Restoring Yorkshire to a bed of roses

THE WEEK AHEAD
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Bitter years of empty promise have taught those whose hearts beat for Yorkshire cricket to view even the most optimistic circumstances warily. Ask whether, at last, a revival of substance is under way and the majority would probably prefer to reserve judgement.

These would almost certainly include their new captain, the redoubtable David Byas, who is fast restoring the stereotypical image of his breed to its full former glory. A ruddy-cheeked farming man, he is not one to waste words, especially on matters of mere speculation.

Not that he is without opinion; simply sparing in the way he presents it. "I have maintained from the start that we can beat anybody, if we consistently produce our best form," he said after Monday's defeat of Surrey had lifted his side to the top of the County Championship table.

If he did not add: "...and I think this year we can win the title," it is because in the light of the first statement, his belief in the second, he would argue, should be blindingly obvious.

Byas is bluff, gruff in the best Yorkshire tradition; or the worst, depending on your view. To some he may appear as rather curt and dismissive, almost disdainful. To others, however, in his silence lies his strength

And this strength is fundamental, providing at last a clear focal point to the county's ambitions. Yorkshire have gone back to basics in methodology, dispensing with their manager and investing unblurred authority in their 32-year-old captain. Byas has the experience, the character and the sureness of thought to be revered by the young academy boys, who hold the key to the county's future. Others must be reassured to know precisely where they stand.

So far, so good. Top spot in the Championship, a semi-final in the Benson and Hedges Cup and a handy position in the Sunday League to boot. And what form those youngsters have shown. The fledgling openers, Michael Vaughan and Anthony McGrath, 21 and 20 respectively, overflow with promise. Chris Silverwood, the 21-year-old seam bowler, looks a prospect, too.

Meanwhile, Michael Bevan, an Australian curiously blessed with Yorkshire manners, has more than 800 Championship runs. Craig White, the Anglo-Aussie whom Raymond Illingworth held in such regard, has been fully rehabilitated. Even Darren Gough, after a troubled year, is showing signs of a return to his best.

The authenticity of Yorkshire's current form, Byas maintains, will be proved not by six Championship matches but by 17. Nevertheless, it is difficult to suppress entirely the excitement tickling their supporters' calm. Nor to deny the next few days will answer some questions, if not all.

Once the confrontation with Lancashire in the Bensons is out of the way, Byas's team face the incumbent champions, Warwickshire, over four days in Leeds, starting tomorrow. It is as good a test of their credentials as they could face at this stage.

There will be no Nick Knight for Dermot Reeve to pick, the England player having again broken a finger. Tim Munton and Gladstone Small remain injured but the depth of the Warwickshire squad is enough to accommodate such inconveniences. Their hunger, too, shows no sign of diminishing, sharpened, even, by the defeat of previously unbeaten Somerset in the last round, which put them only 11 points off the pace.

But the keenness of competition at Headingley will be matched at Canterbury, where Kent, who lost pole position in a fairly tame draw at Leicester, take on a Middlesex team seeking a third Championship win in a row.

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