How Yorkshire Vikings have put themselves into NatWest T20 Blast contention
After a tremulous first half of the season in one-day cricket, Yorkshire Vikings are now in a solid and unflinching patch of form that could bring them unexpected success.
With five wins out of their last seven matches, Yorkshire’s toiling T20 form has been turned around and they are in with a shout of making it through to the NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals after qualification had seemed a mere pipedream.
Since beating Lancashire by five runs on the first day of this month, Yorkshire have secured wins over Birmingham Bears, Derbyshire Falcons and Durham Jets.
Despite victory slipping through their hands in a last-over classic against Nottinghamshire, Alex Lees’ side have shown several signs of improvement over the shortest format.
Sports reporter Ed White looks what factors have changed Yorkshire’s fortunes...
Reformed Rafiq returning
The re-signing of former T20 captain Azeem Rafiq was as surprising as rewarding. The off-spinner was the rising star of Yorkshire T20 game but looked destined to a career in the Yorkshire Leagues after the White Rose released him at the end of the 2014 season.
After stabilising his career at home club Barnsley and latterly impressing at Sheffield and Phoenix, Rafiq got the call back from Jason Gillespie and he’s been the pick of the attack since.
No side has taken the spinner for more than 30 in any of his T20 spells back in a Yorkshire shirt and his positivity in the field has been infectious to those around.
Success in defence
Yorkshire have batted first in their last six matches and only twice on the instruction of the opposition.
Alex Lees clearly likes his side to defend a total and the wins against Derbyshire, Birmingham and Lancashire prove that the White Rose prefer to be in the field when tension mounts.
With a bowling attack that includes four England internationals, Yorkshire have taken comfort in their approach to defend whatever total the batsmen produce.
Following a turbulent T20 campaign last year, there was no hiding from the fact Yorkshire had to improve over the shortest format this time around.
The signing of David Willey suggested Gillespie was serious about mounting a challenge however Yorkshire did not see the best of the all-rounder at the start of the campaign due to an injury preventing him bowling. Willey offers a great option to the team in all areas and has started to settle into the Vikings shirt since returning from England’s One Day international series against Sri Lanka. More is yet to come,
Plunkett bowling rockets
Liam Plunkett, another of such England players, hit a top speed of 94 miles per hour against Durham Jets on Wednesday as he bowled four outstanding overs.
Despite having taken Tim Bresnan apart in over one, Durham’s usually fluent top order was unable to land the lusty blows required off the big man due to the fierce pace he possessed on a quick pitch.
His short ball is a frightening proposition for County batsmen and it’s making them wait on the back foot rather than take the attack.
Now he’s back full-time from England duty, captain Alex Lees can rely on front line seamers rather than the likes of rookies Ben Coad and James Wainman.
Multiple batting contributions
Yorkshire’s failing against big-hitting Lancashire in the most noteworthy defeat of the woeful start was that support was found wanting around Joe Root’s sublime 92.
In the latest run of victories, partnerships have developed and wickets have not been lost in clusters. Despite captain Alex Lees struggling for runs in the top four, his colleagues have been able to strike up a 40+ partnership at some stage of their last four matches, most notably the 62-run partnership between Adam Lyth and Willey against Durham on Wednesday.
Yorkshire’s top T20 performances of 2016 so far
Adam Lyth (87 v Durham) - Alongside David Willey, Lyth helped Yorkshire crash more 71 in the powerplay overs as they set up a seasons best 223/6 on Wednesday night. When Willey departed for 32, Lyth carried on the attack and ended up with 87 from54 balls, including 11 fours and three sixes.
Liam Plunkett (1/13 v Durham) - Figures of one wicket for 13 don’t often leap off the page but Plunkett’s roaring four-over spell against former side Durham was exceptional. Tim Bresnan was hooked after Durham tucked into 17 off his first over. Plunkett came on and the Durham top order could not live with his pace.
Joe Root (92 v Lancashire) – Root thrashed eight fours and three sixes in a thrilling knock of 92 in the first T20 Roses battle of 2016. Although he was distraught as he walked off the pitch with Yorkshire falling 26 runs short of Lancashire’s first innings of 204-7
Azeem Rafiz (1-28, Derbyshire) - Lees gambled on off-spinner Rafiq to bowl the final two overs in the tense finish against Derbyshire. 13 runs were required from the last, and Rafiq had Alex Hughes caught second ball before making victory impossible before Matt Critchley smashed him for six off the final delivery.
Adam Lyth (last ball fielding v Birmingham) – Birmingham required a four off Tim Bresnan’s final ball and looked to have found it when Ateeq Javid smacked the ball through the leg side. That was only until Lyth raced round the boundary and acrobatically scooped the ball back into play. It’s not catching that wins matches, fielding does.