Northamptonshire v Yorkshire, County Ground, Pre-season friendly, 8th April 2014
Sadly (this is becoming something of a theme) I was not at Leicester on Tuesday to watch the postponed game against Derbyshire and I’m not at Wantage Road today to watch the first match of Northants’ season against Durham. Leicestershire no longer have a reciprocal membership agreement with Northants and, in these times of austerity, £14.00 entrance plus £9.00 bus fare means I shall have to be more selective in my visits to the County Ground. Which is a shame, because I’m rather fond of the old place.
I was pleased to see that the new 20/20 slogan “Glory, Honour, Pride” (which sounds too much like some dubious East European political grouping to my ears) was not much in evidence. I’ve never been that fond of “Steelbacks” either, come to think of it, and wonder whether “Welcome to orthans icket : Home of County” (which is how most refer to them) might not be more appropriate to the spirit of Northamptonshire cricket.
It’s always a good principle that you can’t play cricket seriously without the proper kit (there is really nothing worse than being clouted round the ground by a bloke in black trousers and a New York Yankees cap) and it was an indication that Yorkshire weren’t going to be going all out when they took to the field in wooly hats. The effect varied. Jack Brooks, who, under all the hair, has a rather rural face, looked Compo-esque; the ever-stylish Moin Ashraf, in a nod to Ali G., teamed his with some wraparound sun-goggles.
The day was bright, but perishingly cold. We spectators could keep out of the wind by flattening ourselves against the hoardings like bugs against a windscreen but for those on the pitch there was no escape. The sensible policy seemed for both sides to concentrate on getting through to the start of the season proper without pulling a muscle or fracturing a frozen digit. Jack Brooks bowled off six paces, Ashraf was more aesthetic than energetic and Middlebrook and Kettleborough (two villages in Last of the Summer Wine Country) compiled their runs at the rate of a man collecting a part-work history of World War 2.
This seeming not-too-much-aggression pact, however, reckoned without Liam Plunkett, who, after a restrained start, began to bowl in the manner familiar from his Test appearances, fastish, with the occasional nasty lifter and some wild stuff down the legside. One of the former broke the finger of Rob Keogh and one of the latter evened up the score by doing the same for his own wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow.
Even allowing for the relative talents of the players, this will have been a bigger blow to Northants than Yorkshire. It is going to be a long, attritional, old season, with the constant distraction of 20/20 on Friday evenings and Northants do not have a big squad. On the other hand Yorkshire’s squad is, as Jack Brooks observed in this week’s Cricket Paper
“Unbelievably strong … the important thing is the depth: take out all the England players, Tim Bresnan, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, and it doesn’t weaken the team.”
It’s a slightly unfortunate side-effect of this strength that one or two potential internationals might be tempted to move counties to gain the proper recognition. Alex Lees is not guaranteed a first-team place (he was left out last season in favour of Kane Williamson), Moin Ashraf is rarely seen in the Championship and Azeem Rafiq (who is a better bowler than most being suggested to succeed Graeme Swann) is rarely selected ahead of Adil Rashid.
Rashid, it has to be said, has recently been in the team more for his batting than his bowling, which has degenerated into something of a joke. In this match, though, he was given a long spell (perhaps to avoid any more broken fingers) and, after a couple of overs of the familiar dross he seemed, as the wind dropped and he donned a proper Yorkshire cap, to be recovering some of his old brio. There was turn and lift and flight where once there were full tosses, he fretted less and strutted more. I’m tempted to wish him well for an England recall, but then – with the way things are – I’m equally tempted, for his sake, to hope that he can avoid the nod of doom and play out his days for a happy and victorious Yorkshire.
(I’m not a great fan of floodlights at cricket grounds when employed for their proper purpose, by the way, but I can’t deny that they have added something to the variations as the shadows fall across the pitch as the summer progresses and recedes. Wantage Road won’t see a sight quite like this at teatime for a while.)