Brooks and Ballance brilliance ensures Yorkshire survival

An imperious 194 and 60 from Gary Ballance, along with seven wickets from Jack Brooks in his Yorkshire swansong ensured Yorkshire ended their season with a resounding seven-wicket victory over Worcestershire to secure survival in the County Championship Division One for the White Rose outfit. The star duo also combined for a record Ninth wicket partnership against Worcestershire in the First innings, putting on an astounding 171 during a blistering period, which set the team up for victory.

Despite only needing two points to guarantee survival, this game had the potential to be nerve-wracking for Yorkshire, especially after Lancashire hammered Hampshire in their final fixture. However, when Jack Brooks dismissed Ed Barnard for 35 on the first evening, safety was secured and the Yorkshire faithful could breathe a big sigh of relief as the curtains closed in on what has been a tough season for the club.

Despite the Worcestershire victory propelling Yorkshire up to fourth, their final position doesn’t tell the full story. Whilst there was some success in white-ball cricket this season, with a semi-final appearance against eventual winners Hampshire in the Royal London One-Day Cup, the failure to qualify from the North Group in the T20 Blast was disappointing. This included two defeats against bitter rivals Lancashire which ultimately cost the club. It has been a tough season for the Headingley-based outfit. These struggles, particularly in Championship Cricket, is in complete contrast to the team that nearly won three titles on the trot back in 2016.

Gary Ballance
Gary Ballance, who resigned the club captaincy in July, was the standout batsman in Yorkshire’s four-day side this season.

There has been widespread discontent across the club this year, with many fans turning on Coach and former Club Captain Andrew Gale. There has been a huge amount of anger and opposition to Gale’s decisions throughout the season which resulted in a toxic environment at the club. This was only enhanced with the Adil Rashid saga, where he refused to play red-ball cricket for Yorkshire, despite being selected in England’s Test Match team against India. The fallout from this, which included former players and current Director of Cricket Martin Moxon vociferously criticising Rashid, caused a stir in the cricket world, which can hardly have helped the side during an already tough season.

Player departures heightened this discontent further; Ryan Sidebottom’s retirement at the end of 2017 was always going to be felt hard, but the announcements of mid-season transfers of Alex Lees (to Durham), Liam Plunkett (to Surrey) and Jack Brooks (to Somerset) hinted that something was profoundly wrong at the club. Lees, once a Yorkshire Captain and England Lions player and tipped to be a future England Test Opener seems to have gone backwards over the past few seasons. He averaged 44.13, 33.12 and 40.17 during Yorkshire’s successful 2014-2016 period, yet this dropped to 27.43 in 2017 and then to 6.25 this season. It is hoped that his move to Durham which took place in early August, will help to reinvigorate the Left-Handers’ career. Plunkett’s move to Surrey is another example of talent draining from Headingley, with the fast bowler not playing since the announcement of his departure at the back-end of July, having only made eight appearances all season, an undoubted waste of his fabulous talent. Brooks, a cult hero amongst the Yorkshire faithful, and surely a major contender for Player of the Season at the club’s End of Season Awards, will be a huge miss. However, he can look back on a great season where he ended as Yorkshire’s top wicket taker with 51 wickets, and it is testament to the man that his performances went from strength-to-strength after the announcement of his departure at the end of August.

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Jack Brooks and his famous headband will be sorely missed at Headingley next year. Image Credit [The Times]

A major problem for the side in the County Championship has been their batting struggles. It is largely the same team and batting line-up that was so proficient when they won their successive Championship titles. However, this season the side have struggled to post big scores. Jack Leaning has not kicked on since his selection for the inaugural North/South series in 2017, only passing fifty three times in all formats this season and his struggles have been indicative of the whole batting unit.  This is a side that is used to having players away on England duty and, whilst it must be acknowledged that this has been a tough summer for batsmen, just two batsmen, Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Jonny Bairstow, who have only played six and three matches respectively, somewhat distorting their stats, have averaged over 40 in the County Championship. This is compared to nine players averaging over 40 in their 2014 and 2015 title-winning campaigns. Gary Ballance has been the standout batsman of the season, leading the run-scoring charts with 909 runs at 39.39.

Jack Leaning has not kicked on since his selection for the inaugural North/South series in 2017, only passing fifty three times in all formats this season and his struggles have been indicative of the whole batting unit.

The poor performances of Yorkshire’s overseas players in the County Championship have also been a contributing factor to their tough season. Back in 2015, in their second title triumph, Cheteshwar Pujara, Glen Maxwell and Aaron Finch, all averaged over 40. Yet this year, Indian Pujara returned and produced an extremely lean spell, averaging just 14.33 across 12 innings, lower than tailenders Steven Patterson, Ben Coad, Jack Brooks and Matthew Waite amongst others. Kane Williamson, undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest batsman, failed to set the world alight, averaging just 36 with no centuries, whilst New Zealand teammate Jeet Raval was brought in to boost the side for the final four championship games, yet he averaged just 12. Whilst batting conditions haven’t been easy, overseas players for other counties such as Hashim Amla (Hampshire), Murali Vijay (Essex) and Matt Renshaw (Somerset) all averaged over 50 during their stints and hence the poor performance of Yorkshire’s overseas has contributed massively to their struggles this year.

Despite a gruelling season, as strange as it may sound, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for this Yorkshire side. Having been staring down the barrel following humiliating defeats to Worcestershire and Somerset, the side showed great fight to end the season with a win vs Lancashire, a winning draw vs Hampshire and the hammering of Worcestershire, ending the season in fantastic fashion in the process. The Adil Rashid saga has been resolved for the time being, with the gifted leg spinner signing a one-year contract to play in all formats of the game next season. Moreover, there are some talented young pace bowlers who are really starting to show their quality with Ben Coad, who was harshly ignored from the England Lions squad for their winter tour, taking 48 wickets at a measly 16.33, following up his 53 wickets from last season. Similarly, Matthew Waite and Josh Shaw have both put in good performances when called upon this season.

Ben Coad, who was harshly ignored from the England Lions squad for their winter tour, taking 48 wickets at a measly 16.33, following up his 53 wickets from last season.

Furthermore, Tom Kohler-Cadmore finished the season in fine fashion after breaking into the first class side following his strong white-ball form, with two fabulous hundreds against Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, and he has duly been rewarded with a call-up for the England Lions winter tour to the UAE. Equally, former England U-19 captain Harry Brook will benefit enormously from his first full season at senior level and the acquisition of fast bowler Matthew Pillans (from Surrey), leg-spinner Josh Poysden (from Warwickshire) and batsman Will Fraine (from Nottinghamshire), who will all be determined to prove their worth after limited opportunities, will benefit the White Rose county greatly.

It is hoped that, having come out the other side of this tough period, that 2019 will be a much more successful season for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.