Jake Howe | 8:09pm gmt 14 Jun 2011
As the first leg of the County Championship draws to a close - the 2011 season now taking its mid-summer break for the Twenty20 tournament - Yorkshire CCC are being left to ponder on how they made such a disasterous start to this year's competition. A promising and talented young side that ended their 2010 season on a high and finished third in the championship is being drawn into an ugly relegation battle. Eight matches in, Yorkshire have only a few drawn fixtures and a single win over relegation favourites Worcestershire to show for their efforts this year. What went wrong? And more importantly, what can the Tykes do to bring this season back to life?
In the bowling department, Yorkshire's season started encouragingly well. Leg-spinner Adil Rashid took his career-best figures against Worcestershire, former England seamer Ryan Sidebottom has slotted back into the Headingley set up with ease and all-rounder Rich Pyrah - whom many had tagged as only a player for one-day cricket - has come into his own with the red ball. His eight wickets against Nottinghamshire at Headingley were more than he'd ever got in a first-class season.
Their worst problem, without a doubt, has been the batting. There have been half-decent scores, a few good, but almost nothing in the way of the big, match-winning innings that really rack up the totals. This is where Jacques Rudolph was vital to Yorkshire's line-up over the last four years. Time and time again not only would he get a score, but make it count by delivering the big totals, putting his side in position to claim the win. Younger batsmen like Adam Lyth had impressed with form and consistency, Lyth in particular caught attention with his nine fifties and three centuries, but hadn't made the step up to really cashing in when the going was good. Lyth's run tally was impressive, but his converting only three of 12 50-plus scores into hundreds was telling. With Rudolph departing this year back to his native South Africa, and his replacement being the 20-year old Joe Root on his debut season, more was needed from them.
Lyth has not delivered this season. Once again he has looked to be in fantastic touch so often, but continues to throw it away, and this time he doesn't have the runs to back it up. Dropped from the side for the most recent Championship match at Hove, this is a problem that needs his full attention. He is, however, still a 23-year old and with time, coaching and effort, it should come. What is more of a worry is the performance of the senior players. Anthony McGrath has had to cope with a woeful run of form started by a succession of back injuries. Meanwhile, Joe Sayers's torrid season has already featured a dropping to the second XI before a realisation that his solidity and experience is still needed in the first team. Dropping him again would likely bring the same result, and so clearly the asnswer isn't that simple. The question is not how to find or select better players, but how to get the good players they have back into form.
Making these problems significantly worse is that the bowling attack seems to have regressed so far from its performances at the start of the season. Injuries to Bresnan and Pyrah have weakened both the bowling and batting depth, and also left the bowlers short of crucial control.
Rashid has found himself turning in a string of poor performances, filled with short-pitched bowling, and has picked the figures to reflect this. Having started this year with his best-ever match haul and on the cusp of England selection, he was taken for nearly nine runs an over by Marcus Trescothick at Taunton, the Somerset opener easily chasing own what had seemed a defendable total. The following week at Hove, in the last match before the T20 hiatus, Rashid conceded one of the worst returns in county history. The leg-spinner's 0 for 187 was all too indicative of Sussex's domination over the Tykes' bowling as the south coast side piled up 548-4.
It is not the sort of situation to place a misfiring batting order to help them gain some form, and sure enough, Yorkshire collapsed in the first innings. Batting to save the match, 21-year old Gary Ballance was the man to deliver and narrowly ensure the draw for Yorkshire. The Zimbabwean-born batsman has been one of the few to impress in his short run in the side, and has now surely merited a permanent place in the first team.
Along with Ballance, one player who has stepped up his act this year is wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow. The 21-year-old was one of the young players guilty of not converting his many starts into big scores, but has put that right in 2011. After 18 50-plus scores without a hundred, Bairstow finally hit past the barrier at Trent Bridge, where he went on to make it past 200 in the same innings. There are indications that this may have opened the floodgates for a remarkable young cricketer, and if he keeps getting figures like his 136 and 80 at Taunton, England will surely come calling.
As whole, the side is clearly under-performing right now. Fighting the drop to Division Two should not have been on the cards, so the question remains as to what to do about it. The key motive for Yorkshire right now is to get their key players back into action, and back to the standard that's expected of them. Injuries will not hold off Bresnan and Pyrah for much longer, and so control and depth will return to the bowling. With Rashid, McGrath and Lyth, Yorkshire have to use the mid-season break they've got to bring up the confidence and form of these players. The Twenty20 tournament should be viewed as an opportunity to do so. It is a game of short spells and simple batting, and so is perfect for getting players past the mental block that accompanies a bad run. They can just go out and play, and should it work, they will take that confidence back into the championship matches.
This season was not going to be easy. The Tykes have a young and inexperienced side, and one that has just had their best, most reliable batsmen removed. It was always likely to take a step backwards from last year's top-three finish, and Yorkshire will be able to look forward to a future with several exciting young players. It's this season that will need the hard work from the Tykes, and they need it now.