County Cricket: Essex vs Yorkshire

There was a lot of selector nudging going on at Cheltenham, that most welcoming and friendly of county grounds, as Essex took on Yorkshire in the county championship. Ravi Bopara compiled two centuries in the match, the first stroked beautifully, the second more brutal, culminating in a 100th run which deposited the ball over the bowler’s head into the river.

Bopara’s innings gave weight to those who believe he should replace Luke Wright in the England one-day team, on the basis he is the better bat and Wright’s equal as a bowler. Wright however is the better fielder – and the more enthusiastic one from watching Bopara  who, when not picking his backside, stood at mid on with hands on hips or behind back  rather than walk in with the bowler.

England selector James Whitaker was in attendance, his interest as much as to who might make the England A touring party as the Ashes one. He will have watched Adam Lyth particularly keenly.

Twenty-two year-old left-hander Lyth was the first man in the country this season to 1,000 runs. He has always had an elegance about his batting, especially when playing through the off side; this year he has added some steel and grit. A true Yorkshire opener.
“We’ve seen a growing maturity from Adam this season,” explains his county coach Martyn Moxon. “In the past he has got a nice 20 or 30 and then played a bad shot to get out. But he’s cut out the errors now.” Well almost – having made 75 he walked across his stumps and got bowled behind his pads.

Lyth made his Yorkshire debut in 2006, but until this year had been in and out of the side. But this year Yorkshire has given youth its chance. As Geoff Boycott, now on the board running Yorkshire CCC, told the Yorkshire Post: “The board made a conscious policy to move forward with players who have come up through the Academy. We feel we have some very talented cricketers and the only way they’re going to improve is by playing in the first team.”

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“A couple of years ago I might have gone at a few early doors and got a nick,” explains Lyth. “I now know how to leave the ball and cash in on width or flick off the legs when the ball comes straight. Talking to experienced players like Rudolph and McGrath, they said leaving well was the key.”

Lyth has been given a chance through the retirement of Michael Vaughan and the former England captain is in no doubt as to Lyth’s quality. “He’s always had all the shots, but the penny has dropped that you can only be a promising young player for so long,” says Vaughan.

Lyth was also kept out of the side last year by Jonathan Bairstow, 20, son of former Yorkshire keeper-batsman and captain David. “Johnny is a tremendous batter,” enthuses Michael Vaughan. “He needs to work on his keeping, but he will play for England eventually.”

Could this be under the captaincy of Andrew Gale? This year Gale, 26, took over the captaincy of Yorkshire, pre-season favourites for relegation. They entered the game with Essex top of the table. He is being mentored as captain by Vaughan, one of the finest captains England has had.

“We speak two or three times a week,” Vaughan says. “Andrew Gale has got something. I don’t think he has got the batting talent of Adam Lyth, as Adam has brilliant talent, but he had got a magnificent character and mentality. He is the type of character who will always do well.”

Geoff Boycott believes Gale could be a future England captain: “He’s still learning about captaincy, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t do the role further down the line. Andrew has the ability to play Test cricket and, in the long run, to captain the side. The selectors must think so, too, otherwise, they wouldn’t have chosen him to captain the A team.”

“Andrew has got good basic technique as a batsman,” adds Boycott. “There may be other people around who are more talented than him, but cricket is also about character and he’s got an abundance of that. He has a steely determination and a very bright mind. He will get the most out of himself and the players around him.”

Martyn Moxon is also cautiously optimistic that Gale could one day captain his country: “First he has to prove he’s good enough to play as a batsman. If he can do that – and he’s more than capable – he has a really good chance.”

It used to be said that a strong Yorkshire meant a strong England, If so, England’s future looks promising. But what of Yorkshire’s chances of becoming a consistent force again in the championship if they lose players to England? Yorkshire fans need not worry, as there is more young talent waiting in the wings. Two that Michael Vaughan has particularly high hopes of are  batsmen Joe Root and Jack Hargreaves, both of whom yet to play a championship match.

Yorkshire’s occasionally laboured performance against Essex suggest maybe the championship is beyond them this season, its more likely destination being Nottinghamshire, but the future looks rosy. White rosy.