A view from the top by Steve Swift

into 2015Long-time Yorkshire fan Steve Swift examines the secrets behind the County Champions’ success in 2014 and asks what lessons Somerset can learn

Yorkshire cricket supporters started the 2014 season with reasonable expectations after last year’s close run thing for the title with Durham, aware that the team had made great progress since Jason Gillespie was appointed coach in 2011, with rapid promotion from Division 2 and a root and branch re-organisation of the club under Chairman Colin Graves (the boss of Costcutter) and Director of Cricket, Martyn Moxon.

Something more than a season of consolidation was expected with perhaps a good run in one of the cups and a top three position in the County Championship. To win the 4-day league was, therefore, a surprise despite the growing realisation as the season progressed that Yorkshire had the strength in depth to pull it off. We had an opening pair who were scoring runs for fun, an injection of overseas talent at just the right time and a diverse attack that could take wickets and, in the case of the pace bowlers, remain largely injury free.

Gillespie’s role in the success cannot be understated. He’s gone about his business discretely but with an aggression and a steeliness reminiscent of his own approach to playing the game. The captain, Andrew Gale, has implemented this approach effectively with consistent decision-making and an on-field attitude that has won critical matches and made the team very difficult to beat. His style has been aggressive (occasionally overly so) but he’s led by example, not least when he opted to drop himself at the start of the season rather than disturb the batting order to give Joe Root some match practice. The two thumping innings victories over Lancashire and Nottinghamshire that clinched the title were perfect examples of the ‘go for the jugular’ approach that have typified the Gillespie/ Gale mind set.

Yorks Champs2

The season was bookended by two draws with Somerset, in themselves quite different games. As there were no obvious stand-out favourites for the title I viewed Somerset (along with Durham and Lancashire) as the other top three teams to beat. Whereas their season started promisingly and gradually faded, Yorkshire’s just got better and better, a key factor being the consistent form of key players and the ability of Yorkshire’s squad to deal with the occasional injury and international call-ups.

A pivotal moment in Yorkshire’s season came at the end of April when Middlesex scored an unlikely fourth innings 472 to win the game at Lord’s. The only defeat of the season, this shock shook out any remaining complacency and even though the next match was a played out draw with Durham, we never looked back, narrowly drawing games we could have won against Notts and Durham.

Yorks LogoThe strength in depth of the squad was tested by the England call-ups of Gary Ballance and Liam Plunkett, as well as Joe Root. Fortunately for the county, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan were overlooked by England, and both these players would make significant contributions as the season wore on. The form of opening batsman Adam Lyth (1,489 at average 67.68) and Alex Lees (971 at average 44.4) was a revelation;  Kane Williamson’s two spells with the county contributed 629 runs, enabling the middle and lower orders to regularly chip in with big partnerships.

Once the bowlers were let loose with big totals behind them, the hirsute pairing of Jack Brooks (68 wickets at average 28) and Ryan Sidebottom (48 wickets at an astonishing average of 18.3) regularly made early inroads. The variety of the attack, including the leg spin of Adil Rashid and the bludgeoning pace of Plunkett, meant that scoring was always difficult. Even when wickets didn’t come, very rarely was control conceded, meaning that Yorkshire ALWAYS seemed to be in the game.

Blessings in disguise are always easy to see after the event, but our eliminations from the limited overs tournaments definitely helped us over the Championship line.  With only 19 players used in four day games over the course of the season, key players remained fit and there was a welcome continuity to the side. As a result of this, only two young players really broke through – middle order batsman Jack Leaning and left arm spinner Karl Carver. With more England call-ups expected next season (Lyth and Lees) the Academy conveyor belt can be expected to gather pace, with plenty of talent coming through it seems.

So what can Somerset learn from this? A strong captain/coach axis is undoubtedly a key to on-field success and I’m sure Matthew Maynard won’t need to be told that. Yorkshire’s players are very, very fit. This wasn’t always the case and it’s no coincidence that Gillespie’s regime has weeded out a few that didn’t, or couldn’t, shape up to the demands expected. Yorkshire’s opening batsmen barely failed all season and I note from Somerset’s stats (especially as the season wore on) that runs on the board inhibited the team to play with the freedom that turns draws into wins. A winning habit breeds confidence and from that magical ingredient, anything becomes possible.

I expect Yorkshire to make more progress next year, given the depth of the players available. I also expect Somerset to again be in the two or three contenders for the Championship. The fact that they were one of only two teams we didn’t beat means that there must be a resilient base for the county to build on. The shrewd use of overseas players, cultivating young talent and getting the best out of existing resources is the challenge facing any Head Coach, and I’m sure that with a couple of early wins Somerset can turn the early promise of 2014 into something more tangible in 2015.

You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevenswift