CRICKET COUNTY FOCUS: Underachievers feel the buzz

Stephen Brenkley senses a new mood of optimism at resurgent Yorkshire
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THERE is a simple way to measure the decline of Yorkshire. The number of times they have won the Championship is being relentlessly pursued by the number of years since they did so. Cricket statistics might be misleading but that particular pair, 29 and 27 respectively, reveal the truth of the matter. In a generation, Yorkshire went from pre-eminence to ordinariness and beyond.

If it is remarkable that expectation has remained almost blindly undiminished in the broad acres, it is barely less astonishing that it may at last be matched by achievement. Not this summer, perhaps, but before the most vaunted number in the county's history is overtaken by the least desirable.

The defeats of the past week have failed to erode a sense that Yorkshire's time is here again. A well-balanced team in terms of age, experience and ability is matched by a determination to be at the forefront of changes in the English game. There is an air of unity in the club which was rare even in periods of seemingly interminable triumph. As the captain Martyn Moxon puts it: "There has not been such a buzz round this place for years."

The little matters of being all out for 88 on Tuesday in the Benson and Hedges Cup against Worcestershire following hard on the first Championship defeat of the summer are seen as a blip in the upward curve of the graph. They have done nothing to dissuade Peter Hartley, their incisive seam bowler, of the side's merits. "These things happen in cricket," he said. "We've had a chat. Nobody expects it to be easy, but we know we can challenge until the end this season."

The recent absence from the side of Moxon with a broken thumb has been significant. Not only is he the best batsman - and one of the best openers in England - but he has the deep respect of his team. His deputy David Byas has led them purposefully but it has become Moxon's team, shaped by him, inspired by him. While nobody doubts that his return is necessary to sustain Yorkshire's momentum the silver lining in every cloud theory has thrown up an alluring new opening partnership.

Michael Vaughan, 20, has been walking to the wicket as the senior man, accompanied by the 19-year-old Anthony McGrath. This may be the youngest opening pair in Championship history, and the present match between Yorkshire and Somerset contains a more startling nugget. The combined age of the four opening batsman on either side - Vaughan and McGrath on one, Mark Lathwell and Marcus Trescothick on the other - is 81.

The Yorkshire pair are conclusive evidence of abundant talent. It is possible, as the chief executive Chris Hassell maintains, that they and bowlers such as Chris Silverwood and Stuart Milburn would have emerged without the Academy but nobody is suggesting the place should be shut. Scouts from other counties are probably tired of hanging around Bradford.

No Yorkshire report would be complete without mention of Darren Gough and the overseas player, whoever it happens to be. Hartley referred to Gough immediately. Of course he would be missed during Tests but there were all those good young 'uns. Hartley's praise for Gough was undiluted and he did not mention, even in passing, that his own 29 Championship wickets have possibly been more instrumental than young Dazzler's 12.

The overseas player, Michael Bevan, has so far, like the two who preceded him, under-achieved. But he exudes class and his positive attitude has impressed the dressing-room.

There are still some ghosts to lay around Headingley. A proposed pounds 30m redevelopment scheme at the ground will only do a cosmetic job. Test match status is being much trumpeted but everyone knows that, if there were two divisions and they were based on performance in the Nineties, Yorkshire would have to count the 1890s to have a hope of being in the first.

Hartley's form is probably as important as Moxon's return if they are to have a prayer this summer. The 35-year-old senior pro knows the wickets will get harder and flatter but he has no compunction about flying in the face of the opinion of a fellow Yorkshireman, one Raymond Illingworth, on that point. "The batters will no doubt get their revenge. But I hope it rains every other day." If it does that pair of figures regarding Championships may just become 30 and zero.