The notion that a successful Yorkshire cricket team have a barometrical influence over the fortunes of England has not really held good since the 1960s, when Yorkshire's run of seven County Championships in 10 years coincided with a period of English dominance in Test cricket. Indeed the last time Yorkshire won the title, in 2001, with a squad that included Michael Vaughan, Craig White, Darren Gough, Chris Silverwood, Richard Dawson and Matthew Hoggard, England lost a home Ashes series 4-1.
Nonetheless, there will be many fresh airings of the theory should an England Ashes triumph this summer come alongside the return of the Championship pennant to Headingley in Yorkshire's 150th- anniversary year. Betting against the former would seem unwise on the basis of the first two Tests, while Yorkshire head into the last third of the county season at the top of Division One after a nine-match unbeaten run. The likelihood that Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan will have been otherwise engaged for the most part should Yorkshire still be there when the season ends on 27 September will make the old line even easier to trot out.
Yet this time it may turn out to be more than just a trite throwaway. Root and Bairstow, aged 22 and 23 respectively, were schooled in the Yorkshire Academy and, as such, are regarded potentially as only the first in a line of outstanding graduates, enough to provide England with a Yorkshire core for years to come.
Two years behind Root but possibly further on in his development than Root was in 2011, the 20-year-old opening batsman Alex Lees has two Championship centuries from only eight innings in the competition, the first against Middlesex at Lord's, the second against Derbyshire at Chesterfield 10 days ago. He turned the latter into an unbeaten 275, the second highest first-class score by a Yorkshire batsman since the Second World War, and became the youngest Yorkshire player to make a double century.
Geoff Boycott, who is not inclined to hand out compliments lightly, insists Lees will play for England, a destiny that may also await Matthew Fisher, a pace bowler who made his debut for Yorkshire in a YB40 match against Leicestershire at Scarborough in June aged 15 years and 212 days to become the youngest cricketer to play in a competitive county match for any team.
Yorkshire last week tied Lees to an extended contract along with Jack Leaning, a 19-year-old batsman also held in high regard. Fisher, meanwhile, is among five Yorkshire players selected for the England Under-19 squad for next month's one-day international series against Pakistan and Bangladesh, alongside left-arm spinner Karl Carver, all-rounder Will Rhodes, pace bowler Josh Shaw and batsman Jonny Tattersall.
Ian Dews, who is in charge of cricket development at Headingley, believes Yorkshire have an unprecedented crop of gifted young players. "It is one of those cyclical things that you will sometimes have one year- group that is very strong, but we have two or three strong year-groups that have come through at the same time, and putting them all together we have a seriously talented group," he said.
Dews believes Lees and Root could one day be opening partners for England. "I see no reason why they shouldn't," he said. "We hope Joe will play for England for many years and Alex is very single-minded in his ambition. He knows what he wants and how he plans to get there."
Lees and Root share a stubborn unwillingness to give away their wicket easily, but the left-handed Lees had the advantage of physical strength to go with a classical technique.
"The thing that always stood out with Alex is that he is a big lad with a presence at the crease,'' Dews said. "He had a sound technique and always looked to score.
"When Joe began he was technically very good but did not have the physical strength to hit boundaries, although he took some getting out. Where Alex had power, Joe relied on technique. If you look at them now, Joe has caught up physically."
Fisher, who is 6ft 2in, wants to develop as an all-rounder in the mould of Andrew Flintoff. "I joke with his mum that she must have registered his birth when he was five because there is no way he has the skill level and a cricket mind of only a 15-year-old," Dews said. "He is streets ahead of a lot of older players so he is really exciting."
As the largest county, with a population of 5.3 million, Yorkshire has an enviable pool of potential talent, but Dews says it is the county's willingness to provide opportunities that enables the best to make rapid progress. "The county's policy is to play home-produced players if they are good enough, and the success of Bairstow and Root has meant players in the second team being promoted and academy players getting opportunities in the second team."
In Bairstow and Root's absence, Andrew Gale, Phil Jaques, Adil Rashid and Gary Ballance – another squarely on the England radar – have provided the runs that have made Yorkshire the highest-scoring side in the Championship, while in Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Patterson and the newly recruited Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks, Yorkshire have a seam attack that has readily coped without Bresnan. Rashid, moreover, is contributing regularly again with his leg-spin.
If Yorkshire do win the title it will be with an Australian influence, as it was in 2001, when Darren Lehmann's 1,416 runs were the mainstay of their success. Now it comes from Jason Gillespie as coach, who steered them to promotion from Division Two in his first season in charge, his ruthless edge coming with a smile.
"Jason's style is very much about keeping things simple, doing the basics well," Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire's director of cricket, said. "But it also about enjoying the game. He has created a relaxed but focused atmosphere which is ideal to get the best out of the players."Reuse content