Yorkshire v Northants: Vikings playing it smart in belated T20 bid
IT all boils down to a double-header against Northants.
Beat the league leaders at Headingley tonight and at Wantage Road a week today, and Yorkshire should progress to the quarter-finals of the T20 Blast.
Anything less, and they are at best relying on results elsewhere to achieve their minimum target of making the last eight.
The mathematics are complicated, with permutations such as net run-rate potentially coming into play, but Yorkshire – fifth in the North Group, one place outside the quarter-final spots – have little, if any, margin for error.
Considering where they were at the start of the month, however, that, in itself, is a triumph.
One win from seven matches had left them bottom of the group, since when they have won four out of five and performed well.
Even if it proves to be a case of too little too late, Yorkshire can take heart from the character they have shown, which they hope will yet carry them deep in the competition.
They are only five wins away from lifting the trophy – a tall order, for sure, but a reality that would have seemed far-fetched three weeks ago.
Jason Gillespie, the first-team coach, attributes Yorkshire’s recovery to the players’ hard work and the clarity they have shown in their specific roles.
He feels they have been playing to their strengths as opposed to feeding their weaknesses, resulting in smarter decisions with bat and ball.
“We had a poor start to the T20 and some good discussions, some tough conversations in team chats about the need to improve,” he said.
“As a support staff, we challenged the boys to make sure that they were completely clear on what they were looking to do, and to be positive and smart, which they’ve taken on board.
“The lads have been communicating with each other really well, which I think is really important, because it’s all well and good to have coaches saying things, but players probably learn the most from peers and their mates around them.
“Lads have been playing to their strengths, whereas when we weren’t doing well, they moved away from those strengths, which is the absolute crux of it.”
At the start of the tournament, Yorkshire looked like a side searching for a formula.
In recent games, they appear to have found it, with players appearing more confident and assured.
“We’ve talked a lot about what we do when we do well,” said Gillespie.
“For example, when we bat, the areas where we have the most success in hitting the ball, the type of bowlers that we target – it all comes down to each player being clear in the game plan.
“Guys score in different areas; some, for example, have success playing spinners back down the ground, others have more success sweeping and looking to change the field that way.
“It’s all about having that clear mindset as an individual player – where do I have my most success, and where am I more vulnerable?”
An example of someone who appears to have found exactly the right method is Adam Lyth. Despite having all the shots, the opening batsman has not always prospered in the shorter forms, and yet he has been outstanding this year.
“Adam has had success in the short forms this season when he’s hit down the ground, and that’s put pressure on the bowlers, who’ve then changed their plans and allowed him to capitalise,” said Gillespie.
“It’s very evident that he’s working out his game in the short form, and he’s playing superbly.
“It’s a team effort, and we’re constantly striving for improvements.
“We scored the highest total we’ve ever scored in T20 in beating Durham (223-6), and yet there was a good chat in the dressing room afterwards about whether we could have done better with bat and ball, which shows there’s a lot of humility there and respect within the team.”
Yorkshire’s upturn in form has coincided with the return to the club of off-spinner Azeem Rafiq, who captained them in T20 in 2012.
Gillespie claimed: “It’s certainly no coincidence that a player like Azeem, who brings a lot of energy, has come in and our results have picked up.
“It’s a team effort, but Azeem is certainly a massive addition to our squad and he’s been absolutely brilliant since he came back.
“Now we’ve brought in Travis Head as an overseas batsman, and the Yorkshire fans have already seen glimpses of what he can do, while young lads like Karl Carver have come in and done a great job, too.”
Of the two remaining group games against Northants, Gillespie continued: “They’re top of the table and have got a lot to play for, because they’ll obviously want to finish off on a winning note and secure a home quarter-final.
“They’re a quality short-form unit, and we’ll have to keep playing good cricket to beat them.”
Yorkshire (from): Lyth, Willey, Lees (capt), Head, Leaning, Bresnan, Plunkett, Rhodes, Hodd, Rafiq, Carver, Patterson, Coad, Waite.