Headingley on Thursday (6.30pm).
The world’s number one T20 batsman will play in the first five games before England duty and is in a buoyant mood on the back of a majestic 199 in Yorkshire’s Championship win over Sussex at the weekend.
It was the left-hander’s first county appearance of the summer having only recently returned from Indian Premier League duty with Punjab Kings, for whom he only played once.
“You usually need to win around seven games to qualify, so there’s no need to panic if you don’t get off to a good start,” said the 33-year-old.
“But hopefully myself, Jonny (Bairstow) and Rash (Adil Rashid) can put in some match-winning performances for those first five games to get us off to a good start.
“The team we have for the first five games is very strong, not that we don’t have strength when the international stuff starts and lads aren’t available.
“The likes of Jonny and Rash are proven match-winners. And there’s a good feel around the group.
“Missing Dave Willey for the majority of games last year wasn’t ideal for the team’s development. But he looks like he’s going to play all the games.
“That is very important as captain.”
Malan’s first taste of the IPL was mixed.
While he only played one game for Punjab, a team boasting the likes of Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran, he was able to train a lot and advance his game.
However, having been in India with England prior to the start of the competition in early April, the former Middlesex captain has admitted to some off-field challenges.
“When you just go to train and not play much, it gives you the chance to speak to different coaches and face different types of bowling,” he said.
“From a learning point of view, that was fantastic.
“It was a long time away in the bubble, and this side of the England tour there I would say I was starting to feel a little bit of bubble fatigue. I found that tough.
“But you go to the IPL to learn. You want to play, obviously, but I still feel like I’ve taken a lot away from that experience.
“I got to work with Andy Flower for five weeks, Anil Kumble and some of the local Indian players, who are fantastic in their own conditions.”
Yorkshire face a Birmingham side who will include West Indian overseas all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite.
They could also field White Rose legend Tim Bresnan, who left Emerald Headingley before the start of last year’s shortened summer.
This would be his first game back on his old stomping ground.
Bresnan still holds the record for Yorkshire’s best ever T20 bowling figures – 6-19 against Lancashire at Headingley in 2017.
“Watch him go and get 5-20. That would be typical,” chuckled coach Andrew Gale. “I won’t be buying him dinner if he does!
“There will be a crowd in, but it’s a pity for Brez that there’s not a full crowd in. I hope he gets a proper send-off because he deserves one.
“He obviously didn’t get that last year when he left us.”
Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid return to the Yorkshire squad for the opening Vitality Blast game. Dom Bess and Joe Root are unavailable due to England commitments.
Matthew Fisher is returning to full fitness and appeared for the second team earlier this week, taking six wickets across two games on Monday and Tuesday.
14-man squad to face Birmingham Bears
Jonny Bairstow (Wicketkeeper)
David Willey (Captain)
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
• Yorkshire have twice scored 200 or more against Birmingham, the higher being 226 for eight made at Emerald Headingley in 2018 but Birmingham’s highest is 177 for four at the same ground in 2019.
• Tom Kohler-Cadmore scored 94 not out at Edgbaston in 2019 and this is the only innings over 80 for either side, Warwickshire’s highest being 69 not out by Laurie Evans at Emerald 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 match in this series; their best is three for 21 by Tim Bresnan at Headingley in 2017.
• Two Warwickshire bowlers have taken four wickets in an innings Jetan Patel and Keith Barker (both four for 19) but no one has done so for Yorkshire in T20 matches against these opponents, the best being three for 20 by Tim Bresnan.
HOW TO FOLLOW
You can keep up to date with proceedings via the live stream that will be available on yorkshireccc.com. There will also be a clips available via the match centre. Highlights will also be available following the game.