Traditions die hard, especially in Yorkshire. The club that once made a virtue of where you were born – until Michael Vaughan, Lancashire-born but Sheffield-bred, threatened to slip through their fingers – is once again waving the banner for local talent. Yorkshire can be expected to field an XI composed entirely of players bred within the Broad Acres this season: in so doing, they might be charting a course for the future of a county game teetering on the brink of the abyss.
Yorkshire have at times appeared as close to the edge as any of their rivals. Last season saw the club make a £2m loss after hosting a Test match between Pakistan and Australia to which, as club chairman Colin Graves puts it, "No one turned up." Yorkshire's abundance of local talent cannot be expected to solve domestic cricket's financial problems but it makes a solid case for the continued existence of the county game.
What didn't was the glut of Kolpak cricketers that were brought over in the middle of the last decade. Even now, there are plenty of cricketers with South African backgrounds in the county game: some of them, of course, go on to play for England. Warwickshire's Jonathan Trott may be England's best batsman now but the fact he once turned out for South Africa's Under-19 side makes many observers uncomfortable.
Yorkshire once fielded Kolpak cricketers themselves – the South African Jacques Rudolph among them – but that appears to be a thing of the past, if coach Martyn Moxon is to be believed. Moxon re-joined the club, which he once captained, in 2007 and set about exploiting the talent coming through from Yorkshire's academy. "I'm a firm believer in producing your own players," he says. "If you have an academy, if the players are good enough, then they should be given the opportunity to play at a higher level."
The club's ability to bring through good youngsters stems from two key dates: 1989, when Yorkshire became the first county club to create a modern-day academy, and 2002, when Graves arrived with the club in deep financial problems. Graves, the man behind the Costcutter chain of grocery stores, brought financial savvy but also a willingness to exploit fully Yorkshire's abundance of local talent.
That was why he turned to Moxon, who had helped transform Durham from a club that largely imported talent to one that has in recent years brought through some of England's best players. "Durham invested in an academy under the same principle as Yorkshire," says Moxon. "When the talent is there, what's the point of having an academy if you don't go on and test them and see if they can be top cricketers for the future?"
It's a philosophy popular with the Yorkshire faithful, Graves suggests. "I think they like to see it, but at the same time they like success," he says. "At the end of the day, they would rather see us not have the outright success of winning but seeing us play our own players."
As well as Moxon, bowling guru Steve Oldham and his fellow coaches have been vital, says Graves. "We've got a fantastic coaching staff," he says. "Steve has headed our bowling coaches up and he keeps producing bowlers who are up to England standard." Such as Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad, both of whom have shone for England in recent months.
But won't Yorkshire suffer if Bresnan or Shahzad are called up by England this summer? Not according to Graves, who says they are prepared for that eventuality. What certainly won't happen is that Yorkshire go looking for an overseas cricketer, insists Moxon. "We've no plans to bring anyone in," he says. "The plan is to use home-grown players. We've got to see gaps that appear as opportunities for other players, you have to see it as a win-win situation."
Yorkshire's ability to absorb England call-ups was boosted by the return of Ryan Sidebottom in the winter. He was a member of the Nottinghamshire side that won the title last season – Yorkshire were in contention until the last day – and should bring much needed nous to what could be a very young attack. "We needed someone like Ryan with his experience, given that Shahzad and Bresnan are going to be in and out of the England team," says Moxon. "He's already contributing massively in helping to develop our younger bowlers. His experience will be vital."
Sidebottom aside, Yorkshire's insistence on sticking with a group of young players who have grown up together looks a sound policy. Moxon is delighted with the closeness of his side. "I think it's a big advantage," he says. "It showed last year, the attitude and the spirit within the group of players was outstanding. They were all fighting for each other, they all enjoyed each other's success, there were no hidden agendas. It's a really enjoyable environment to be in."
And it's an environment that those outside the first team are desperate to be a part of. Moxon expects to see the likes of batsman Joe Root (who comes from the same club as Vaughan), seamer Moin Ashraf and spinners David Wainwright and Azeem Rafiq play a bigger role this season. Joe Sayers, whose Boycott-esque efforts before last season were the talk of the county scene, is also back having recovered from post-viral fatigue syndrome. It is a time of great optimism at Headingley.
"I'm excited about the future," says Moxon. "We're still a work in process – although we had a good season last year, we're not the finished article by any means. The encouraging thing is that the talent is there. The challenge is to turn that talent into consistent performances at first-team level. If they do, we will have a very good team."
Other counties should take note. Although Yorkshire have the advantage of a greater population than their rivals and a strong school and club system ("If any kid has got some ambition to be a cricketer he wants to go to the Yorkshire nets," says Graves, who tried out for the county himself as a youth. "To get invited to the Yorkshire nets is like getting a pot of gold, even if you don't get anywhere"), their success in bringing through their own talent should cause pause for thought around the country.
Some clubs have already embarked on a similar route: There's Durham, of course, and Leicestershire, for all that they were once among the biggest abusers of Kolpak talent, have recently produced batsmen James Taylor and Josh Cobb – not to mention Stuart Broad, now at Nottinghamshire. And then there's a club like Kent, which is turning back to local talent due to financial problems. Every cloud, and all that.
Moxon believes faith in local talent is the way forward, not least because in the era of the IPL it is very hard for county clubs to sign decent overseas stars. "I'd like to think this is the way things are going to be increasingly done," he says. "I know from personal experience the difficulty of getting overseas players of any quality for any length of time. Finances are quite tight now – the cost of overseas players is prohibitive. It's likely we're going to see more and more home-grown talent given an opportunity."
Yorkshire's home-grown XI
Joe Sayers Born Leeds Age 27
Adam Lyth Whitby, 23
Anthony McGrath Bradford, 35
Andrew Gale (capt) Dewsbury, 27
Jonathan Bairstow Bradford, 21
Joe Root Sheffield, 20
Adil Rashid Bradford, 23
Tim Bresnan Pontefract, 26
Ajmal Shahzad Huddersfield, 25
Ryan Sidebottom Huddersfield, 33
Moin Ashraf Bradford, 19Reuse content